For the first time last night, I noticed Google+ began testing rel=author-esque photos in the search results for companies on competitive queries. The first example came in a foreign market, on the search result flights.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 8.03.07 AM

My first thought was that it had something to do with rel=publisher, but if you investigate Travelstart further, you’ll notice there is no such markup on the page – although their Google Plus page is linked.

The second was on the American query car insurance. There, for Progressive, the story is the similar – there is no rel=publisher on the page, but the Google + page is linked.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 7.37.16 AM

However, in both examples, Travelstart and Progressive, their Google Plus accounts are verified, which would lead some to believe that Google was circumventing that markup to reward pages they could identify as authoritative enough to give verification status.

Non-Authoritative Company Pages Showing, Too

This morning, Wissam Dandan showed me the following screenshot in a “flight school” type market for the company Phoenix East Aviation.

This photo was showing up on non branded, competitive queries like flight school, although I haven’t been able to replicate seeing the company photo on search results.

Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 9.02.47 AM

The difference with this page showing is that PEA is using publisher markup on their site, which allows them to be shown despite being less authoritative than Progessive and Travelstart.

Moving Towards Rel=Publisher for Companies

Although this isn’t being shown to all markets, it seems clear to me that Google has reached a point of seeing rel=publisher as a reliable way of verifying company authority. In Matt Cutts recent video on what to expect from SEO, he said the following:

We’re doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space, could be medical or could be travel or whatever, and trying to make sure that those rank a little more highly if you’re some sort of authority or a site that according to the algorithms we think might be a little more appropriate for users.

Some read into this as a statement about rel=author, but my own reading (partially informed by this recent set of changes, both with the June 25th update and rel=publisher shown on the SERPs), tells me that they are basically trying to (partially) interpret it through Google Plus in any way possible.

I personally would not be spending 1000 hours building a single authoritative Google-Plus author on my site if I could build an authoritative brand instead.

Of course, an optimal scenario would be to do both.

In addition, these new tests have illuminated the following action items for companies looking to stay ahead of the game:

1. Implement rel=publisher immediately

2. Link up your Google+ company page sitewide, where applicable

3. Work to build an authoritative company on Google Plus

There’s no guarantee this is going to permanently roll out, but with the success of rel=author, I’m betting it sticks.

Are you seeing anything else interesting regarding Google company page photos in your search results? Please add it to the comments below.

Addendum: I noticed that Progressive actually has rel=publisher properly implemented on their homepage, which is all that’s required according to Google in order to verify rel=publisher for a domain.

However, Travelstart doesn’t have it implemented, so it doesn’t seem required in order to show rich snippets – and if you use the rich snippet testing tool, it doesn’t verify publisher markup for that page.

Secret recipes sold here.

Fresh out of the oven.