The Secret To Staying Relevant With Authorship

At PubCon last year, Google’s Matt Cutts discussed big changes to the search results, many of which we’ve seen played out over the past several months.

In his talk, he mentioned upcoming improvements to authorship results. A couple months later in December, Google confirmed it had started tightening the belt when it came to authorship results after many had experienced a drop.


The authorship update, which has been called a “shake up,” “authorshipocalypse” and other endearing terms, focuses on the quality of content and the authority of the author, where higher quality in both areas would be favored in the results.

According to the Virante Orange Juice blog, Cutts’ exact words at PubCon were as follows:

We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we’re looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author.

This newest development in the authorship results have many pointing to the concept of author rank. Marketers coined the term “author rank” to explain what many believe is one facet of Google’s intention with authorship, as explained by a 2005 Google patent called “Agent Rank.”

What we do know with certainty is that this move is the next logical step in Google’s master plan for quality, relevant results. While Step 1 was all about associating content with authors via authorship, Step 2 is about refining to the top echelon of authors and filtering their quality content into the results more favorably.

How Much Does Authorship Impact CTR?

There have been numerous data points over the years highlighting the increase in click-through rates on results showing rich snippets. With authorship results being a form of a rich snippet, we can guess how the association of a familiar face or name with a piece of content could increase the CTR.

But BrightEdge data sampled from our large database of client websites shows something interesting: authorship results do not consistently perform better than classic results.

For rank No. 1 to No. 6, authorship results perform about 12 percent better than classic results; but for rank No. 7 to No. 10, authorship results have a 33 percent lower CTR on average.

There could be several reasons why this is occurring. At the very least, it’s interesting to note how this behavior might play out with the new authorship results and all its possible variations.

Authorship: 5 Things To Keep Doing, 3 Things To Remember

In light of the recent change to authorship results, you may be wondering how you can maximize your chance of turning up those type of results for a query.

Many of the principles we’ve come to call “best practices” still apply; we know that authority, social connections and quality content continue to go hand-in-hand when it comes to relevance of the search results.

As reported by Search Engine Watch at PubCon, Cutts said social signals like a +1 aren’t just a number — those endorsements are a sign of authority. If you’re someone worth listening to, search engines will think you’re worth listening to, as well.

So here are 5 things you can continue to focus on when optimizing for authorship results:

  1. Develop expertise and topical authority, then share that through quality, original content, ensuring you’ve properly set up authorship.
  2. Contribute regularly to websites in your area of focus to deepen your association with quality content on that specific subject matter.
  3. Use your judgment when considering which sites are quality enough to contribute to as an author. On the flip side, as a publisher, don’t just accept any old author. This is in line with the best practices of guest blogging anyway — contribute and accept quality content.
  4. Make an effort to post your content to Google+, and engage with (comment on, respond to and share) other posts from those in your space.
  5. Ensure you’re connected with (i.e., have in circles) other authoritative authors and individuals on Google+.

Remember, Google is trying to reward quality content coming from authoritative sources. So as a publisher of content, to increase the chance of your site’s authorship results, make sure:

  1. The content provided by the author is good
  2. The author publishes regularly on the subject or topic
  3. The content is performing well (engagement factors)

No. 1 is essential. No. 1 in combination with No. 2 is essentially what Google is trying to reward, and No. 3 gives the search engine some additional clues to the author’s clout.


While some publishers may be in a panic over the recent purging of authorship results, it’s really just one tiny step toward Google’s continuous goal of making its results more relevant to users, and better understanding the data that’s available to it.

Keeping your eye on the prize means continuing to create content people want to read and share, and to be a part of an online conversation that keeps your personal brand top of mind with both people and search engines.