What Happened To Google Authorship?

Google LogoWhy does Google Authorship look different? It’s not a mistake. There’s nothing wrong with your account, or the plugin, or the way you’ve worked through the somewhat confusing setup process. Instead, Google has voluntarily stripped down the feature, citing the desire to provide a better mobile interface with less clutter.

The revamp will likely lead to a reduction in clickthroughs, though it doesn’t look like actual search ranking will suffer. However, the change has led to some interesting theories about the future of Google+ and just where Google plans to go from here.

But just because Authorship looks different that doesn’t mean that it’s dead. Google recently announced that search results would no longer feature the author thumbnail authors and publishers have grown accustomed to. Authorship has been around for years, coming alive not long after Google+ did in 2011. It has been met with varying levels of adoption as Google has redefined its importance.

If you want to see the full text of the announcement, you can check out the post from John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, below.

The changes

For those not familiar with Google Authorship, here’s a quick rundown of the changes. In short, Google Authorship looks different. The most notable change is the lack of the author thumbnail next to the search result link, and a closer look reveals that the “Circles” indicator has also disappeared. The whole package is often referred to as a “rich snippet” or “author rich snippet,” and it is no more.

The thumbnail was one of the major selling points for authors to implement the Google Authorship feature. The author photo improved click through rates (the team at Catalyst found that rich snippets showed  a 150% increase in clicks over their plain, image-free counterparts) and generally made a search result that wasn’t quite at the top of the search engine results page a viable click option. It made articles competitors for the top spot without the SEO rank pushing them quite all the way to number one.

The good news, though, is that the author’s name is still associated with the link, and in turn continues to link to the author’s Google+ profile page. It also seems like Author Rank remains undisturbed, but that may change over time, especially if clickthroughs begin to decline.

Updated Snippet

Google’s updated rich snippet. Though the author name still links to the associated Google+ page, the image and “Circles” information have been removed.

What is Google Authorship?

Before diving into details of what Google Authorship really is and how to set it up, it’s worth doing a little nomenclature review. Authorship is the program that connects your Google+ profile to the articles you write and publish. Author Rank is Google’s way of determining the quality of your work in SEO terms; it determines how much clout a writer has and will impact search result terms. Like so many of Google’s products, there’s limited access to the inner workings of the program.

Author Link is a WordPress plugin, which bloggers add to their publishing platform so that their Authorship appears on the articles they produce. Author Link is arguably the easiest way to configure Authorship on your blog. To make things even more confusing, an early iteration of Google Authorship was called Agent Rank (patent filed in 2005), but it’s a rarely seen term these days.

Why you should use Google Authorship

The short answer? With any content, you want to remain competitive in the SEO game, and if you’re not using Google Authorship you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Unless your site already has a massive readership, there’s a good chance that your biggest options for traffic are social media and search engines. Authorship is Google’s way of verifying you as an author and establishing a base from which you can build your credibility. Ideally, you want to be a credible, known source, even if it’s only for a specific segment of writing or coverage.

Here’s another great reason: you can track your traffic with Google’s Webmaster Tools. For data-minded (or obsessed) authors, this is a powerful tool. You can see where your traffic originates, how certain posts are performing, and much, much more. You can learn more about the platform on the Google Inside Search blog.

Google's Webmaster Tools

One of the benefits of using Google Authorship is access to the Webmaster Tools.

Up until recently, it was also a way to get your face to register on Google’s SERP, though there’s no indication that feature will return any time in the foreseeable future. We’ve established that this image does wonders for clickthrough rates, but it also establishes visual familiarity, which is another influencing factor in clicks. So, while it’s gone for now, it can’t hurt to have it ready to go in the off chance the rich snippet returns.

What do the changes mean?

Google reps positioned the Authorship change as a way to refine the mobile display of search results. While that seems reasonable at face value, it might not be the entire story.

The reigning theory behind the abolishment of the rich snippet is that it took away from Google’s ad traffic. It’s clear that the author images helped drive clicks, but at what cost to the internet behemoth’s bottom line? If consumers are clicking through to articles, they’re overlooking the revenue-driving ads that line the page. Though clicking through to the desired link rather than ads is the natural procession through the page, perhaps the images were just a little too eye-catching.

Another theory is that Google+ is going to be retired. This one may be a bit harder to swallow. Though plenty of Google products have been retired to the equivalent of the Google vault or rolled into other products, it seems unlikely that a site with such a large amount of user-contributed data will be shut down.

As WordStream’s Elise Gabbert points out, it may point to a de-evolution of the Google+ platform, since attempts to force adaptation (remember all the prompts to sign in when viewing YouTube content?) seem to have abated. If that’s the case, it would seem that Google+ is searching for a new purpose, and perhaps the attempts at bringing Authorship into the mainstream were a soul-searching experiment for Google.

A final thought on the change. It’s hard to fathom the internet without anonymity, but it’s not an impossible future. Or, at least, it’s easy to imagine certain sites that require a proper login. As mentioned before, Google’s oft-encountered login barriers on YouTube are a prime example of what the future may hold. If the authorship trend is going to grow and the number of search results associated with Google+ users increases, it’s easy to see how search pages might become unwieldy. On a results page that has an avatar next to every link, the benefits of having the image are vastly reduced, and the page becomes bulkier and takes longer to load. If Google plans on associating more and more content with authors, this could be a preemptive step towards keeping page size down.

Setting up Authorship

Before you do anything, you’ll need a Google+ account. If you already have a Gmail account, you’re likely already on Google+. The easiest way to establish Authorship is to then use an email address associated with the domain you’re posting to. Otherwise, you’ll have to add in a profile with a reciprocal link for verification.

There are some outstanding tutorials on how to get started, as the circumstances of your publishing setup may vary, especially for guest bloggers. If you’re looking to get up and running right away, check out this succinct tutorial on how to set up Google Authorship.

If you have more complicated circumstances and need an alternate route to establish Authorship, this in-depth instructional from Search Engine Land provides a solution for almost every scenario you might encounter. Though it can be a bit labor intensive and requires some attention to detail, setting up Google Authorship is a good long term investment for your content.

Free Ebyline Guide

Don't Let a Bad Content Writer Damage Your Brand

The new content marketing basics anyone can use

Subscribe to the latest content strategies...

About Adam Dudek

Adam is a freelance writer specializing in digital content. He has previous experience at an online startup as well as in the entertainment industry. He can be reached at adam.r.dudek@gmail.com.