What Is SEO Authorship?
In SEO, authorship refers to the idea that Google has some interest in who created a piece of content, perhaps as a means of establishing credibility and trustworthiness of the content.
But does it matter for SEO??
Let’s dig in.
Why Is Authorship Important?
As we'll see below, for many years Google has shown an interest in associating content with known authors.
In addition, authorship indicates authority and trust that human users can use to gauge the validity of a piece of content.
After all, a blog post about your company’s security protocols would be more trustworthy coming from the COO than from a Client Success manager.
The History of Google Authorship
Google’s investment in identifying the authors of content began in 2007 with the filing of their agent rank patent. The patent outlined a scheme for “digital signatures” connecting an author to a piece of content, and how that might be used as a ranking signal.
Here are key developments in Google’s brief public experiment with Google Authorship in search results:
- 2011: In early spring, Google confirms that it supports the rel=“author” markup and recommends tagging authors with it for content they created.
- 2011: It started with verifying and associating authorship using Google+. Later that year Google began experimenting with a SERP rich snippet, displaying an author’s profile photo and link to their online content along with results for pages they had authored.
- 2013: Authorship results begin to decline in search results.
- 2014: Google announces the end of their experiment with showing author rich snippets in a Search Engine Land article that I co-wrote with Eric Enge after I was informed directly by Google that this was happening.
- 2019: Google ends the public version of Google+, also ending its experiment with dependence on author and publisher structured data implementation to verify authorship.
- 2020: Google files the Author Vectors patent that identifies authors through internet-based writing styles.
How Is Authorship Used in Search Today?
Even without supporting authorship markup, Google can still recognize an author and all of their web content when the author's articles link back to a central location.
At the 2016 SMX conference I had the opportunity to ask Google’s Gary Illyes if author identity was being used as a ranking signal. He responded that they were not, but didn’t rule it out entirely for the future.
However, at Pubcon in Austin in March 2023, Illyes reconfirmed that Google is still not using authors as a ranking factor.
Both times he remarked that Google was actively pursuing ways to better identify authors, but mostly for use as entities in its knowledge graph.
As I wrote in in Why Author Reputation Matters More Than Ever for Search a few years after the end of the original Google Authorship experiment: "The fact that author reputation and credibility are now included in the quality rater guidelines is significant. It means that the real aims of the Google Authorship project never died, even if their explicit display in the SERPs never returns."
One thing we can say with certainty: the more critical your content is to the lives and well-being of your readers, the more it makes sense to display bylines from credible experts in the relevant field.
UPDATE: Google is now experimenting with sometimes including "About this author" information for content.
E-E-A-T and YMYL
We continue to see evidence that Google is still interested in authors as a means of vetting the E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) of content.
When content falls into the YMYL category (Your Money/Your Life - topics that have to do with health, news, finances, or anything that impacts personal well-being), the raters are told to look for E-E-A-T (formerly E-A-T; the second “E” for Experience was added recently):
- Experience: degree of experience on the topic demonstrated in the content.
- Expertise: expertise demonstrated in the content
- Authoritativeness: the authoritativeness of the content creator (i.e. the author) and the content itself
- Trustworthiness: the overall trust of the content creator, the content, and the website
Validated By Google Quality Rater Guidelines
Understanding how Google works with its Search Quality Raters is key to understanding the role authorship plays in search today.
Google contracts and trains independent agents from around the world to serve as human evaluators of the quality of search results.
These evaluators are given actual web pages that Google ranks for a query and asked to evaluate it based on Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines.
Recommended Reading: What is Google E-A-T and YMYL in SEO?
Google uses the ratings by Search Quality Raters to determine how well its algorithms rank the content that the Guidelines identify as “quality” and “useful.”
What does that mean for the concept of authorship? Google wants to rank higher the kind of content that is written by qualified writers. When the content matters, you should get the right people to create it.
Why Should Enterprises Care About Authorship?
The most important takeaway for enterprise SEO is the more important the content, the more you should focus on it being trustworthy, which means involving real qualified experts in its creation.
Nevertheless, including authors in a byline and linking those bylines to dedicated author pages demonstrates that you care about providing your visitors with content they can trust.
With the burgeoning interest in generative AI we are on the verge of an explosion of content like we’ve never seen before. Therefore anything you can do to stand out from the crowd in your content is critical.
Create Authoritative Content
Authorship is, of course, a small last step after you’ve created your authoritative content.
So, your first step is to create that authoritative content! This is where an AI content optimizer comes into play. One example of this is Content Fusion, which allows you to understand a topic and write about it with authority all at scale.
(Content Fusion tells you what you need to know to cover a topic authoritatively.)
Google Author Knowledge Panels
Over the past couple years Google has been showing more authors with a Knowledge Panel and featuring their published content when you search for their names.
I experienced this first hand when a Knowledge Panel result began showing for me suddenly in early 2023.:
For the first time Google was showing a knowledge panel (the information box in the right sidebar) that identified me as an author and included a bio snippet from my Search Engine Land author profile.
The focused SERP shows that Google was already confident that I was the author of all of it.
How to Claim an Author Knowledge Panel
Most if not all content management systems will let you set an author.
Once you’ve taken the time to create authoritative content, create trust with your audience by showing who the author is.
If you find that Google is showing a knowledge panel for your name or individuals you work with, here’s how to claim the listing and verify authorship.
- Click the “Claim this knowledge panel” button in the panel.
- Google will ask you to verify your identity with a headshot of your holding a government ID, along with screenshots showing you have editing access to at least two of your social profiles.
If Google accepts your validation, after a few days the button disappears, and the search results for your name become even more focused around your published content.
We’ve also put together some helpful blog posts about how to create SEO content.
- 19 SEO Content Writing Tips: Create Copy That Both Google and Users Love
- What, Why, & How: Write Authoritative Content to Win Traffic
- A Lightning-Fast Guide to the AI Content Marketing Workflow
Measuring the Performance of Authors’ Content
If you want to segment your SEO performance by author to see how one writer’s content performs compared to another, you can add your content to page tags.
In the seoClarity platform, you can bundle pages into custom groups and analyze the organic performance of the content within those specific groupings.
This is a great way to drill into organic performance in a view that’s meaningful to you. This can be especially useful for publishers who create a lot of content with a number of contributors.
Finding an Author’s Work on Your Site, At Scale
If you need to locate all pages on your site that were authored by someone in particular, you can turn to your website crawler.
A powerful site crawler will let you crawl your site based on custom criteria.
You can set up your crawler to extract the author name from the XPath — many websites build author names into their templates for blog or article pages.
This allows you to quickly find the content where a particular author has the byline.
Authorship in SEO may have had a rocky past, but it isn’t completely obsolete.
Sure, the author name will no longer appear on the SERPs, and Google+ is defunct, but adding an author to your blog content is still a way to enhance the user experience and build trust.
It’s a small step that can do a lot!
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published in April 2022 and has since been updated for accuracy.