Google’s Take on Authorship Signals

In a recent interview at a search conference in May 2024, Google’s Gary Illyes shared valuable insights into the trustworthiness of authorship signals and other SEO-controlled markup. His answers shed light on why Google has less confidence in signals under the direct control of site owners and SEOs and offers guidance on what to prioritize when optimizing a website.

Authorship Signals: A Historical Context

The Origin of Authorship Signals

The concept of authorship signals has been a topic of interest among SEOs for many years. Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines have long encouraged SEOs to consider elements like Expertise, Experience, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (EEAT) when optimizing content. This led many SEOs to believe that authorship signals were a key ranking factor. The idea gained traction when Google introduced a mechanism allowing site owners to pass metadata about webpage authorship.

However, the authorship initiative was eventually discontinued. The reasons behind this decision were not immediately clear, but it became evident that the system was susceptible to abuse. SEOs and site owners often manipulated authorship data, creating fake author profiles and generating content that appeared authoritative but lacked genuine expertise.

Why SEO-Controlled Markup is Considered Unreliable

Illyes’ Skepticism

Illyes’ response to the question about reintroducing authorship signals was straightforward. He expressed skepticism about any plans to reintroduce authorship signals, particularly in a format similar to what existed between 2011 and 2013. According to Illyes, any markup accessible to SEOs and site owners tends to become spammy, rendering it untrustworthy.

In his words:

“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.”

The Challenge of Trust

The challenge with SEO-controlled markup lies in its susceptibility to manipulation. SEOs and site owners have a vested interest in achieving higher rankings, which can lead to practices that prioritize search engine algorithms over user experience. This often results in the creation of content that appears to be authoritative but lacks genuine value. As a result, Google has learned to be cautious about signals that are directly controlled by those who stand to benefit the most from higher rankings.

The Problem with Algorithmically Determined Authorship

A Surprising Revelation

Illyes also addressed the concept of algorithmically determined authorship signals, revealing that even these signals might lack value. This perspective could be disappointing to SEOs and site owners who have invested time and effort into improving their authorship data.

He elaborated:

“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.”

Implications for SEOs

This revelation challenges the common assumption that algorithmic determination of authorship would lead to more accurate and reliable signals. It suggests that even when authorship is determined by Google’s algorithms, the value of these signals remains questionable. This insight reinforces the importance of focusing on content quality and user experience rather than attempting to game the system through authorship signals.

The Role of Rel-Canonicals and Other Metadata

Rel-Canonicals as a Strong Suggestion

The interview also touched on the topic of rel-canonicals, which are often poorly implemented. Illyes emphasized that while rel-canonicals are a strong suggestion, they are not a directive. This distinction highlights Google’s nuanced approach to different types of SEO-controlled data. A directive, such as a noindex meta tag, is something Google is obligated to follow, whereas a suggestion, like a rel-canonical, is something Google considers but does not necessarily obey.

In Illyes’ words:

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

The Trust Hierarchy

This implies that while Google places a certain level of trust in rel-canonicals, it recognizes the potential for misuse or error in other types of SEO-controlled data, such as authorship information. The concept of a “trust hierarchy” emerges, where some types of metadata are given more weight than others based on their likelihood of being accurate and reliable.

Practical Implications for SEOs and Site Owners

Authorship as a Non-Priority

Illyes’ comments offer clear guidance on where SEOs and site owners should focus their efforts. Authorship is not a signal that Google prioritizes, despite some SEOs’ beliefs to the contrary. Instead, the emphasis should be on providing genuine, high-quality content that aligns with Google’s broader criteria for ranking.

The Importance of Content Quality

The focus should always be on creating content that meets the needs of users and provides genuine value. This involves thorough research, clear writing, and ensuring that the content is up-to-date and relevant. By prioritizing user experience over search engine algorithms, SEOs and site owners can create content that naturally attracts traffic and earns higher rankings.

Caution with Metadata

Metadata controlled by site owners or SEOs, such as titles and meta descriptions, should be approached with caution. While these elements can contribute to SEO, their potential for manipulation means they are not the most reliable signals for Google. Instead, these elements should be crafted to accurately reflect the content of the page and provide useful information to users.

The Evolution of Google’s Approach to SEO

Moving Beyond Manipulative Practices

Over the years, Google’s approach to SEO has evolved to prioritize user experience and genuine content quality over manipulative practices. This shift is evident in the way Google handles various signals and metadata. By understanding this evolution, SEOs and site owners can better align their strategies with Google’s priorities and avoid practices that could be considered manipulative or spammy.

