Best Practices for Author Profile Pages

by Aaron Bradley on September 24, 2013

in SEO, Social Media

Best Practices for Author Profile Pages

"Who's there?"

This is, appropriately, the first line of Hamlet, a play mired in questions of identity.

In the more than 400 years since the play's first performance it has become a question asked countless times every day, a question posed silently by both people and machines as they encounter the staggering amount of material published every day on the web.

Who wrote this article? Who took this photograph? Who provided this comment? Who shot this video? Who's there?

Profile pages linked to from an author's work are potentially one of the best sources of information about that author, and have the ability to help search engines and other data consumers understand an author's identity areas of expertise.

Whether or not an author profile page lives up to this potential is based on the how well the structure and content of individual profile pages provides both people and computers with the opportunity to learn about an author.

I tweet. A lot. The bulk of my tweets are linked references to articles and announcements in subject areas that interest me, and when I tweet a link I always try to ascribe the link by associating it with the author's Twitter account.

So in the course of hunting down @reply names, I've seen dozens if not hundreds of author profile pages: the good, the bad and the ugly.

The majority of author pages I've seen squander their potential, but – as I'll outline below – the good news is that creating a highly functional author profile page is neither difficult nor time consuming.

By being aware of the place that profile pages play in your web authorial presence, and by attending to a few simple checklist items, you'll by able to ensure much better answers to the question "who's there?"

Contents

Benefits of a well-formed author profile page

In the realm of topical expertise, there is no authority possible without "author."

A well-formed profile page provides an author with the opportunity to establish their credentials as a topical expert in several ways: by providing information about their background, by providing linked references to their presence on the web, and by laying bare the interactions the author has with others in their field of expertise.

Either singly or across networks and domains, profile pages are invaluable in painting a digital picture of an author's topical expertise for search engines, social networks and other information aggregators.

Profile pages and the links to them also play a critical role in disambiguation: literally the removal of ambiguity about which person is being referenced in any given authorship situation.

Finally, a good profile page allows authors to extend their presence and increase their interaction by connecting to readers and by being introduced into a greater number of digital conversations. In this way a seemingly static artefact facilitates a dynamic result, allowing consumers of your content to move from the question "who are you?" to the proposition "let's talk!"

A note about structured data and authorship

As I'll discuss briefly below, providing search engines and other data consumers with specifically machine-readable information about you and your authorial presence is enormously helpful to them.

There's a large number of mechanisms and associated protocols by which this information can be provided to data consumers. The focus of this piece is the visible content of an author profile page; for in-depth information about optimization of the data layer underlying that visible content, see the companion piece to this article:

The well-formed author profile page

Elements of a well-formed author profile page

Click on the image above to enlarge.
Also available as a printable PDF (in glorious black-and-white)

Elements of a well-formed author page in brief

Elements of a well-formed author page in depth

TL;DR? You've done it. If you follow the guidelines above – especially by incorporating all the profile page elements I've listed as "essential" – I feel confident that you'll end up with a profile page better than most you'll find on the web.

For those of you that want to delve a little deeper into each profile page element, or are interested in exploring the role author profile pages play in different types of sites … read on.

Linked to from the author's articles

An author profile page should be linked to from articles on that domain by the same author, for a host of obvious reasons.

To turn this principle around so it can be stated more clearly, all article pages should link to an author profile page.

For human readers, an linked article byline obviously allows them to find out more about the author with a single click.

For search engines and other data consumers this linking relationship is even more important, because it associates each and every article by that author with the information found on the author's profile page, including URLs on other sites that are related to the author. This linking relationship is important even in situations where information about the author is provided on the article page itself (such as one might find in a "bio-box").

An orphaned author profile page – one to which articles by that author do not link – are unnecessarily weak. Users are required to go out of their way to find this page (if any click-path to it is provided at all), and search engines are unlikely to return such a page in search results for most queries.

