Author Rank is probably not going to happen.
At least, it’s not going to use Google+ as its basis. AJ Kohn reported back in October that Google had “shuttered” its Authorship Project, and that this heralded an end to the “clock watching” – search marketers should no longer be waiting for Google+ to become worthwhile.
The truth is that Google+ is worthwhile now…and, depending on your brand, it might be more worthwhile than Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
The social network for everyone
The great irony of the “ghost town” that is Google+ is that it’s the only social network from which everyone can benefit. Every B2B brand and ecommerce store will reap the rewards of Authorship mark-up, the rel=publisher tag, Google+ Places…anyone can do a Hangout; a Helpout; and now you can even send email directly to other Google+ users.
Google+ is best for brands; Twitter and Facebook are best for users (wanting to badmouth brands).
The question is, now Author Rank is apparently dead in the water, is Google+ the best place for authors? …and should SEO agencies continue to advocate the use of Google+ “because it will be huge one day”?
In short: yes. Just because Author Rank isn’t happening doesn’t mean Google+ isn’t happening.
Why Author Rank would never have worked
The problem with the theory behind Author Rank is that authoritative authors tend to write on authoritative sites.
Authors who are well known in a particular field can get published on the biggest sites in their industries with relative ease; and because they’re published on big sites the posts will generally rank well anyway.
Add to this the fact that authors do not become well known in a particular field unless they write great content, and that they know nobody will see their content unless they know where to put it so that people will be able to find it, suddenly it starts to look like Author Rank is a fundamentally broken concept when it comes to content discovery.
No matter how hard Google tries to drive authors to Google+, the problem with lack of adoption, as AJ Kohn terms it, means that the social network will never be more than an indicator when it comes to ranking content by the strength of the author.
As recently as last year, Google employees have stated that the search engine likes to rank sites such as Yahoo! Answers because they get their information across quickly – this could even be at the expense of an academic paper on the subject matter because Google is getting better at working out user intent. Wikipedia causes SEO Managers headaches in most verticals by outranking their (often stronger) content, but by definition no article can possibly be credited to an author.
Some guy in his bedroom might write a better answer to someone’s problem than a guy with a book deal and a degree in the subject, regardless of who has Google+ and who doesn’t.
Is Google+ worthwhile without Author Rank?
This doesn’t mean that Google+ is dead – in fact, it’s never been more alive.
People are starting to take the social network on its own merits. It’s well documented that Google+ increases click through rate (see Justin Briggs’ great article on how Google Authorship impacts CTR), which should be enough to make it part of your SEO strategy alone.
Marketers tend to be reluctant about wasting resource on yet another social network, but the truth is that building an engaged community on Google+ is building an engaged community on Google. Your business might have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but that’s where they’ll stay. 1,000 people adding your brand to their Google+ circles means that your products will be thrust into their faces when they search for something you can do.
Changes you make to Google+ aren’t falling on deaf ears, because changes you make to the social network are changes you make to Google’s SERPs. Your law firm will probably get as much engagement on Bebo as Facebook; put it on Twitter and people will just use it to complain at you. Build the authority of your authors on Google+ and make some money instead.