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Google Authorship Is Over: 4 Reasons To Justify Its Removal

When we wrote about Google Authorship and the Possibility of an Author Rank, little did we know that Google authorship would be doomed so soon. Panda, Penguin and Pigeon updates aside, this is one update that has come as a shock to the SEO and blogging world. That’s right, Google authorship is over. It has been discontinued for many reasons; reasons we are going to discuss today.

But first let’s take a tour of Google Authorship’s ambitious three years of existence. This was one project that gave authors high expectations about getting well-deserved recognition on Google search and earning a reputation to influence the ranking of their content on search (a.k.a. author rank).

A Quick Look At Google Authorship’s Short Life Story

Back in 2011, Google made an annoucement about Google authorship and encouraged authors and publishers to connect their Google+ account to the site where their content resides. The owners of those Google+ profiles were then acknowledged in search results as authors of that content. It was a part of the structured data markup that was used to produce rich snippets in search. As a result, Google search results started looking colorful, with photographs of authors in some search snippets, as shown below:
Author Photographs Shown In Google Search Results
Author Photographs Shown In Google Search Results

From Google’s point of view, there were bugs to fix and spam to fight on the Google authorship road. Google’s Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst from Google Switzerland, John Mueller, subtly announced the demise of Google authorship toward the end of August 2014.

John Mueller’s primary role is to connect webmasters with engineers at Google, which means he manages to effectively communicate feedback from webmasters to Google engineers. Apart from Google authorship he was closely associated with the Google Webmaster Tools and Sitemap teams.

From the users’ point of view, Google authorship made some blunders, most notably where a man was attributed as the author of an article 28 years after his death. Flaws aside, Google authorship did give a certain authority to content with a recognizable human author. It encouraged authors and publishers of online content to carve their niche with quality content because they got credit for it. It was also considered a way to improve clickthroughs in search results.

In June 2014, however, Google discontinued displaying author photos. This was mainly because they occupied precious real estate on Google’s mobile SERPs. Instead, they limited the display of author information to names and the number of Google plus circles they were in for blog posts and article snippets. By the end of August 2014, they completely removed Google authorship.

Justifications For Taking Down Google Authorship

There are more than a couple of reasons for taking down Google Authorship. The first two listed below are directly given by Google, the third is deduced by renowned SEO experts and the fourth one is our own. Let’s take a look at each of them in detail.

1. Not Useful?

Google is all about user-experience and they introduce many products and technologies to enrich that on a regular basis. Google Authorship was primarily released to attribute content to human authors and put a futuristic agent rank or author rank into practical use. But it also made sense to consider the fact that search engine users would trust content that is attributed to a human author and prefer them over syndicated, automated, machine generated or thin content with no name on it.

This eye tracking study conducted with LookTracker on fifteen test subjects, proved that among a list of search snippets, the ones with an authorship caught the most attention than paid ads or the first organic search result. Three types of study was carried out and the conclusion was that even though the few search snippets without authorship on the top garnered user attention because of their position, towards the lower end the snippets with authorship captured the user’s eye. The ones without an authorship placed towards the end were not viewed much, as compared to the ones with authorship.
A screenshot of one such heatmap result is shown below:
Heatmap Study On Influence Of Authorship Search Snippets Among Non-Authorship Ones
Heatmap Study On Influence Of Authorship Search Snippets Among Non-Authorship Ones

According to John Mueller, however, the main reason to take down Google authorship is because there is no notable difference seen in the search behavior of an average person, with or without authorship in the snippets. In their tests, the absence of authorship did not cause a reduction in traffic. They say that not only does it seem to be less useful to the average searcher but it may also be a distraction to them.

Mueller was probably talking about mobile users here, as an author photo, name and number of circles takes up a lot of screen space and may distract the mobile user from his/her primary search task. As for desktop users, we don’t think it was a distraction. It certainly was useful in filtering manned content from unmanned. Anyway, as the drift of search traffic is increasing rapidly on mobile, this is probably a wise decision.

2. Improve Mobile Performance

Almost two months ago, when search results were sans author photo, John Mueller explained that the reason for this was to improve the mobile experience. And like we mentioned above, authorship information on search results probably did distract mobile users of Google search.

3. Little Or Incorrect Implementation Of Authorship

According to other search experts, such as Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen of SearchEngineLand.com, the authorship markup was not implemented by the majority of authors around the globe. Even if they did implement it there were often mistakes in adding the rel=”author” tag on their sites or adding their site URL to the ‘contributor to’ section on Google+.

This is probably because Google+ was fairly new and people without a digital marketing background wouldn’t know how important it was to have a profile on Google+ to link authorship to their content. Google has been spotted automatically attributing content to authors in some cases where authorship was not implemented but there were errors in that too.

4. Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and Pigeon

Taking into consideration all the reasons for shutting down Google authorship as stated by Google staff and SEO experts, we also have a deduction of our own. One of the reasons for this unforeseen step taken by Google would be its algorithmic updates. Search results have become so clean after introducing the Google updates at regular intervals, that content probably doesn’t need to be tagged to a human author as a mark of quality. So, with or without the author information, Google seems to be serving quality content to users and thus authorship does not matter anymore.

These are the four major reasons for the shocking yet understandable death of Google authorship. As for authors who think that Google may use the authorship information for their own reference, we can tell you that John Mueller confirmed in the comments section of his Google+ post that they would not.
John Mueller Confirming Google Authorship Not To Be Used Anywhere
John Mueller Confirming Google Authorship Will Not Be Used Anywhere

NOTE: We’d like to clarify two things that remain unaffected by the removal of Google authorship.
1. The publisher markup is not affected by this update. John Mueller has confirmed that in the comments section of his Google+ post:

John Mueller Says Publisher Tag Remains Unaffected
John Mueller Says Publisher Tag Remains Unaffected

2. When logged into Google+ you can still see posts and pages from people and pages in your Google+ circles, both in the main search results and on the right hand-side.

Things We’ve Lost Since Google Authorship Was Taken Down

  • Author Recognition: Bloggers all over the world finally got to be known by their names and faces thanks to Google Authorship. Their work was credited duly in search results with a photo and a name. People recognized these faces but this is not the case any more.
  • Social Recognition: Authors were also recognized on their respective social media profiles that contained the same author photo.
  • Author Rank: Since authors were given due credit for their work, there was a possibility of an author rank being introduced in the future. There remains no current hope for an author rank.
  • Google+ Significance: Many authors started to use Google+ profiles to share useful content in order to increase their Google+ profile authority. Since the Google authorship take-down the significance of Google+ for authors remains a big question.
  • Click-Through Rates: As mentioned above, Google reported no significant increase in click-through rates in snippets containing author information and photographs. To some readers, however, who started to develop a sense of trust in a certain author, click-through rates on other posts of the same author increased. This will no longer be possible.
Google is not to blame though – when it introduced Google Authorship back in 2011 Google referred to it as ‘an experiment’. Three years down the line the experiment did not yield the expected results in global online presence, so it had to be taken down.
Google Authorship Was An Experiment

Google Authorship Was An Experiment


Hope is not lost. We can always expect Google to use the concept of agent rank or author rank in the near future in a better way.  Maybe they’ll come up with a new way of bringing back all the benefits that Google authorship once offered.

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