Image Credit: SEOMoz
Looming over the SEO horizon like a hooded harbinger of doom, Author Rank – as we have all been warned on numerous occasions – is coming. No-one knows when, no-one really knows how but it’s coming. And when it comes, you had better be ready.
Unlike Google’s zoological algorithm updates, however, Author Rank comes not on a wave of negativity but one of positivity. There seems to be genuine hope that this new search signal, which determines the rank of content based on the authority of the person who produced it, will change the SERPs for the better.
Of course, it hasn’t actually happened yet so that positivity is bound to fly out of the window the moment AR comes into force, but for now, things seem good.
What Is Author Rank?
There have been quite a few explanations of what Author Rank is, or at least what the concept of Author Rank refers to, from SEOs far more qualified to explain it than I am, so I’m going to send you in the direction of Mike Arnesen on SEOMoz, Jeroen van Eck on State of Search and Henrik Bondtofte on ContentVerve for all the intricacies of what Author Rank is, or might be.
I will, however, offer you a short summary; Author Rank is a way of introducing human aspects into search, giving individual authors a degree of power. Author Rank will make an author’s qualifications and expertise on a particular subject relevant ranking factors, in addition to how often their content is shared and liked on social media, how many followers they have and the kind of authority they command within their field.
Authorship is ‘enabled’ by including the ‘rel=author’ tag in any content you produce. In addition to potential AR benefits, doing this also gives you a nifty little rich snippet in the SERPs, complete with a mugshot of your choosing. These rich snippets aren’t just pretty, however, as they act as a trust signal and improve clickthrough rate.
If you’re the cynical type (as I am) then it could be said that Author Rank is little more than a way of getting some high-profile names – in fact, any name who happens to publish content – onto Google+ and it could be construed as a wee bit manipulative. But that’s an argument for another time.
What is certain is that Author Rank, in whatever form it emerges, is going to play a big role in the content efforts of SEOs everywhere which is fantastic news for in-house SEOs with a decent profile and captive audience or the kind of people who can command huge figures for half an hour of speech at a conference. It’s not-so-good news, however, for those who haven’t quite got into G+ yet. Oh, and SEO agencies too.
Author Rank and SEO Agencies
Now is the point in the standard SEO article template where I get a bit gloomy and paint a picture of wanton desolation for SEO agencies. As a copywriter who works for an SEO agency, my first thought when confronted with Author Rank was ‘how the hell am I going to get around that?’
I’m sure I’m not the only person working for an SEO agency who felt this way either. Part of the appeal of what we do, especially a content-driven agency such as our own, is that clients can pay us money and we go off and produce lots of content for them to drive rankings and traffic. Most of this content is published under the generic company name and, occasionally, the name of the owner or an employee at the company.
There has been talk of Google introducing Publisher Rank but at present, the ‘rel=publisher’ tag doesn’t bring forth the same benefits as ‘rel=author’ and brands cannot be displayed as the author of a content in the same way an individual can.
I think you can probably see the problem here.
Working with Author Rank
So how can SEO agencies, the anonymous content machine behind so many brands, work with Author Rank, which by its very nature demands a public persona?
The first, obviously, is producing a lot of quality content with sharing potential on your own and other blogs. It’s been stated time and time again since the Panda and Penguin updates to the point of becoming tiresome, but it really should be the basis of any ongoing SEO strategies you may have.
The big issue with Author Rank comes with the actual authorship. It’s not entirely unviable to assign authorship to the content creator from your own agency, provided your client is willing to grant this sort of credit (many clients, quite reasonably, won’t want to acknowledge that ongoing blog work is done by anyone other than themselves). This approach will also take a lot of social networking on the part of your content creators and could be massively time consuming.
There is also the issue of employees leaving and thus taking their hard-earned Author Rank with them. Should they go to work for another agency, that’s a big loss for you and a massive gain for another agency. Even if they leave SEO entirely, that’s still Author Rank you’ll need to build back up. So all in all, it’s a risky strategy that probably isn’t worth it.
Give Company Owner or Employee Author Rank
The obvious solution to the authorship conundrum is assign authorship to someone in the client’s company. However, assigning authorship to any old employee represents the same risk as assigning authorship to an employee at your agency; if they leave, your hard work is gone in an instant.
Perhaps the most reliable author is going to be the owner of the company themselves. An authoritative figure with a good enough level of knowledge to run a business in their chosen niche with enough investment in the company not to jump ship? Perfect. Post over.
Not quite. You see, while the odd CEO will be more than happy to spend his time networking on G+ and being all influential in his niche, a great deal won’t. After all, they outsourced their SEO, content and social media to you in order to save time.
So how do you deal with that? You could, in theory, create a ‘ghost profile’, in which you essentially assume the face of your clients’ boss and do their social networking. But how many people would be happy about that? I know I certainly wouldn’t and I’m but a lowly copywriter.
Create A Persona
Sailing dangerously close to the winds of manipulation, you could always create a persona or alias under which to blog. It’s something you can exert total control over and will certainly be reliable but there are plenty of potential issues including the total loss of author rank benefits should you get caught and exposed as holding a fake profile. An interesting workaround, for sure, but not in the spirit of Author Rank in the slightest.
Invite Guest Posts
An interesting concept that could be increasingly widespread is the idea of inviting other people to blog on your client’s blog – namely people with good authority in your field. It’s always been a good tactic to get someone influential to publish content on your blog in terms of traffic, social sharing and influence but the added benefit of Author Rank will undoubtedly make this strategy more popular.
Get Good At G+
It goes without saying that you’re going to need to be good at Google+ to reap the full benefits of Author Rank, so make sure you’ve got someone in-house who can make the most of Google+ for all of your clients. It’s not necessarily the solution to channelling Author Rank for your clients but it’s a start at least.
I would have loved to have drawn a grand, all-encompassing solution to this piece but as it stands, there doesn’t appear to be any solid answer to how SEO agencies will be able to work with Author Rank. Of course, as Author Rank doesn’t yet exist, Google could itself come out with a solution for brands but in the meantime, the best thing you can do is keep producing great content, get it shared and build up your G+ profile in time for the big roll out.
Of course, it could be the case that I’ve missed something glaringly obvious and someone out there has the answer to all of the above. It’d be great to hear some theories and plans other SEOs have for integrating Author Rank into their SEO strategies on a client-by-client basis so feel free to share them below or get in touch on Twitter @fluidcreativity.