So all the noise and predictions on the future of SEO, content and digital marketing in 2015 have died down. What strikes me is that there’s little discussion on the future of authority, given that it is becoming increasingly harder to define (and consequently, measure) in both the physical and digital sense.

I’m not going to attempt and define authority here; I am not up to it. However, as I see it, there’s two kinds of online authority:

  • Authority of the Data: You could call this content authority. At present, Google is good at measuring the authority of a document (with an algorithmic yardstick built upon PageRank), which contains data. However, Google is evolving from returning documents to presenting Naturally, they face new challenges in developing benchmarks to gauge the authority of data.
  • Authority of the Data Source: Google patented a system to measure Author Rank and it eventually became entwined with another, more visible property of the same entity (author) that they called authorship. This is what I feel capable of even speculating on, and therefore, will do so.

The Ghost of Authorship

Authorship is dead and homages have been paid. Google said they killed it off primarily for two reasons: low utility to searchers and ineffective adoption.

That indeed appears to be part of the truth. For instance, normal people wouldn’t search for Ford Figo 2015 or cheap home insurance and expect to see an author’s face or name (or an authority’s symbol, barring branded queries) in the results. Come to think of it, if you look up theory of relativity and got a box or a blue link with Einstein staring back at you, would you click on the result? Why or why not?

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In addition to Google users not being particularly impressed by authorship, it was killed off because “content marketers” were overdoing it. Google has to fight spam, above all, and they were breeding another hard-to-tame monster in the form of authorship. If Google wanted to cut down on link building with guest posts, it was imperative to stem the rot at its source. And they did start off by aiming for the very identities of “authors” – links from bylines.

Let’s Exorcise It

At this point of time, we can conveniently forget about authorship (Google+ notwithstanding). When I discovered SEO – it was 2011 I imagine – it had already been two years since Google stopped using meta keywords, but folks continued to proclaim “Having meta keywords doesn’t hurt.” or “Google could start using them again; you never know!” or “Yahoo does read meta keywords, so we’ll keep them all the same.”

But no, meta keywords are well and truly dead. So is authorship in the markup form that we knew, claims I.

Google Can Dig Into Schema Markup for Authorship Information

It can and it does, but this could hardly prove to be fruitful. In his obituary of authorship, John Mueller remarked,

“We realize authorship wasn’t always easy to implement, and we greatly appreciate the effort you put into continually improving your sites for your users.”

And then he almost immediately contradicted himself:

“Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.”

Tell me, John, if we had such a hard time implementing a simple rel=author tag, won’t we be taming sharks on Kepler-438b far sooner than search engines attain schema nirvana?

From John’s statement, I am tempted to construe that Google is dangling rich snippets in search results as a carrot for getting webmasters to implement schema – until they learn all they want about entities and relationships, kill it off with a swift algo update, and leave SEOs gawking at the mess left behind.

After all, aren’t we supposed to make great sites for users, rather than search engines? Google’s quality guidelines want you to ask yourself,

“Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

But don’t you know, if something sounds too good to be true, it invariably is. Especially when Google is involved. I found this nugget of gold:

“We also want the “good guys” making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded.”

Read the above sentence again. The intent baring keyword you’re looking for is just.

Joel Klettke wrote:

“There will come a day where no markup will be required to determine authorship.”

I’ll bet on:

“There will come a day where no markup will be required to determine pretty much anything.”

Where Else?

The folks at Google keep sending out mixed signals that could be interpreted as Google themselves not being sure on how to determine the authority of a data source.

Google has repeatedly blown hot and cold on their use of social signals in the ranking algorithm. But what if they are able to evaluate the relevance of a person’s profile on a social network to the content being sought? I see quite a few ways to do that, including—

Twitter: I am a serial guest poster. The sites I write for (over 50) frequently link to my Twitter profile from my author bio. As a result, the profile page has a Page Authority (the next best thing to PageRank) of 60. With Twitter reaching a breakthrough accord with Google, the latter will have superior and timely access to content created on the former. What implications could that have on me being credited by the Google algo as an authority on the topics I write and tweet about (digital marketing, entrepreneurship, SEO, analytics, CRO, social media, UX, content, the list goes on)?

Commenting Systems: Disqus is arguably the most popular independent commenting platform. Everyone on Disqus has a profile that assimilates the comments they’ve added on various blogs in one place, forming a mass of content around a limited (mostly) set of topics (that interest them). With a Twitter-like agreement (or even without one), Google could make an effort at comprehending a given author’s “subject matter expertise” from their Disqus comments.

Content Aggregation Tools: Contently is a tool that allows “authors” to build up a portfolio of their contributions on various online publications, and displays these (not unlike Disqus) along with social sharing stats. Google could look for content-author associations in places like these, and build connections the way they do between businesses or brands and niche/local directories and business data aggregators.

The Future

I can’t see it but I can make a lame guess (stealing a diagram from Rand Fishkin in the process):

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