The Beheading of Google Authorship
September 23rd, 2014 by
So unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know, or at least have an idea, of what happened to Google Authorship. Back in June, we saw the ominous sign that Google removed Authorship circle count and photos from search results. Between its low implementation rates and high error of implementation, Google Authorship was simply proving not to be a strong search signal. Google’s continual changes are almost always driven by the goal to improve usability and to make search results more relevant to users.
So, why, after 7 years, is Google getting rid of this feature, and why did they even have it in the first place?
In 2007, Google patented Agent Rank (aka Author Rank) with the idea of creating a search signal to improve the rankings of authoritative, reputable authors. They understood the power of personal connection and the desire for people to connect with other people online. As the years went on, rel=”author” was rolled out to webmasters everywhere, and with the start of Google+, the Authorship project came full circle. This was, at the time, a solid way to prove authenticity of writers for those searching for trusted results.
However, as time went on, it became apparent that the use cases of Authorship markup were either limited or done incorrectly. In a study performed by Stone Temple Consulting, which sampled 500 authors over 150 different major media sites, it was found that 70% of authors didn’t even try to connect their content and authorship to one another, and that 72% of sites that did attempt markup, had errors.
Google’s research also found that providing author information in search results didn’t help users, and if anything, distracted from search results.
First, this doesn’t mean that Google is diminishing the value of markup in general, just this particular type of markup. In a post on his Google+ page, John Mueller said, ”Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org).”
It is clear, that in their ideal world, Google will find a better way to come back to this Authorship feature. According to Mark Traphagen, Sr. Director of Online Marketing for Stone Temple Consulting, this is far from the end of authorship. Google just needs to have the ability to more confidently determine who the voices of a niche are without relying on markup. In Mark’s words, “author authority is going to have to be based on much more sophisticated means of machine-based identification and understanding,” which, as you can imagine, we are a long way away from.
Moving forward, I think it is important for authors to continue using the best Authorship practices, because Authorship still exists, just with a lesser role in search results. And there is no evidence that having a strong Authorship presence won’t influence your results in a more indirect way. Also, quality content will always be a strong ranking factor, and providing multiple, non-spammy ways to access said content across the web (like through the “Contributor to” section of your Plus page), will always be a good practice.
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