How to Boost Your Author Rank – The New Secret Sauce for Better Rankings
You understand the ideas behind Google Authorship and the potential benefits for you as a traffic-hungry blogger. You also know how to configure Authorship for your blog and may have already set it up using our recommended plugin.
So now it’s simply a case of sitting back and waiting for the traffic to roll in, right?
Well, not exactly. Asserting authorship over your content certainly gives you a short-term advantage over bloggers who haven’t done so yet, but that advantage won’t last for long. And what about those other writers who’ve already seen the light and have started claiming their content – how will you get ahead of them?
The true value of Google Authorship is that it paves the way for you to earn better search rankings for your content in the future. But to make that happen, you’ll need to start playing a bigger game as a writer.
It’s a bit like having a membership to an exclusive gym. While you’ll experience some benefits simply by virtue of being a member (like a flashy membership card and a branded T-shirt), unless you actually visit the gym and start pumping some of that iron, everyone else in the club will kick your butt with ease.
It’s the same with Google Authorship. Unless you start exploiting its full potential, Authorship is just another way to get left behind.
How Google Will Decide If You Deserve Better Rankings
Since anyone online can implement Google Authorship, simply being a member of the Authorship club is no guarantee to Google that you’re a writer worth listening to. Because as time moves on, even the pedestrian and mediocre bloggers will catch on and start establishing authorship on their boring, forgettable blogs too.
So Google still needs a way to determine who’s worth listening to and who deserves to be trusted. In other words, it needs a way to separate the movers-and-shakers from the losers and fakers.
And the answer is Author Rank.
What is Author Rank?
The first thing to know about Author Rank is that it doesn’t exist. At least, not officially.
Author Rank is simply the name given by the SEO community to the idea that Google will start to measure the authority (read: reputation, reliability, trustworthiness, etc.) of individual authors.
Informally, someone who’s written lots of valuable content and is widely recognized as a subject expert would be expected to have a higher Author Rank than someone who has written far less content, or whose content has been largely ignored by others (i.e., few backlinks, shares, tweets, etc.).
The basic idea is that writers with a high Author Rank will ultimately get better search rankings for their content than writers with a low Author Rank.
And of course, better search rankings means more traffic for the content you create.
Why Author Rank is the Stuff of Legend
The reason Author Rank doesn’t officially exist is that much of the speculation is based on a patent filed by Google in 2007 for Agent Rank which describes (in rather dry, technical language) how “the identity of individual agents responsible for content can be used to influence search rankings.”
And while no evidence exists that Google is using any measure of author authority right now to influence search results, most experts firmly believe that’s where they are headed.
To better understand Author Rank (without struggling through the patent), it’s helpful to draw a comparison with another Google authority metric – PageRank.
Author Rank is PageRank for Authors
PageRank has been part of the Google ranking algorithm since the start (in fact, its name is reputedly an in-joke which refers to Google co-founder Larry Page). PageRank measures the authority of an individual webpage and is determined by the number of links to that page and the authority of those linking pages.
So what PageRank does for webpages, Author Rank does for web authors. Simple!
And in the same way that Google uses PageRank (among lots of other factors) to determine how high a page appears in its search results for a particular query, we believe they will also start to use the Author Rank of the person who wrote it.
So, the higher your Author Rank, the better your search rankings. At least that’s the theory.
How will Author Rank be calculated?
While the patent doesn’t dictate a specific implementation of Agent Rank, by looking at it in the context of Google Authorship and Google+, we can make some educated guesses about what is likely to influence your Author Rank score.
And at a high level, it boils down to two main factors:
- The authority of your content
- Your authority as an individual
Or, more precisely:
- The authority of all content linked via Authorship to your Google+ profile
- The authority of your Google+ profile within the Google+ ecosystem
Now, measuring content authority is something Google’s been doing for years – it’s the basis of its search algorithm.
And while the idea of measuring an individual’s authority is a little newer, we can once again make some educated guesses about how Google might choose to do it.
Both of these factors give us some strong clues about how you might go about improving your Author Rank over time.
