Google Claims These Indicators Are Unreliable

  • July 9, 2024
  • SEO
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During a recent interview at a search conference in May 2024, Google’s Gary Illyes provided valuable insights into authorship signals and the role they play in Google’s ranking algorithms. His comments shed light on why Google tends to trust less the signals under direct control of site owners and SEOs, offering a clearer understanding of the factors that should be prioritized in website optimization.

While the interview flew under the radar, it contains critical information for digital marketers and those interested in understanding Google’s page ranking criteria.

Understanding Authorship Signals

One of the key questions posed to Illyes concerned the potential return of authorship signals to Google’s ranking algorithms. This concept has captivated certain SEOs due to Google’s recommendation that the Search Quality Raters Guidelines be reviewed to comprehend what Google aims to rank. Unfortunately, some SEOs misinterpreted this advice, sifting the document for ranking signal ideas rather than understanding the broader context.

Many digital marketers began to interpret EEAT (Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) as concrete signals scrutinized by Google’s algorithms, leading to the misconception that authorship signals significantly impact rankings. This notion isn’t without historical precedent, as Google once allowed site owners to include metadata about webpage authorship, though the practice was subsequently discontinued.

Issues with SEO-Controlled Markup

Responding to whether Google plans to reintegrate authorship signals, Illyes quickly pointed out that SEO-controlled data often slides into spammy behavior, making it unreliable.

Here’s the question as posed by the interviewer:

“Are Google planning to release some authorship sooner or later, something that goes back to that old authorship?”

Illyes replied:

“Uhm… I don’t know of such plans and honestly I’m not very excited about anything along those lines, especially not one that is similar to what we had back in 2011 to 2013 because pretty much any markup that SEOs and site owners have access to will be in some form spam.”

Illyes further elaborated, stating that author or SEO-controlled markups generally do not serve as reliable indicators for Google’s algorithms.

He explained further:

“And generally they are not good signals. That’s why rel-canonical, for example, is not a directive but a hint. And that’s why Meta description is not a directive, but something that we might consider and so on.

Having something similar for authorship, I think would be a mistake.”

Illyes’ insights emphasize that Google remains cautious about data susceptible to manipulation, such as fake author profiles and deceptive metadata. Hence, focusing on these elements might not yield the desired ranking benefits.

Algorithmically Determined Authorship

Illyes then addressed the idea of algorithmically determined authorship signals, revealing it to be minimally valuable. This revelation might disappoint those who have invested considerable time optimizing their pages for authorship data.

The concept that “authorship signals” significantly impact rankings is largely an invention of the SEO community and not something Google has actively promoted. Over the years, prominent Googlers, including John Mueller and SearchLiaison, have consistently downplayed the importance of author profiles in ranking algorithms.

Illyes elaborated on algorithmically determined authorship signals:

“Having something similar for authorship, I think would be a mistake. If it’s algorithmically determined, then perhaps it would be more accurate or could be higher accuracy, but honestly I don’t necessarily see the value in it.”

The interviewer noted issues with rel-canonical tags:

“I’ve seen canonical done badly a lot of times myself, so I’m glad to hear that it is only a suggestion rather than a rule.”

Illyes responded by highlighting the strength of certain “suggestions,” even if they do not reach the level of directives such as a noindex meta tag. He suggested that some recommendations, like rel-canonical, are trusted more by Google due to their inherent importance to publishers’ interests.

Illyes explained:

“I mean it’s a strong suggestion, but still it’s a suggestion.”

This indicates relative trustworthiness in the inputs provided by publishers. Publishers have a vested interest in getting rel-canonical tags right, whereas other elements like authorship signals could be easily manipulated, making them less dependable.

Key Takeaways

Illyes’ comments offer a solid foundation for adjusting website optimization strategies. It is evident that Google does not prioritize authorship in its ranking factors—an idea that has been propagated predominantly by the SEO community. This perspective urges digital marketers not to overvalue metadata elements directly controlled by site owners or SEOs.

Watch the full interview starting at the two-minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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