The Google Authorship FAQ

We’re at a point in time where Google is giving us unprecedented control over how our properties are listed in their search results. Based on the questions I’ve been getting, it’s something many health care organizations are currently trying to figure out.

One important way organizations can enhance how their content is listed on Google search engine results pages (SERPs) is by implementing Google Authorship in their content.

Because it’s a popular topic and something that can help draw attention to your pages in search results (possibly even more so than buying ads), I’ve assembled a convenient FAQ that answers some of the most common questions I’ve heard.

Before we get into the details, understand that this is something you can be taking advantage of today. In all likelihood, you’ll be the first in your market to do so.

Frequently Asked Questions about Google Authorship


What is Google Authorship?

Google Authorship is a way of identifying the author of content pages on the Web. This is done by linking the author’s Google+ profile to the blog or website where they contribute content.

Once Google understands the relationship between author and content, it can start enhancing the way pages appear in search results.

Let’s look at a search result without any Google Authorship enhancements:

Screen capture of a Google search result without authorship enhancements

We’re so used to seeing these that they have become ubiquitous, and we’ve conditioned ourselves to assume that’s all a search result can be (unless you buy paid advertising).

Google search results don’t have to be flat text objects. Google is now giving you tremendous control over how it displays your pages. Instead of the simple text in the example above, wouldn’t you rather engage your audience and compete in the market with something that stands out like this result with Google Authorship enhancements?

Screen capture of a Google search result showing the authors photo and additional authorship enhancements.

Competition for first place in search engine results is becoming increasingly tight, and AdWords budgets are not guaranteed. Ask yourself this: If your competition was ranking in first and second place for a high value term, but your results had Google Authorship attribution, which link do you think a visitor is more likely to click?

Look at this example. Given a search engine results page containing a mix of authorship-enhanced results and standard results…which listings are your eyes drawn to?

Screen capture of a Google search engine results page showing mixed authorship enhancements in the results

It used to be that the absolute rule was: the higher you are in SERPs, the more clicks you’ll get. Google Authorship (and some new tools I’ll be covering in future blog posts) may change that…in the short term, at least.

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Should I Use Google Authorship?

Yes. With qualifications…

Now that you have a basic understanding of what Google Authorship is, this question is likely to be at the top of your mind.

As we point out in our following answers, Google Authorship can help your search engine listings stand out. It may even help with your rankings. However, it’s difficult to control the images your authors use, which can cause some anxiety among your marketing groups.

So unfortunately, the onus for answering whether or not to use Google Authorship resides with you. This FAQ can help give you context you can use to make an informed decision –and you can even use it to begin implementing authorship yourself. But at the end of the day, you’ll have to decide whether or not to implement it.

My advice is to start investigating this tool now. I’m confident most organizations will recognize there’s an opportunity to use Google Authorship somewhere on their menagerie of Web properties.

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Does using Google Authorship mean Google will always show author photos next to links in search results?

No.

While Google does have the option to show author photos next to results, there is no guarantee that it will do so. In fact, the one thing Google appears willing to commit to is the fact that they will not guarantee much of anything: “Google doesn’t guarantee to show author information in Google Web Search or Google News results” (source).

In my experience, the result is kind of a mixed bag at first: Google will sometimes show images (and other authorship enhancements). It looks to me like they are trying different variations to see which perform best.

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If I don’t implement Google Authorship, will I prevent Google from showing author photos in the search results?

Emphatically no.

Sometimes organizations think that if they don’t implement Google Authorship, they can prevent Google from showing author photos next to their content. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the absence of Google Authorship markup on your blog pages, Google can still try to guess the author’s image and insert it into search results. This guesswork may be pure speculation on the part of Google, or it may be the result of an author verifying their email address with Google (more on this later).

Regardless of the reason, I’ve seen Google display author photos next to blog posts even in the absence of Google Authorship markup. Given this, it may behoove organizations to get out in front of the curve on this one and establish authorship the right way, lest you force Google to try to guess at authorship attribution (and we already know that making Google guess is bad for business).