How to Write Your Way to Higher Author Rank
In many respects, Author Rank will likely build upon Google’s existing ranking factors. This means that all of the normal best practices around optimizing your content for SEO still apply.
The key difference is an additional halo effect, which means content that already ranks well on its own merit will also boost the authority of its author, which in turn could be used to increase the rankings of other content by the same author.
The complete list of factors that Google uses to rank content and how much weight each contributes to the ranking are a closely guarded secret, but the following are three high-level factors that are widely accepted to most influence the ranking of a webpage:
- Domain-level authority: the number (and authority) of external links to the host domain
- Page-level authority: the links to the page itself and the relevance of anchor text on those links
- On page factors: this relates to the actual content, including keyword usage, topic focus, etc.
If you can find a way to help your content perform better in these areas, you’ll likely have found a way to boost your Author Rank too.
3 Smart Content Tactics to Boost Your Author Rank
Since your Author Rank is intimately linked to the authority of your content, what can you do as a writer to increase your score?
The following are some specific tactics that should start pushing your Author Rank in the right direction:
Tactic #1: Create Valuable Content People Want to Link to
Despite numerous changes in the Google algorithm over the years, links still reign supreme.
While countless sites have been punished by Google updates such as Penguin for using underhand methods to get more links to their (mostly) low-quality content, the only links that Google truly loves (and will always love) are natural links to high-quality content that deserves a wider audience.
Yes, you also need to promote your content to make sure it gets the links it deserves, but your marketing is only as good as the content it ultimately promotes.
So write great content that your audience will love and that stands the test of time.
Of course, writing awesome content is easier said than done, but the following posts will help you get there:
- How to Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers
- The Brain-Dead Simple but Astonishingly Effective Way to Become a Better Writer
- An Open Letter to All the Bloggers Cluttering the Web with Forgettable Content
This tactic is great because it will work wherever your content appears – on your own blog or elsewhere – as long as you’ve claimed your content using Google Authorship.
Which brings us neatly to our next tactic.
Tactic #2: Write Guest Posts for High-Authority Blogs
When you’re starting out, the quality of your content doesn’t matter – your blog and its domain will have low authority.
The traditional advice is to knuckle down and keep writing, slowly building your audience organically until you finally build enough momentum to break out of the close orbit of your own blog. This meant accepting the harsh reality of writing reams of content almost nobody sees, simply because you don’t have an audience yet.
So you keep patiently plugging away until you finally hit upon the holy grail of organic blogging, a post that goes viral and brings you a raft of new traffic.
That approach does work. Sometimes. But it takes a long time (maybe years) to get results, and most bloggers give up through sheer frustration before that ever happens.
However, a smart alternative approach is to borrow the authority of another domain by writing high-quality guest posts. This means writing a blog post (usually for free) for a popular blog in your niche and linking back to your own blog (and of course your Google+ profile) within the post itself.
This should be great for Author Rank for a number of reasons:
- Content published on a popular blog will automatically inherit some of the authority associated with that domain, which may have taken many years to establish.
- A blog with a large, pre-existing audience is much more likely to attract the organic links that Google primarily uses to measure the importance of your content.
- Putting your content in front of a large audience is also more likely to create the social signals (such as retweets, Facebook shares, etc.) that many believe Google is starting to incorporate into its ranking algorithm.
But remember, guest blogging can only boost your Author Rank if you’ve configured Google Authorship – otherwise Google won’t know who deserves the credit.[jbox title=”But Isn’t Guest Blogging Dead?” icon=”https://smartblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/paperclip-small.png”]Google’s Matt Cutts recently spoke out against using guest blogging for SEO purposes – we discuss it here. However, Matt was talking about the dubious practice of posting low-quality content on third-party sites with the specific aim of gaining links to another site.[/jbox]
Tactic #3: Write Focused, Keyword-Savvy Content
Stuffing your content with the keywords you want to rank for was once common practice. And it worked for a while. But the result was unnatural-sounding blog posts that looked like someone with a rather limited vocabulary wrote them.
Google algorithm updates like Penguin penalized this practice on the basis that it created a poor user experience. (As it turns out, content written for robots isn’t much fun for humans to read!)
