Is it a kind of dream, floating out on the tide? Or has Google really gone and taken away authorship pictures and circle data from its SERPs? It looks like they’ve gone and done it – and the search marketing community is heaving a heavy sigh as another Google initiative goes the way of the Google initiative.
Authorship has been a project Google has worked on since 2011 as a way to identify the leading authors across subjects. Adding snippets of author pictures and the size of their Google+ circles was a way to create even more valuable search results, with added trust to articles offered to users. The change this week has seen both the author picture and Google+ circle count removed, as seen in the comparison below.
John Mueller from Google gave this reason for the update, suggesting it was a change designed to fit in with their focus on mobile results:
We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behaviour on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)
There’s a great summary of this update and what it might mean for the future of author rank by Mark Traphagen at Search Engine Land.
Whilst there have been a few reported “down times” in the last few months, most observers presumed this was more due to a bug. Instead it seems it was indeed Google testing CTR with the snippets removed. Needless to say it’s still come as a bit of a surprise to a lot of the search industry. As it’s something that we at PushON have invested a reasonable amount of time into, with our own site and for clients, the team discussed the implications and the underlying issues of how ruthless Google can be.
“I though it was pretty funny considering how much time some people had spent split testing different images. Everyone seems to think there is no value without the image, but I’m not sure that’s true. Though I did use the circle count as a trust signal sometimes, if I’m searching for something I have no idea about, I’ll often just click the result with the highest circle count.”
James Whitelock, Online Marketing Consultant
“From a blogger’s perspective, this is a strange move. Authorship has always been a great way for bloggers to build their personal brands and validate their own content – a digital signature that let them stand out from the crowd. Bloggers used Authorship to build relationships with their readers, who saw the circle as a sign of trust. From all perspectives, Authorship was a means of separating the genuine writers from the spammers, and it was only the most dedicated bloggers – those who wanted to serve as voice within their industry – who actually took the time to set it up. New bloggers have been told that if they want to make a mark, they need to have a face.
It seems strange that a feature so well embraced by the blogging community would be removed, and though results will still feature the author’s name with a Google+ link, the credibility which comes with a friendly face is gone. This can’t help but feel like a slightly backwards step for bloggers.”
Carl Eden, Online Marketing Consultant
“This really has been quite frustrating. We’ve spent a fair bit of time helping clients set Authorship up on their sites, and convincing them of the value of it. So that’s almost been wasted now! In some cases we had clients whose full snippets weren’t showing up, so with these we even sold into them the idea of actively using Google+ to been seen as a more credible author, worthy of having full authorship. So we were selling in Google’s products for them. James described this as ‘basically the biggest link scheme in history’ – he’s probably not far off with that!”
Jonny Pennington, Online Marketing Consultant
“Well PushON’s policy of only hiring good looking people to improve click throughs to the blog is a bit screwed. In most clients’ minds, the main benefit of Google Authorship was always the thumbnails. In fact back when it was first introduced and I told a client that Google were adding ‘pictures of people’ to the results, their first reaction was ‘That’s great – I can improve click throughs by having pictures of really hot women.’
Without the images, Google Authorship’s benefits are a bit … hidden. In late 2012, everyone and their dog was talking about AuthorRank and how it would improve your site’s authority by associating you with real people … and there was one case study I remember where an article’s ranking improved by being associated with a particular author.
Associating content with real people is hugely important to the long-term success of Google. I expect they’ll monitor how it affects adoption and revise this if the numbers fall – especially with Google supposedly creating their own WordPress beater.”
James Flacks, Online Marketing Consultant
So, Google giveth and Google taketh away. This is just latest in a line of Google projects which have been scrapped, much to the frustration of us digital types! They may need to start making room for authorship, and even Google+ in the grave yard of Google products.