For sites that use a contemporary content management system a webmaster would normally have to go out of their way to not link articles to a profile page. But, as discussed below, this is sometimes the case for multi-author sites. If you do sever the link between an article and profile page at least be aware of the implications of what you're doing; if you find that connection severed without a reasonable cause, make efforts to reconnect your article pages to your profile page.

The author's real, full and usual name

Some author bylines to avoidA personal name is obviously the key piece of information that binds an author's profile page to their identity, both for humans and search engines.

Unless you have a compelling reason to protect your identity, use your real, full and usual name both for the linked byline found on your article pages, and for the main heading on your profile page.

By "full" I mean your first and last name, in that order. Avoid system-generated or system-spawned names like "admin", "user32" or "jgreen": almost all content management systems support the rendering of a full name on article and profile pages that is different from that user's login name, should the latter be specifically required.

While it may be tempting to evoke a conversational tone by only using a first name like "Sophia" or "John" this is not particularly useful for readers that want to know more about you, and a first name makes it more difficult for search engines and other data consumers to link your identity between sites.

By "usual" I mean how you customarily reference yourself, particularly if this is different than the name that appears on your birth certificate: don’t use "Dave Jones" on some sites, and "David Jones" on others; if possible, don’t use "P.J. Leblanc" in some places and "Pamela Leblanc" in others.

For those who wish to participate in the Google authorship program, using the same name for your byline and Google+ profile is highly recommended, as explained in a recent Google Webmaster Central blog post:

You can increase the likelihood that we show authorship for your site by only using authorship markup on pages that meet these criteria:
[...]
Showing a clear byline on the page, stating the author wrote the article and using the same name as used on their Google+ profile.

A biography of the author with links

A biography is obviously useful information for your users. Who are you are? What have you done? Where are you from? Were you ever teased at school because your name is "admin" (absurdly self-referential author profile page joke)? Inquiring minds (should) want to know.

Your biography should highlight the authority you possess relative to the subject matter of the site on which your biography appears. If that's Knitting World then a sentence or two on how you discovered the joys of wool is appropriate; on IT Manager World probably less so.

Link out freely in a biography to relevant resources (insofar as your publisher, if that's not you, permits free linking). These (aside from the categories of links discussed elsewhere, such a social media accounts) could include the organization for which you work, other sites to which you contribute, and even sites on which you don't have a presence but are important to you.

SEOs, an author biography is not the place to build links (exclusive of links that are directly relevant to your identity and topical authority). Have you ever seen a bio-box like this accompanying a blog post about some already-exhausted Internet marketing topic? I have – far too many times.

John Smith is an SEO who lives and works in Lima, Ohio. His major clients include Pretty Pet Accessories, makers of superior dog collars and dog toys.

Just say no. If you have the slightest interest in your reputation and image you'll realize that your industry colleagues are embarrassed for you just by reading that. If you're desperate enough to secure irrelevant links by providing 500 words of drivel find go find yerself a nice 'lil art'cle site, b'y.

Mr. Bradley does not advocate writing in the third person for a biography on your personal site, or for a biography that accompanies a social media profile. Mr. Bradley finds it very odd when an author refers to themselves as "she" or "he" in a biographical profile they've obviously written. Mr. Bradley takes heart from the knowledge that great strides are being made in the treatment of dissociative identity disorder.

Author contact information

An author profile page should provide some method by which the author can be contacted. This allows readers to make inquires, suggest corrections or additional content for articles, and otherwise get in touch with you.

Extremely well-known, exceptionally busy or decidedly anti-social authors may think it's a good idea to deliberately limit a reader's ability to contact them, but this rarely works out as planned. If someone really wants to get in touch with you, they'll jump through all sorts of hoops in order to do so, and may end up annoying you more by trying to contact you with the method they've been forced to use, as opposed to a method you've provided for them: it's easier to disregard spam delivered via email than, say, dodge a phone call.

