There has been a debate ongoing in the SEO industry for awhile now about EAT and whether or not it’s a ranking signal. From that (and the Search Quality Raters Guidelines) has spawned a belief among some SEOs that authorship is a ranking signal. It is not, and has been fairly definitively declared not-a-ranking-signal as far as anything can be definitive in SEO. But I’m going to take things a step further and say more than just whether it is or isn’t – I’m going to help you understand why it probably won’t ever be a ranking signal.
Problem 1: Identifying Authors
First of all, there’s no standard for identifying author information. How is an algorithm supposed to identify an author? An author is a discrete entity. It’s not a clump of words that’s easy to discern in text that the algorithm can pick out and say, yup this is the author. You can’t use a person’s name to identify the author. Journalists quote and cite people all the time. What about placement? Well, there isn’t a standard format for where authors are placed that Google could simply go to on the page and say, yup, here’s the author! We’ve figured it out! Boost the rank juice to this page. Bylines are fairly common, but they are not standard.
What about Schema?
And then there’s schema markup, my old nemesis. Schema is an interesting tool. You can markup an author with schema and that gives Google the ability to identify an author as a specific entity. Don’t go rushing to do this just yet though. Google has specifically stated several times that schema is not a ranking signal. The SEO community has tested this assertion with many studies, and there is no correlation between the presence of schema markup and rankings. But in case you need a final nail in the coffin on schema, Google actually used to make use of authorship markup. They killed it off in 2014, which was announced and spelled out very clearly. Why did Google remove it from search results? Because including authorship as a ranking factor did not improve search results. Testing had shown that users found no value in it.
Problem 2: Determining Authoritativeness of the Author
Let’s pretend you’ve managed to solve the issue of identifying authors. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that schema markup for authorship wins the day here, or Google is treating bylines as the identifier. Swell, now how do we determine whether or not someone is an authority on a topic?
It’s not even easy for humans to tell. Is it certifications? Is the number of years they’ve worked on something? Doesn’t it change by profession? What about Mom bloggers? What makes you an “authority” on motherhood? There isn’t a way for authoritativeness to be accounted for in an algorithm that actually reflects reality and surfaces better results in search (hence Google canceling their use of authorship schema).
You could have some serious issues with certain types of authors surfacing as authorities, based on the way the algorithm is likely to determine authority. Think of holocaust deniers who write incessantly on the topic. Suddenly, their propaganda is showing up for “did the holocaust happen”. And why not? They have years of experience, probably plenty of links that have exploded from negative press and social shares, and no doubt they’ve blogged a ton and built up author profiles all over the place. It’s journalism (*sarcasm*)! But to the algorithm, this looks like the best result because it’s an “authority” figure on the topic. In case it’s not clear enough, I’m a not a fan of this idea and it would be a major PR obstacle for Google.
You can’t use schema markup for this either. The authorship schema is concise and it only identifies the name of the author, and suffixes and prefixes such as MBA, or Dr. That information can be greatly irrelevant depending on the topic. Back to the example of a mom blogger, but this time with an MBA. SEO Skeptic has a great article on how authorship schema works with some clear cut examples if you want to see just how limited it is.
Problem 3: Spam
In the examples above, you’ve probably looked at that and thought “I could probably simplify this”. Maybe you’re thinking we could just wrap it in schema and link to certifications, talk about years of expertise, etc., you’re good to go. Google can figure that out, their algorithms have become sophisticated enough to extract something like years of experience from text and apply it to an entity. But any SEO could easily game this sort of system. Let’s face it guys, our industry is pretty good at figuring this type of thing out and abusing it til it breaks.
If the only thing we needed to do make a page rank was ensure there was a beefed up author bio, we would see some egregious claims in those things. Hi, I’m Brett Elliott, an SEO with 51 years of experience and a doctorate in search enginification.
Problem 4: There’s Zero Evidence
Not a single study has proven that having authors on a page actually does anything. In the SEO industry, we have tons of incredibly smart people who run analyses on everything from backlink profiles, to relevancy scores, to machine learning models meant to reverse engineer Google’s algorithm. Yet we have nothing to show for pages with author information on it. So how did we arrive at this constant slew of bad advice relating to author bios being a fix for ranking drops?
Despite Google telling SEOs ad nauseum that the Search Quality Raters Guidelines (SQRG) does not reveal specific ranking signals for the algorithms, a number of SEOs have held it up as some sort of gospel proof. What is the SQRG? Just as in manufacturing, Google has a quality assurance team. This team uses the SQRG as a guide to help determine whether the results they are looking at are quality results or not. They are not developers, they’re normal people (representative of Google’s audience). The SQRG was written for them in plain English to provide a baseline for how quality is defined by the team. It does not mean that authorship is being used as a ranking signal.
There is only one circumstance where we knew authorship is being used, and that’s for in-depth articles. To be honest, I haven’t run across one in a long time, so I’m not sure how often they even populate anymore. The last we received confirmation of authorship being included as a ranking factor for this was in 2014, and frankly it may no longer be relevant or true. If any discerning SEOs out there have current, verifiable information they can send to me, I’ll update this section.
Including Author Bios is a Good Idea
All this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have author bios. You probably should, if only because it makes your readers feel better knowing that Mike wrote that piece on ATV mounts, he competes in races and repairs ATVs professionally, and has a cat named Joe. He has 15 years of experience professionally in the ATV industry and many more before that recreation-ally, so he knows his stuff. Maybe your reader is a cat person who loves ATVs too and feels more connected to your brand because of it. Maybe that fifteen years of experience helps them trust the advice they just read. Those are good things.
And this is the point that Google keeps making. It’s not about chasing a specific ranking signal. It’s about chasing your users and providing them with experiences that they enjoy. They’ll link to your content, buy from your website, and share your content on social media if you do a good job. And then Google’s algorithm will reward the websites that provide good experiences. But you absolutely should not sell yourself or anyone else on the idea that including author bios will fix rankings that have plummeted. I’ve seen too many of my peers in forums doing this exact thing, and then posting later that it didn’t work.
All that said, I could eat my hat with this article. Maybe Google has found a way to use some form of author rank. But following the evidence, it seems unlikely, so I will stand by my recommendation that focusing on improving your content relative to your competitors in search will drive better outcomes than fluffing up author bios.
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