What was Google Authorship?
When I attended the Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West in March of 2013, all anyone could talk about was Google Authorship. “This is the way of the future! It’s not just websites that can gain authority, but people as well.” These comments could be heard all around me.
The benefit of Google Authorship was that individuals could pass along their authority “juice” to your site. For example, if a well-known blogger with a huge following were to do a guest blog post on your website, this would help boost your site’s authority.
Google would be able to track an individual’s authority through authorship, giving authors of content a way to identify themselves and gain their own personal authority. The authorship was put into place by inserting a markup into the websites coding that would be linked back to the author’s Google+ profile.
By including authorship markup with your content, online authors’ photos would then show up next to their content title in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS), as seen below.
Google Authorship’s Vanishing Trick
In June 2011, Google announced that it would begin supporting authorship markup. They pushed webmasters to begin including the structure markup – especially because they were launching Google+ at the end of June that same year. Google+ profiles were to be Google’s international identity platform to connect authors with their online content.
In December 2013, however, Google reduced the amount of authorship photos shown per query, only some authorship results were accompanied by author photos.
By the end of June 2014, Google removed all author photos from global search, except for any qualified authorship results. Google said this change was implemented because they were currently working on a more mobile search design. At this point, authorship was still said to exist, however, images were not showing up in the SERPS.
On August 28, 2014 it was announced that Google Authorship would no longer be supported in web search.
What Was the Rationale Behind the Phase Out?
1. Low adoption rates by content authors as well as webmasters were part of the reason for the phase out of authorship. It seems that 70% of authors made no attempt to connect their authorships to content they had written. Since Google does such little marketing (they rely on organic spread of information over the internet) perhaps people were not “sold” on the idea of authorship and maybe only SEO strategists were implementing the markup.
2. Google saw little difference in click behaviour between results in SERPS with author images and those without. People didn’t trust listings with images any more than listings without. This was shocking to many as it was believed authorship would encourage a higher click-through rate (CTR). And since Google is a big champion of testing, if they don’t see value being passed on to their users, they will unceremoniously pull the plug on any experiment.
3. Wrong implementation of the authorship markup. Authorship tags weren’t being properly marked up in websites, so its value wasn’t being passed along.
4. The huge increase in mobile use could have also been a big factor. There isn’t a lot of real estate space on a mobile screen and with half of Google’s users coming from mobile devices, mobile usage plays a role in why authorship is now dead.
So, What Now?
If you are signed in to your Google account, Google+ photos should continue to appear for articles written by those who are your friends on Google+. It looks as though Google data is showing this information when the searcher has some sort of relationship with the author. Continuing to include the author snippet would provide value to that searcher who already knows you.
The existing markup that webmasters & authors have included in their pages will not hurt websites, but will be ignored by Google.
Google stated that dropping the authorship rank won’t have an impact on other projects currently investigating how authors can become authorities on the internet. Google will look for (and probably already has) other ways to determine an author’s authority and we probably won’t have to markup anything in the future.
Google may continue to use authorship and, if they do, it still will be one of many ranking factors, so don’t worry too much about it for now.
Continue to write quality unique content worth sharing and try to answer questions your audience is looking for. Continue using the markup, as I mentioned above, so that your posts will still show up in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPS) for those who are following you on Google+. If you are a business, you want your customers who are already following you on Google+ to see your articles when they search for a relevant topic, authorship is a way you can continue to increase your click through rate to your Google+ pages and then onwards to your website.