Google Authorship: Is It Really Dead?

Nov 5, 2014 by
Google Authorship: Is It Really Dead?

During 2012, Google began rolling out a new feature called ‘Google Authorship’, designed to link authors (real people) to the content they published on the web. Google’s primary intentions were to assign a higher rank to sites with quality content and identify the authors of that content as ‘experts in their field’.

Google Authorship worked by allowing authors to link themselves to their content via their Google+ profile. Once this link was established and verified, the author’s photo and name would appear beside search results for their content, in the form of a ‘rich snippet’. It’s easy to see how a big part of Google’s (secret) strategy was to also increase the adoption of its Google+ platform.

What is Google Authorship?

In the seemingly never-ending quest to rid its search results of irrelevant and spammy content, Google decided to introduce a system that openly rewarded quality content and verified authors by giving them higher rank in search engine results; they called this Google Authorship. This effectively gave authors a way of enhancing their rank by following clearly defined steps to obtain verified author status. The overarching intention was to deliver a better experience to people using Google search.

For authors, it certainly seemed to work. For those who configured their accounts correctly, they did indeed see search results for content they had written supplemented with their photo and their name, though some did find the setup process cumbersome and complicated. Blog posts quickly filled the SEO space claiming that author photos increased click through rates by as much as 150%! More recent research has shown that this was not strictly true – the posts referred to data that came from a test of rich snippets, and not from authorship markup per-se. Google has never publicly divulged the data for authorship photo click through rates.

So what happened to authorship?

In June 2014, Google began to phase out features of authorship markup and photos began to disappear from search results amid speculation that Google was reversing it’s use of authorship as a ranking factor. Finally, on August 28th 2014, Google’s John Mueller made a public announcement that Google Authorship would be removed from search results.

In his statement, John makes some interesting comments, including this:

“If you’re curious – in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads. We make these kinds of changes to improve our users’ experience.”

John also commented that Google would continue to use rich snippet markup and that people using Google+ would still see a form of authorship markup for posts written by people in their circles, for relevant personalised search results (more about that in a moment). There were many rumours as to why Google phased out authorship. Google’s official reason was that photos added extra bandwidth for people using mobile devices, and that removing authorship markup altogether cleaned up the overall appearance of search results.

Rand Fishkin, head honcho at Moz, had a different view. He tweeted on 25th June 2014:

“IMO, most compelling explanation for Google removing profile pics from search is that it distracted from ads, and cost advertisers clicks”

That’s a very telling insight, given John Meuller’s comment earlier. In a similar vein, WordStream founder Larry Kim had this to say:

“It’s pretty clear that Google’s excuse for removing author photos from organic results – decluttering and improving user experience with no effect on CTR – just doesn’t hold water.”

So is Google Authorship completely dead?

It is very likely that Google still uses authorship ranking factors behind the scenes, even though they no longer use the markup in public search results. With this in mind, it is still critical to create new, well written, unique and engaging content that other people would like to read, engage with and share. In-between the disconnect of Google’s desire to implement an authentic ‘author trust’ system and the failure of actually being able to roll out one publicly, there is a very real and active authorship system still running behind the scenes that Google put a lot of resources and energy into.

Today (circa October 2014), authorship markup (in a slightly different format) does still appear in search results, as noted by John Meuller. If I have a person in any of my Google+ circles that has posted about a topic I perform a search on, their post will appear in the search results, complete with their photo and their name. However, this only occurs when I am logged into my Google account – if I am logged out, that post does not appear in the results.

Authorship markup for Google’s public search results is now gone, and to confirm this you only have to have a look at Google’s official page about it.