Web Marketing Today

Authorship: The Top Search Marketing Tactic in 2013

There are thousands of things that small businesses can do to improve their ranking and appearance in search engine results. But, the top SEO tactic right now is to incorporate the author markup to get a picture beside your listing in the search results. Here’s why and how.

Google’s newish “Rich Snippet” treatment allows some websites and web pages to display author information in the search results along with their pages’ information. For marketers who know that increased visibility in the search engines equates with grabbing more attention and better click-throughs, the current opportunity is simply too cool to pass up.

Why You Should Incorporate The Author Tagging

In some ways, the author treatment is an unprecedented opportunity. Google is probably providing this compellingly advantageous option because they’re dangling it as a carrot to attract greater numbers of people to integrate with its Google+ social media service. The author treatment requires that you set up a Google+ profile in order to have the author markup and picture appear in the search results.

When you see a web page in the search results with the author treatment, the advantage becomes obvious. Here’s an example — the top search results for “plastic surgeons in Los Angeles, CA” includes one listing with the author’s photo icon and byline.

author markup

Google will include an author’s photo and byline when you use the author markup.


The author listings are also showing up within the business listings pack as well as in regular web results listings. Here’s an example of Dallas attorney, Brian Loncar, appearing at the top of the local listings section:

authors in business listings

Author listings also show up in business listings.


Conventional marketing wisdom is that anything that can make your search-result listing stand out and draw the eye will probably be beneficial to your click through rate — the “CTR.” Past statistics from the search engines have indicated that special listing treatments like this increase CTR by 15 percent on average. I suspect the increase could be greater than that, depending upon the search keyword and type of business.

As you can see in the above examples, the listings with author pictures appear to be particularly featured. These businesses are almost certainly reaping some benefits from standing out in this way. Relatively few businesses have incorporated the author markup to make this happen, so the tactic is a strategic advantage at this time.

For businesses that are closely associated with the personality of individuals, such as lawyers, doctors, artists and others, the display of a picture of the proprietor is worthwhile and makes immediate sense. Yet, even for other businesses where an individual isn’t so closely tied to the image of the company, having a human face with business’s collateral materials can actually make for a more friendly perception and make it more approachable.

I’ve heard some businesses say that they “cannot” do this because they don’t really want a particular person associated with their branding, or they don’t want to declare an “author” on their site because they have too much employee turnover or they are concerned about the risk of tying their branding with an individual who becomes a sort of de facto online spokesperson. I’d say that having human faces tied to your branding is becoming more important than ever. It would also be possible to create an artificial persona to represent your brand, too, although there are other risks and complexities if you take that road.

In any case, early adopters of this treatment might even reap some long-term advantages. Since user click-throughs to search results influence rankings over time, being one of the first businesses in your category to have the author display treatment could translate into grabbing some long-term market share.

How To Make The Author Treatment Appear For Your Site

To have the listing treatment, you must first set up a personal Google+ profile page with a good, recognizable headshot. I’ve seen a very few isolated cases where someone used a head plus torso photo or a full-body shot. It’s best to use a clear headshot or you risk Google denying your attempt to set up the author display treatment.

Once you’ve set up your Google+ profile, Google provides two different ways to verify you as an author of your site.

The first is the “email method.” This requires you to use an email address on the same domain as your site. If the Google+ profile isn’t already set up using that email, you can submit this email address via the Authorship page to add it to your profile. Each article or page on the site will need a byline mentioning your name, such as “by John Smith” or “Author: John Smith.” The second verification method is what I’d call the “cross linking method.” To do this, you link to your Google+ profile and add “?rel=author” onto the end of the link:

<a href=”[profile_url]?rel=author”>Google+</a>

Then, link back to your website from the “Contributor To” section of your Google+ profile. Click to edit the About section of your profile to have the “Contributor To” section appear so you can add your link to it.

