google authorrank google plus

Google AuthorRank promises major changes for travel search [UPDATED]

NB: This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner at Hit Riddle Travel.

UPDATE 2 September 2014:
Google recently announced it that the Google+ connections between content and author that are described below will no longer have any bearing on the display (or ranking) of search results.

Despite this, the core concept behind “AgentRank” remains the same: Google is doubtless as interested as ever in evaluating individual author authority metrics, but the search engine is now developing more sophisticated ways of gauging said metrics than relying on individual users to implement clunky markup code.

For details, see this updated post: “Travel content marketing after Google Authorship’s demise

Since its outset, search engine optimization (SEO) has always been concerned with the things that we can do to websites to improve their authority and relevance as search results.

The practice of SEO involved improving things like a site’s in-bound links, its architecture and coding, and its content.

These are all signals to the search engines of your website’s authority and suitability to rank for certain keywords. Finding the right balance of these signals has been usually sufficient to ensure you rank prominently for your target keywords.

Although various algorithm updates have tweaked the balance to combat spam and manipulation techniques, the fundamentals have largely remained the same: SEO has always been about optimizing a website’s authority and relevance, loosely conceived as either PageRank (PR) or Domain Authority.

But now the SEO community is abuzz with changes being gradually introduced by Google, adding a factor to the equation.

google authorrank google plus

The “ranking power” of individuals, not just websites

For the first time, Google may “rank” individual content creators by their own personal authority, and use those authority metrics to determine how highly their work should feature in other people’s search results.

The concept of “Agent Rank” is actually quite old and dates back to a patent first registered by Google in 2005.

However as Mike Arneson explains in an excellent background piece, it is only recently that Google has introduced the vital element that connects individuals to their content through a single digital identify: Google+ profiles.

Using their Google+ social media profile and some simple HTML tags, content creators can now claim ownership to all their work published on sites across the web.

This mechanism is called Google Authorship, and among other things it is how Google is now able to display author information alongside search results.

matthew baker hit riddle google authorship

The full ramifications of this change are still sinking in and it remains unclear exactly how Google will rank individual authors, and what the impact will be on the search rankings of websites that publish their content.

But the general consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before the concept of individual author authority, nicknamed AuthorRank (AR), is introduced to the algorithm as a ranking factor.

When this happens it has the potential to be a true game changer for SEO, at least as significant as the Panda and Penguin updates of the last two years.

We already know that those author snippets can improve click through rates.

When they start to influence the actual rankings too, the long-term impact on SEO strategy could be seismic.

Part of Google’s battle against spam and “low-quality” content

Google’s logic appears to be that individual AuthorRank (AR) will be harder to game than traditional PageRank: individuals will need to publish consistently well-received content in order to maximize their AR.

  • As Mike explains, Google will likely assess an individual’s AR by looking at:
  • The average PageRank of the sites they’re published on.
  • The number of +1’s, comments and shares their content generates on Google+.
  • The number of Google+ circles they are in.
  • The volume of on-site comments & interactions their content generates.
  • Their authority metrics from other reliable sources (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, if they have a Wikipedia page etc.)
  • And many, many other metrics…

Unlike the old SEO techniques, this stuff is hard (/impossible) to spam – you can’t trick your way to having popular, authoritative and well-received content: you just have to knuckle down and get on with it (or invest in an outside source.)

So, what does Google AuthorRank mean for the online travel industry?

We already know that content has become a major driver of success in search marketing and the impetus for investment in high performance content increases every day.

But the emergence of AuthorRank brings some extra considerations into the mix.

Unlike some of Google’s other recent updates, I believe this presents more opportunity than disruption, especially for marketers that are quick to adopt and make the most of the new system.

Aside from the technical aspects of setting up Google Authorship with your content (which is relatively straightforward and full documentation is provided), there are other content strategy issues that will need to be addressed.

Individual voices:

At the moment Google Authorship emphasizes individual authors and the whole idea is about highlighting people who are authoritative in their field (although you can connect your brand’s Google+ page with your content, too.)

