Google Authorship: Another Chapter Closes

Google officially announced in August that Google Authorship as we’ve come to understand it is gone. Why did Google close the book on Authorship? Well, to understand that, we have to answer a few additional questions: What was it? What did it mean to SEO? Why did Google kill it? What comes next? Let’s take a look at the answers.

What Was Google Authorship?

Authorship was Google’s way of connecting pieces of digital content with a digital signature representing agents or authors. That identification could then be used to score the agent/author based on numerous signals.

By incorporating rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags into a site’s structure, authors were able to declare ownership of their original content and earn an enhanced search result on the search engine pages. Like this:

google-authorship-jenkins

The value to the author behind this sort of result would be: a) authors that employed the tags were claiming ownership of their content; b) they were establishing credibility/authority in the eyes of the search engines on their respective subject matter; and c) the enhanced result ought to be more engaging and drive more traffic to the linked content matter.

What Did Authorship Mean to SEO?

Well, every time Google announces a new update or shift in its algorithm, SEO professionals look for ways to leverage (or exploit) it by incorporating it into their strategies. Google Authorship was no different. As soon as Google announced that it would be considered as a ranking signal, many SEO professionals started testing it. Webmasters jumped at it because in his book, the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, basically suggested that in the future more relevance would be given to ranking if it was tied to authenticity in some way.

Authorship is part of the Google+ product, Google’s biggest and most direct attempt to rival Facebook. As the following graphic shows, over the course of a little more than two years, Google + has made an impressive climb in users.

google-authorship-users

Yet while Google + has grown, the adoption of Google Authorship has not kept pace and that’s part of what lead to its demise. So now we need to consider: How meaningful was it to SEO?

Why Did Google Kill Authorship?

For Google, the goal of Google Authorship was to tie some authenticity to the markup by actually having it attached to a profile.

However, let’s assume that there were author tags connected to this column. Would that mean the column would rank better because of it? Put another way, would this column rank as well for relevant terms if it was posted on a personal web site and leapfrogged the same column posted on a huge authority site such as ClickZ?

Nope! With or without the author tag, the ClickZ post will always rank higher due to the fact that Google sees ClickZ as a “resource location.” Effectively, a personal post would rank higher for searches on my own name when it’s attached to a ClickZ Web page than when it’s attached to my own website (unless that website drew more traffic than ClickZ).

Closing the Book

JUNE 2014

Google’s John Mueller announced that Google was making a major change in the search results around authorship. Specifically, Google was dropping the profile photo and circle count from the search listings where authorship is assigned to a Web page.

So why did Google end authorship? The primary reason, Mueller said, is that the “click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.” Authorship didn’t seem to excite or improve end user experience. For Google, the ultimate goal is to continually try to enhance the end user experience. So if Authorship didn’t clearly do that, then it became expendable.

Results seemed to show that the author’s picture didn’t enhance the click-through and therefore Google decided to remove it. There are additional theories, including that Google removed the picture because it drove the users away from the Ads (paid listings), but that’s largely speculation. Google hasn’t announced exactly why they removed it. John Mueller once said, “We’ve observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results.”

google-authorship-jenkins-2

AUGUST 2014

In a subsequent announcement Mueller said that Google has discontinued support for authorship markup in web search.

Here’s what he said about it: “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.”

The listing returned to the original format:

google-plus-sept

What’s Next?

Google’s plan about Authorship seemed solid and it seemed to do exactly what it was supposed to do, but it was never really intended to be a significant ranking factor for SEO. Additionally, it didn’t significantly add to, or take away from, the end user results.

The end result seems to be to continue to do what’s always been most critical to SEO: create great content, earn strong links and solid traffic, evaluate results, and repeat.

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