So fortunately, keyword stuffing is mostly a thing of the past. Yet, the specific words you use in your content are still important.
Google has been working hard on a technology called semantic search, which tries to understand the meaning behind your content. And as a result, Google is getting better at working out which topics you write about.
So although you don’t need to obsess over keywords, you do need to use the same broad terms that your audience uses to talk about your topic so Google can easily match their queries to your content.
And make sure that your posts have a clear focus – don’t try to cover too many topics in a single post.
In fact, sticking to a narrow set of topics for all your writing is likely to be good for Author Rank too because Google has publicly said it wants to be able to give a rankings boost to “subject authorities.”
And it stands the test of common sense too. If you’re looking for help with a problem, who would you rather speak to, a Jack of all trades (or topics), or a black-belt ninja master of just one or two?
Bonus Tactic: Write more content!
As long as you can maintain the quality levels and keep producing valuable content that people want to link to (see Tactic #1), more content is definitely better.
Think about it; the person who’s written 100 awesome posts on their topic deserves to carry more weight with Google than the guy who’s written 10, right?
But quality is paramount. Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.
If you’ve got a good posting rhythm on your own blog, then use this tactic as an excuse to do more guest blogging.
A Simple Blueprint for Boosting Your Author Rank Using Google+
Based on our earlier predictions around what factors will influence Author Rank inside Google+, your main objective becomes simple: increase the number of interactions with high-authority users in your niche.
However, it’s no good frantically sharing and giving +1s (the Google+ equivalent of a like) everything your heroes write, hoping it will magically boost your Author Rank – that’s a bit desperate and, well, a little creepy. Your heroes must reciprocate.
In other words, you need to start building genuine relationships with Google+ heavy hitters who are active in your niche.
Let’s take a look at a simple blueprint for doing just that. Even if you’re already active on Google+, don’t skip the early stages, because you may have missed something important.
Phase #1: Establish a Minimum Viable Presence on Google+
Since you’re ultimately looking to build relationships on Google+, you need to make sure that any early impressions of you are positive. The last thing you want when new people check out your profile is for them to think they’ve wandered into a virtual ghost town.
So this first phase is about doing some simple tasks to build your basic Google+ presence so that it’s working for you and not against you. It also involves establishing a baseline of regular activity to keep your Google+ presence current.
However, remember that this is a minimum viable presence. It needs to pass a cursory inspection. Putting in lots of work is pointless at this stage – few people will notice since few have you on their radar (yet).
So focus your initial efforts on the following:
a) Enhance your basic profile
Assuming you’ve uploaded a rich snippets-friendly profile photo and selected (or uploaded) a professional-looking cover image, the most important thing to focus on is the Story section.
The Story is the most prominent section on your About page and consists of three main elements:
- Bragging rights
The Tagline is possibly the most important item, as it is shown beneath your name on your hovercard – the floating panel that appears when someone mouses over a link to your Google+ profile.
People can add you to their circles directly from the hovercard, so your tagline plays an important role. Think of it as your Google+ elevator pitch. In just a few words, explain who you are and why it matters to them.
The following are some example taglines from popular Google+ users:
- The world’s only lovable technology journalist – Mike Elgan
- Web series creator, gamer, slight misanthrope – Felicia Day
- Co-founder of WordPress, Founder of Automattic – Matt Mullenweg
The Tagline is also important because the text is used in the excerpt shown on the results page when your profile appears in a Google search.
The Introduction is your opportunity to explain who you are at greater length. It’s a freeform text section and you can include custom formatting and even external links. Make sure you mention your specific areas of expertise to help visitors know if you’re relevant to their interests.
You can also link to your blog and even some of your most popular posts.
For a good example of a Google+ user who’s made full use of their Introduction section, check out Gabriel Vasile:
The Bragging Rights section allows you to include some fun or interesting detail about yourself.
b) Add some key influencers to your circles
Next, add some of the main influencers in your niche to your Circles. In fact, you could create a new circle called “Influencers” or “Heavy Hitters” specifically for that purpose.
