Google’s Heading for Life after Link Trust – Here’s How to Prepare

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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…

Author Mark-up

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.

+1 Integration

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.

Rel=Author

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:

  1. You need to create a page on the domain you are writing for all about you. Let’s call this /simonpenson.
  2. This page then needs linking to your GooglePlus profile page
  3. 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:

author markup in serps

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.

Image credit: yui.kubo

Comments

  1. Richard Baxter

    Thanks for posting, Simon! I’m excited about authors being treated as entities, with (potential for) reasonably reliable scoring to indicate the likelihood of that particular article to be via an expert source.

    It also has wider ramifications for commercial site owners – it’s not enough to simply “have a blog” on a site. That content must be phenomenal to be worthwhile.

  2. SimonPenson Post author

    I hope you found it of interest and that it serves its purpose in stirring up some debate around this topic as its a real biggie should the move to a more social and semantic web continue to gather pace. Could all those redundant journos and writers suddenly be very much in demand again?!

  3. Richard

    Perhaps only if they can establish themselves as an authority on a single topic. Thinking about it – author rank could be harmful to generalists (article submission / “seo friendly” blog sites).

  4. Paul Gailey

    Fascinating and yet all sort of can of worms implied for corporate bloggers who may career change within a sector. Do they author blog posts with their authorship linked to their private gmail profile or to the (probably coming soon) Google Apps variant of it which we don’t yet know if it’s portable. OK, assume a corporate blogger links to their private Gmail Profile, do they effectively alter Serps for the company they depart/arrive to?

  5. Nick Hurst

    Completely agree with what you say above Simon, this +1 business has got to be worth something right? That said I don’t see it replacing link building anytime soon.

    As an expansion of what you’ve said above I do wonder whether Google will start adding up someone’s complete online presence? By that I mean for instance I comment on blogs, I +1, I facebook, I tweet etc… an overall presence. These services are not linked together but I wonder how long it will be until Google can work that out. At a guess I reckon email is the linking factor between these accounts so how hard can it be? The next step?

  6. SimonPenson Post author

    Hi Paul. The data will come from the Plus profile it is believed.

    And in terms of the ability to alter SERPs by moving I believe that over time that could be the case yes. It doesn’t imply that they will ‘suck’ all of their goodness away, rather stop adding it on the ‘old’ site and instead transfer their ongoing efforts to their ‘new’ site. In many respects it is what (should) happen in the offline world?!

    Hence why the right employees become as invaluable online as they are offline…

  7. SimonPenson Post author

    Yep. Google is trying to create that virtuous circle. +1 adds the richness that links have always struggled to give them and while I agree it will not replace Link Trust any time soon this kind of data helps transport content away from the page and lays the foundation for semantic web. Link impact could be diluted as a result of this.

    In terms of aggregating social data I think they hope that +1 will give them everything they need but I have no doubt they’ll feed from anywhere:)

  8. Peter Young

    Its a thought provoking post Simon however listing to the Matt Cutts Q&A from a couple of days ago (see below) – I don’t think this will become a significant signal within the Google algorithm any time soon – however as Matt points out there are not that many negatives in terms of utilising it – particularly in terms of providing a layer of transparency and trust before a user may click on a piece of content

    https://plus.google.com/108234536208176601636/posts/PVS6mZgSFmY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7Yv6DzHBvE

    That said its one of those things. For content heavy sites one can’t help feeling they are going to struggle to integrate such features as easily as say a blog.

    +1′s on the other hand are a completely different kettle of fish. If they can get the analysis right – albeit thats a massive job – one can’t help feeling this can only become an increasingly authorative factor in coming Google evolutions

  9. SimonPenson Post author

    Hi Pete. And thanks for sharing the video. Its great to hear it from the horse’s mouth and I actually agree that we won’t be seeing this soon. It is, however, worth sharing thoughts in order to help stimulate the debate and I do think that Google are hell bent on finding a way of reducing their reliance on Link Trust…

  10. Richard Baxter

    I think the share was more than worthwhile – let’s ignore the classic “ranking factors” issue for a moment and consider the quality rating question: “Q: Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?”.

    What you’re effectively encouraging in an article of this type Simon is to get your readers to consider the importance of focusing on the author, markup to describe author as an entity and ultimately the importance of developing the author as an expert source of information.

  11. Mark Simons

    The original idea of Google was that a link was considered a vote for good content. Over time these signals have become corrupted and abused.

    A +1 will surely soon be seen as a similar vote, only this time a vote is from a person rather than a website.

    I think Google will eventually lean more toward this model (providing it can keep out spam) as a +1 is far more democratic than a link. Anyone with a Google+ account can +1 something, but not everyone knows how to add a link to a page, let alone has a page from which to link.