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Google Authorship Markup: more questions than answers

By now most digital marketers know about Google’s authorship markup. It’s supposed to connect authors with their content and, in essence, provide a way for authors to rank in search results.

According to Google software engineer Othar Hansson, Google is “… experimenting with using this data to help people find content from great authors in our search results”.

Hansson says, “We now support markup that enables websites to publicly link within their site from content to author pages.”

Because the markup is new, speculation is rife as to what it means for SEO and authors in particular. But at the moment speculation is all there is.

Thom Craver, for instance, thinks that the authorship markup will help authors and Google better manage the various Panda updates. He says that the markup will allow Google to identify original content (and relate it to specific authors), so that sites can avoid being labelled “scrapers”. It will also help original authors maintain their rankings above scraper sites.

But what if content is paraphrased? What if a wanna-be author cribs an original author’s content and simply rephrases it sentence for sentence, and then adds the rel attribute? This is plagiarism but because it appears superficially different, will Google see it as original and let the wanna-be get away with it?

One of the supposed benefits of the markup to authors is greater recognition, but will it also allow room for greater plagiarism?

What about new authors, the ones just trying to make a name for themselves online? Does the markup mean that they’ll have to compete content-wise with everyone else on the web, as well as against established authors? Experienced authors will have a wealth of content to boost their rankings, especially if they go back and add the attribute to preceding content (and you know that some authors will). New authors will have a major battle on their hands to break into the rankings that really count.

Rob Young looks at authorship markup from an SEO perspective and lists three possible implications that digital marketers:

  1. The +1 button, which will have a significant impact on authors’ rankings
  2. The Panda algorithm, which will recognise original content and won’t accidentally penalise sites that don’t violate any content guidelines.
  3. The Google News algorithm, which could be affected by author popularity.

If you want to know how Google views the authorship markup all you have to do is pop into Webmaster Central, where (among other things), it says:

“When Google has information about who wrote a piece of content on the web, we may look at it as a signal to help us determine the relevance of that page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, though, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality.”

So far Google’s authorship markup has generated more questions than answers. Let’s hope that with time (but not too much time) more answers will make themselves apparent. And that the markup really will benefit authors and search results.

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  1. Thom Craver Says :
    Posted on June 17, 2011 at 6:06 am

    Google is failing at recognizing original authors and is once again asking Webmasters for help. They seem to care more about getting rid of the scrapers than helping plagiarism, at large. That, unfortunately, is still in the hands of the author.

    Fortunately, Google offers Google Alerts and their new Me on the Web service, which seems to be a bit redundant.

    • Sandy Says :
      Posted on June 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm

      I confess that as a writer I’m not actually that bothered by online plagiarism. I think that once you publish something for the world to see, what the world does with it is its business. Having said that, I take pains to credit my sources whenever possible because I’d hate not to be credited in return. All of which is slightly off topic.

      I do think it’s somewhat cheeky of Google to expect authors to add special tags to their work in an effort to claim it.

      I’m interested to hear more of your views on the Me on the Web service.

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