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Is Google Authorship Markup Necessary?

Press release March 21, 2013

And What If It Isn't?

Well, this IS interesting.

It turns out that the rel=“author” tag isn’t strictly necessary to have authorship markup working in a search engine results page (SERP).

Authorship markup, or “Agent Rank” as Google’s patent labels it, is described as this:

The identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search ratings.

Assuming that a given agent has a high reputational score, representing an established reputation for authoring valuable content, then additional content authored and signed by that agent will be promoted relative to unsigned content or content from less reputable agents in search results.

Agents means authors. Effectively, what this is saying is that posts which have an authorship markup from reputable sources will gain some type of promotion within SERPs over those who are not as reputable, or don’t have authorship markup at all.

It has also been proven that those search results with an authorship markup get a higher CTR than what a standard search result gains, because of the “trust” issue a user encounters by being able to see the face of the author.

My recent post on the benefits of local search engine optimisation (SEO) was uploaded to the Colewood blog on March 12, 2013 without therel=“author” tag in the source code – and it still doesn’t have the element in the code now.

Source Code showing no rel="author"

What occurred next was quite baffling in all honesty.

My post was appearing in incognito SERPs (which is pleasing enough for a first blog post) but with the added benefit of a rich snippet element that looks identical to an authorship markup!

Incognito serp showing rich snippet

There have already been a few similar sightings of this unidentified SERPing object (can I copyright that?) from Bas van den Beld and Malcolm Coleswhich has dragged up a result with full authorship markup without having any verification to any external profiles. My Colewood posts are an example of this.

Even Google itself says that I shouldn’t be getting an authorship markup in the rich snippet!

Put the URL into the rich snippet preview tool and it wants to give the authorship to the company Google+ profile, instead of my own. 

Rich Snippet Preview

It doesn’t act this way for all of Colewood’s blog posts though. The rich snippet preview for Martin Jobling’s blog post, on how Google Panda is in Real Time, returns a result that is more expected and common i.e. having a proper authorship markup. 

Martin Jobling rich snippet preview

Where are the ends meeting?

There are a number of theories we’ve been able to come up with along the way – all linking back to Google+. I’m going to list them in reverse likelihood order.

To begin with, it’s important to understand I have established that I work for Colewood Internet on my Google+ profile. However, there are no outbound links to the Colewood homepage, news section or to any other Colewood related sites.

The first, and by far and away the most improbable theory of the mystery authorship markup, is that of linked social accounts.

I have two other social accounts linked to my Google+: YouTube – which is owned by Google and prompted me to link the two profiles together – and Twitter. However my YouTube and Twitter accounts have no mention of my employment at Colewood.

My profile picture on all the networking sites is the same (I have a monkey on my shoulder, why would I want anything else?!) and I also have friends/followers/connections/subscribers of people who mention their employment at Colewood on their profiles throughout different networking sites.

Is it possible that Google is actually able to cross reference profile pictures and followers over a range of sites to determine who you are, and if you’re the droid they are looking for?

Possible, but not probable.

The second theory is who I have in my circles and who reciprocates the social acceptance gesture.

There are several of my colleagues who have me added to circles and I have done likewise, along with adding Colewood Internet to my circles (however, I am not in Colewood Internet’s circles!!!). The logical link created by Google from these connections – along with me stating that I work at Colewood Internet – means that I am, in fact, THE Matthew Norman who wrote this blog post. 

Matthew Norman Circles on Google

Although Google has got the profile correct, I’m pretty certain that this isn’t how they reached that conclusion – at least not by this method alone at least.

The most likely reasoning behind the authorship markup is because of my verified information.

Both my work and personal email addresses have been verified on my Google+ account, which effectively means I am who I say I am. 

This is the biggest indicator that I work and write for Colewood Internet as “colewood.net” is the domain for the verified email address – and it is under the “work” contact info.

Another probable big pointer in the right direction is the address that is listed within the contact info – this is at the bottom of every page on colewood.net and is easily cross referenced by Google with my contact info.

Could there be any bigger indicators that I was the one writing that blog post without using the rel=“author” element within the source code? I doubt it.

But it still goes against the purpose and reasoning of that element even existing if Google is just going to do it for you.

I don’t think that it’s any one of these theories at work individually, but most likely a combination of parts of each theory working in tandem to build a logical and reasoned link between the blog, author and Google+ profile.

Let’s be honest, Matthew Norman is a very popular name.

There is the Matthew Norman brand of Swiss carriage clock, the Fleet Street journalist and the member of the Bali Nine – all of whom are a lot more recognised than me. Not to mention the pages upon pages upon pages of Matthew Normans who are also registered to Google+.

In my opinion Google have done a good job in hunting me down and determining that I am actually the author of that post (admittedly, it’s a bit scary they can do that) despite there being no links from the Colewood site to any of my profiles or any actual links from any of my profiles to the Colewood site.

It just makes me question the relevance of the rel=”author” tag, or is it simply just a failsafe in case Google aren’t able to match up your profile with the article?

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