Author byline plays an important role in establishing publisher trust

Author bylines
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With many writers suffering from online harassment, there are valid reasons for a writer to request that their author byline and biography don’t appear against a piece of writing. But does leaving the writer’s name off a piece of content hurt its search ranking? Google Search Advocate John Mueller says no, but he does point out that transparency around author names has an impact on audience trust.

  • In a recent Twitter chat with Mueller, SEO Lily Ray asked:“How should publishers handle E-A-T best practices related to revealing author names and bios, if doing so puts the author in danger?” Mueller’s response was, “It’s not a requirement to add author names, but it is a good practice.”
  • First mentioned in 2014, it focuses on the E-A-T of the content creator as well as specific page content and the website the content appears on. Google’s quality rating guidelines for reviewers say great content should:
  • Help users.
  • Be created by an expert.
  • Be posted on an authoritative site.
  • Be trustworthy.
  • Be updated regularly
Expert creators

The stumbling block comes from trying to reconcile Google’s call for expert content creators with some writer’s requirement to remove their bylines.

  • In advising SEO’s on how to improve their E-A-T, the first advice Search Engine Journal gives is ‘tell visitors who you are’.  It says, “all three prongs of the E-A-T guidelines indicate Google wants to know who creates content and whether that person(s)/website is a legitimate source for that knowledge.”
  • Establishing credibility can be done to some extent at the publication level. The Economist for example never uses author bylines. For publishers taking this approach, a strong About Us page can position the website and introduce who you are, what you do and how you do it. 
  • This doesn’t, however, help in establishing the expertise of individual content creators and Google states
    in its news policy, for example, that visitors want information about those who have written articles: “News sources on Google should provide clear dates and bylines as well as information about authors…”
Anonymous content
  • While an author byline is not officially a search ranking factor, it does play into user trust. It is clearly more difficult to build trust with a source that is effectively “anonymous”, especially if there is no evidence of their qualifications to create the content.
  • Where the author does not want to use their name and biography, some SEOs recommend using a pseudonym alongside an editorial policy statement that explains why author names are not always listed.
  • It is a sad fact of modern online publishing, that publishers must choose between allowing authors to protect their identity from online threat, or worse, is more important than fostering trust with the audience in their content creation process.

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