Adding some influential users to your Circles is important for two reasons:
- A selection of the people in your circles is displayed on both your About and Posts pages, so it’s important to have something there. (Having some well-known faces in your niche won’t hurt your credibility either.)
- Updates from these people will start appearing in your stream, which will help you keep track of what your target influencers are up to on Google+. It will be useful in a moment for another reason too.
For the big names already on your mental hit list, just type them into the “Search for people, pages or posts” box at the top of the Google+ interface to find their user profiles:
Also, to discover influential Google+ users by topic, try Recommended Users.
c) Create a daily routine of simple updates
In addition to getting your profile information in order, you should start posting regular updates so that when other users visit your Posts page (which is often the first page they will land on), they will see some current activity.
So share some content you think your audience will find interesting. And don’t simply post plain links; make sure you add a little personality by including a short comment to add some context.
Your homepage stream should now feature updates from the influencers you’ve circled, so that should give you some ideas for content to share.
Of course, if you write content for your own blog on a regular basis, it’s a no-brainer to post that too.
Again, you don’t have to go crazy here. Just 15 minutes once or twice a day will keep the “lights on” for your Google+ presence – while you start building some long-term momentum in Phase 2.
d) Start advertising your Google+ presence
This one’s simple, but now that your minimum viable presence is in place, start telling people about it:
- Make sure you have a Google+ link on your blog next to your other social media links.
- Include a link in the author bio of any guest posts you write for other blogs.
- Add a Google+ link to your email signature and to the signatures of any forums you regularly post to.
Phase #2: Become a Visible and Valued Member of the Google+ Community
So you now have a Google+ presence that won’t embarrass the hell out of you if someone new stops by.
However, you still likely have zero visibility within the community.
It’s as if you’ve moved into a new house in a new neighborhood. You’ve brushed your hair and cleaned your teeth and put on some nice clothes, just on the off chance that someone stops by. They probably won’t, but if they do, you’re ready.
This second phase is about getting out into the Google+ community and starting to make more of an impact.
You’re still not actively going after the big players at this point, but you are making some low-level connections with your peers and building your confidence.
You should do the following in this phase:
a) Join relevant Google+ communities and be helpful to others
Google+ Communities are virtual gathering places within Google+ that focus on a specific topic.
For instance, check out the Google Authorship and Author Rank community.
Google+ Communities are a great place to start meeting and engaging with other users around the topics that interest you.
You can find relevant communities by browsing or searching here (you need to be logged into your Google+ account).
The best way to get noticed in a community is to be genuinely helpful to others. Whatever your level of knowledge and experience of a subject, you will always encounter people who know a little less than you.
But before you jump in with both feet, spend a few days as a casual observer so that you get used to the typical discussions in the community and can identify the most prominent members.
Once you’re comfortable, do the following to build your profile within the community:
- Study the responses from the community moderators and then answer basic questions from new members to save the moderators some time.
- Share genuinely relevant content with the community – and remember to keep a healthy ratio between your content and content from others (e.g., 1-to-4).
- Comment intelligently on posts by the community moderators and make sure you’re visible to them and to other active members of the community.
A good mindset here is to ask, “What can I do to help this community and its members?” rather than to think “How can I get noticed?”
If the moderators seem like a good match for your heavy hitters list, be sure to add them to your power circle.
As you become more of a familiar face in a handful of communities, you should also find that people start adding you to their circles, thus growing your following. (And don’t be miserly with returning the favor – you can always remove people from your circles if the content they post is not of interest.)[jbox title=”The Advantage of Growing Your Google+ Following” icon=”https://smartblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/paperclip-small.png”] While your circle count alone isn’t thought to be a significant driver for Author Rank, it’s important from a perception point of view. This number is displayed alongside your photo in any Authorship-enabled search result, and a higher number will give you greater credibility and likely more click-throughs.[/jbox]
b) Interact with other users’ content
You should now have a regular flow of updates in your home stream from the users you added to your circles – the heavy hitters and the users you’ve added from the communities where you’ve been active.
It’s time to become a little active by interacting with other users via the content they post to their profiles.
The following are some ways you can interact with someone else’s post on Google+:
- Give it a +1. Others may see your +1s, so Google’s advice is that you should only give something a +1 if you are happy sharing your recommendation with the world.