It’s also a good idea to engineer your meta description — see “Influencing How Google Displays Your Page Description,” my article on that topic — for best results so that the description text about your page is optimally compelling and attractive to consumers.

It can take a few days for the process to complete at Google and for your author picture to appear in search results. If you only just uploaded your face picture, I think Google uses human editors to verify your photo appears to be on-the-level, which adds a few more days onto the process.

You can check your web page with Google’s structured data testing tool to be sure that everything was done properly. Google gives some specific feedback if the verification process isn’t working so that you can correct any issues.

Once the treatment begins appearing with your website, watch your analytics and see if it affects your numbers of visits referred by Google.

Chris Silver Smith
Chris Silver Smith
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Comments ( 7 )

Have Something To Say ?

  1. Brenda Blessed February 12, 2013 Reply

    I don’t like the highly unscrupulous way in which Google is forcing people to join G+ in order to get a better search ranking, so I won’t be doing so.

    • Kimberly February 20, 2013 Reply

      Ms. Blessed – not sure what you mean by ‘highly unscrupulous’…Google is a business. It doesn’t exist to serve us. They put out products. We use them, or we don’t.

      What I like about Google Profiles is the ability to connect all my content from any web page to the profile and have a better chance to rank as an authority on a given topic.

  2. Bert February 13, 2013 Reply

    “It would also be possible to create an artificial persona to represent your brand, too, although there are other risks and complexities if you take that road.”

    Except in very limited situations, I believe it is against Google’s Terms of Service to use a persona to create a “fake person” Google+ account. Possibly having your Google account tossed because is violates the TOS, is that what you refer to as “other risks?”

  3. Chris Silver Smith February 13, 2013 Reply

    Brenda, I’m not entirely sure why you’d call it “unscrupulous” on Google’s part. I’m not at all a shill of Google’s, but I think they have a right to promote their own products. Note that no one at Google has said that this pushes rankings, and I don’t consider it to be a direct ranking factor – it merely changes the look of your listing which can influence clickthrough rate. I believe the display has an effect on rankings over time, though.

    Regardless, as a strategist I highly recommend this as a tactic that can convey considerable advantage to businesses at this time. I think that refusing to make use of it in protest of their apparent self-promotion methods is only shooting yourself in the foot, and unlikely to make any impression on them.

  4. Chris Silver Smith February 13, 2013 Reply

    Bert, while I’m unaware of a prohibition in Google’s terms for using a faux persona, it would be a risk that they might dislike the approach. However, an alternate argument could be made that there is a long-established acceptance of people using aliases and personas on the internet, and Google has represented multiple times that they are dedicated to preserving anonymity that does not involve illegality. However, for authorship markup, they likely do not want armies of one-dimensional persons set up to result in all internet pages bearing the author markup to the point where it means nothing.

    The risks and complexities I was referring to involve establishing a cohesive personality that has a real and consistent voice in the articles that are published under its name. There’s a likelihood that if sufficiently large enough numbers of people incorporate the author markup, Google will likely evolve the display to show up only those with a certain level of “authority”. Google patents around assessing the influence of social profiles could indicate methods for how they might do that. So, the additional complexities would involve establishing the persona beyond merely setting up a Google+ profile. Other risks involve legality to some degree, for professions where there are limits on who is portrayed as representing a business — such as in the case of attorneys and doctors.

    There are many cases where individuals and companies set up an artificial persona for representing themselves to the public — that fact, combined with the established admiration for some anonymity on the internet leads me to believe it may be less likely for Google to make personas against their formal policy. Currently, I imagine that if a company like Allstate desired to set up their “Mayhem” guy with the author markup, Google would probably not have any major beef with it.

  5. Bert February 13, 2013 Reply

    Chris, from Google regarding Google+ Page and Profile Names: “Note that this name and your profile must represent you, and not an avatar or other secondary online identity.”


  6. Emblix solutions September 3, 2013 Reply

    Nice info about search engine marketing…Thank you and Keep on Sharing…!!!

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