Authorship Markup and Affiliate Marketing

If you’ve been in the affiliate game for any length of time as an affiliate that relies on organic SEO for traffic, then you’ve probably had a conversation with your affiliate friends about Google’s Authorship Markup. Recently, SEOMoz did a post labeling the effect of Authorship Markup in the Google algorithm as AuthorRank.

Much of the post is well-educated speculation, but the organic affiliate community often relies on educated and experienced speculation. I always try to think as a search engine and how I would prevent me from circumventing the algorithm and in this case, I think Tom Anthony has the general direction Google is heading correct.

Then this morning, Eric Nagel published a post giving his opinions on what AuthorRank could mean to affiliates running multiple niche sites. Michael Gray and I have long been having conversations on what this means for the affiliate sides of both of our businesses and while we don’t have any solid (I should probably say heavily tested) conclusions as of yet, we both agree that Google is attempting to – and likely will succeed in their efforts to – change the link validation game as we’ve known it until now. This change once again gives brands invested in one effort a leg up while making it harder for multiple industry affiliates.

What is Authorship Markup?

First, since I have a lot of new and aspiring affiliates as readers, let me explain what Google’s Authorship Markup is. You’ve likely seen the pictures showing up next to certain results in Google by now.

authorship markup

Google has created a pilot program to connect the authors of content shown in the search results to their Google+ profiles. You absolutely need a Google+ profile to participate (further forcing people to use their social network, but that’s a whole separate post). Next, you put some code on your page (the best guide I’ve found for actually doing this is from Yoast) and then put a link to your author page on the site you added the Authorship Markup to in your Google+ profile under “Other Profiles” or “Contributor To” on your About page. You can then test to ensure the Authorship Markup is working correctly (though their tool may say it does when it doesn’t – don’t ask). And then you simply wait for the pictures to start appearing.

Why Google wants to push Authorship Markup

I don’t work for Google, so this is purely my opinion, but Authorship Markup essentially allows Google to verify the content was written by a real person with real connections on the web. If I were Google, I’d view a post written on Thesis by me, with 4500+ connections on Google+ as being a more trusted source of information on Thesis than that on a bullshit thin affiliate blog that has no “real person” behind it. (If you want to be even more speculative, my being connected to Chris Pearson and Derek Halpern on Google+ who both write for the official Thesis site probably doesn’t hurt).

I think of it as a way for them to cross verify the inbound links pointing to the page for “true” value from various angles. There are numerous other reasons I could see them wanting to use it, but I believe the verification of various aspects of inbound links is one of the primary ones.

What Authorship Markup means for organic affiliates

As Eric mentioned in his post, affiliates have long had a tendency to be secretive about their sites for various reasons. Not wanting to create competition in successful niches and not wanting to be associated with the sites (because they’re crap or because the topics are things like breast augmentation being written by a 50 year old male) being the top two reasons I’ve seen over the years.

If what I believe will occur with Authorship Markup happens, it’s going to make being “publicly connected” to your site a necessity, especially in more evolved (meaning more SEO savvy), more “big brand heavy” and more competitive industries.

Personal brand bloggers

If you’re a personal blogger making money through affiliate programs on your personally branded blog (like I do with the Sugarrae blog) you have zero reason not to implement Authorship Markup as soon as possible and I also believe, you’ll have little reason to worry about it as long as you become active about building circles and sharing content on Google+.

Affiliate brands

If you own a site that has been working the affiliate evolution method of things, you’re probably already publicly associated with it the way I am with say BBGeeks or It’s a WAHMThing. If I did the all writing for those, I’d simply follow the same route as I suggested for personal brand bloggers. But, I have a staff that writes for BBGeeks and It’s a WAHM Thing has over 15 co-contributors. So, in reality, I need to add the markup to the site and get THEM to implement adding their author page on those sites to their Google+ profile About page and becoming active in Google+ to stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, this also means that future writers I hire or allow to co-contribute to my sites get extra points for having built out Google+ profiles and a willingness to add their author page on my site to their G+ About page and create a public association.

Affiliate micro sites

I believe that affiliates that rely on this method will be the second most effected by Authorship Markup. Even if you’re willing to become publicly associated with 30 micro sites because you believe them all to be quality in nature, will Google truly believe that you can be a “trusted source” in so many unrelated industries? Additionally, again being more speculative here, but can you really build a big following on Google+ if you’re posting about 30 completely unrelated and niche topics on a regular basis? Your Google+ profile will become flooded and people will likely “uncircle” people taking up their entire stream if they know you from one topic and you’re constantly posting about 29 completely unrelated others as well. And can you truly find the time to develop social link validation for 30 websites?

Crap affiliate sites

You know the site. Default WordPress theme, ten pages of content, 100 crap links pointed at it, probably an exact match keyword domain, Adsense all over the page and no social interaction for the site whatsoever. Unless you’re in a very inexperienced, very niche and very “under the radar” industry, Google is coming for you. They have been for years and Authorship Markup is simply one more way for them to strain your crap sites from showing up in their results. I think these affiliates will be most affected by authorship Markup and what’s sure to follow it in the next 6-24 months.

Fake it til you make it?

So now you may be thinking you’ll just create fake profiles. And I know people doing this with success. But I also think it’s a short-sighted tactic. California already has legislation making it illegal to impersonate someone online if your intent is to “harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud another person” and I’d put wanting people to believe a 22 year old name Maria is really writing that breast augmentation blog squarely in the attempting to defraud another person basket. How long til other states, or a federal mandate, follows suit? Additionally, what happens if a site really takes off and suddenly mainstream media is beating down your fake persona’s door for interviews? (True story – happened to someone I know.) You lose out on huge promotional (and revenue) opportunities.

So what the hell is an affiliate to do?

I’ve long been preaching about the importance of branded sites that monetize through affiliate programs vs. making affiliate websites. The affiliate game is getting harder and consolidation, in my opinion, is important if you want to survive. I’d pick some flagship sites that you’re willing to be associated with, that you’re willing to be a brand champion for and put your future efforts there.

I’m not saying to shut down all your micro sites… I myself still have a ton of them that make money. I’m just saying that their expiration date as an effective overall strategy – especially in competitive or even semi competitive industries – is closer to the end than it’s ever been. And if you want to survive “social meets SEO” as an affiliate, you need to stop fighting the inevitable and move onto implementing the strategies of the future. Because I am – so are many other affiliates who aren’t resistant to change – and it’s much easier to lead the pack than to chase it once it’s five miles ahead of you. #justsayin

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. I like the idea of the fake persona. My imagination is running wild – fake persona becomes instant web hit – web geek must dress as a woman to continue the facade. Sort of like ‘Bosom Buddies’ (supplying URL for those too young to know what I’m talking about:
    http://www.tv.com/shows/bosom-buddies/) for the 21st century.

    You’re probably right about the fake persona being a bad idea but I doubt that will stop the cowboys from going there.

    Thanks for the great article. Awesome as usual.

  2. “my being connected to Chris Pearson and Derek Halpern on Google+ who both write for the official Thesis site probably doesn’t hurt”
    Interesting – does this mean Google+ is now a game where we see how many people we can connect with, and don’t care about what they have to say?

    I also wonder how circles will fit into this.

    In the end, we don’t have THE answer, but it is something we need to look at. Hopefully I’ll have some data to back up my decision soon. Guess I have to login to Google+ for more than 3 minutes / month now.

  3. Thanks Rae. I am already re-aligning my strategy and focusing more on a core set of 5 or so sites that I have. Rather than in the past, focusing on any product (no matter how random), that had a bit of search volume and low competition. From now on, an author’s Google Plus profile is going to play a large part in whether I hire them or not. Just got to get my head around the authorship code and connections now – bit confused as to whether I get my writers to create an author page, and then link this back to my brand page, or whether I should get them to link their posts directly to their author pages (leave out my brand Google Plus page)??

  4. Thanks for the wakeup call Rae. Just one more reason to get involved in Google+ and start spreading the word amongst some of my savvier clients. In spite of G+ wanting to be a social media connect, it’s a totally integrated and transparent search engine plugin, apparently totally necessary now, and I think you’ve just verified the writing on the wall.

  5. The more complicated Google becomes, the less attractive it is~ I think a lot of their actions on G+ is repelling membership, not attracting it.

  6. I’ve verified authorship with G+ profiles, however, now I’m thinking which is better between G+ button and Google share button for Google search result ? Can you give me an avice?

  7. Thanks for the heads up! Your post is definitely something for the professional online marketer to consider.

    However, the more I read about Google+, the more I’ve come to realize that the mainstream audience are not fully engaged with the platform. Although Google has been working hard to force users to start opening accounts, there has been no long term usage/engagement. Take a look at the article from Fast Company below…
    http://www.fastcompany.com/1837332/exclusive-google-google-plus-ghost-town-weak-engagement-data-rj-metrics-study?partner=gnews

    Personally, I’m still on the fence about Google+ and not too happy to be “forced” to use it as part of my job. I’m noticing that most of the users of Google + are online marketers , the professionals – those who understand that signing up for Google + is only for the sake of helping their ranking/visibility.

    My belief is that you won’t see the mainstream audience signing up anytime soon. The general public do not see the value of Google’s social media platform being integrated in their lives. In their eyes, Facebook has taken care of their social media needs quite well.

    Although, I understand the logic of using social media activity as a part of their search algorithm, I think Google should have thought more deeply on how to clearly communicate the benefits of G+ to the public. Until they do that, I see Google facing an uphill struggle trying to get people to convert.

  8. I’ve had a google+ account for a while but only recently added it to one of my blogs. I’m already noticing my face show up alongside some search results but only when I’m logged into google+. I really like the idea of authorrank because there are so many crap sites out there with no “real” people connected to them. It seems that after the last google update there are even more spam sites in the top search results which makes this whole strategy even more confusing. :(

  9. Excellent article – I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about author rank and very conflicted about the implications. Particularly since they expect authors to be a natural person.

    It’s pretty clear that Google is giving preference to sites linked to acknowledged authors. I’ve seen this happing in several of the SERP’s I am competing in. So basically, if you are trying to rank in a competitive space, you are going to have to pony up someone’s name.

    And yes – there’s a lot of garbage out there. Spam-in-a-can sites that mean nothing.

    But here’s the counterpoint – there is a place for private speech on the web, and I should not have to give up my name to get ranked for my content. For example, why the heck should I claim authorship of a controversial blog (gay rights, flag burning, advocating membership in an online cult, politics) when it’s going to pop up next to my Linkedin profile and turn me into a PR nightmare for my employer?

    Why should my controversial speach be penalized in getting my content ranked just because I’m unwilling to completely move to the fringe, give my professional day job, and become a full time blogger?

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