Over on our Google Authorship and Author Rank Community on Google+ (which you should definitely join if this topic interests you!), we notice that people regularly seem to confuse and/or interchange two related but very different terms: “Authorship” and “Author Rank” (sometimes written as AuthorRank in a reference to Google’s famous PageRank).
It’s like when I’m at a get together and I mention that I’m into SM…and when I see the looks on peoples’ faces, I quickly have to explain that I mean “Social Media,” not “Sado Masochism.”
So here’s the tl;dr (too long;didn’t read) answer, with more detail below: Google Authorship is the tool, and Author Rank is one (potential) thing that could be built with the tool (in the future).
What are Authorship and Author Rank?
Authorship refers to the project by Google wherein they have given us a set of methods to make a verified connection between our original content anywhere on the web and our Google+ profiles. Google Authorship makes one eligible to get the Authorship Rich Snippet in search results: the author’s profile photo next to the result along with a byline that clicks-through to the author’s profile, (sometimes) the number of Google+ circles the Author is in, and a link to more search results for that author’s related content.
Author Rank is the term we use to describe a theoretical future result of using Authorship: Google’s ability to generate a score for you in each of the topic areas about which you regularly build content, and then use that score to affect your search rankings for content in each of your topics. Based on a series of Google patents and what we have heard from Googlers, we believe the ranking score will be a sort of trust evaluation, based on both how much your content is engaged with in each topic area, and who engages with it. If you post about “bird watching” and someone else who has a high trust factor for “bird watching” shares your post, it probably has a higher Author Rank effect for you than if anyone else shares it.
I want to caution that much of what we say about Author Rank, as with any search engine ranking factor is speculative. Also it does not yet appear that Author Rank is yet being used in any significant way. All any Googler has ever said about it is that they are currently collecting data on anyone using the program, and that it may be a ranking factor “at some point.” I happen to think that they are already experimenting with the search ranking mix, but even if that part isn’t switched on yet, it’s still worth participating because you get the author rich snippet in results, Google can separate your original content from scrapers who steal it, and you’re building up Author Rank data that will help you when it is switched on.
Here are Google staffers Othar Hansson and Matt Cutts introducing Google Authorship back in August of 2011:
See also: “How to Show Your Author Photo in Google Search Results” – my complete guide to implementing Google Authorship.