Google: Author Bylines Are Not an SEO Signal

Google recently weighed in on an interesting passage from its recent Search Rater Guidelines, shooting down yet another idea that search engines use a bunch of checklists that webmasters can check off on their way to guaranteed online prominence.

This time, the idea was that Google promoted or demoted webpages based on how they displayed the credentials of an article’s author.

Google deemphasizes author bylines and credentials as SEO signal

Google’s Search Raters and Their Guidelines

Not everything that Google does is based on algorithms and computer programs. Google actually employs over 10,000 people to do searches, look at websites, and provide their input on whether the website is relevant and important for the search they conducted.

These people are search raters.

Search raters use a set of guidelines provided by Google. These Search Rater Guidelines can be extensive, telling search raters what to think of when they visit a site, what to look for, and how to rank what they find or don’t find.

While Google doesn’t use the feedback to alter the algorithms and rankings it already has in place, it does use the input of search raters to adjust its algorithms in the future.

Possibly because Google understands that its Search Rater Guidelines could be helpful for website owners if they used it to build better websites, Google seems to “leak” it every time it publishes a new one.

The Newest Editions of the Guidelines Mentions Author Biographies

In July, 2018, Google released one of its editions of Search Rater Guidelines. In it, Google outlined a new interest in who was behind a given website. It told its Search Raters to look for indications that the author of web content was a reliable and an authoritative source of information.

The most recent iteration of the Search Rater Guidelines, released in May, 2019, continues to stress the importance of evaluating the reputation and authority of the person or company behind the website.

Search engine marketing professionals grew concerned: Google was investigating and evaluating the people behind the website, and this could become a piece of Google’s algorithm. So they began recommending that website owners include a prominent “About Us” section to at least try to control the perception of authority and reputation that Search Raters took from their sites.

We at Myers Freelance, however, shrugged. Even if that was the appropriate response, law firms probably already had those bases covered with the ubiquitous and prominent attorney biographies that proclaim an attorney’s education, experience, accomplishments, and reputation.

Google Emphasizes It Is Taking a More Holistic Approach

More recently, John Mueller, one of Google’s big wigs on search engine optimization (SEO), hosted online office hours for webmasters on YouTube.

During the session, he was asked about author biography pages: Did the author’s information have to be in the article, itself, or could the article link to the author’s credentials?

The underlying question, of course, was how websites could score those SEO points for author reputability.

After John Mueller extensively stressed how search raters only influence algorithm updates and not current rankings, he said that listing an author’s credentials should not be viewed as a “technical issue,” but rather as “a user experience thing.” In layman’s terms, an author’s credentials should not be treated as a box to tick off on the SEO best practices checklist. Instead, it was a softer factor that website owners should keep in mind as they build or hone their sites to capture better reader metrics.

In Google’s eyes, it doesn’t matter where or how the author’s information is displayed. What matters is that it leaves the user satisfied in the knowledge that they’re reading something written by someone they can trust.

Our Thought: There’s Nothing to See Here… Yet

John Mueller’s statement left us unsurprised at Myers Freelance. The idea that Google has a “perfect website” in mind and that all you have to do is check off a bunch of boxes is something that a lot of bad search engine marketing professionals seem to keep. But that’s not how the internet works.

However, saying that an element on a website – like author bylines or bios – is a “soft factor” at this point in time does leave open the possibility that Google is playing with the data so they can make it a requirement, down the road. If Google decides that internet users (read: their Search Raters) are overwhelmingly satisfied with one particular way of displaying an author’s credentials, they could begin handing out SEO points for websites that do it that way.

With that said, though, we don’t think it’ll ever come to that point.

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