Why Hunter S. Thompson Would’ve Loved Author Rank (And Why You Should, Too)

Image of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Smiling

Editor’s note: On August 28, 2014, Google ended their Authorship program. To discover what this means for you as an online content creator, check out this post by Sonia Simone.

Are you one of them?

One of the thousands — maybe millions — of faceless web writers toiling away on content that immediately slips into obscurity?

Are you doing what you love for something you hate? Feeling used — even abused — because you are not getting credit for your work?

It’s like a page out of a science fiction novel where people aren’t known by a name, but merely a number.

But your situation is actually worse, because you don’t even have a number. You’re just given an order for 500 words, and enough money to buy a wind chime. Wind chimes are nice, but they don’t put food on your table — let alone substitute for a mortgage payment. You have to write about twenty of those 500-word posts a day to earn an honest living.

You want more when it comes to your writing career. Right?

You want something to write home about. You want something significant to share on Twitter or Google+. You want something that will rouse you out of bed for another meaningful day of work.

And you want a little bit of attention or encouragement … because anonymity sucks.

Fear and loathing in SEO copywriting

And that’s what the general context for SEO copywriting has been for a while. Companies who want to rank high and build links clamor for content, hiring web writers by the dozens to grind out keyword-rich posts.

Who cares who you are? It’s all about production …

Can you knock out fifteen posts on birth defects by this afternoon for $20 a pop? Do good work and I’ll have fifteen more assignments for you.

Oh, stop it. I’m swooning over my luck here.

If writers are running the show, nobody told the vendors — or Google, for that matter. In fact, it’s like Google wasn’t even listening.

But yet, they were. Google was always listening, because they knew great writers created great content.

But how to create an algorithm that made the writer the central character of the show? Could it even be done? And how would this help search (Google’s core business function)?

Google finally answered these questions with a thoughtful, yet somewhat meandering, strategy that culminated in their latest algorithm Author Rank.

I’ll tell you more about this algorithm (and how it can impact you as a writer) in a moment, but first I want to tell you a story.

A brief history of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson had a pretty typical start as a writer.

A childhood rocked by his dad’s death and mother’s alcoholism … a string of eliminations from jobs that didn’t really matter … a few jobs that did matter … a stint in the air force that ended after it was recognized that “although talented, [this airman] will not be guided by policy.”

As a young adult, Thompson drifted from coast to coast trying to be a writer. But it didn’t seem like anybody was paying attention.

Perhaps his journalism was second-rate, and his short stories third. Possibly his former bosses were justified in canning him — maybe he simply didn’t have the kind of talent that prima donnas need to possess in order to stay employed.

But Thompson never gave up. In 1959 he wrote:

As things stand now, I am going to be a writer. I’m not sure that I’m going to be a good one or even a self-supporting one, but until the dark thumb of fate presses me to the dust and says, ‘you are nothing,’ I will be a writer.

He went on to change the face of journalism.

Before Thompson, journalists sought to report on events with a cool and calculated attitude — like a paid assassin. Leave your emotions, personality, and opinion at the door.

“Just get me the story,” was the journalist’s motto.

This is sheer speculation, but I imagine the rabble-rousing Thompson asking, “Why? Why do I have to be cool and calculated? Why do I have to park my personality at the door? Why can’t I be a central part of the story?”

Those questions could have been what led him to invent Gonzo Journalism.

How Gonzo Journalism and Author Rank are related

Thompson achieved national recognition with his book Hell’s Angels (in which he embedded himself with the motorcycle gang for a year), but it was “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” an article published in a small-town journal, that gave birth to Gonzo.

The article was more about the corruption surrounding the race than the actual race, but it was the manic, first-person style that characterized his Gonzo style.

And it worked like a charm.

Bill Cardoso of the Boston Globe said about the article:

This is it, this is pure Gonzo. If this is a start, keep rolling.

Soon after that Thompson cemented his reputation with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — an exhausting tale of extensive drug abuse (particularly Thompson’s and his lawyer’s), but a top-notch example of gonzo journalism.

True, Thompson’s personality was all over the page of any story he wrote, and he often confused fact with fiction — but that’s what you get with a Thompson story. The writer was the central figure of the story.

And if Hunter S. Thompson were alive today, I would like to think he would applaud Author Rank (Google’s new algorithm) because it makes the writer the central character of content …

He would’ve loved it, because it means that the writer finally does run this show.

