Fake Authorship & New School Black-Hat SEO - BOSS DIGITAL

Fake Authorship & New School Black-Hat SEO

2012 has been the year of Google Authorship hype; hype which will almost certainly continue throughout 2013. If you asked any SEO what’s going to be big next year, they will mention authorship; in fact it’s included in every 2013 SEO prediction list that I’ve seen (including my own).

For a lot of people, this kind of hype will be reminiscent of social media SEO at the end of 2010. In November of that year, Google mentioned that they were looking at social media signals from a ranking point of view. But this comment led to social-hysteria, which was not helped by comments like:

“Sullivan concludes his report with the statement that “retweets serve as a new form a link building” – and that a tweet from an authoritative source equates to a link from a respectable or high profile website.”

Search Engine Watch

The reality is that social signals still don’t really have a direct impact on anything… and we’re two years on.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a

“skeptical bastard”

– Dan Holt

And I’ll probably need a little too much proof before I begin to consider a particular SEO strategy. But for me authorship is different; it seems like a logical and measurable step towards a better way to categorise the web. And with Authorship stats in Webmaster Tools and Authorship analytics in G+, there’s clear intent from Google’s side.

Initially, social and authorship were both seen as great indicators of quality because they were supposedly more difficult to exploit than link building. But as with anything in SEO, there are going to be people that find holes…

Fake Images

ClickConsult.com posted a lighthearted article on the use of fake authorship to pose as fictional characters. But looking beyond The Thick of It’s, Malcolm Tucker posting an article titled ‘F***ING F***’ you’ll probably be able to spot the illegitimate road that Authorship is going down. And this exacerbated when you look at the benefits of using authorship…

Having author markup in your search result leads to high click through rates; in fact, results with authorship may get more clicks in 2nd or 3rd position than the top one and click through rates are reported to be improved by as much as 484%. Where markets are competitive this impact can quite easily result in tens of thousands in additional revenue. And your little piece of 44 x 44 pixel SERP real estate is your most valuable tool for gaining these clicks.

Best practices:

  1. Use a picture of just yourself; not you and some buddies.
  2. Make your face visible, no blurring and no photos where you’re a tiny dot in the distance.
  3. Be consistent, use your image across all social platforms to help people recognise you more easily.
  4. Rarely change your image; people will learn to identify you in a crowd of other search results – don’t confuse them.

Google can choose to reject images if the algo doesn’t consider your face to be clear enough.

Black hat practices:

  1. Use a picture of someone else.
  2. Sex sells.
  3. A more striking picture will get more clicks.

Google is not capable of understanding the authenticity of an image. It’s a shame, but this is one of the serious failings of Authorship and will only become more and more exploited. Here are a couple of ‘authors’ *cough* stock images *cough*

fake author 2fake author

Fake ‘Legitimate’ Profiles

There are a number of predictions about Google Authorship that seem likely to come into play as a ranking signal. One is the idea of author authority – if an author’s content is linked to and shared by others, then that person’s content is going to rank better. But it’s also possible that Google will rank authors based on the niche that they write for.

For example, let’s take an author who writes only about two subjects; astronomy and baking. Their astronomy content is linked to and shared by tens of thousands while their baking content falls flat every time. It stands to reason that if the author posted an astronomy piece, Google would immediately credit it with a base value, whereas if the content was along the lines of “How to Bake a Cake”, then its life ought to begin at the bottom end of Google search.

If Google were to credit authors as market experts, then a content writer could set up multiple fake authors in multiple niches. One would be an expert on finance and the other an expert on DIY; the content would be totally legitimate and well researched, but the benefit could potentially be greater than if the writer was to set up one ‘jack of all-trades’ account.

Authorship 2014?

As it stands, the value of Authorship lies entirely in click through rates. You’ll want to get on board now to be in a better position for the future, but in terms of current SEO value there is none (at least not that anyone knows of). As with social these things take time to integrate into the search algorithm; there are so many holes and things to go wrong that rushing the process could wreck Google’s already delicate reputation.

I can’t imagine Authorship reaching a point where it directly impacted SEO in 2013 so I think we’ll be waiting another year. But what I can see happening is a complete flood of fake profiles and images as Authorship inevitably becomes mainstream.

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