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Where does Google get author photos?

Google uses the photo associated with the author’s Google+ profile. This means that authors’ photos are likely out of your organization’s ultimate control.

This can sometimes cause anxiety in the marketing group, as they are often reluctant to cede control of issues related to branding, iconography and identity. There are ways to work through this, but it’s important to remember that not implementing authorship doesn’t protect you.

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Is there a way to prevent Google from showing authorship information in search results?

Sort of, but the control is somewhat limited…and is done on a per-author basis.

Google claims that authors can edit their Google+ profile to turn off the “Help others discover my profile in search results” option. By doing this, Google says that it will not display authorship information in search results.

Screen capture of the Google+ profile settings page

The important point to remember is that control of this resides with the content author, and not with the organization.

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What if we just don’t want author images next to search results?

That ship has probably sailed. As of right now, there is no guaranteed way of preventing Google from displaying what it wants next to search results. Your best bet is probably to ask your contributors to disable the “Help others discover my profile in search results” checkbox. However, you need to understand that if this works, it may be all or nothing. You don’t have the option to just turn off photos.

In addition, your content contributors may be reluctant to do this. Turning off this feature would disable authorship from showing across all properties they contribute to…this may be more than just the ones you are concerned with.

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What if we don’t like the image an author has on their Google+ account?

There is no doubt that Google Authorship is challenging how some organizations think about their brand identities. When it comes to Google Authorship, it is important to remember that authors don’t have the ability to specify unique photos for use on each property they contribute content to. In the future this may change, but as of today, Google uses the profile photo in the Google+ account for all properties using Google Authorship.

If you’re a brand manager for an organization and you feel that the photo on an author’s Google+ profile is not sufficient for your organization, you can try removing authorship attribution for that particular author, or you can work with him/her to get a suitable image attached to their profile.

Sometimes meeting half way can work wonders: “I’d love to arrange some time with our staff photographer and get you a professional head shot for you to use with Google Authorship.”

It’s worth noting that some people have tested the performance of their Google+ profile photos in the hopes of optimizing and selecting the one that performs best. Perhaps a conversation with an author about this would help, “We’d like to test the performance of various types of profile photos. Can we take a new photo for your Google+ profile and see how it performs in search results?”

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Will Google Authorship improve our search rankings?

Sometimes.

While many people report an improvement in search rankings after implementing Google Authorship, this is not a foregone conclusion. Some sites implement Google Authorship and see absolutely no change in their search results. Others see big changes.

Photo of Eric Schmidt, Google Executive Chairman

Eric Schmidt, courtesy of Guillaume Paumier, CC-BY.

Google’s Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, indicates that tying website content to online profiles (which is what implementing Google Authorship does) will lead to higher search result rankings:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.” (source)

While it’s hard to question the pedigree of this claim, I’d still be reluctant to hang my hat on it and guarantee improvement. On the flip side, it’s hard to argue against the fact that on a search results page with mixed authorship and non-authorship results, the ones with author thumbnails and other Google Authorship enhancements are going to get the attention…even if they aren’t in the coveted #1 spot.

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Will Google Authorship harm our search rankings?

Unlikely.

Though a few rare birds have claimed this in the blogosphere, I’ve not seen any reports of this stand up to scrutiny.

Most people I’ve looked at who claimed to have suffered a decrease in organic search traffic as a result of implementing Google Authorship markup look to me like they have actually suffered algorithmic penalties from Penguin or Panda. These decreases in traffic stem from systemic problems with the site and not as a result of Google Authorship.

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What types of pages should we implement Google Authorship on?

That’s really up to organizations to decide for themselves, but in most cases, hospitals and healthcare organizations will not want to implement Google Authorship on the vast majority of their pages.

It makes little sense to specify authorship for your hospital’s service line descriptions, home page, microsites, etc. As a general rule of thumb: focus your use of authorship on pages where the individual (and not corporate) voice is important.