For those wary of awakening the spam monster by making their email address available to readers, a contact form is a great alternative (a contact form can be set up either on an individual basis for single-author blogs, or – in various ways – as a template on multi-author blogs).

Social media accounts listed on a page may provide an indirect method of contacting an author – such as, say, a Twitter account where a user could @reply an author to try and get their attention – but providing a direct contact method is obviously going to encourage more direct interaction. Having said this, providing users with any reasonable method by which they can contact you is better than no contact method at all.

The author's picture or avatar

An author's picture binds his or her visual identity across sites, as well as providing a visual mnemonic by which readers can associate an author and their content (many people, of course, are far better at remembering faces than names).

To this end, the picture that accompanies an author's profile page should ideally be a head-and-shoulders photograph or face shot of the author where they are readily recognizable.

Where an author has a presence on a social media site or sites, the photograph used on a profile page should at least closely resemble the author's image on those sites and – boring though it may be – ideally be the same photograph that the author uses for social media accounts.

To this end the author's profile picture should be square. While, strictly speaking, the orientation of an image used on a profile page doesn't matter, on almost all social media sites profile pictures are square. If you're active online life will be much easier if you have a square photograph of yourself that you can upload whenever a profile picture is required.

On a related note "a good, recognizable headshot" is required on your Google+ profile in order to participate in Google's authorship program, even if you do not display an image of yourself elsewhere.

To the degree that presenting a professional image to the world is important for an author (and it usually is), the photograph used should reflect the image of themselves the author wishes to portray.

I have a particular pet peeve when it comes to profile pictures where the author has been cropped from a photograph where they appear with other people, often with a stray arm around their shoulder. Really? If you're active online and trying to establish yourself by writing articles on the web, probably you and everyone you know has a smart phone capable of taking a perfectly respectable profile picture: invest the five minutes required to take and upload a decent picture, will you? </rant>

(For an amusing, opinionated and profane discussion of this topic, see "What Your Profile Picture Says About You (Hint: 'You're a Douchebag')" by the inimitable Jesus Christ, Silicon Valley.)

There are legitimate reasons why an author may wish not to post his or her picture online. In these cases the consistent use of a personal avatar across sites is recommended: the author may have to forgo the benefits of Google authorship, but he or she may still reap the benefits of a consistent visual identity.

Social media account links

Whether or not you list social media account links on your profile page depends, of course, on whether or not you're active on social media, and whether or not you want to encourage your readers to connect to you or with you on those networks.

For an author whose authorial aims include extending their authorial presence, increasing the number of people that follow them in any given social network, or fostering greater engagement between themselves and their readers, providing links to their social media account profiles from their author profile page is essential.

Linked social media accounts also make it easier for search engines to correctly associate these accounts with an author's identity. And one of the methods by which an author can gain acceptance in Google's authorship program is by structured linking to their Google+ page (details here).

In my experience the omission of social media account links on an author's profile page is almost always an oversight rather than a deliberate effort at obfuscation on the part of the author: in most situations where I've looked in vain on an author's profile page for a Twitter link, I've readily found it with a simple Google search or discovered it listed somewhere else on the site where the profile appears.

Well, I've "readily found" the account in Google except in situations where the author's name is something like "John Smith" or "Mary Jones" – which itself provides a strong argument why an author should link to their social media accounts.

List of articles by the author

An author profile page should be the domain-specific URL where readers and search engines can discover links to other articles by that author on that domain.

This is, in particular, important for search engines because it allows them to provisionally bucket the article links on a profile page as "belonging" to the referenced author, even in the absence of structured authorship data.

This is a less stringent requirement for single-author sites where it can be readily assumed that all the content on the site originates from the site owner. On this site, for example, each page contains a list of recent posts, and provides easy access (for humans) to a full list of article archives: as described below this is not ideal from a data standpoint, but certainly falls into the "good enough" category.

