Google Rel Author is Dead — Now What?

If you haven’t heard yet, Google’s John Mueller communicated today that they’ve killed off use of the rel=“author” tag most of us in the SEO community have been advocating since it first came on the scene, along with their use of author data in search results.

If you want to learn more about it’s rise and demise, go check out the great post over on SearchEngineLand where they cover the history of Google authorship and how it came to be seen as not useful enough as a signal to maintain.

So how big a deal is this?

It’s a pretty big deal. Google has been pushing for better signal to noise ratios when it comes to identifying content worthy of visibility, and, when comparing apples to apples, which site among a group of sites, deserve higher rankings for author-driven content.

It’s also a big deal because the SEO community has been advocating its use as an important factor for SEO.

Many site owners over the past couple years have heard repeatedly “you need to implement  rel=author markup on your site”.

Some who took that advice could sometimes just add a couple lines of code to their site template, while others had to expend a lot of energy to get it working. Especially in regard to multi-author platforms, and even more especially for those not using a stock system like WordPress where a plug-in could be used, but instead had to develop custom code, modify custom content management systems, and so forth…

But really — how important was rel=author to SEO?

To be honest, there was definitely value, at least within some circles of use, across some industries.  Getting your authorship photo, along with a count to how many other articles you’d written, placed right there in search results did help some authors to get more clicks.

Except it was never adapted widely enough, nor implemented properly enough to benefit a big enough range of authors, publishers and sites to make it a “very important” signal for SEO.

Instead, it was “just one more signal, with some value when implemented properly”.

In a sea of signals. Many of which have always been more important, and many others of which were equally important.

Authority & Trust as Signals Aren’t Dead

The bigger consideration here though, one that is too often overlooked, is that rel=author and related Google authorship opportunities (a robust Google+ profile, for example), were only a small slice of the authority, trust and reputation pie.

Authority and trust are not going away. In fact, even without this specific channel to help reinforce them, they’re still two of the top five signals of SEO I refer to as “Super” signals — QUART.

They sit right up there, even now, in the aftermath of the Google author death, and even before that’s buried and its funeral has been conducted, with the other three super signals — Quality, Uniqueness, and Relevance.

If you don’t have enough authority signals, coming from a variety of sites and resources that themselves meet the QUART test, your content is going to be weak when it comes to maximum ranking and visibility consideration when other content on the web is otherwise equal.

And there are many ways to obtain authority and trust without relying on Google’s internal “prove you’re worthy” methods.


So how else can you obtain authority and trust signals?

Start With Your Own Content First

Well it needs to always begin with your own site, your own content.  It needs to pass the QUART test in as many ways as possible, regardless of off-site consideration, and regardless of the latest newest structured markup tagging.

When it does, more people who do come to your site are going to find you authoritative and trustworthy than they would by coming to a poorly created, disorganized, off-topic riddled site.

They’re going to spend more time on your site in many cases, tell others about your site, maybe even link to it. Naturally.

The more consistent you are with your content creation, the more consistently you provide real value in that content, the more authoritative and trustworthy it will become over time as well.

Customer Service — The Biggest Authority & Trust Source

By providing the best possible customer / client service imaginable, you are bound to establish authority and trust signals among the people who provide your revenue. And when enough reach that feeling/belief, they’re going to become your advocates online and offline.

When someone complains, don’t create a trust/authority nightmare. Own it. Take responsibility where it viably makes sense based on honest observer considerations.

Respond accordingly. In reasonable time-frames.  Do the right thing for the right reasons.

Off-Site Authority & Trust

Off-site, authority and trust can also come through establishing connections with others through quality, uniqueness and relevance in your off-site efforts.

Participation in relevant communities, where you offer unique insights or opinions, and where you offer real value will help.  At first just with citations. Then, over time, with people sharing your content.  Then beyond that, some will invite you to be interviewed, or contribute content to their sites.

Public Relations Also Matters

All of that is related to, but does not entirely encompass the notion of public relations. Yet PR is absolutely critical to the mix as well.  So outreach, and evangelism, and good-will initiatives are also a factor in reinforcing authority and trust.

Where Does Guest Blogging Fit Here?

Guest blogging is not dead.  Just like authority and trust not being dead just because Google’s internal authorship signals went away.  Bad guest blogging is toxic.  Guest blogging that fails the QUART test is toxic.  Guest blogging just for links is toxic.

Yet getting an opportunity to contribute content on a reputable site, where the primary focus is providing help, education, guidance, or emotional triggers to readers, for its own sake — THAT is not dead. It’s far from toxic.

In fact it’s a very big way to reinforce authority and trust based on proper, sustainable methods.

Like every other signal  and method specific to SEO however, it’s only one tool that needs to be part of an entire tool set.

So Do We Delete Rel Author & Google+?

Yes and no.  Given what we’ve heard from Google, it’s okay to kill off the rel=author tagging on your site.

However, I would NOT remove your Google+ profile just yet. Or links to it from your site’s sidebar, header or footer.

Because for now, at least, Google+ still provides value in limited ways.  Especially for local businesses, where that profile is connected to your Google Business profile.

Reviews are going to continue to matter. Having a proper presence in Google maps is going to continue to be vital to local businesses as well.

What About Schema? Is that Worthless Now Too? is absolutely valid to maintain, and if you haven’t begun using it yet, important to implement.  Schema is a much bigger fish than rel=author tagging.

And even if, for some crazy reason, Google decides to kill off it’s use in their search engine, it’s based on sound best practices structured markup concepts. They’re vital to proper information retrieval considerations that far outweigh one search engine’s ability or lack-thereof to make use of that.

And since Schema was adapted by Bing and Yahoo, that reinforces the notion that most things related to the technical aspects of SEO are much bigger than Google.

Published by

Alan Bleiweiss

Alan Bleiweiss is a professional SEO consultant specializing in forensic audits, related consulting, client and agency training, and speaking to audiences of all sizes on all things SEO.

4 thoughts on “Google Rel Author is Dead — Now What?”

  1. …sigh.…I’m afraid you’re correct Alan.…wish you weren’t tho…I did think that the photo helped greatly with our own SEO readers…

    …sigh.…Google, eh!

    1. Jim,

      the photo absolutely helped. Rate of adoption was dismal, as is typical of many better SEO practices, except the expense that went into the entire system was probably something they felt could be cut due to that in this case. Since it comes on the heels of Google+ major changes, and splitting it apart, I think it makes even more sense.

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