Some pages where the individual voice is important may include:

  • Blog Posts – The author’s identity is an important element of most blog posts. In many cases, you’d want to establish Google Authorship for these.

  • News and Press Releases – Sometimes you may want to establish authorship for your organization’s news and press releases. A good rule of thumb is: If the content has a byline or author indicated on the page, you are already attempting to identify the content of a particular person and as such, may want to consider using Google Authorship.

    Additionally, if your organization is positioning the author of content as a spokesperson or expert on something, it might make sense to use Google Authorship on their content.

    Of course, if the content is author-agnostic, it probably makes little sense to try to force authorship on it.

  • Health Information – This is an interesting use case, and may be worth considering for some healthcare organizations. If your organization is authoring its own health library and positioning your doctors and staff as experts in their respective fields, you may want to consider using Google Authorship.

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Does VitalSite support Google Authorship?

Yes. You can use VitalSite’s new custom HTML capabilities to inject the Google Authorship attribute onto content pages.

If you’d like to learn more, I’ve created a video that shows just how easy it is to do in VitalSite:

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Can I implement Google Authorship on a blog running on a third-party blogging engine?

Absolutely.

If you are interested in Google Authorship and you’ve worked with Geonetric to develop a blog for your organization, contact your client advisor to learn how to implement it. Depending on how your blog was set up, it may be something you can do yourself…or it may be something that requires a few maintenance hours to accomplish.

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Are there other ways to establish authorship?

Yes.

There are multiple ways to establish Google Authorship:

  • Structured Content Approach – This is the method I recommend, as the semantic relationship between content and author is explicitly defined on the page. To take this approach, you’ll have to add some special Google Authorship markup in the page’s <head> section. Here’s what the Google Authorship markup looks like:

  • <link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/115488642824707648338/posts"/>

    Note that the long sequence of numbers in the authorship markup is specific to each author. You can find the number by browsing to the author’s Google+ profile and looking at the URL:

    Screen capture showing a Google+ profile page with the unique number in the URL

  • Softlinking – I don’t recommend this approach, in large part because it can drive visitors away from your property. The idea behind this is to add a link in your content to the author’s Google+ profile. This link will contain the appropriate authorship markup. An example might be as follows:

  • <p>This fine post brought to you by <a rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/115488642824707648338/posts">Michael O'Neill</a>.</p>

    In addition to the fact that this approach drives visitors off your site and onto the author’s Google+ profile, there’s another reason you should stay away from implementing Google Authorship this way: It can be flakey.

    Sometimes the rel="author" attribute isn’t enough to establish authorship, so you’re supposed to try adding it to the end of the URL like this:

    <p>This fine post brought to you by <a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/115488642824707648338/posts?rel=author">Michael O'Neill</a>.</p>

    I find it best to avoid such headaches and just establish Google Authorship by adding the appropriate code to the <head> section of the page’s HTML.

    Screen shot of the Google Authorship page for verifying email addresses

  • Email Verification Only – Authors can also try linking their Google+ Profile to their work by just verifying their email address on the domain on which their work appears.

  • I only recommend this approach if authorship is necessary, but it is impossible to add the appropriate authorship markup on the page. Google provides instructions and an interactive form for linking Google+ profiles to content.

    Webmasters and brand managers should understand that content authors can do this on their own, even if you decide not to support Google Authorship markup in your pages.

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OK. Enough high level. What exactly do I need to do to add Google Authorship to a page?

I’ve created a helpful video that shows how I wired up Google Authorship to a VitalSite page. Essentially, you’ll need to do the following:

  • In each author’s Google+ profile – Identify the author as a contributor to the property.

  • In each author’s Google+ profile – Verify the author’s domain email address.

  • In VitalSite – Make sure the author’s name appears on the page. Try to ensure it’s spelled the same in the Google+ profile as it is on the page.

  • In VitalSite – Add the author’s Google+ profile URL to the <head> section of each page written by the corresponding author. The syntax is as follows:

  • <link rel="author" href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/<some_long_number>/posts"/>

    Screen capture of Google Authorship markup in HTML

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Can we use Google Authorship on pages with more than one author?

