15 Aug 2011

Content Authorship: Markup, AuthorRank and Becoming a Content Expert

Google Rel Author

In early June, Google announced support of authorship markup for web content. The goal was to create a method for tying content to its creator, regardless of where that content resided. In doing so, they created a standard that gives context and credibility to both authors and their content. So now that you have the means to formally link your blog posts, articles and other content to your identity, what does that mean for you as an author, and how can you best take advantage of it?

Understanding Authorship

The main purpose of author markup is twofold: to establish the author as a real individual, and to compile and rate the level of content they’re providing. In an interview with Danny Sullivan, Google’s Matt Cutts referred to this concept as AuthorRank. An author gets credit for the content they produce. Likewise, as new content is created, Google can judge who that content is coming from when deciding how valuable it is. Good content bolsters authors, and good authors bolster content. It’s quite a bit like PageRank, but tied to an author instead of a URL and, hence, far more relevant.

What’s the Benefit?

As Google’s algorithm has evolved, it has strived to produce results that are pertinent to the user, not poor SEO-torqued content that has jockeyed for optimal ranking. The Panda update was a severe reminder of that goal. Now with authorship, Google again is emphasizing content from validated, established sources.

When authorship is established for content, it will appear in Google results pages with an icon of the author and a link to their profile page (more on that below). For example, at the top of the search results for “Matt Cutts” is this entry:

Matt Cutts Search Results

As you can see, you not only get a robust snippet for this entry, but also a highlight about Matt Cutts as an author, and a link to more information about him. For users, this reinforces the idea that the result is reputable: this link isn’t just the result of robotic SEO manipulation, but rather it’s from a human being who we can learn more about. Knowing that at least some minimal verification has gone on creates a trust factor with the user (that you can see their pulchritudinous pic only helps).

Likewise, Google can compile information about authors and give credible content creators more esteem in their rankings. While the extent to which Google will factor this into their ranking algorithm isn’t clear yet, the obvious intent is to understand and consider the quality of authors. If two content pages are equally optimized, but one is written by a verified author who has numerous indexed pages on the topic at hand, it’s clear Google will value that author’s content a bit more.

How to Implement Authorship Markup

“Awesome,” you say. “How big of a pain is it to implement?” The answer is that it’s fairly simple. While there are some context-specific schema.org microdata that create the same functionality, the simplest implementation is using HTML5 and XFN markup. Here are the steps:

Create a Google+ Profile

Google trusts no one more than Google, so their authorship verification is tied into what used to be Google Profiles. Google Profiles have now been conflated with the Google+ platform, so the first step is getting a personal account set up there if you haven’t already. Once that’s set up, it will serve as the hub for your authorship credentials. Until Google+ establishes personalized URLs, you will have a profile URL that looks like mine — https://plus.google.com/106261768295209119544/ — that you can point your content to.


To let Google know you’re the author of said masterpiece, you just need to include a link from somewhere in the content to your profile. You do this with the rel=”author” attribute for your link tag. For example, to indicate that I am the author of this post, I can add this code:

<a href="https://plus.google.com/106261768295209119544/" rel="author">+David Gould</a>

The rel=”author” attribute indicates that the link I’m pointing to is the profile URL of the author. Google will note this and start accumulating an account of content that has been created by the author at that URL, and consider that body of work when producing search results. You can add the authorship link anywhere in the content, though now that it’s standardized expect it to be increasingly part of Content Management System (CMS) themes.

Note: the linked text should include a “+” at the beginning or end, or utilize a profile button code to ensure Google recognizes the authorship.

