Author Rank: The People’s Algorithm

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What is Author Rank?

Perhaps a better question is, “How big is Author Rank?” According to A.J. Kohn, “Author Rank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined.” So this is not some minor update we’re talking about. But what is it exactly?

“The People’s Algorithm”

I’ve dubbed Author Rank as the “People’s Algorithm” because it’s really about connecting people to the content they write. Simply put, Author Rank is the concept that your reputation as an author will influence how well your content ranks in search results. Just as individual websites are categorized by topic; have a certain amount of authority, trust and relevance, so will individual authors. This is a powerful concept, since it gives content creators the biggest incentive of all: self-preservation. That is, create quality content now and forever, or your personal reputation will suffer.

Author Rank: The People's Algorithm

It’s about People & Robots Coming Together to Live Harmoniously (OK, Maybe Not).

Google is constantly improving its algorithm, segmenting it by topic, industry and even the intent behind the search. Authorship, and hence Author Rank, will bring another layer to the algorithm that Google hopes will improve the quality of its search results. I believe authors will gain credibility (or authority) around specific topics. This will be developed by a number of factors, including inbound links, content quality, topics, user engagement, social signals, and numerous other factors.

Author Rank
Image Sourced via SEOmoz

Mike Arnesen published a great post on SEOmoz titled “How to Prepare for AuthorRank and Get the Jump on Google,” where he shared his opinion on some of the potential factors that he believes will be used in determining Author Rank (along with this image to the right).

Why is Google doing this?

Jason McCabe Calacanis summed up the answer to that question well:

“There are a lot of stupid people out there… and stupid people shouldn’t write… There needs to be a better system for tuning down the stupid people and tuning up the smart people.”

While stupid may seem like a strong word, and can obviously be a matter of opinion, if you troll the Internet for awhile you will find a fair share of stupid. Just as PageRank helps tune down the “stupid” websites, Author Rank will help tune down stupid writers. Will Google succeed in ridding the Internet of stupid people? Only time will tell.

In case you’re wondering, Author Rank will not replace PageRank. It will compliment it. Eventually, Google will connect searchers with content that has high Author- and PageRank.

Google Solves Identity Crisis

In order for Author Rank to work, Google was faced with two primary challenges. How to create an identity platform for millions of users and how to connect those identities to published content via a digital signature. And when you look at the major projects Google has launched in the last couple years you can see how they went about solving those problems:

May 2011: Google submits Author Rank patent (the plan)

June 2011: Google releases rel=”author” (the digital signature)

June 2011: Google launches Google+ (the identity platform)

So as you can see, rel=”author” is the digital signature and Google+ is the identity platform. Connect the dots and you can see why some say Author Rank could be bigger than all the Panda updates combined.

How Will It Work Exactly?

When you publish content online you now have the option of claiming authorship of that content. By implementing rel=“author” on your site you’re telling Google you’re the author of that piece. When people find your content engaging, connect and interact with you on social networks, link to your content, share it on social media sites, theoretically your Author Rank will increase.

Ideally, quality content will be written by trusted authors. Or to continue further with what Jason said earlier, “The stupid people will be silenced and the smart people will be handed a louder microphone.” (My words, not Jason’s) Think of it as an evolutionary step in Google search, a “survival of the fittest writers.”

Of course people who choose not to use their “digital signature” will not benefit from this new ranking factor. Yes, PageRank will still play a major role in SEO, but the importance of Author Rank will only continue to increase in the future.

Author Rank by Topic

According to the Agent Rank patent, authors can have a different rank by topic. For example, you might have a high Author Rank for website design but a low rank for celebrity news. Conversely, links from authors with a high Author Rank in your particular topic will carry more weight than people who don’t rank high in that topic. The same is true for social signals such as +1s, likes, tweets, shares, and comments.

Here is Google’s exact language from the Agent Rank patent:

The agent ranks can optionally also be calculated relative to search terms or categories of search terms. For example, search terms (or structured collections of search terms, i.e., queries) can be classified into topics, e.g., sports or medical specialties, and an agent can have a different rank with respect to each topic.

How To Increase Your Author Rank

It’s important to note that Author Rank will be difficult to increase, but easy to decrease. Hopefully this discourages people from abusing it. Again, here is an excerpt from the Agent Rank patent:

A high reputational score need not give an agent the ability to manipulate web search rankings In one implementation, reputational scores are relatively difficult to increase and relatively easy to decrease, creating a disincentive for an agent to place its reputation at risk by endorsing content inappropriately. Since the signatures of reputable agents can be used to promote the ranking of signed content in web search results, agents have a powerful incentive to establish and maintain a good reputational score.

In order to boost your Author Rank you’ll need to do three things well:

  1. Claim authorship
  2. Write quality content
  3. Engage on Google+ and Other Social Media Sites

Links to your content still matter, but with Author Rank the emphasis will be on who the link came from, not just where.

Finally, in the words of Google’s Othar Hansson:

We know that great content comes from great authors, and we’re looking closely at ways this markup could help us highlight authors and rank search results.

So what are your thoughts on Author Rank? Have you implemented rel=“author” and set up a Google+ profile yet?