Rel=Author is not Algorithmic

Sometimes when SEOs run tests, we find hacks and workarounds for ways to get things done. I’ve recently been running some tests about rel=author, to try to get it to show for my site and others.

I now have conclusive proof that rel=author is not algorithmic. Rather, it is manual by site AND author. And I bet that the authority of the site has something to do with whether or not it shows as well. So we have a combination of who the author is as well as the specific site. If your photo shows for one site, it will not necessarily show for another.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Rand Fishkin

Everyone in SEO knows who Rand Fishkin is. Once SEOmoz implemented the rel=author tag correctly, his photo popped up in the SERPs almost immediately. Here is his mug in the SERPs on his Social Media KPIs post:


Rand is also kind enough to trust me to test some things on his personal website, I implemented the rel=author markup on this site on October 13th. I implemented it using the “?rel=author” parameter. I then validated it with the Rich Snippets tool and saw this:


And yet even today, even when it has been validated for almost 3 weeks, this is what we see on his VC funding post:


So either rel=author is manual, or Rand’s site is not old enough/authoritative enough (it has 265 LRDs though). I’m betting it’s the first one, though. Look at the next example.

Tom Critchlow

Tom Critchlow is my boss here in New York. He implemented rel=author on his personal site as soon as it was available. He then pulled some strings and pretty quickly we saw this:


Tom even implemented this in the same way that I did on Rand’s site, with a link to his Google+ profile using anchor text with a “+” contained in it. The photo showed pretty quick. Then recently I was searching online and saw this for Tom’s posts on the Distilled site:


But when I went to validate this in the Rich Snippets testing tool, here is what I saw:

So Tom’s photo shows on BOTH his personal site (which has low authority and links, with a total of 19 linking root domains and is a Tumblr site) with valid markup and the Distilled site, which has 1279 LRDs, yet no valid markup.

Author authority. Tom’s on a whitelist that not even Rand is on yet. (Hellooo bragging rights).

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s spam team. Obviously he is going to get special treatment, but come on Matt, what’s happening with you is ridiculous.

Here is Matt’s mug in the SERPs:

When I checked the Rich Snippets tool, it is telling me that his markup is correct:

But when we check his “author page”, which is the homepage of his site (, we find no link with a +. In fact, what we find is a link to his old Buzz account using rel=me! Check out this code:

Click to enlarge

But guess what?

Matt’s Buzz link redirects to his Google+ profile!

Apparently Google is recognizing this as valid markup. Either that, or it is a case like Tom’s (which is my guess) where Matt is on a whitelist that allows his profile photo to show at any time.

Le sigh.

Yours Truly

I wrote about trying to get rel=author to show for my site about a month ago. Soon after that, I saw this in the search results:

But then guess what? It disappeared the next day and has not come back. The same thing happened to my friend Brian Whalley over at Hubspot. His image showed for that day and then disappeared and has not yet returned.

So what have we learned?

First, rel=author is a manual application Just because you have validated does not mean it will show (it is a pilot program, after all).

Second, you do not necessarily need to have the markup implemented for your photo to show. This leads me to believe that one of two things is happening. Either the authority of the site will be enough, or there are multiple levels of whitelist for photos to show.

Third, Google is not true to their word. Not a shocker to anyone, but they don’t play fair. Why are you going to reward some people who have not followed your guidelines, but not let those who have done it correctly, who are trying to play by the rules, have some satisfaction of doing right?

Like Ian Lurie said, I’m going blackhat. (Kidding).

12 thoughts on “Rel=Author is not Algorithmic

    1. Hey Kane –

      To be be honest, I think it’s a sit and wait til it works situation. I’ve heard that if you have a connection you can get on the whitelist, but I haven’t been able to make that happen yet.

  1. I have had a very similar experience using rel=author. My plan of action is to gain more authority because the whole process seems very manual to me.



    configure your sharebar plugin to give credit to your twitter account not @thinkdevgrow the plugin developer

    1. Thanks for the comment and suggestion, Anjon. And I have been meaning to change that Sharebar link.

      Raising author authority, I’m afraid, probably won’t help. If rel=author is not algorithmic, like I suspect, then raising an algorithmic number won’t do anything. At least, that’s my thought :-/

      1. You’re welcome glad to contribute.

        I guess what I meant was raise authority to increase visibility and maybe just maybe get whitelisted. Not really a great plan but after reading you article it maybe the only shot I have for the time being.


  2. Hey John – yeah I’m finding this a real odd one. I’m getting no joy on my own blog so it’s proving difficult to test.

    Read your other article: + comments, and seems a lot of people aren’t having joy.

    My observation is that most people listed are in a lot of circles (often 10,000!) although I have seen someone with 200 – I just can’t seem to find them right now.

    It’s interesting that if you search for some of the major global news headlines, no author profiles come up often – think Google + is too tech focused and people in 10,000 circles are likely to be early adopters… not best pleased with this snippet at the moment.

  3. I found your blog while Googling to find out about Rel=author. I’ve just posted my 100th blog post as a jewelry blogger. I wondered if my output would give me the juice to get my pic on Google.
    I truly lack the techiness to know how to do it. The tutorials I’ve seen are way beyond me.
    It seems like the guys you reference are well known rockstars in the SEO field.
    Not being a rock star do I even bother trying to use this tool?
    Thanks for your post.

  4. Pingback: Google's Hidden Author Search (plus Bookmarklet and Video) | John Doherty

  5. Hi

    After 2 months of wait and no content ownership on SERP, I did the following and withing a week my author stats started showing up.

    1. Installed Plugin to improve meta rich tags
    2. Implemented Google Custom Search on WP Blog.

    Before this as well the Google Test was showing my links as containing verified author tag but no results on SERP.

    I’m still not getting the No of circles next to SERP. But still a good start.

  6. I attended the #linklove conf ins Boston and learned a lot from your session. I have been looking into implementing rel=author tag for all our sites (20) but have one challenge and was wondering if you or anyone else has any suggestions – who should I put down as the author? I can use one of our copy writers but what happens if they leave the company? How does that effect the sites?

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