Is author authority a Google ranking factor?
Imagine that you have a minor medical problem. Maybe every time you eat, your jaw clicks audibly behind your molars. It’s not painful, but it’s unpleasant.
To find a solution to this annoying problem, you turn to this versatile knowledge bank, the Internet.
When sifting through search engine results, which source do you think is more reliable: the page written by an otolaryngologist with ten years of medical experience or the one written by a guy who keeps a Minecraft blog?
It’s an obvious choice. That’s not to say that the Minecraft blogger page doesn’t have the correct information. Yet he’s unlikely to know more about what’s hurting you than a medical professional with a medical degree, five years of residency training and a decade of experience in the field.
It’s just a fact: credibility matters. And this has never been more true than today when misinformation is rampant on the Internet.
And while most authors genuinely try to be helpful, there is a lot of information on the web that can be downright harmful. It doesn’t matter if this misinformation is the result of malice or ignorance – inaccurate or downright wrong content can do a lot of damage.
This is why author authority, or author rank, is considered in the search engine optimization process. Let’s see how.
The Claim: Author Authority Influences Page Ranking
When determining the overall quality of a webpage and its ability to answer a search query, Google emphasizes TO EAT. It is expertise, authority and reliability.
But does this include the author’s EAT? Does it matter that the article was written by a real expert rather than a recent journalism graduate?
Author authority is a concept that has been around for years. And the role it plays in site rankings has long been a subject of debate among SEO experts and digital marketers.
Let’s take a closer look.
The proof: author authority and SERP ranking
Google has never indicated that the author of an article directly influences rankings. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore it.
There is evidence that the search engine giant is interested in identifying perpetrators.
In 2005, which is an eternity in SEO terms, Google filed a patent for the rank of agent. Designed to help weed out low-quality content, it allowed the search engine to use digital signatures to rank articles by reputation.
In 2011, Google confirmed support for author markup using rel=”author”. However, adoption of this tag has been slow. A 2014 study found that only 30% of authors used this tag, and Google officially removed it the same year.
Speaking at an SMX conference in 2016, Google Webmaster Trends analyst Gary Illyes said the company doesn’t use authorship, but has systems in place to recognize who created a piece of content. This seems to refer to the role authors play in The Google Knowledge Graph.
If you are unfamiliar with the Knowledge Graph, it is a huge database of facts and entities (i.e. singular, unique, well-defined and distinct things or concepts). Authors are entities officially recognized by Google, although the search engine does not know all content creators.
The reputation of the author is important, but be careful not to confuse “reputation” with “expertise” and “authority”.
Google uses expertise and authority to assess trustworthiness on a given topic. Reputation, on the other hand, is a more subjective assessment based on how readers perceive the author.
Reputation is determined based on Guidelines for Research Quality Assessors: a set of guiding principles used to train human evaluators who assess search engine quality and sometimes test proposed changes to search algorithms.
One of these guidelines states that a low content creator score is enough to give the article a low quality score. However, Google has been transparent that these human-generated ratings are never used to affect query results.
In March 2020, Google filed a patent for Copyright Vectors, which helps it identify the author of unlabeled content. It does this by assessing writing styles and levels of expertise and interest in different topics.
Although the search engine giant has not explained how or why it uses this program to determine search rankings, it is evident in recommend adding author url in article schema.
It doesn’t specify where this URL should point, but it’s most often used to direct readers to a social media profile or bio page.
The Verdict: The Impact of Author Authority on Rankings Is Unclear
There’s been a lot of back and forth about the role of author authority in Google search results; unfortunately, there is no clear answer.
However, even if it doesn’t directly impact your organic rankings, it’s still a good idea to follow Google’s quality rating guidelines.
Users care about the reputation and relevance of the author of a piece. And that alone is reason enough to seek out the best possible authors and identify them in each article.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal