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.
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+.
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