URL Parameters

Google understands that not everyone is a code ninja, or may not have the necessary access in their CMS to add custom HTML attributes to their link tags. To help accommodate that, Google will also allow you to indicate the author by declaring variables in the URL you link to. This is done via a query string, where you pass information along in the URL itself instead of HTML code. To use the example above, this:

<a rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/106261768295209119544/">+David Gould</a>

would become:

<a href="https://plus.google.com/106261768295209119544/?rel=author">+David Gould</a>

By adding the “?rel=author” to the end of the URL, you are still letting Google know that you’re indicating authorship with that link. For various reasons that’s not the ideal solution, but it is a good option for authors who face constrictions on how they manage their content. This is also a good alternative for links where the flexible “rel” attribute is being used for another semantic purpose.


As opposed to a personal blog site, this post appears on a site with many authors. In cases like this, it may not always make sense to direct users to an offsite profile page. It would be better to send visitors to my author page on this domain, but I don’t want to lose the authority I have as an author as a result.

To achieve this, instead of linking directly to my profile page, I can link to my author page on this site, using the author attribute:

<a rel="author" href="https://www.verticalmeasures.com/about-us/our-team/david-gould/">+David Gould</a>

That points users to my site-relevant author information. But to be sure I don’t lose credit for that content piece, on that author page I just need to point to my Google profile with a rel=”me” link:

<a rel="me" href="https://plus.google.com/106261768295209119544/">+David Gould</a>

Similar to the direct link in the previous section, this format says “This is an interim content page, but now here’s the actual author profile.” This approach provides a nice balance between usability – a user never having to go offsite to get more author info – and optimization, by ensuring the author is ultimately recognized by Google. To see this in action, please check out my rel=”author” link here:

It links to my site author page, which in turn has a rel=”me” link to my Google+ profile page.

Validate the Link

To make sure that content and authors are matched up validly, the second step in indicating authorship is for the author to approve the content link. If the content page says, “This person is the author,” this step validates that this is true. By including this, random content can’t be wrongly attributed to influential authors, and likewise great content can’t be usurped by opportunistic thieves. To validate a link, you can add it under “Edit Profile” by clicking “About” and then “Links.” Be sure to check the “This page is specifically about me” option, and view the Google help page for more info.

If you need coding clarification, or just have two cents to throw in, leave a comment below.


  • Greg Shuey Aug 15, 2011

    Thanks for the post David. Have you or anyone at vertical measures implemented this and seen your author icon displayed in the SERPS? I implemented this across all my sites the day it was announced and have yet to see anything and I know that others like Gray Wolf share my frustrations.


  • David Gould Aug 18, 2011

    Thanks Greg, appreciate it.

    We’ve just started rolling it out on our site, but I’ve seen people echo your frustrations. I’m assuming Google is starting with most authoritative authors (e.g. the beloved Matt Cutts) and rolling it out from there, but it certainly makes it challenging to know if something is amiss or just hasn’t trickled down to you yet.

  • David Gould Aug 18, 2011

    Also, I would submit yourself via Google’s author form if you have not, so they can let you know of implementation issues: http://bit.ly/rejawH

  • Caroline Bauer Apr 07, 2012

    I really think this is not going to catch… If the authors action is required, you can bet the vast majority of authors are not in the know of SEO and IMO will never even hear about author rank. And you have to get into G+… That’s the hardest part… I doubt G+ will be alive 3 years from now…

  • David Gould Apr 09, 2012

    While there will always be authors on the cutting edge and those that lag on the trends, generally I think content creators are becoming increasingly savvy about ways to optimize and share their works. It wasn’t long ago that many authors didn’t want to bother with Twitter or Facebook, now it’s part and parcel with being reaching a wide audience.

    Google Plus will last. It’s not a standalone curiosity like some of Google’s past efforts, but deeply (and I feel inextricably) entrenched in their products. While I don’t think it will match Facebook as a pure social platform, at least in its current form, it has become the thread which turns social cues in many of Google’s products into personalized results in others. That connective tissue won’t be going away.

  • Nathan Burch Oct 03, 2012

    If you’d like to test your authorship markup without waiting for Google to index everything and determine it “authoritative”, you can paste your article URL into http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets. It will test the coding to determine whether it was properly done.