Ah, +1. You’ve got to love it. Just as we are getting used to the impact of Facebook Likes and Retweets, Google goes and throws its weighty hat in the ring, leaving digital marketers to fumble around in the dark once more, trying to find the light switch and work out how each social button contributes to the marketing mix.
Google +1 and Rank
Over the past few weeks lots has been written in support of both sides of the argument as to whether the Big G is already factoring in these sharing buttons into its ranking algorithm.
Indeed keen followers of SEO news would have read the Wired Scoop suggesting that Google had indeed begun to ‘study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results.’
The result is a raft of websites already offering to sell +1s by the bucket load, undoubtedly leading to some site owners buying them by the truckload in the vain hope that it ‘might’ bring ranking nirvana.
Thankfully sanity has continued to reign within the digital marketing fraternity and the good people at Search Engine Watch posted this level headed piece on Google +1 that has captured the sentiment around +1 abuse and why the mass buying of such signals will hold very little sway in the real world.
This has had most reputable SEOs scratching their heads somewhat, especially as Google is clearly extremely focused on its promotion of +1 and its use as a rank factor. The really BIG news though comes from elsewhere in Google’s vast and ever churning PR machine…
Those of you not completely distracted by the fanfare unveiling of Google+ may have noticed this small announcement about Authorship Markup.
On the face of it, this blog post seemed like a fairly insignificant muse that could easily be lost in the raft of recent updates to Google’s products and services. For me though, it offers a truly eye opening insight into G’s plans for the future. Let me explain.
AuthorRank – The Core Rank Algorithm of the Future
We all know that QUALITY is the defining factor in great ranking. It’s not about 10,000 cheaply purchased +1s or thousands of directory links. Instead it’s about the data or ‘trust’ behind each of those recommendation signals.
Its why anybody studying the +1 debate will already tell you that a +1 from a Google+ account with LOTS of followers and an active profile will be worth more to your site, in the same way that a PR6 link stokes the SEO engine. I talk about it more on our SEO blog and it’s potential has also been captured beautifully by SEO by The Sea’s Bill Slawski here, who I will paraphrase for a moment:
On the potential of Google’s Agent Rank: ‘Imagine a system that instead of ranking content on a page level, breaks those pages down and looks at smaller content items on those pages, which it associates with digital signatures. Content creators could be given reputation scores, which could influence the rankings of pages where their content appears, or which they own, edit, or endorse.’
The benefits of such an approach are easy to see. By having such a granular understanding of the content presented by sites the page can become less important and it means that search engines COULD create much richer, relevant search results.
The patent application for doing this was actually granted back in 2007 and combined with the recent announcement that authorship is to become a standard piece in the rich snippet toolset, it is indisputable that Google is now heading for a richer algorithm; one where Authorship or TrustRank play a significant part in the ranking process.
It’s clever in many ways as it reduces reliance (perhaps altogether?!) on the abused Link Trust model we have currently and also ensures that it is the experts (those adding the most value) that are surfaced in any particular vertical.
Here’s a simplified diagram showing how the content ranking algorithm could work:
Clearly the diagram above is extremely simplified and doesn’t include a plethora of other factors that will play a part but it serves as a simple way of understanding the general process of how the new data, now being collected and organized by Google’s data centers, could be used.
In many ways it’s the next big step in search, and a great way for Google to supplement abused Link Trust data with a more solid foundation.
It is not implausible in fact that it may, one day, replace the algorithm that made its name altogether (although this is less likely), to one based on promoting content and, with it, whole sites based purely on the authority of the writers it employs. Or, even further than that, a semantic web that ‘packages’ content by author first rather than by platform or page!
So What Can you do?
In simple terms, and to quote the Cub Scout motto all you can do is ‘Be Prepared’.
By understanding the importance of +1 and other social media integration and the adoption of Author Markup it means you can ensure that your own site/s and those of your clients begin prioritizing quality content and its promotion as highly as obtaining links.
For those that don’t know how to integrate the +1 button into a site follow this link to Google’s guide and to back it up make sure you have a Google Plus account and that you are actively posting and sharing content. If you want the code cut and paste from here.
Integrating Rel=author markup is actually pretty straightforward and in a nutshell here’s what you need to do.
In order for the tag to work correctly you must complete three stages:
- You need to create a page on the domain you are writing for all about you. Let’s call this /simonpenson.
- This page then needs linking to your GooglePlus profile page
- Finally link that profile page back to the /simonpenson page for verification.
Sounds simple enough and in practice it really is. If you have lots of authors you have to rinse and repeat of course, but the process is exactly the same.
For specifics on how to add the markup Google has it’s own implementation guide.
Get it right, however, and the impact on clickthrough rates alone makes the effort worthwhile. The screenshot below shows you just how much standout it gives you:
And the result of all of this? It means that as site owners and SEOs we need to start putting great content creators at the centre of everything we do again because the internet is no longer about the platform but the content that it delivers – and Google is leading that charge.
Simon Penson is the owner of Zazzle Media, a specialist UK SEO and Social Media management agency.