How to implement Rel=”publisher” and Musings on the Authorship Markup Landscape

February 8th, 2012
by Tim Resnik

Shortly after the Google+ beta launch in July of 2011, Google began promoting authorship markup to webmasters, publishers, and bloggers. The markup enables Google to semantically build connections between disparate pieces of content and the individuals who wrote them (who have a Google+ profile). You might be saying, well that’s all and good for Google, but what do I get out of it? Google’s answer to that question today would be: you *may* receive authorship information along with your listings in the search results, such as a headshot, rich snippets from your Google+ profile, and even your own author SERP (such as Bianca’s below).  Their likely answer tomorrow: it will be used as a key cog in determining “Author Rank” that will greatly influence rankings and the SERP landscape. (A nice piece by John Doherty discussing Author Rank.)

Example of SERP when Authorship Markup is Implemented Properly

Now to the three authorship tags:

      1. Rel=”author”: a link, usually from the byline, from a piece of content created by an author to an author’s profile page.
      2. Rel=”me”: a link from the author’s profile page to the author’s Google+ profile. A reciprocal link from the author’s Google+ profile, under “Contributor to”
      3. Rel=”publisher”: a link in the head of the webpage to an organization’s Google+ Page.

I’m going to focus on the implementation of the publisher tag in this blog. To learn more about the other two check out AJ Kohn’s very thorough write-up on implementation steps, or check out these other resources: Google’s official guidelines (recently made a lot easier by allowing an email address verification from G+ to be used in place of rel=”me”), WordPress implementation, Matt Cutts YouTube video explaining authorship markup.

We know the value of the “author” and “me” markup, but what is the value of the rel=”publisher” tag? Again, the answer today may be a little different than the answer tomorrow. Today, it makes your site *eligible* for Google Direct Connect  which is a navigational search using the “+”<organization name> that sends the searcher directly to your Google+ Page. For example, if you do a search for +Pepsi instead of seeing a search result you will be directly navigated to Pepsi’s Google+ Page. At this point eligibility is determined algorithmically by Google on relevance and popularity. If you don’t think you qualify, you probably shouldn’t implement it at this point.  I have recently seen several branded SERPs that include Google+ page information right below the site links. I am not sure if this is a direct result of the rel=”publisher” verification or some other algorithm. NYTimes.com has it, yet CNN does not. Neither of which have rel=”publisher” implemented:

Google+ Page Showing up in Publisher SERP

 Implementing rel=”publisher” is not exactly a tough coding job, but there are a few quirks and incongruities.

The first step is to determine if you need the rel=”publisher” tag. If you have a high traffic content-rich website AND a Google+ Page for your business (not to be confused with a personal page on Google+), then rel=”publisher” is the markup that you want to use to let Google know that your site LOLcorp.com owns the Google+ page LOL Corp.

Next, add the rel=”publisher” tag to the <head> of your homepage. Google has a tool where you can generate the code and a Google+ badge for your site. This is the step where the waters get a little murky for me, and perhaps ESPN, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

At AudienceWise we work with clients that have many sub-brands, sometimes on a single domain. The instructions from Google are to put the code in the <head> of the document of your “main page.” However, they have not been clear about using multiple rel=”publisher” tags on a single domain. I have scoured the Google forums, as well as reached out directly to a few folks, but to no avail. No one seems to know for sure.

Undeterred, I looked around to try to find an analogous situation and came across the ESPN implementation. As far as I can tell, ESPN has two verified Google+ pages: NBA on ESPN and ESPN. I first checked ESPN for the rel=”publisher” tag and did not find it. I was then a little surprised to find it on the NBA page, but noticed that it was in the body and not the head. ESPN even left Google’s commented out instructions:

It’s not surprising that ESPN NBA, a site that should be eligible for Direct Connect, is not triggering direct navigation to their Google+ Page.

Once you have figured out the right place to put the tag, you can optionally put the G+ badge anywhere in your document. Next, make the connection from your Google+ page to your webpage. Simply select ‘edit’ and navigate to the ‘about’ tab and add your website. Make sure to use the canonical version of the url, or it won’t work. For example, www.pepsi.com is the canonical location of the website, not pepsi.com or subdomain.pepsi.com.

You should be ready to test at this point. Jump over to the Google Rich Snippet testing tool  and see if Google likes you or not. If you have already implemented your rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags, and they exist on the same page as your rel=”publisher”, tag you will get the warning below. However, Google has confirmed that this is just a bug and you can indeed have both the tags on the same page. In fact, Mashable receives this error in the testing tool (but Direct Connect works) so obviously this is not a problem. 

 At a glance, authorship markup seems a bit insignificant in the grand scheme of Google changes in the last year: Search+, the freshness algo , “secure search”, continued Pandalties, a massive privacy policy overhaul and Google+ Pages for businesses. However, a time will come where these tags (and other microformats) will become increasingly important in rankings and SERP display so it will likely pay off to be ahead of the curve and get it done now. Hopefully Google will provide clearer implementation guidelines, testing tools and equal inclusion for the publishers in the middle class.

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