Google is a black box. As such, nobody can tell you for certain whether something is definitely in their algorithm or by how much it impacts the final results. That said, we do have a growing amount of evidence that supports author authority as a ranking signal. Let’s go over what that evidence is and what you can do about it.
Evidence Authorship is a Ranking Signal.
Here is the most concrete evidence we have that Google is using your post’s author to help rank the page.
- Google filed an agent rank patent in 2009 and an author vectors patent in 2018.
- In 2011, Google started showing Author Pictures in the SERP via authorship schema (Showing the author’s picture in the SERP died in 2014, but Google built a lot of infrastructure to identify authors around this time).
- Matt Cutts (Google’s Mouthpiece in early 2010’s) talked quite openly about using authors to help rank (here(2010), here (2011), here(2011), and here(2014))
- In 2018 the Google quality rater guidelines call out author credibility (about pages, reviews, wikipedia articles) as something manual rankers should look for when ranking a page.
- John Mueller (Google’s latest mouthpiece) has also mentioned authors here(2018).
Authorship schema is largely considered dead (and one could argue that Quotes from Matt Cutts in 2011 are no longer relevant). That said, the 2018 author vectors patent, the quality raters guidelines, and the stuff Mueller is continuing to say on the subject leads us to believe that authors play at least a minor role in ranking.
How Much Weight Does Author Authority Have?
To me, this is the more interesting question. And since Google is a black box it’s impossible to give a definitive answer. That said, if you read between the lines, I think we can generally infer that Google doesn’t give a lot of weight to authorship. Unless you’re in one of the following situations.
- The post has an incredibly famous author.
- The post’s topic is YMYL and the author has serious credentials to speak on the subject.
It makes sense to me that George RR Martin’s blog posts should get a boost in the SERP. Particularly if people are Googling Game of Thrones related queries.
It also makes a ton of sense that Mommy bloggers shouldn’t be giving us advice on “toxins” or vaccines. No offense to Mom blogs, but unless they’re on maternity leave from being a Dr. they really shouldn’t be showing up in the SERP for that.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Author Authority with Google?
You landed on this blog post so you’re probably looking for actionable advice as far as how to improve your authorship authority in Google.
1) Author and Their Credentials Should Be Easily Identifiable on Blog Post
Google outright mentions being able to easily identify the author of a blog post on their quality raters guidelines. I suggest you prominently display the author’s name, picture, credentials, links to socials, and link to their about page on every post.
And really that’s as far as I think most blogs need to go when it comes to authorship. The next items we’re going to go over probably aren’t worth the amount of time they’d take to accomplish.
2) Gain Publicly Available Credentials in Your Field
This one is really freaking hard. Because what signals is Google using to determine if you’re an expert in your field? Is it any or all of the following?
- What other people say about you online?
- Whether you have won any awards or written books on the subject?
- The education and degrees you have?
- Simply having authored a bunch of well regarded content on the subject in the past?
It would not surprise me to learn that Google is attempting to assign credibility to authors in YMYL spaces. That said, if I were trying to write in a YMYL niche I’d simply follow this guide rather than try to do something crazy (like get a new degree or deepfake positive reviews).
3) Gain a Huge Following
I don’t think you need to gain an enormous YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook following to start a blog. In no way am I telling you to do that (unless you want to, YouTube has advantages over blogging).
That said, do I think somebody like Johnny Harris (who has 2M+ YouTube subs and a wikipedia page, and was a Senior Producer for Vox) would get a boost in the SERP if he wrote a blog post? Yes, I absolutely do, and it’s solely because he has a gigantic following.
Part of his advantage is simply that he could link to articles from his massive YouTube channel and drive traffic (which will wake Google up to the content). That said, I do think there’s another part where Google will give a boost to him because he has so many followers, a wikipedia page, people talking about him online, credentials, etc.
Will Bad Author’s Be Penalized in The SERP?
While I suppose not getting a boost could be considered a penalty. I don’t think Google cares if two relatively unknown authors go head to head. I speculate that you’ll only see SERP movement based on authorship if it’s a YMYL topic (where credentials are important) or one of the authors has an enormous following.
For some evidence of this check out this question posed to John Mueller during an office hours where this exact question was raised. While I’m annoyed with the level of secrecy Google attempts to keep during these office hours (saying a lot while saying nothing at all), I feel like he clearly stated that sites won’t get penalized for having “bad” authors. Or authors with no reputation who have written on questionable sites in the past.
Authorship is probably a ranking factor. But, unless you’re doing YMYL content or are a major celebrity, it’s unlikely to move the needle very much for you in either direction.
Just make sure you can easily identify your author’s name, picture, and credentials on your blog post and link out to their socials, and about page.