Snyde Comments: What Is Authorship, Really?

Dave Snyder

on

January 11, 2013 (Updated: September 27, 2023)

Joe Hall did not write this post, Dave Snyder did, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Sometimes we break things into such small fragments that we lose the true power of the whole. I’m feeling this more and more as I read what comes out of certain marketing circles around the concept of authorship.

Defining Authorship

The most revealing definition of “author” in terms reflecting the mosaic that is the Internet comes from APAStyle.org:

The author refers broadly to the person(s) or group(s) responsible for a work. An author may be —

  • An individual
  • Multiple people
  • A group (institution, government agency, organization, etc.)
  • A combination of people and groups.

This element includes not only authors of articles, books, reports, and other works but also others who played primary roles in the creation of a work, such as editors of books, directors of films, principal investigators of grants, podcast hosts, and so on.

While a staggering 7.5 million blog posts are created every day, compare that to video and photo production, and you’ll get an idea of how people consume content online. Every day, 271,330 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube, and around 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook each day.

Obviously, the time it takes to create a video or stage a photo is the result of their prevalence on the web in contrast to blog posts. But content is content, and if we’re giving credit to content creators we must look outside of the written word for the web.

My simple example for this would be a well-known illustrator such as Matt Inman who created The Oatmeal. Matt brings as much influence via his work as any writer. The same could be said for video channels such as Epic Meal Time.

Ultimately, the online author is a creator of content. This includes, but isn’t limited to, writers.

Authorship as an Indicator of Value

Now that we have defined what an author online is, let’s look at where my biggest issue with authorship conversation comes into play: becoming primarily focused on Google as a platform. A touchdown is important in football, but it isn’t the point — winning the game or even the championship is.

But before I begin my argument, I want to confirm that I do believe authorship is important as a future indicator of value in Google. However, no single marketing platform is the main importance of authorship. The “who” of content is what brings traffic. People have a following, rather than individual pieces of content. So, with a great author comes great traffic possibilities. This is a concept that Google once borrowed for its Author/Agent Rank. In other words, it didn’t invent the idea of finding value via social proof.

Further, Author Rank had some major flaws and question marks. Let’s go back to the examples I gave above. If I create a great infographic that an author picks up who then adds a blurb and publishes it, the author gets the authorship credit if they are using rel=”author.” This can be an issue with plagiarized content as well, so let’s look at a better example.

If I’m a blogger who gets paid by a blog to take images that a writer uses in a post, those photos (although they may be the core of the quality of that content mashup) will resolve with the writer. When you take into account other mashed-up media, you see a clear issue come into view. Author Rank does not reward collaborative media.

This is not the case on other social platforms where an illustrator and animator who worked on a video together can both use their social graphs to drive traffic and value to their content.

Splitting the Value Signals

However, no we’re splitting the value signals two ways: 1) with links from the page receiving the value of the author’s authorship, how does Google choose and 2) the signal of quality back to the author’s page splits. Furthermore, I can’t see this working fully today as there is no proof that Google is set up to handle this.

It also brings about the bigger issue I see with Google authorship, which is abuse. If I have a great author who has written on my site before, I could simply add him or her as THE author to my posts. If a connection from a high-authority author to a publication is going to drive more traffic, you can expect people will figure out how to abuse it. As an example, I hijacked Joe Hall’s authorship with his permission for this post (please don’t penalize us for making a point Matt). And then there are examples where Google is just confused.

As Author Rank became more important, more people were able to exploit it, and thus exploited content creators that had a passing knowledge of the technical aspects of authorship. This is exactly what happened with the link-based economy. Publishers, doing little more than trying to monetize their portals lost the value of their investments due to deceptive linking practices invented by people looking to increase their link authority. But Google is smart, and the holes filled in quickly.

However, it brings us back to the point: that authorship is WAY bigger than Google.

Building Authority With Authorship

As a fractional content marketing provider, CopyPress looks for great authors with influence to write for us and our clients because they not only create great content but because they get substantial direct and social traffic. The search value they bring is an ingredient, but it’s not the whole pie.

CopyPress is building out training and tools for our content creators to be able to build up their authorship not only for our benefit but theirs as well. These tactics will be focused on these broader ideas of authorship including, but in no way limited to, Google’s take on it. The reason for the broad focus is it will allow them to generate more traction as creative contractors. This includes illustrators, designers, and videographers as we continue providing solutions through our Content Create and Authority Builder programs.

We will be building an empowering rather than an exploitative model in our marketplace with Authority Builder, giving businesses and brands the tools and resources they need to build authority and expertise in their industries. And so, this is the scene as we head out of 2023 in which almost everyone agrees will be a banner year for online content. We’re at the beginning of a long road.

We have work to do to educate people with marketing budgets on why the pennies per word model is of a very small value moving forward. We’ll also be teaching content creators the value of their existing social graphs, and the traffic these can bring. This is the year to give names to the nameless, and for me, that means looking at writers and Google, but also well beyond.

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Dave Snyder

CopyPress writer

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