The question of how to set up Google Authorship - and why it is so important right now - is one that is probably circulating in the mind of many online marketers and webmasters who have not yet done so.
It's a process that can appear complicated at first, but actually consists of several fairly simple steps, so here are the different methods, depending on how many authors your website has.
First, ask yourself these two questions:
One author, no 'about me' page
If you are the only author contributing to your website or blog, and you do not have a page about you on the site, Google Authorship is easy to set up.
Within the <head> section of your website's page template, add the following piece of code:
<link href='http://plus.google.com/123456789012345678901/' rel='author'/>
Substitute your own Google+ profile URL into the 'href' attribute - or change the long number to match your Google+ profile ID.
Depending on how your website template works, you may wish to change the single quote marks for double quote marks, or omit the forward-slash from near the end of the code.
Several authors, no 'about me' pages
If you have several contributors, you can't use the header code option; instead, on each posted article, you'll need to include a linked byline naming the author.
You can do this within your site template, or by manually pasting a byline at the top or bottom of the article text; it doesn't matter either way, as long as the name is linked to the author's Google+ profile.
The code is broadly the same, but rather than appearing as a 'link' element in your page header, it appears as a visible 'a' element, or hyperlink, on your article page:
<a href="http://plus.google.com/123456789012345678901/" rel="author">Author Name</a>
Again, substitute the appropriate Google+ profile ID for the long number in the link URL, and make sure to include the 'rel="author"' parameter to highlight that this is the author's name.
Several authors with 'about me' pages
If individual authors have their own profile on your website, you should link their bylines to their profile instead of to their Google+ account.
Use the same notation as above, but change the 'href' attribute to point to the 'about the author' page:
<a href="http://www.yourwebsite.com/about-author-name" rel="author">Author Name</a>
From the individual author's 'about' page, you should then add a link to their Google+ profile, this time adding 'rel="me"' where you would normally add 'rel="author"'.
<a href="http://plus.google.com/123456789012345678901/" rel="me">Find Author Name on Google+</a>
This is the most complicated method, but also the most powerful, as it allows multiple authors, all with their own profiles on your site, as well as on Google+.
You can also use this method if you are the only contributor to your website or blog, but still want to link to a profile page you have direct control over.
Whichever method you use, you must then link back to your website from your Google+ profile, by adding a text link to your website or blog homepage in the 'Contributor to' section of your Google+ profile.
This verifies to Google+ that the owner of the profile is the same person as is trying to claim that the article was written by them - preventing other people from putting your name on items you did not write.
Reciprocal linking should be the easiest part of the process, but make sure you remember to do it, and ask any other contributors to your site to add the link to their profiles too.
Once Google Authorship is set up, test that it is working correctly using the Google Structured Data Testing Tool (http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets) - this will help you to identify any problems with the way you have set up the code on your page.
Even if the testing tool says everything is set up and working fine, there are still certain circumstances that can prevent your page from appearing in the search results with the individual author's name and profile picture alongside it.
Make sure your Google+ profile picture is a clear, passport-style head-and-shoulders shot with all of your main facial features within the frame.
And finally, be patient. It can take several weeks for your Authorship information to begin appearing in search results, so don't worry if it is taking some time - just keep publishing good-quality articles in the meantime.
Why should I set up Google Authorship?
If 'because Google said so' isn't a persuasive enough argument for you to alter your website's setup, then there are plenty of other reasons why Authorship might be a wise addition to your page template.
Firstly, it makes it easier for people in your Google+ Circles to see which sites or blogs you contribute to, bringing in another stream of potential readers.
Secondly, it helps your pages to stand out in search result pages, as your profile pic will begin to appear alongside them, helping to attract the gaze of the individual search user.
Thirdly, there is good reason to believe that Google will ultimately give better rankings to pages with Authorship information added to them, as it helps to identify that page as having been created by a legitimate web writer.
Finally, it's not an irreversible process - if you decide it is not working for you, you can always remove Authorship information later on, and have your appearance in the search results return to its previous form.
However, there's a certain likelihood that early adopters of this method will build up a greater amount of Authorship value over time than those who link their profiles later on.
With that in mind, even if you change your mind later, there's a compelling argument for setting up Google Authorship as soon as possible, so that you can begin to decide whether it has a positive impact on your website traffic and search rankings.
(Setting up Google Authorship / shutterstock)