In December 2013, Google restricted Authorship’s reach by cutting back the number of people using it. Then in July, Google reduced Authorship’s impact by removing the author image attached to the snippet.
After months of toying with us, and gradually reducing the benefits, Google has finally decided to kill off Authorship.
From now on, you’ll no longer see the author of an article appearing in the SERPs, and Google’s algorithm has also stopped tracking the authorship markup. It’s gone, and it isn’t coming back.
All the signs pointed to this happening, and yet it still comes as something of a surprise. After all, surely Google wants to point users in the direction of top-quality content, right?
Today I want to take a look at some of the possible reasons that lead to Google removing the Authorship function, and what this could mean for you and your website.
Why has Google Dropped Authorship?
While Google has given us some clues to the Authorship changes, as usual they are being frustratingly tight-lipped.
In my opinion, there are three major arguments that are likely the dominant factors behind the Authorship function being dropped — in reality, it’s likely to be a combination of these factors.
In my article on schema markups — the microdata used to power Google Authorship snippets — I included a surprising statistic: only 0.3% of websites adopt the schema markup.
Now, unfortunately I have no way of knowing what percentage of webmasters who wanted the Authorship markup specifically actually got it, but my guess would be that the number would be in the same ballpark. Sure, the technically-savvy niches took full advantage of it, including the Internet marketing niche, but most other niches did not.
Part of this could be due to the technical nature of the markup, with some webmasters deciding it was too complex to bother with. Some were even adopting it incorrectly – there were plenty of webmasters who added the markup without receiving the authorship snippet, while some webmasters didn’t bother but did get the snippet.
If very few webmasters bothered adopting it, perhaps Google was fully justified in removing — although with rich snippets uptake being so low across the board, it raises the question “why is authorship the only snippet dropped?”
Negatively Impacting Ad Revenues
The major benefit of attaching a rich snippet to your search result was the significant boost to your CTR. And of course, when a user clicks on your link, they aren’t clicking any of the other links displayed.
The more cynical among you might argue that Google did this because it wanted fewer higher-visibility search results competing with its paid ad listings.
In other words: no distracting authorship snippets will lead to more paid clicks, giving Google’s bottom line a healthy boost.
While this is a valid point, personally I don’t think Google would do anything to hurt the user experience, just to earn some extra revenue. With Google’s highly dominant market position, they have no need to risk their long-term standing just for very short term revenue gains – even if you hate Google, when looking at the big picture, it just doesn’t make sense.
For what it’s worth, the Google Webmaster Trends analyst, John Mueller, was quick to go on record to dismiss this notion.
Limited Benefit to Users
If Google detected that there was minimal benefit to users by including the authorship snippet, then this would be a very different story.
Some types of rich snippets offer lots of value when helping users find the solution to their search query – for example, when searching for a place to eat Italian food, would you click for directions to a restaurant with 100 five-star ratings, or 100 two-star ratings? In this scenario, the snippets save us time by pointing us towards the better restaurant – it offers a lot of value.
Taking our webmaster hats off for a moment, can we honestly say that the Authorship snippet provides this same level of value to users? Just because someone has adopted the authorship snippet, does that mean their content is automatically better? In fact, even if you recognize a particular author in the SERPs, there is no guarantee that this particular article is more informative than any of the other sources.
In an age when everyone follows everyone on social media, there are plenty of other ways to find articles by a trusted author – Google may have realized its users are far less interested in seeing this type of information in the SERPs than they initially thought.
And remember, Google has access to a whole host of web analytics data. If they can see that important metrics – such as bounce rate and time spent on page – aren’t boosted on pages with authorship, then the authorship function is no better at solving a user’s search query.
In other words, it’s redundant.
How Will an Authorship-Less World Impact You?
Not only do rich snippets assist search engine users in finding what they’re looking for, but they also help certain listings jump off the page. This is the reason for the often-quoted boost to your CTR — an increase as high as 150% has been flaunted by some sources.
Without Authorship, all those extra clicks will surely dry up, right? In theory, yes, but according to Google, Authorship never had much impact on CTR anyway – according to John Mueller, “in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites.”
With the removal of the Authorship image, much of the CTR benefit had already been lost, so it’s hard to imagine the latest changes will have as much impact.
Perhaps of more interest is the impact on Author Rank.
For those of you unaware, Google takes into consideration hundreds of different ranking factors, one of which was supposed to be the reputation and authority of the author of the piece – known as Author Rank.
While this had been long-rumored to exist, Matt Cutts confirmed in March that Google does, in fact, utilize a form of Author Rank – though geared heavily towards long, in-depth articles, rather than your average run-of-the-mill content.
With Google no longer tracking the Authorship markup, how will Google know the author of a specific piece? Should those of you benefiting from a strong Author Rank brace yourself for a fall down the SERPs?
Let me put your mind at ease: according to Search Engine Land, Google have confirmed that removing the Authorship function should have no impact on Author Rank.
Put another way: the changes to Authorship should have no impact on your website’s position in the SERPs.
Author Ranking is still alive and well, and Google has other ways of determining the author of a piece, as seen by a number of webmasters receiving the Authorship snippet without the Authorship markup.
And even without the Authorship markup for Google to decipher, it wouldn’t require the world’s most sophisticated algorithm to work out the author of a particular post – the by-line at the bottom of an article like this one, for example, is a clear giveaway.
The Future for Authors
Dropping the Authorship function is in no way designed to punish authors.
After all, without good content, Google is effectively useless. Search engine users benefit from good content, and therefore so does Google – meaning it’s still in Google’s best interest to find a way to incorporate a ranking boost for well-respected authors into their algorithm.
With this in mind, I fully expect Google to be working on something new to provide an incentive for authors to continue producing high-quality content. It might look, work, and feel different to Authorship, but expect Authorship to be back in some form soon enough – with all the bright minds at Google, surely they’ve learned enough from what went wrong with Authorship to develop something even better, right?
What are your thoughts on Google Authorship being dropped? Let us know in the comments section below!
Shaun Quarton is a freelance blogger from the UK, with a passion for online entrepreneurship, content marketing, and all things WordPress.