RSS feed of articles by the author

As evidenced by the outcry over the death of Google Reader, syndication is anything but dead, and at the very least you'll at least give readers the option of subscribing to a feed of your articles if there's an RSS feed of those articles available (and ideally a link to that feed).

Having an RSS feed of your articles available on one domain also means you have the ability to embed that feed on another domain. So, for example, your profile page on your personal blog can include a dynamically-updated list of articles you contribute to one or more multi-author sites.

Humans aside, RSS is one of the earliest XML protocols widely employed on the web, and as a result is extremely well-understood by search engines and other data consumers.

In this context an RSS feed of an author's articles on a given domain may have benefits such as improved speed of indexing (by dint of a ping sent to search engines and RSS aggregators), the posts' inclusion in specialty lists and indexes that rely on RSS, and the provision of structured author information (most RSS feeds employ the DCMI element , which ascribes each article in a feed the value of the element – typically the author's name as it appears in the byline).

Dynamic social content

A nice addition to an author profile page – especially for authors that are eager to engage with readers on social media or build out their social media presence – is the inclusion of dynamic social media content, such as a list of recent Tweets or an embedded Pinterest board.

And for authors (like myself) who don't publish blog posts as frequently as they like, but are active on social media, dynamic social content goes a little way to keeping a personal blog populated with fresh content.

Structured data

As noted above, a companion piece to this article provides detailed information about providing structured data about authorship.

I'll just mention briefly here that employing structured data makes it much easier for search engines and other data consumers to disambiguate your identity, and provides them with a more precise picture of what works should be ascribed to you.

The quality of your work, the links that point to your work, and citations about your work are all critical in building your digital authority, but structured data helps ensure you derive the maximum value from these authority-building measures.

Related authorship topics

Canonical profiles for single-author publications

For the benefit of both human readers and data consumers, it is important that an author has one – and only one – profile page on a single-author website.

For readers interested in learning more about you, it's obviously better that you point them to a single information-rich, well-formed profile page than a less complete competing page.

Search marketers reading this will probably be acquainted with the concept of keyword cannibalization, where two or more pages provide a likely match for a given keyword – making it difficult for search engines to assess what's the best page to display for that keyword, and negatively impacting the rank of all pages that cannibalize that keyword as a result of split internal and external link equity. For author profile pages the keyword in question is, obviously, the author's name.

Yet it is extremely common for single-author websites to have two pages when that website is built using a content management system: one system-generated page that serves as the target for linked bylines and containing a list of articles by that author, and a custom "about" page that provides a biography of the author and other relevant information.

This configuration was, in fact, in place on this WordPress-powered blog for most of its existence.

Two author profile pages on a single-author blog

By employing a plugin that allowed me to link my byline to any page I wanted (thanks Marty!), and by redirecting my old system-generated profile URL to my custom profile page, I was able to consolidate my presence on my blog.

One method of consolidating two author profile pages on a WordPress site

I could have gone the other route and built out my profile under the WordPress URL, or (if I had the technical skill) made some fancy back-end changes that would have collapsed the two pages into one, but the hack works well enough.

Were I to build this site from scratch, I almost certainly would have made my system-linked author page the one and only profile page on my site, chiefly because (in WordPress) this incorporates a linked, paginated list of articles: this is the course I'd recommend for anyone starting a new blog.

Special considerations for multi-author publications

The importance of profile pages

Guest post profile pages

Ah Guest Blogger, I knew him well! I'd often find him in the company of his best friend, Guest Poster.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander: a well-formed author profile page linked to from article pages is every bit as beneficial on a large, multi-author content site as it is on an single-author blog site.

Unfortunately, many multi-author sites forgo the benefits of author profile pages in the name of simplified site administration, insofar as they're not required to produce and maintain author profile pages.

To my mind this is a false economy.

To the degree which a multi-author site may provide author information at the post level, eschewing author pages may not even represent a significant saving in terms of site administration. A site need not provide account credentials to individuals just in order to produce a byline that links to an author profile page, and that profile page provides value to both the author and the publisher.