- Share it, which re-posts it to your home stream and allows people in your circles to see it too. Remember to add a little commentary of your own to set the context for your audience.
- Leave a comment. Try to be positive and bring something new to the conversation.
In general, focus your efforts on those users who have higher follower counts (although this is an overly simplistic measure of influence) or those who seem very active (i.e., rising Google+ stars).
The aim here is to raise your profile and to encourage a little reciprocation. However, you’re not expecting to get a response from the heavy hitters just yet, just giving them a few opportunities to notice you exist.
c) Become a content curator and creator
In Phase 1 you were doing some basic sharing of other users’ content, primarily as a simple way to get some fresh content in your home stream.
But as your follower count starts to grow, more people can see any updates you post.
So it’s time to start publishing more valuable content to your profile.
Start by finding content that has not been widely shared within your community. Look outside of Google+, or find interesting content in less obvious communities within Google+ to share with your followers.
Also start writing original posts within Google+ itself. These are longer-form updates that have self-contained value. You can think of them as being somewhere between the micro-update of a tweet and a full-length blog post.
Use these posts to share your views and provide valuable how-to information on your core topics. You can add hashtags to flag the specific topic, but Google is actually starting to add these automatically so you don’t need to worry too much about this.
Although we don’t recommend posting reams of original content directly on Google+ (see below), doing so has some advantages. For instance, most experts believe that these native posts will get indexed by Google almost immediately since they are created at source, and certainly Google+ posts are becoming a familiar sight in normal search results.
Some writers are using Google+ posts as a way to test out ideas in short form and then expanding on those that connect with their audience in a longer post on their main blog.[jbox title=”Google+ as a Blogging Platform” icon=”https://smartblogger.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/paperclip-small.png”]Google+ allows you to post long-form updates to your profile, which appear in the home streams of the people that follow you. You can even include basic formatting such as bold, italic and underline. Some people are using Google+ as their primary blogging platform and getting good results, but we still feel safer when your main platform is your own blog on your own domain – an asset you totally control.[/jbox]
Phase #3: Actively Build Connections with Google+ Influencers
By now you have a solid presence on Google+ and you have built a modest – but certainly not embarrassing – following by:
- participating in Google+ communities
- interacting with other users through their content
- curating and creating valuable content of your own
It’s now time to set your sights on some of the bigger Google+ players in your niche.
a) Deepen your list of Google+ targets
Your initial list of influential targets was a good starting point, but it’s time to expand it. This means adding any important top-level influencers you may have missed first time around, but also adding a little depth by looking at the next tier down.
What do I mean by that?
Depending on your niche, some of the big names may be a little too big to realistically connect with directly at this stage. They receive a lot of interactions from other users and you’ll struggle to be heard above the noise.
So the trick is to find other influencers – with more influence than you but less than your main targets – who are in your target’s circles and add them to your hit list.
A simple way to do that is to go to your primary targets’ profile pages and see whose content they are sharing. Chances are these people will already be in their circles and they’ll already have some degree of trust between the two of them.
If you can connect with these middleweight influencers, it will help your credibility when approaching the main targets.
To find these important connectors you can also use a neat feature built into Google+ called Ripples, which shows how a post is shared from one group to another. Read a great post about using it to find influencers here.
b) Engage with your targets’ content
This builds upon the activity from Phase 2 (giving +1s, sharing and leaving comments on other users’ content), but this time it’s a more concerted effort to get the attention of your key influencers. Start with the second-tier influencers and gradually work your way up to the top dogs.
As you work at this you should start to see signs that an influencer has noticed you, for example:
- They reply to or +1 one of your comments on their content.
- They mention you in directly in a post using the +Username shortcut.
- They add you to their circles.
Take your time with this process. Don’t +1, comment on and share everything they post – you’ll look like a crazy stalker.
Instead, use the following simple guidelines:
- +1 a post if you find it genuinely useful or cool.
- Comment when you have something of value to bring to the conversation.
- Share when it will genuinely be of interest to your audience and you can put it into context for them.
How else can you get the attention of your influencers?
