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Stealing Authorship for Fun and Profit

John Doherty —  June 22, 2012
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What if I told you that it was possible to hijack pages on websites with your Google authorship? What if I also told you that sometimes Google does it for you?

Let me tell you a story. The other day, I logged into our private Distilled G+ network and saw this from my coworker Phil Nottingham -

We all had a laugh as Phil thought that I was trolling him (which admittedly would have been amazing). But I was not. In fact, I did some more searches on the Distilled site and saw these -

(I am not in fact Paddy Moogan)

(I know our pictures are similar, but damn)

And as much as I’d love to take credit for Will Critchlow’s great B2B Content Marketing post, I didn’t write it and thus shouldn’t have this:

Not only that, but I was also credited for the entire Distilled blog -

I do not, in fact, write the whole Distilled blog.

This peaked my interest of course, so I dug a bit deeper. The rich snippets tool does not show anything and verifies that I was indeed not trolling all of Distilled -

And Will should be getting credit for his post after all -

I realized, though, that my authorship was set to this -

So what happened?

I ended up changing my author link -

And this happened -

So now, I am testing to see if I can forceably take over a blog’s authorship. I’m currently trying to do it to Mike King’s site iPullRank.com, with his permission of course. I’ll update if anything happens.

Oh, and if you’re wondering “What’s all this ‘John and Phil look so alike’ business?”, I’ll just leave this here:

John Doherty


I'm Formerly the Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Trulia Rentals. Previous to Trulia Rentals I ran marketing at HotPads.com. Previous to that I worked at Distilled for 2+ years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter account.

20 responses to Stealing Authorship for Fun and Profit

  1. Haha this is very interesting and if it works, very Sneaky!

    I look forward to seeing the results.

    Also, that picture? Wow Doppleganger!!

  2. That’s quite an error on Google’s behalf. One would of course assume that it’s because you’ve actually got the rel=author elsewhere on the site that it’s just a glitch… but it does leave sites that accept guest posts open to abuse.

    Will be keeping an eye on ipullrank to see if you can duplicate your findings.

  3. Arrrgh! Where’s Me Treasure!
    So can we assume that you can only do your plundering like this because you have the particular site you are trying (or not trying) to plunder linking back to your G+ Profile?

    i.e. other sites are safe from your Pirating ways as long as they don’t Author Link back to your profile. eye Capt’n?

  4. John,

    The rich snippets testing tool is now asking if you are the author of a blog post and pointing you to the following URL to verify your profile. At the authorship page, Google says you have to have a matching verified domain email address on your Google+ profile and Google is automatically adding the domain to your contributor to section. There is no mention that if you have a multiple blogger platform it might confuse the situation.


    With your stealing authorship situation, many users who visit that page and set up authorship in that manner may have similar issues.


  5. Awesome find John! I did a quick google for ipullrank.com and found this particular SERPs entry (http://i.imgur.com/1maJK.png) where Mike’s authorship markup comes up for Jon’s author page.

    Looking forward to the results of your test.


  6. I was actually wondering a while back if it was possible to do this deliberately.

    With the ?rel=author link option it seems easy to indicate your the author on any website you can get a link on. Say a forum signature.

    Then you just link back to the website from your G+ profile.

    Never tried it, for several reasons.

    What would be interesting is if you gained more “SocialRank” due to all the blogs you supposedly write!

  7. Good luck with your testing…It will be funny to see your face pull up as Mike King. At least you and Phil slightly resemble one another.

  8. I wonder if it’s because your being more specific in your URL by specifying the /blog/ directory…

    Perhaps if the others have just used the root in thier G+ you may be overriding theirs?

    Major glitch by Google either way!

  9. Interesting form of “rich snippets” spam. I expect we’ll see more people trying to manipulate/hack what appears as a rich snippet as Google deploys these across more queries.

    I’ve already seen numerous sites using faked review rich snippets, but manipulating/ “stealing” authorship takes it to a new level!

    Cool find.

    Jason Mikula

  10. I wonder if that’s something to do with the new way they are pulling that info through. e.g. you can apply it directly to the

    Interesting stuff.

  11. I’ve seen similar things, but not with company sites/blogs. Depending on the day Ash Buckles hijacks my quora or google+ when searching for my name.

    I’m convinced that Google doesn’t know WTF they are doing right now.

  12. This is very interesting and I’ve been toying with the opposite idea for a while (i.e. assigning an authority blogger’s identity to some noname site) – never tested it practically though. But if that’s how it works… hmm, it surely does spark a few interesting ideas :-)

  13. Good catch John.
    By the way… So aren’t you the Distilled blog ghost writer?
    And, dear! , Phil looks like the Captain of the Bob Squarepants!!!

  14. Interesting post…I wonder how long it will last.

  15. I just realized this is happening on my company blog too with my profile being displayed as the primary author, even though I’m one of like 30+ regular contributors, lol.

    Good advice on how to fix this, but we don’t have author pages yet and I don’t want to lose it altogether, so for now I suppose I’ll just keep taking credit for the entire blog :P

  16. I just published an article on searchenginepeople and someone has stolen my content and implemented google authorship and ranks higher then me for the title of the post. The web is a hardcore place!

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