Content is king - and author is emperor
With all the recent furore generated by Google's punishing Panda and Penguin updates, a fundamental aspect of SEO seems to have been partially forgotten: that Google will always prioritise original, well-written content (and yes, its algorithms are perfectly capable of making a decent stab at what constitutes worthwhile copy or not).
But with the introduction of Google's increasingly popular Authorship function, the search engine giant has now begun to define what's worth reading in terms of who has actually written it.
You may already have come across Author Information in searches. As shown below, an author photo thumbnail accompanies a suggested result (which for good measure also throws in 'More by' links to other articles he or she has written).
A highly visual way of helping users "discover great content", Google's quality-flagging strategy is clearly a winner when it comes to deciding where we're actually going to click.
Quite apart from the stamp of Google approbation involved (and frankly, it's probably not yet entirely clear to casual users exactly why such results are graced with a mugshot), everyone likes to put a face to a name.
Which also means that, for now at least, the established mantra that page position is everything in SERPS requires a slight but substantial revision. We're far more likely to click a stand-out result with accompanying Authorship profile wherever it happens to be positioned - especially if, as is for the moment still quite possible, it happens to be the only result of its kind on an entire page.
The age of the online super-author
Authorship, then, is a pretty big deal, and it's fairly obvious that from now on Google will be increasing its emphasis on who's written what as a method of prioritising search results. Exactly how it will go about quantifying the idea of expertise isn't, however quite so clear.
Obviously, statistically 'in-demand' authors are far more likely to receive seals of approval, the quality of their work judged in terms of visitors, quantity of reputable backlinks, and such like. More cynically, it's possible that rampant use of a G+ profile will also play a part in any author's chances of gaining a search result snippet (membership of Google's G+ network is a prerequisite for Authorship status).
But for any writer who makes the grade, potential payoffs seems huge. Not simply because of the higher search engine placement that logically accompanies Authorship credibility, but also due to that extraordinarily juicy 'More by' option.
Need online exposure? Commission content by a super-author, and a valuable link to your site could well appear in their snippet. No matter, it seems, whether said link actually reflects a user's original search terms or not: the mere fact that the extra content options are by the featured writer seems enough for Google to value them.
The age of the online celebrity author may well be at hand, together with once undreamt of rewards for the most 'distinguished' writers out there.
Of course, Google Authorship status is still something of a novelty; the time will come (and quickly) when Google's search results are peppered with mugshots to the point whereby, ironically, cleaner-looking links may well be the ones that stand out most on a page.
But for now, at least, Google once again has the web community jumping through hoops, and like it or not, attempting to gain Featured Author status ought to be at the forefront of any serious content writer's mind.