The following are some other ideas to get on the radar of a valuable target:
- Write a Google+ post that builds upon one of their recent posts or ideas, and mentions them directly. (You can mention another user by using the plus notation, e.g., +Glen Long will reference me).
- If they run a Google+ Hangout on a relevant topic, do your best to attend and find opportunities to ask intelligent questions. Take notice of who else on the Hangout appears to have a relationship with your target and add them to your influencer list.
- Try to connect with them outside of Google+ – by pitching a guest post for their blog, for example.
Weeks of patient interaction may be necessary to get on the radar of some of your contacts. But before focusing on the biggest names, make sure you have had meaningful interactions with some of the second-tier people that they follow. Ideally you want to be added to their circles so that if they share your content, it is visible to your primary targets.
c) Actively engage with your target
By now you should have had some contact with a number of the key influencers on your list. And while the interactions were primarily in one direction (from you to them), you’ve hopefully received positive signs that they’ve noticed you in some small way.
So it’s now time to start moving slowly away from the periphery of their Google+ network and toward the center.
This means raising the stakes and expecting a little more from your interactions. The distinction here is making small offers or requests that require a response from your target.
You have numerous ways to do this, but the following are a few ideas:
- Ask them directly to share one of your posts; briefly explaining why you feel their audience would love it.
- Create something useful or simply cool for them to share with their audience, such as a shareable image featuring a quote from them, or a cheat sheet based on one of their most popular posts.
- Ask for an introduction to another Google+ user in their network.
- Share something fun or interesting that ties in with their personal interests and ask what they think.
- Ask a question about a product or service they offer (but only it’s something you truly might buy).
- Ask them for a short quote on a topic that you will include in an upcoming blog or Google+ post.
- Ask for a recommendation of a product, service, or book relating to a topic of shared interest.
- Make a direct offer of help – for instance, you could help moderate a community they run.
If you don’t get a response on your first approach, don’t worry. Revert to generous interaction with your target’s content and try a direct approach again a little further down the line.
When you do get a response, build these small interactions over time into a genuine relationship.
Why Author Rank May Still Be a Hoax (and Why It Doesn’t Matter)
While Google Authorship is very much a reality, truthfully most of what is understood about Author Rank is enthusiastic speculation.
Only Google insiders really know exactly how Author Rank will be calculated in practice or how any score will ultimately affect the ranking of a specific webpage written by a given author for a particular search term.
A persuasive (though simplistic) argument says that for Google to introduce Google Authorship without using it to enable author-aware search rankings at some point in the future makes little sense.
But a small chance still remains that Author Rank could turn out to be a hoax. A nice idea that Google never intended to actually implement, or an early experiment that didn’t work out and will never fully see the light of day.
The most likely situation right now is that Author Rank exists in some experimental form within the walls of Google’s laboratories but is still evolving and has yet to be rolled out into its public search algorithm.
But even if Author Rank turns out to be a complete myth – unlikely but still possible – the important thing to remember is this:
It doesn’t matter. Not one bit.
It doesn’t matter, because all of the tactics we’ve described for improving your theoretical Author Rank will boost your practical authority (and ultimately your search rankings and traffic) anyway.
Try to wrap your head around that.
If Author Rank proves to be a myth and your track record as a writer doesn’t directly affect the ranking of your content in search, these practices will end up giving you more traffic anyway.
Firstly, the recommended tactics for raising your content authority outside Google+ are simply smart practice for any online writer who wants to get better search rankings and more traffic.
Secondly, being active on Google+ and building long-term relationships with key influencers in your niche will lead to better rankings and more traffic anyway:
- When a Google+ heavy hitter shares your content, you’ll get direct traffic from their followers and more re-shares, which act as social signals to Google that your content is valuable.
- The halo effect of being associated with more influential users will help you build your own following more quickly, and your Google+ profile becomes an increasingly valuable channel for promoting your latest content.
- Your native Google+ content will start appearing in Google, drawing new people to you and ultimately to your content, wherever it may exist.
So the message is clear – taking measures to boost your Author Rank is a smart move for online writers even if Author Rank doesn’t exist.