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Wow, what kind of timing is that? Just last week I wrote a post about the reasons that Google Authorship is still worthwhile and a few days later John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools announced that authorship will no longer be used by Google to track data or display in search results. I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when they made the first major change in how Authorship rich snippets were being used in search.

R.I.P. Google Authorship

Google Authorship R.I.P. on TombstoneIn December 2013 Google reduced the number of authorship snippets displayed in search results by 15%, some authors continued to have author photos displayed and others just had a byline.

What I wanted to believe was that the change was made to increase the quality of results and only show the rich snippet for author’s of truly high quality. It would seem now that the move was the first major step toward testing the impact of byline vs a head-shot and the ultimate demise of Authorship.

In June 2014 all author photos were removed and only bylines remained for qualified authors. The removal of photos was reported as part of an effort to create a uniform experience between mobile and desktop search. Apparently the images didn’t work well in mobile search results due to space and bandwidth. Also contrary to popular belief it was revealed that search results with photos did not actually benefit from a higher click through rate.

As a side note, what’s interesting to me about the statements that there was no difference in click-through rate and the the images are not good for the mobile experience is that there is so much information and hype around use of images in web content to increase engagement and capture attention. The removal of photos seems the exact opposite of that.

Another clue should have been when Google announced that they were now allowing fake profile names. Since a person’s Google Plus profile is a key part of the Google Authorship puzzle, the fact that people can now set up a profile with a fake name made it even more difficult to validate an identity.

What is was Authorship?

In a nutshell, Google Authorship was intended to be the process of identifying and verifying your identity as a contributor of content to the world wide web. It didn’t necessarily mean the person was a good author or an actual authority, just that they are who they say they are. One of the factors that motivated many people to join Google Plus and verify authorship was the theory that having your picture display in search results would drive more clicks.

Google-Authorship-Profile-Picture-Beth-Browning

The word on the street is that if you implemented Google Authorship there’s no need to “undo” it. The link between the content you publish and your Google+ profile won’t hurt anything. We’ll keep you posted if that changes.

Author Rank

To me one of most interesting and perhaps the most game changing factor that arose during the Google Authorship era was the concept of Author Rank.  Author Rank is separate from Google Authorship and could be a way for Google to gauge the credibility and trustworthiness of an author and the content they are creating and sharing. In theory, if Google knows who authored a story and the author is deemed trustworthy it could give their content a boost.

It’s important to note that Author Rank is not a Google Term.  What is a Google Term is Agent Rank, which was patented in 2007 and is described as a way to connect content with a digital signature that represents an agent, aka, author. For more detailed information on the patent check out Bill Slawski’s review of Agent Rank.

According to a recent Search Engine Land Article, Danny Sullivan reports that Author Rank will live on even though Authorship no longer exists. He also wisely advises that we don’t spend too much time worrying about it.

Why did Google End Authorship?

After three years and a lot of hype, many of us were left a bit speechless when the announcement was made.  There were two major areas in which Authorship fell short of Google’s expectations and ultimately resulted in it’s demise.

  1. Authors and webmasters were slow to adopt – according to a study by Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen 70% of the authors across major media websites did not connect their authorship with the content they published on the major websites.
  2. Rich Snippets did not change user behavior – after three years of collecting data, John Mueller reported that Google saw little difference in click through behavior with or without the author photo.

What remains to be seen is whether or not we will continue to see author photos for Google Plus posts in personalized search results.

google plus post with author picture

I also have to wonder if part of the reason it failed is that there were quite a few people who set up Google Plus profiles only to verify their Authorship but didn’t engage in the network. For more detail on the rise and fall of Google Authorship check out this article by Mark Traphagen and Erick Enge.

Now What?

Is authorship a thing of the past? Only Google knows the answer to that one, but if I were a betting woman my money would be on a return of Authorship in some way shape or form. It’s doubtful that it will look like this version of Authorship, but Google has repeatedly made statements about their commitment to moving toward things instead of strings. In my opinion, this means they will continue to develop ways to identify and verify authors and contributors to the web.

So it’s bye bye to Authorship for now. It will be more than interesting to see what the future holds.

Stay tuned!