You have probably heard by now that Google has shut down its Authorship program. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to those who have closely followed the Google Authorship program over the past year.
At Pubcon 2013 Matt Cutts gave a keynote speech and stated that Google would be searching for a 15% reduction to make sure that the authorship was still relevant and of high quality. Google kept its promise, and in December there began to be a decrease in author photo snippets.
By June, all author photos had been removed by Google from its global search results. John Mueller of Google, in a Google+ post, stated that the reason Google had to decided to remove the author photos was to simplify how authorship was displayed in desktop and mobile search results.
So what caused Google to abandon this once promising experiment?
Back in 2007, when Google patented its Author Rank / Agent Rank, the concept of Google Authorship appeared to be very promising. The idea behind this was to influence the ranking of pages based on author reputation through the use of digital signatures. Trusted authors would be given higher scores than an unknown writer without an established reputation.
Until June 2011, it was merely an idea. Google started encouraging webmaster to use the rel= “me” and rel= “author” tags for content written by the author. When Google+ was launched, the whole Google Authorship plan fell into place as a way of connecting authors with their content.
The experiment appeared to be very promising during it first year. Searchmetrics discovered that the rel=author tag was being shown by 17% of SERPS, a higher than expected percentage. Unfortunately, Authorship never became as predominant as anticipated.
In a recent study, Stone Temple Consulting found that 70% of authors didn’t make any effort to connect authorship with their content. Also, 50 of the 150 pages didn’t have author pages and 3/4 didn’t have any author attribution at all. In addition, there were problems with not linking to Google+ profiles and confusing authors.
However, Google’s decision for ending Authorship ultimately came down to two main reasons:
1) Low Adoption Rates by Authors and Webmasters
This is a fairly obvious reason since the participation rate was not as high as expected or hoped for by Google. This had been the case, in fact, since 2012, despite how impressed Searchmetrics had been with the level of participation.
Mark Traphagen used the 50 Most Influential Social Media Marketers list from Forbes and found that just 30% were using authorship markup for their blogs. In addition, there were some embarrassing occurrences of Google attributing articles to the wrong author. For example, Truman Capote was credited as the author of a New York Times articles, despite the fact that he had been dead for 28 years.
2) Provided Searchers With Low Value
In Mueller’s June article, where he made the announcement that author photos weren’t going to be used any longer in global search results, he also stated that Google hadn’t noticed much difference in click behavior for search results pages that had Authorship snippets versus those that did not.
Many of us where very surprised when this claim was made, since we had always thought that click-through rates increased when there was an author snippet.
Apparently, the data from Google showed a different story. In Mueller’s post announcing the end of Authorship, he stated that the research from Google showed that displaying authorship information was not as useful for their searchers as they had hoped it would be, and could even detract from the results.
So What Is Next?
Google Authorship, and the idea behind it, was a solid concept. It provided immediate authenticity for users who were looking for trusted experts in a niche. Although things may not have worked out for Google Authorship, Google may still be able to deliver that kind of authenticity in the future.
According to John Mueller, Google will keep expanding its support of structured markup (like schema.org). The markup does help the search engines understand the context and content of web pages better. It will continue to be used and rich snippets will be shown in the search results.
Authorship might be gone for now, but who knows. It may come back in the future and be stronger and better than ever.