Kiss obscurity goodbye

Outside the base-level fears we have (staring at the blank page or sounding stupid, for starters), we writers also contend with a high-level set of fears like dying in obscurity, never being validated, or someone else claiming credit for our work.

See, we writers really don’t ask for much. Anneke Steenkamp summed it up with this tweet:

But that will never be the case if the writer is anonymous. You could create 100 masterpieces on the topic of birth defects, but if nobody knows you wrote it, what’s the point?

And this is why Google’s new algorithm — Author Rank — should be applauded by all writers (not just Hunter S. Thompson). Google is going to put the writer front and center by making the historical quality of an author essential to ranking content.

To help prepare for this brave new world of content marketing, I’ll be running a series of five posts on Author Rank in the coming weeks. I’ll cover the significant developments (five in all) that have contributed to Author Rank — and how you can make the best use each of these developments to maximize your work and improve your visibility online.

It’s a story that’s worth following, particularly since it’s all about you.

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Reader Comments (95)

  1. says

    So basically it will be warped based on keywords to take advantage of an algorithm instead of being about creativity and being new? Sorry HST would this notion.

    • says

      Not sure where you got that impression, but no, not at all. “It” (in other words ranking in the search results) will increasingly be about publishing something the audience wants to read, that is useful, and that comes from a writer who has earned a reputation for quality. That to me sounds like the opposite of what you’re saying here.

      • Jordan Riggle says

        This is such a brilliant move by Google! I’m seriously considering hand-writing them a thank you letter from all of us hard working, little respected copywriters! I’m quite looking forward to the up coming series of posts explaining more about how to use this new function…Thanks, thanks, thanks for bringing it to our attention!
        You all are great! Wish I could be at your big Party…I’m there in spirit!

    • says

      It’s not about just one post, but all of your content you have connected via authorship and G+. Plus your social position, etc. Future posts will explore that. As far as an actual score, nobody knows if Google has an actual scorecard at the moment, but my guess is it might look like PageRank.

  2. says

    I can’t help but agree. As a girl with a gonzo tattoo proudly displayed on her ankle, I have an affinity for anything HST. This was an excellent post worthy of its title. Hunter’s writing style and lifestyle demanded that attention be paid to the source.

  3. says

    I do a lot of contract work for an online marketing company. Part of this great-paid gig is writing SEO articles – the benefits of which include the fact that I get to build a huge, varied general knowledge and practise all sorts of voices and perspectives. I have focused on writing good quality content that has actually earned my client’s clients some great leads (and have moved away from spun, rubbish content). Unfortunately, I’m completely anonymous to my audience, which does bum me out.

    The question is, how do I strategically position the necessity to change their approach to supplying content to their clients and subsequently take advantage of Author Rank? Is it really going to be that big of a deal to the clients’ rankings? Or should I focus more on promoting organic linking to my anonymous content?

    I want to change their minds about this and I’m not sure where to begin :(

    • says

      As I’ll explain in future posts that clients will in fact benefit from high authority writers. It’s true in general right now in the sense that if you can get a big name to post on your blog you’ll get more traffic than if you published. The theory behind Author Rank is that will also be a ranking factor consideration (certainly not the only one) as well.

      Besides, anonymous content is going to be viewed as irrelevant. See this post:

      Writer to writer you aren’t doing any favors to your career remaining anonymous. I mean what is nameless content anyway? True, it pays the bills (and some people are perfectly content doing that) but if you’d like more than that, then you need to build up your profile. By the way, I’ve was in your shoes for a very long time, and it was entirely too frustrating “churning” out no-name content–and not get credit for it.

      • says

        Thanks for the response. I’m going to remain glued to Copyblogger to follow the developments of AuthorRank’s influence. Freelance writing is just supposed to tide me over until I gain footing as a novelist, but I do also want to have some clout when it comes to clients using my services because of my high rank.

        I honestly love my clients and they want me to stick around – but I also want to do this smartly and evolve my methods (and pricing) with the times. Thanks again.

  4. says

    Been looking forward to something like this for a really long time. For years I was stuck trying to freelance quality writing while competing with folks who would barf out content for $3 an article. SEO folks knew they needed something in terms of “keywords” and “content”, but they didn’t know why.

    AuthorRank will give a lot more momentum to what legitimate writers do create. Those who own web properties aren’t likely to be scrambling for different types of content every time Google adjusts their algorithm.

