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SameAs Structured Data has Hidden Benefits

Key takeaway: Google is treating sameAs links in structured data author objects as backlinks.

Structured data, topical authority, authorship, E-E-A-T: these are hot topics in the SEO world right now. We all need to find a way to stand out, especially as generative search experiences loom on the mainstream horizon. Something we can all work in on is building trust — with our potential customers/readers, our existing customers/readers, and of course, with Google.

Google’s oldest way to measure trustworthiness is backlinks, when other websites link to yours. If other people are willing to be associated with your site or your content, you must be at least somewhat trustworthy (the thinking goes). More links can mean more trust, especially if those links come from already-trusted websites.

The problem is that getting those backlinks is hard. Journalists are savvy to SEOs trolling HARO (“No search engine agencies, please”), Wikipedia moderators notice commercially-motivated links quickly, editors are too busy to go back and modify their articles, even when they’re linking to pages that are missing, etc.

This morning I discovered a new way to get backlinks lurking in my structured data. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth knowing about.

Here are all of the background pieces to this story:

I own several websites. My main bread-and-butter website is WineClubReviews.net — a niche content website focused on wine (not just wine clubs). This is where I experiment with and practice new SEO techniques. Another website I own is this one: SEO by Jessyca.

Structured data. This is machine-readable code which communicates additional information about your web pages to Google (and others). It can be added to a website via JSON objects in special script blocks, or added right into your HTML using RDF markup. I use both methods. Typically SEOs are interested in this website component because it helps them gain exposure on SERPs (search engine results pages).

Authorship. This is a hot topic of late because Google has been making changes to their “rules” around authorship — especially in response to the coming tsunami of AI-generated content.

Authorship is generally of most interest to SEOs who specializes in News organizations, and those who focus on YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) topics like finance and health. Establishing strong authorship cues about writers makes it easier for Google to extend trust to them. The organizations they write for impact how Google sees them, and in turn, your site.

What I did

Over time I added a variety of visible content about me (as an author of the content on my site) to pages throughout WineClubReviews.net. I didn’t especially expect Google to start thinking of me as a trustworthy author (though I am), but I hoped to build trust with my readers. I included links to my social media profiles in these author bios.

Here is what author profiles look like in different sections of my site:

Best-Wine-Clubs-Author-Profile
Guides-Author-Profile

As is often the case with SEO, it’s hard to directly connect specific site changes with results. There are just too many variables to be certain (in most cases) which action caused which result.

In this case, I didn’t see any obvious impact from adding author bios across the site.

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Several months ago, I added some additional structured data to WineClubReviews.net to beef up my authorship signals. I put proper organization structured data on the home page, I added author and publisher tags to my wine club reviews and wine delivery pages, and as part of that I used the sameAs object to connect my social media profiles (the same ones I used in visible content on the site).

Here is what this section of my structured data looks like:

"author": {
  "@type": "Person",
  "name": "Jessyca Frederick",
  "url": "https://wineclubreviews.net/jessyca-frederick",
  "sameAs": [
    "https://jessyca.com/my-story/",
    "https://linkedin.com/in/jessyca",
    "https://www.instagram.com/jessycafrederick",
    "https://artofakind.com/about/",
    "https://www.crunchbase.com/person/jessyca-frederick",
    "https://app.qwoted.com/pr_users/jessyca-frederick"
  ]
},
"publisher": {
  "@type": "Organization",
  "name": "Wine Club Reviews",
  "url": "https://wineclubreviews.net",
  "logo": {
    "@type": "ImageObject",
    "url": "https://wineclubreviews.net/assets/images/wine-club-reviews-logo-40px-tall.png"
  }
}

What I found

This morning, while killing time before online conference SMX Advanced, I was patrolling my Google Search Console accounts to see if anything interesting is going on.

For one of my client’s sites, I wanted to see if the client had many any progress on his link building campaign (I recommended working with some of his professional organizations to get high-quality backlinks that would be of benefit to those organizations’ members). He has not.

So, I switched to the Jessyca.com profile without leaving the Links report. What I saw there surprised me.

It was obvious to me that some piece of my authorship implementation had taken hold, but I didn’t remember ever linking to my SEO site from WineClubReviews.net (the only contextual relevance is that I write the content at both sites and since they’re not topically related, the linkage would be weird for both users and search engines).

So I opened up the Chrome Inspector and searched for “my-story.” Where did it come up? In my structured data. In the sameAs section under my author information (shown above).

I also see this addition of backlinks on my website ArtOfAKind.com (in the structured data above), so I don’t think it’s a fluke.

Google is treating sameAs links in structured data author objects as backlinks.

This really opens up a host of new questions for SEOs to consider:

  1. Why are the Target URLs all listed as N/A?
  2. Do these backlinks have the same ranking impact as any other link from the site? Are these even backlinks?
  3. Do any other URLs in structured data create backlinks?
  4. Will sites with guest authors implement author structured data with SameAs URLs to boost those authors’ status? Or will major publishers do this for their journalists?
  5. Is this an oversight and Google will create a spam algorithm for this sort of thing?

I’ll keep an eye out and update this post if I see any new developments around this.

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© Jessyca Frederick 2023

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