This means you’ll need to start thinking about the individuals you have contributing to your site and decide on an approach to managing that.

Will they all connect their own Google+ profiles with your content? What safeguards will you have to make sure their personal activity doesn’t impact your brand? But this doesn’t have to be a headache, and can actually present a great opportunity for many online travel brands.

Online travel purchases hinge on the consumer trusting and having faith in the brand to deliver. Putting a human face onto your content and emphasizing individual expertise in certain areas can only contribute to that.

Where a travel blog may have previously published everything under “admin”, now you have the opportunity to highlight the expertise of each member of your team. Identifying and capitalizing on those individual voices will improve your brand and your search performance.

Maximizing AuthorRank:

In a previous article I wrote about the convergence between search and social marketing and this is yet another example of that process.

When AR is introduced to the ranking algorithm, it will be imperative that your contributors maximize their AR through the content that they are publishing and the social media interactions it generates: more +1’s, more Google+ engagement, more comments, more shares on other social networks, etc.

This also means your contributors will have to pay more attention to their Google+ activity, engaging with other users, +1ing more content and aiming to be added to more peoples’ circles – especially other relevant authorities.

You will have to build this into your social media strategy just as you maintain your own brand’s Facebook page.

Through its Webmaster Tools service Google already offers some data on the search impact of verified author results. Keep an eye on this data and aim to improve it over time.

Google AuthorRank Webmaster Tools

Influencer outreach:

Even with the above efforts, you will probably find that your in-house content creation efforts won’t build huge AR when compared to professional or semi professional journalists and travel bloggers.

For that reason more brands will start to consider influencer outreach and publishing partnerships with authoritative content creators.

Fortunately for us in the travel industry we already have a hugely active travel blogging community that has the potential to inject enormous value to search marketing campaigns.

Blogger outreach was already an exciting strategy since bloggers’ large and engaged social media audiences can make significant contributions to your site’s search engine visibility.

With AuthorRank, “borrowing” an individual’s authority by commissioning their content for your own site becomes an even more attractive prospect.

These are just a few immediate considerations thrown up by the prospect of AuthorRank as a ranking signal.

Over time, “AR Optimization” will emerge as a practice in its own right, but in the meantime site owners should be aware that it is coming and start to prepare for the huge opportunities it could offer.

NB: This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner at Hit Riddle Travel. Image courtesy of Google.

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A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.



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  1. professional seo

    These tools don’t substitute for using due diligence on the already in place tools. Search Engine Optimization over the years, most companies are trying to implement the same for effective branding and promotion of their services and products online. You can write long titles but each words will reduce the impact of the important words.

  2. Aaron Zwas

    Yet another stitch that ties Google’s social network in with overall search. AuthorRank will increase the value of employee generated content (which I wrote about here at, blogger outreach, and genreal social activity in Google+.

    My key takeaway for brands is that they will need to have actual humans representing them and creating content for them. The importance of finding and nurturing relationships with brand advocates will increase significantly as AuthorRank gains influence.

    Tie this in with a concept like and the future of “social commerce” becomes more clear by the week.

  3. Tim L.

    Call me a cynic, but like inferior maps on iPhones, I think it all comes down to this comment from Sean:

    “And also perhaps a cynical ploy by Google to get people to use Google+.”

    Would anyone use Google+ otherwise? I ignored it for as long as I could—and everyone who doesn’t run a web-based business is still ignoring it—but I had to break down after being forced into it. It’s going to be like installing the Alexa toolbar: something that people with a vested interest will do, but not real people.

    But I have to admit I’m all for having my authority recognized, and that of my contributors, so I’ll play along and see what happens. With all the ways Google has been dinging the little guys like us lately in favor of big brands that either spend lots of money on Adwords or have been bought by Google, this seems to be one development that could actually level the playing field again, back to where it used to be pre-Penguin.