    Good post, looking forward to cues on how to further implement some of these strategies.

  5. says

    You go Demian! Looking forward to this series. Any modern day Hunter Thompsons left? Rian Malan here in South Africa can smoke a page, any other?

  6. says

    Thanks for the article, Demian. I enjoyed the background story on Hunter S. Thompson. I’ve heard of him before but haven’t read anything about him in great detail. Would any one here have a good book about his life that you would recommend?

  7. says

    Have you ever read any of Mark Twain’s journalism? I would say Hunter S. Thompson had to be influenced by him. Blending fact with fiction, putting your own personality into the work, Mark Twain definitely did that in his journalism days.

  8. says


    I”m all about Author Rank. I think it’s vital to the quality writer’s longevity that we are able to track the accumulation of work through out the online space.

    My question is that I haven’t seen answered yet, is how and where are good examples of online publishers such as Copyblogger using Author Rank with the individuals that provide content?

    Here’s the future of the writer…


    • says

      As I’ll explain in future posts the actual AR is speculative at this point (so I can’t provide you with examples), but there are so many signals (their Agent Rank patent one of the obvious) pointing in that direction that Google is doing SOMETHING like AuthorRank behind the curtain. However, there examples of the current signals (Google+ and authorship markup) providing higher CTRs, indexing, etc. But that’s not for this post. 😉

    • says

      Ryan, right now the primary effect of authorship is your profile picture showing up next to search results, which boosts clickthroughs when compared with results with no authorship.

      For example, Google “copywriting” and you’ll see my smiling face.

      I’ve also noticed instances where authorship-enabled content is suddenly ranking higher. For example, when using unpersonalized search for “copywriting”, the third result is a Hubspot post that’s come out of nowhere — it’s only 8 months old and has never ranked that highly before.

      • says

        Google “MICR line” and you’ll see me giving you a thumbs up. Not as awesome – but I’ll take it.

        I’ve definitely noticed better rankings since adding authorship markup to my content. I’ve also noticed a slow-but-steady increase in traffic to blogs I write for. Imagine that.

        Very glad I jumped on this when it first came out – and I think it’s still early . A lot of people aren’t using it yet – so take advantage of it now.

        Interested to hear what else Demian has to say about author rank. Loved this refreshingly sarcastic article.

      • says

        I’m just waiting to see concrete proof on how the integrate rel=”author” with rel=”publisher”. That’s when it’s going to get really interesting (from a content aggregate perspective anyways).

  9. says

    It’s great that google is finally recognizing us for being unique and I can’t wait to see what little gems of info you tell us over the next few posts Demian. Google plus already has edge rank for it’s personal profiles though I’m not so sure that it’s being taken note of in their algorithm yet. I know of at least 1 circle share every month that does the rounds with a list of the top 1500 engagers on G+ based on edgerank (I’m on that list though I think that is someone’s own edge rank algorithm rather than an official G+ one).

    I think the earlier folk jump on this G+ wagon the better…………there are exciting days ahead for sure!

  10. says

    Great article Damien! Google AuthorRank rocks! (It’s the same thing as Google Authorship, right?)

    I’ve only been blogging 5 months and discovered Google Authorship (AuthorRank?) about two months ago. Almost immediately, some of my articles flew to #1 ranking, while others got to the first page! Amazing stuff!

    Though I’m still not sure if that was the result of Google Authorship alone. I started using Yoast SEO plug-in at the same time, so perhaps it was a combination of the two? What do you think?

    Either way, I’m stoked! Thanks for the article. Love Hunter S Thompson too! :)

  11. says

    I’m leading an informal meetup on Google Authorship later this month, so I look forward to your upcoming posts. They may become part of the curriculum. 😉

  12. Ashley says

    What a serendipitous post for me… I’m currently reading Thompson’s “Generation of Swine” and spent the better part of last week trying to convince a client to strategically evolve a bit because of the rise of author rank. Demian, I’d like to see a post on best practices for leveraging the integration of AR with G+ profile to increase readership and engagement (and, consequently–hopefully–boost author rank even more). What an exponential momentum that would be!

  13. says

    Thanks for the article, Demian.

    Personally, I use Google Author Rank for my own business. I think building authority to promote our own businesses online will provide a higher return in the long term than building authority as a writer for other businesses.

    Looking forward to your 5 part series on Author Rank.