The Role of Machine Learning

Machine learning plays a significant role in Google’s ability to evaluate content quality and user experience. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, Google can better understand the context and relevance of content, making it more difficult for SEOs to manipulate rankings through superficial signals. This underscores the importance of focusing on creating high-quality content that genuinely meets the needs of users.

The Future of SEO

Embracing Authenticity

The future of SEO lies in embracing authenticity and prioritizing user experience. As Google’s algorithms continue to evolve, they will become even better at identifying and rewarding genuine, high-quality content. SEOs and site owners who focus on creating valuable content and providing a positive user experience will be well-positioned to succeed in this new landscape.

Adapting to Algorithm Changes

Google’s algorithms are constantly evolving, and SEOs must be prepared to adapt to these changes. This requires staying informed about the latest updates and trends in the industry and being willing to adjust strategies as needed. By remaining flexible and open to change, SEOs can ensure that their efforts remain effective and aligned with Google’s priorities.


In summary, Google’s stance on authorship signals and other SEO-controlled markup is clear: these elements are not trusted signals and should not be the primary focus for those looking to optimize their websites. Instead, the focus should be on creating authentic, valuable content that meets the needs of users and aligns with Google’s guidelines. By understanding and adhering to these principles, SEOs and site owners can better navigate the complexities of digital marketing and improve their chances of achieving higher rankings.

Case Studies: Real-World Applications

Case Study 1: A Content-Driven Approach

One example of a successful content-driven approach is the case of a leading health and wellness website. Instead of focusing on authorship signals or other manipulative practices, the site prioritized creating high-quality, informative content that met the needs of its audience. By conducting thorough research and collaborating with medical experts, the site was able to produce content that was both authoritative and trustworthy. As a result, the site experienced significant improvements in search rankings and organic traffic.

Case Study 2: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Metadata Manipulation

Another case study involves an e-commerce site that initially relied heavily on metadata manipulation to achieve higher rankings. This approach involved creating keyword-stuffed titles and meta descriptions that were designed to appeal to search engines rather than users. However, this strategy ultimately proved ineffective, as Google’s algorithms became more adept at identifying and penalizing manipulative practices. The site eventually shifted its focus to improving the overall user experience and providing valuable product information, leading to sustained improvements in search performance.

Best Practices for Modern SEO

Focus on User Intent

Understanding and addressing user intent is crucial for modern SEO. By identifying the specific needs and preferences of their target audience, SEOs and site owners can create content that is more likely to resonate with users and earn higher rankings. This involves conducting keyword research, analyzing search trends, and engaging with users to gain insights into their behavior and preferences.

Prioritize Mobile Experience

With the increasing prevalence of mobile devices, optimizing for mobile experience is more important than ever. This includes ensuring that websites are mobile-friendly, load quickly, and provide a seamless user experience across different devices. By prioritizing mobile optimization, SEOs and site owners can improve their chances of reaching and engaging with a broader audience.

Leverage Structured Data

Structured data can help Google better understand the content of a webpage and improve its visibility in search results. By implementing structured data markup, SEOs and site owners can provide additional context and information about their content, making it easier for Google to index and rank their pages. This can lead to enhanced search visibility and improved click-through rates.

The Role of Content Marketing in SEO

Integrating Content Marketing and SEO

Content marketing and SEO are closely intertwined, with each playing a vital role in driving organic traffic and improving search rankings. By integrating content marketing strategies with SEO best practices, site owners can create a cohesive and effective approach to digital marketing. This involves producing high-quality content that is optimized for relevant keywords and aligned with user intent.

Building Authority Through Content

One of the key benefits of content marketing is its ability to build authority and credibility within a given niche. By consistently producing valuable and informative content, site owners can establish themselves as experts in their field and earn the trust of their audience. This can lead to increased engagement, higher rankings, and improved brand reputation.


In conclusion, the insights shared by Google’s Gary Illyes provide valuable guidance for SEOs and site owners looking to optimize their websites effectively. By understanding the limitations of authorship signals and other SEO-controlled markup, and focusing on creating high-quality, user-centric content, digital marketers can improve their chances of achieving higher rankings and driving organic traffic. Embracing authenticity, prioritizing user experience, and staying informed about the latest industry trends will be crucial for success in the ever-evolving world of SEO.

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Written by Rahil Joshi

Rahil Joshi is a seasoned digital marketing expert with over a decade of experience, excels in driving innovative online strategies.

July 10, 2024


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