  4. Ola Zetterlöf

    Thanks Matthew, very interesting! I am trying to get my head around how this would influence us amd other content suppliers such as Frommerä’s, Lonely Planet, etc. Arrivalguides deliver non unique destination information as online content for a lot of websites; e.g. Ryanair, SAS, Airberlin, etc. We also feature all content on our own website Can you shed some more light on this?

  5. Gary Arndt

    I am obviously all for this.

    I think trying to get staff writers a decent author rank is going to be hard. Most of the ranking factors I’ve heard tossed about will most help those with strong social media following, lots of engagement, and have had mentions/articles in high authority publications.

    I don’t know if Google would look at something like Klout, but I’d be willing to bet under the hood there would be a Klout-esque algorithm which does something similar.

  6. Stuart McD

    Interesting story -tks. I was very sceptical of this, but am non a converted late adopter 😉

    I think you can break it broadly into two parts — 1) doing the minimal enough (ie registering as a contributor) to get your icon showing; and 2) investing time and energy into G+ to increase the benefits.

    Think the first part is a no-brainer and anyone who doesn’t do that has rocks in their head. Before embarking on the second part, Google’s WMT needs to allow publishers to see historic CTR rates through to individual stories so you can see the before- and after-mugshot affect. Until then, investing time into G+ isn’t an equal no-brainer.

    That SELand post in the comments above is also dynamite and I think the publishers who will really benefit from that are those delivering high quality content that sees high time on page AND high bounce.

    This post at SEOMoz ( is also excellent. In it the author talks of the signals for AuthorRank, one of the most interesting of which was “Reciprocal connections to other high AuthorRank authors.”

    We’ve been testing Authorship for about a month with 4 of our 16 writers — and, in light of that SELand piece, we will expand it to all 16. Overall I’m happy with the results as we’re often the only one with a mugshot on page one, and I do think that will help CTR. One interesting point, the one author’s mugshot that never appeared? It was a logo for their business. It seems the mugshot must be, well, a mugshot.

    • Matthew Barker

      Thanks Stuart. You might also find this post interesting: it certainly looks like Google are running plenty of trials and experiments on how this should all work.

      I think you’re right that it doesn’t yet make sense for brands to divert massive amounts of time & resources to maximising AuthorRank, since we don’t yet have a clear idea of how that algorithm will look, but yeah: just getting it set up and in place is a no brainer for now.

      GWT doesn’t yet show the publisher the author stats data, it only shows the verified author the stats for their own articles. I think if/when that changes publishers will start to get on board, but there’s always something to be said for staying ahead of the curve…

  7. Bret @ Green Global Travel

    This a very Facts-of-Life development (you know, “You take the good, you take the bad…”). On the one hand, it’s great that Google wants to reward those of us who have been generating solid content, day-in and day-out, for quite some time while watching SEO tricksters get all the Google love. But to imply that, no matter how awesome my content is, I *still* have to adopt Google + if I want to reap the full search benefits of my years of hard work? I call BS! Guess I’ll have to keep drawing readers the old-fashioned way…

    • Dennis Schaal


      The article includes many speculations about what might happen, but it’s definitely not clear what Google will actually do or what consumer adoption will actually be — two huge variables.

  8. Peggy Lee

    Thanks for this great article Sean. I’m posting to my Blogger groups. Good information for any vertical.

  9. Gary Bembridge of

    Thanks for this article! The whole topic of Author that Google are moving to is a bit techie when I have read about it before and tried to get my head around it. This one helped a lot. I must, though, have been doign something right as my ugly face shows up now in search items of my various posts in Google.

    I had missed the author stats section in webmaster tools and thanks for that heads-up. (I do need to better understand the whole webmaster tools thing too….)

    I really like the idea of building up Authors as think it will help ensure that good content starts to do even better. I still feel the stack is in favour of the SEO tricks… and so hopign google helps content rise more and more….

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for your comment!

      Yes, my ugly mug has been showing up, though — of course, I’m partly seeing that because of personalised search results via iGoogle.

      This is a look-ahead piece, of course. How will the algorithm for SERPS change in the future.

      Fascinating. And also perhaps a cynical ploy by Google to get people to use Google+.



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