The importance of relevant outbound biography links

Many publishers have become understandably gun-shy when it comes to allowing authors to link out from their profile page, as profile pages have been used for years as a place to build links for SEO purposes.

The problem with disallowing links from an profile page is that such links are extremely useful. They provide a digital discovery path for readers, and provide search engines with valuable linked data (if only in the informal sense of "linked data") about an author.

So whenever it's feasible for them to do so, publishers should support reasonable, relevant outbound linking from author profile pages, either by policing the links that are used, or by employing the <a> rel="nofollow" attribute.

While policing links is more arduous it is the better route, as of course search engines can't make useful associations based on links they don't follow. However, it's still better to nofollow a link than that readers can at least click on then to rob them of that opportunity altogether.

If nothing else, for heaven's sake link URLs (including email addresses and social media addresses). Biographies with content like this are an affront to common sense usability: failure to link the obvious elements here won't keep the spam monsters any further at bay, but will illicit growls from those few readers committed enough to copy and paste text that never should have required copying and pasting.

Mary works for bigshinystore.com. You can write to her at mary@bigshinystore.com, or find her on Twitter as @BigShinyMary.

Article-level linked author biographies

Whether you call them "bio boxes", "author snippets" or "mini-bios", I'm a big fan of bite-size snippets about an author that appear directly on an article page – usually at the very end of an article. (Adding such a feature to this site has long been on my "to do" list.)

An article-level profile is far superior than no profile at all, and may in fact be more beneficial than a profile page insofar as visitors require one less click to see your picture, learn more about you, follow you on a social network, or initiate a conversation.

However, a mini-bio is not a substitute for an author profile page, as it doesn't provide a linked list of articles that may be of interest to humans and are critical – from a structural standpoint – for search engines.

Tim Murphy's mini-bio and author profile pages

Email address [dot] formulation not withstanding, a nice example of an in-article mini-bio (top) that links to a more detailed author profile page (bottom)

When using a mini-bio perhaps the ideal configuration is to link a brief biography, thumbnail picture and key social media links to a more detailed author profile page. But it is better to use exactly the same information found in a mini-bio on an author profile page than to omit that profile page altogether.

Externally-linked author bylines

Author article bylines that link directly to a page on an external domain have both benefits and drawbacks. In terms of conveying human-readable biographical information about an author, a linked page on an external site can be just as informative as an author profile page on the site where the article was published. This can, however, become a liability where the author has two or more articles published on the same domain. Humans have no place to go where they can check out other articles by the author on that domain, and data consumers similarly can't consolidate that personal entity's presence under a single URL.

Note that "a page on an external domain" is not the same as "an author page on an external domain." Bylines that link to the home page of site that isn't specifically about the linked author aren't as beneficial as links to an author-centric domain, or to an author page on that domain.

Even when a domain is "about" one person, if that domain contains multiple pages search engines still have to determine what the best match page is on that domain for a personal name query. Take that into consideration when making your own decision about which page to link to on an external domain.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kevin Polley September 25, 2013 at 9:14 am

Excellent stuff Aaron, your subtlety made me think about and then rewrite my copy so that it wasn’t talking about Kevin but me talking.

Thanks also for sharing the plugins you use. Although both of these plugins work fine I did have an issue with Yoast’s SEO plugin which was causing the author-page link to redirect to the homepage rather than my new ‘person page’. If anyone else has the same problem this fix (change option_name ‘wpseo’ “disable-author” to ‘off’ in wp-options) solved it for me. see: http://bit.ly/1aoRZZs

Kevin

Reply

2 Md. Nasir October 26, 2013 at 4:20 am

Bow, what a details write-up on Author Profile page, I never think a lot about making attractive author bio, its actually very helpful… Nice reading….

Thanks

Reply

3 M. Rameez Ul Haq February 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

you have opened a great secret, seriously managed author profiling works!

Reply

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