Another month, another hype doing the rounds in the realm of SEO.
This time it’s Author Rank and the implementation of rel=author on websites. The hype around Author Rank is that it is a method of validating authorship and assigning a certain level of trust and authority to authors. The idea is that this will then feed in to the search engines’ ranking algorithm, with content produced by trusted authors being ranked higher.
The Limits of Rel=Author
The problem with Author Rank, as I see it, is that it is rather limited in its application. I suppose it’s a good signal for bloggers and journalists, a method of separating low quality content from high quality material, but when you think about it that’s not a particularly broad application.
In my opinion, outside of the blogosphere and news sites, Author Rank as a concept has precious little value.
Those tooting Author Rank’s horn seem to advocate a SEO model focused purely on churning out great deals of high quality content, which is then socially shared and appropriately attributed, resulting in a solid Author Rank for the creator and, thus, good rankings for the website it is published on.
Puttting a Face to It
But for the vast majority of websites, this model is simply not that useful. It would require organisations to nominate one or more public figureheads to serve as their corporate website’s ‘authors’, gathering Author Rank based on content published under their names. That model has many problems.
First and foremost, many organisations are not comfortable with assigning such a public role to one of their employees. And if forced to – as a widespread rollout of Author Rank would demand – the default person in an organisation will likely be its CEO or a similarly senior person.
Realistically, that person will not be writing great content themselves. Instead it will fall on an array of ghostwriters to produce that content and publish it under the CEO’s name. Thus the CEO will build up Author Rank artificially, based on other people’s content.
With such a high degree of online visibility assigned to a limited number of employees at an organisation, it is likely that the company in question will want to safeguard that visibility. That in turn can lead to all kinds of non-competition clauses in employment contracts. Otherwise if an employee decides to leave the company for a rival organisation, all the associated Author Rank that has been built up (either authentically or via ghostwriters) will then benefit the person’s new employer.
Considering the level of job hopping prevalent in many industries, this sort of model where search engine visibility hinges on employee loyalty is just not that feasible.
Reliance on Google +
Also, the implementation of Author Rank in its current form relies entirely on an organisation embracing Google+. If this becomes a requirement for rankings, organisations definitely will embrace G+, but as this will be an involuntary move purely aimed at placating the Google gods it will be entirely artificial as well. Great for Google to boost its G+ adoption numbers, but it won’t be a happy marriage and will do little to establish G+ as an authentic and trustworthy social space.
If You Build It, Will They Come?
Lastly, the problem I see with Author Rank is that it is essentially an extension of the Google-approved SEO model: great content. It seems to me that it serves little purpose other than impress Google’s oft-repeated and vomit worthy mantra of “produce great content and the rankings will come” upon the SEO masses. And, as usual, we’re swallowing it wholesale. It’s a cute technical solution for the ‘build it and they will come’ assumption which until now has been proven entirely false.
If rel=author sees widespread adoption and Google will incorporate Author Rank in its ranking algorithms, I expect to see a very rapid dilution of the actual value of Author Rank due to lack of authenticity, artificial implementation constructs, sanitised corporate Google+ profiles, and other as of yet unforeseen effects.
In turn, Author Rank will become as questionable as the link-based PageRank metric is nowadays, and Google will have to roll out hosts of corrective measures to give it any sort of credibility at all. And that, in my view, is a horrendous waste of everyone’s energy.