  14. says

    First off , thank you for linking to my Author Rank piece. While I’m excited about the Authorship program and the potential for Author Rank it’s still a theory and hasn’t yet been used to re-rank search results.

    But Authorship itself is valuable since it helps you to build your personal brand, increases the click through rate on that result and can help safeguard you from plagiarism. The bonus is that you’ll be prepared if/when Author Rank is implemented.

    The other bit about Hunter is that he was authentic. That’s what is rewarded in writing overall and will likely be reflected in any Author Rank implementation. So find your voice and stand behind it.

      • says

        Yo Demian,

        – The first 200 words could be cut, I think is V.C’s point.

        I didn’t think much of it when I read the post initially, After reading it again knowing what the post consists of, V.C. might be right. The pain and agitate emphasis in your initial 200 words may be gratuitous.

        Personally, on reflecting what may be eating VC up my conclusion is that the headline begs you in through HST to an audience that “gets” the reference. You’re first 200 interrupt the payoff of HST connection. You nail it with the first sub head “fear and loathing in SEO” though and things take off from there.

        Food for thought. What do you think – you wrote it – can the first 200 be cut or shrunk to say 50 words and still paid off?

        • says

          Justin, good thoughts, but sometimes you don’t get the prize until the bottom of the cereal box. Depends on the settling. 😉

          Besides, the set up of the nameless, fame-less anonymous web writer is like the nameless, fame-less HST, so essential. Besides, I wanted to identify with the target reader: the writer wanting more from his or her writing.

  15. says

    Well, that’s just swell, Demian, since G+ threw me out because I refuse to use my real name. I can take drugs. I can write gonzo. I could be the next William frikin’ Shakespeare. But you will not find that cute little author snippet on my posts on the SERPs because I’m not in G+ and will not be “guided by authority.” I’ve appealed and gotten the form letter from Big G. “Astro Gremlin” does not comply with the real names policy. I’m not sharing my health records either, and readers who insist on knowing my blood type will be disappointed (hint: it’s green).

    HST is a major hook, by the way, for anyone who ever thought about being a writer or a journalist. Vonnegut’s another. Tom Wolfe. Samuel Clemens. I could go on. You don’t decide to be a writer. You discover you can’t do anything but. As Bradbury advised, “you jump and build your wings on the way down.” Your first 200 words are terrific, by the way, and anyone who doesn’t get the HST reference is a knuckle dragger.

  16. says


    Looking forward to these 5 posts from you on author rank. I’m glad you are the one to take this task on, as you’re most likely to convey the convoluted nature of Google Author Rank to us ‘slower’ folk clearly. You know, like humans communicate.. Love the Hunter S. Thompson reference, BTW.

  17. says

    great post! being from louisville and having a friend who was very close with hunter, i can honestly say he would agree with you!

  18. says

    OK, maybe I’m missing something here so please, help me out…

    As a copywriter, if I write a landing page or a sales page for a client it’s not going to have my name on it. So authorship does me no good in this instance, correct?

    And say I write a blog post for a client, I would need to have the byline, correct? How does that help my client rank? In this case, wouldn’t I need to be ghostwriting it for them so that they show up as the author to boost their rankings?

    I’m sure I’m missing something obvious but I just don’t get how this helps those of us who are writing for others???

    • says

      As individual writers gain more reputation, it will be beneficial to companies you write for to put your authorship on at least some content — blog content being probably at the top of that list.

      But yes, ghostwriting will definitely play a role as well, as good writers will, as we always have, make typical executives look smarter than they are. :)

      • says

        “as good writers will, as we always have, make typical executives look smarter than they are. ” Ain’t it the truth!

        Thanks Sonia!

        • says

          Sonia’s right, if you make them look smarter your reputation will rise (and business will flow your way). I would add that if visibility, attention, and personal branding traction is important to you I would not neglect to continue to build your online profile with your own great content, authorship markup and Google+.

    • says

      Keep reading the rest of the articles in this series (look at my author page [click my name at the very top left of the article] if you have trouble finding them). That will get you up to speed.

  19. says

    Demian, this post is one of the best posts on CB I have seen in years. A genuine work of art. Looking forward to the 5 part ‘authorship’ series. great effort !

  20. says

    Any ideas on how Google could recognize comments? Maybe they should buy Disqus or launch a Google+ WordPress plugin? Do you think they’ll integrate with social scores like Klout? The most important thing to me will be that it’s objective and not overly focused on G+.

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