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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.

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  • Matt Polsky

    Interesting stuff Ross. I’ve seen some instances of this, but I had to be signed into Google to see the company page. When I was in incognito it was a blank slate.

  • Interesting. I haven’t seen this yet. I have been noticing an increased frequency of the right sidebar being occupied with recent G+ posts from the brand.

  • Implemented a site-wide publisher tag and connected to Google+, still waiting to see Google+ info in the SERPs.

  • Via Micah Fisher-Kirshner I noticed that all the Page-associated pictures displayed are of people (making them even more “rel=author-esque”). Have you heard of any company logos – or other non-human images – being returned in these publisher rich snippets?

    It would seem very odd indeed for Google to impose the same restrictions on Page images as they do for Profile images used in the generation of author rich snippets (i.e. a recognizable head shot) – what we’re seeing here almost makes these tests seem like a bug, but I can’t believe that Google can’t tell the difference between personal profiles and pages within their own network.

    Anyway, very interesting – thanks Ross!

    • rosshudgens

      Cross-post from your Google+ post as well: I noticed that as well, but feel that 3 images is not a proper sample size. Could just be coincidence so far, I doubt Google would have that restriction.. but it might be an interesting way to do a soft rollout for companies. Unless you (or anyone else) are seeing even more examples?

  • Very cool! We haven’t seen anything happen in search yet either. Hopefully soon!

  • I also noticed that yesterday:

    Like Aaron, I’m interested to see examples without any face on the picture

  • It is interesting to see how they organizes the transition of to a social search engine platform. 🙂

  • And just as quickly, they appear to be gone. I can stil see some for brands I follow on Google+ in personalized search, but none that were showing in incognito search yesterday are showing for me today.

  • Thomas Schaller

    Don´t you think those brand icons would kill the clickrate? Think about if an amazon or ebay icon appears in the organic serps. noone would click on the ads and ads are money for google.

    • Obviously Google is already willing to give up some ad space to promote brands. For some time now brands that have an active Google+ Page have been able to get a “knowledge graph” result in the right sidebar (a a panel with logo, brand name in a large font, links to their G+ page, and a sample of a recent G+ post) which completely replaces the ad column.

      Here’s my guess on why they may be willing to do that. Google knows from testing that people are happier with their search results for products or services if they see and can quickly identify brands they recognize. Google takes a long-term approach to the search user. Google’s biggest concern is that the search user remain continually delighted with her results, causing her to want to come back to Google again and again, Thus, over the lifetime of that user, they are exposed to more ads, even though they occasionally missed an opportunity for ads.

      • Thomas Schaller

        OK. If it will be so, then i think only at navigational searches the Brandicons will show up. e.g. when a user is searching for terms like amazon or ebay the icons will show up.

  • Spook SEO

    i have as well noticed this which for me is a good thing. It shows that the brand is reliable as it visualizes the company itself. I will dig deeply with this and keep you posted. Thanks for sharing this one.