Websites you link to get social annotations

Posted on 06. Oct, 2011 by in Digital Marketing

Remember: It’s the not just the websites you +1, share, like and tweet that enable Google to produced social annotations – the websites you link to are included too.

When searching for [webmaster tools] on Google recently, I noticed a social annotation for Gary Illyes, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, appear in the search results. I have +Gary Illyes in a circle and was signed into Google at the time, but it wasn’t the social annotation that caught my eye – more Google’s reasoning for returning it:

Gary Illyes social annotation

Gary Illyes (googlewebmastercentral on Blogger) shared this on Blogger - 14 Jan 2009

I have seen these annotations before many times, but I was intrigued as to why it wasn’t produced from traditional sources like Google+ or Twitter.

Interested, I clicked on the date in the snippet, which took me to a Google Webmaster Central blog post where lo and behold, Google Webmaster Tools was linked to, and Gary Illyes was an author – which Illyes also shows in his Google+ profile.

Intuition took over and I put two and two together… the result:

Links in Blog Posts are ‘Shares’

Wanting to confirm my intuition, the concept reminded me of a comment in a blog post Google wrote earlier this year on social search:

” … we’ve made Social Search more comprehensive by adding notes for links people have shared on Twitter and other sites.”

Other sites? Initially, I presumed those were social platforms, like Digg, Delicious, etc, but in reality I overlooked the fact ‘other sites’ could well be blogs associated with authors.

It appears I did overlook Google’s comment. Because +Illyes linked to Google Webmaster Tools from Blogger, Google sees that as a share, vouch, vote – whatever you want to call it – hence the social annotation. This confirms the websites you link to from your blog get social annotations.

Not websites though, I don’t think they’re applicable. Well, not until brands are allowed on Google+. Even still, I don’t think websites represent people as well as blogs, and I think Google’s investing in people signals, amongst others, to mould its search results.

I’m not Alone

I don’t think I’m alone in overlooking this comment: +Danny Sullivan reported this form of social annotation on Search Engine Land before and suggested the social search results were “screwed up” and it could be a “friend of a friend” issue. Based on the accuracy of this post, Google did get it right.

For example, in his image (PNG), you can see that Jason Kincaid’s annotation appears under the TechCrunch result, with (Michael Arrington on being the snippet. In Google’s eyes, that is totally accurate. Reason being, Kincaid lists TechCrunch in his Google+ profile. At the same time, Google sees Michael Arrington’s section on TechCrunch (wrongly or rightly?) as a separate blog – similarly to how Google Webmaster Central relates to blogger.

Google must have found a post on TechCrunch under the Arrington (finger quotes) “blog” with a link to TechCrunch and walla – social annotation. The same applies to the Matt Cutts and David Harry example Sullivan highlights.

Google is Wrong

In Danny Sullivan’s defence, these social annotations are “screwed up” – Google returned social annotations associated with authors where they weren’t in fact the author. Illyes wasn’t the author of the blog post linking to Google Webmaster Tools – that was Reid Yokoyama, Search Quality. However, it’s Illyes’ name associated with the share. Reputation management issue?

Changes in the Author Tag

Casting my mind back a few months, Google once did require authors to jump through hoops to correctly set-up author snippets. You used to have to link directly to your author landing page on a blog – e.g. – uptake and feedback from users must have made Google change those rules to where you now need to link to the main blog’s homepage.

Panda’s Role

That raises the question: Is there a correlation here to the guidelines Google released after Panda suggesting that content sites host individual authors’ content on sub-domains? Putting two and two together, the answer must be yes. Does that mean blogs like TechCrunch need to host the likes of Michael Arrington’s blog posts on a sub-domain? I would assume so. The only problem is WordPress doesn’t support that. It uses sub-folders, not sub-domains like Blogger. Initially, you would think their ‘link to author’ suggestion was designed for WordPress, but for whatever reason Google wanted sub-domains instead. Could it be a play to entice more webmasters to use Blogger? Unlikely – but there are plenty devil’s advocates out there.

Who You Link to Matters

If my intuition is correct, who you link to via your blog matters – a lot. If the websites you link to do produce social annotations and the annotation described becomes more widespread, I foresee all sort of reputation management aspects to consider.

What’s your take; are you happy for Google to produce social annotations for websites your blog links to? I can see all sorts of pros and cons. Example con: if you sell links on your blog and the websites you link to are low quality, if nobody clicks on them or users see your profile and stop following you, that will impact your author rank – a huge factor to consider in this evolving content and social-led world.

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