Sort of.

Often times multiple authors will contribute to a work. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t currently support a way to apply authorship attribution for multiple authors of the same page. There is some evidence that Google recognizes this as a problem and may provide a solution to it in the future, but for now it will recognize only one author per page.

In cases where there are multiple valid rel="author" assertions on a page, Google will assign authorship of the page to the author corresponding to the first assertion.

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How long after implementing Google Authorship will it take to see enhanced listings on Google’s search result pages?

Usually you’ll start seeing Google using authorship enhancements in search result pages within a couple of weeks. This is because you’ll have to wait for Google to reindex those pages in order for it to notice the new authorship markup.

If Google indexes your content more frequently, it may only take a day or two to show up. Keep in mind that while you may start seeing authorship enhancements in search results relatively quickly, chances are it will take some time before Google knows about all the pages you’ve applied it to.

It’s important to remember that Google does not guarantee it will use authorship enhancements at all. So technically, you may never see author-enhanced search results.

If you would like to speed up the rate at which Google discovers your authorship markup, you can try using the Fetch as Google tool in Google Webmaster Tools and resubmitting your pages to be indexed. I’ve had promising results with this approach in the past, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

Image of Google Webmaster Tools Fetch as Google feature.

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How do I test Google Authorship?

Since Google does not guarantee that it will use authorship enhancements in search results, it can sometimes be difficult to know whether or not Google Authorship is wired up and working correctly.

Fortunately, you can verify that you’ve implemented Google Authorship correctly by using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. This will parse the markup of the page and look for structured data (all types).

Screen capture of the Google Structured Data Testing Tool page

You’ll want to look at a couple of sections: the Authorship Testing Result and the Authorship Email Verification:

  • Authorship Testing Result – Indicates whether or not the page contains the appropriate authorship markup. If this reports the lack of markup, or an error, you’ll want to check your authorship implementation. If Google detects authorship markup on the page and you’re still not seeing authorship markup in search results, you’ll also want to check that the author has verified his/her domain email address in their Google+ profile (below).

  • Authorship Email Verification – Indicates whether or not the author has verified his or her domain email address in their Google+ account. This is not the author’s GMail address or other personal email address. It must be the email address associated with the author on the domain where the blog or website authorship is implemented.

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Can a writer have verified authorship on more than one property?

Yes.

Google Authorship is not limited to specific properties. It is not at all uncommon for a content contributor to have authorship attributions in place for the properties where they contribute for their job, personal blogs they maintain at home, and other places where they contribute content.

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Can you use Google Authorship on videos, PDFs and other content types?

Unclear.

Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of speculation in this area right now because Google has not provided any clear guidance on this. Until they do, or until I can consistently apply explicit Google Authorship to these non-webpage content types, I’m going to refrain from providing recommendations.

When we learn more, we’ll update the FAQ. So be sure to check back!

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Does Google provide analytics on authorship?

In a way. If you are the verified author for content, you’ll be able to use a little known Google tool called Author Stats. This shows you statistics for all pages for which you are the verified author. Across all sites.

Here’s what it looks like:

Screen capture of the Google Author Stats page

In the image above, metrics are indicated for all pages I’m the author of…across all domains. Writers and authors might find this information helpful when assessing the performance of their various posts in Google’s organic search results.

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Can I get help implementing Google Authorship?

Yes!

We’re here to help you strategize and implement Google Authorship across appropriate pages on all your Web properties. If you’d like to learn more about authorship recommendations, contact your client advisor today. Not yet a client? Contact us.

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Where can I learn more about Google Authorship?

The Web is full of resources to help you with Google Authorship. Some are more helpful than others. If you want to continue your exploration beyond this post, you can start with these helpful resources (some of which were also linked above):

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Updates to the Google Authorship FAQ

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This entry was posted in Search/SEO/PPC, VitalSite by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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