Google drops Authorship

To set the tone for this post I would like to state that IMO this is not a big deal.  How many of you were leveraging Authorship?  Better question might be how many of you noticed a difference in your traffic or click activity to your site with authorship in place?  Does the fact that Google has dropped authorship have a direct impact on your bottom line?  Probably not.  However there are those who may have questions about this latest change from Google so let’s take a look at this in greater detail.

On August 28th, Google’s John Mueller made the announcement stating:

“I’ve been involved since we first started testing authorship markup and displaying it in search results. We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we’ve tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information. Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.

(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.)…”

What is/was Google Authorship?

Authorship was a type of markup (i.e. piece of coding) that users could add to their content to communicate the fact that they were the producer (or author) of that piece of content.  Think of authorship as Google attempt at creating digital signatures.  The goal was that authorship would help build trust and authority in the search results as users identified with authoritative creators of content in their area of influence.

Webmasters were encouraged to begin marking up content on their sites with the rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags, connecting each piece of content to an author profile (Google+ profile).  Google then decided to use authorship to “enhance” search listing/results by showing richer snippets including an image/headshot of the authors next to the search results.  Ann Smarty has a nice overview of the evolution of Google authorship changes which can be foundhere. There has been some debate as to whether authorship had a direct impact on organic search rankings (originally it may have been intended to be a new ranking signal for Google).  If you want to learn more about how Authorship worked check out Search Engine Land’sDefinitive Guide to Authorship Markup.

Why is Google pulling the plug on Authorship?

Stating it was a three year test, why has Google all of a sudden decided to remove authorship markup from their search results?  Well I can think of two reasons for this:

  1. Because it truly was a test – Google is always testing products.  Nothing that Google creates (or acquires) lives forever.  Google is always looking to innovate and provide a richer search experience.  For both users and advertisers.  John Mueller had stated that Google Authorship may have also been a victim of low adoption rate by site owners, bloggers and authors.
  2. Something else in the works for markup – perhaps it is from Google or perhaps Schema.org will be adding some additional schemas but there may be some new changes coming to rich markup for content… changes that might be specific to authorship or ownership of content?  While just a guess, there may be some new markup being created that will produce Authorship 2.0.  A quote I’ve often used from Google’s Eric Schmidt is:

“The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”  – Eric Schmidt in the New Digital Age.  To add some context to this quote, Schmidt preceded this comment by saying, “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results.”

You have to think that Authorship is not dead and that in the future, there will be some sort of benefit to being a trusted, authoritative producer of content on the Web.

What this means for you

Well nothing really if you had not deployed authorship markup.  If you have you are welcome to keep the coding on the page, but you won’t be seeing a boost in ranking or will not be seeing your snippets being enhanced.  If you were an early adopter of Authorship, good on you, no harm done.  At this stage there is no real rush to do so.  There is no harm at leaving it on your pages, but if you were going to update your code you may want to remove the authorship piece of coding, or stop the plugin that you may be using from adding authorship coding to your website/blog.  The fact is that if you were properly leveraging authorship markup then you probably are attempting to produce unique, informative and useful content that is highly engaging for your audience.  This is where your focus should be.  Do not worry about chasing every one of Google’s algorithm moves or SERP changes.  Focus on your audience and work on trying to understand their intent and what it is that they are looking for.  Create your own digital footprint and let Google be one of the many mechanisms that you use to reach your audience.  Google Authorship markup no longer appearing in the search results?  So?  How does this change how you are going to market your brand and your website digitally?

Google (or someone else) may bring back authorship one day but for now the experiment is over.  And of course there is still Publisher markup to consider. Not to mention the whole concept of Author Rank.

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Mediative helps businesses cut through the digital clutter so they can better perform in an otherwise complex digital landscape and, ultimately, reach, engage, and convert more potential customers.