Is CTR the Smoking Gun for Why Google Deleted Author Images?

Publisher Channel Content by
Wordstream

google author images 2

If you’ve been following developments in the search industry lately, you’ll have undoubtedly have come across discussions about Google’s recent decision to remove Google author images from search results. We reported on this soon after the change went into effect, and other industry thought leaders like Rand Fishkin wasted no time weighing in, either.

However, despite overwhelming support for the idea that Google’s decision was based on authorship photos’ impact on the CTR of paid search ads, some naysayers insisted that this couldn’t be the case. I wasn’t content to leave things at that, so I set about looking for evidence to support my theory – and I’ve found it.

google author images

In the figure above, you can see that in a search for the term “negative keywords,” our paid search ad is the only ad displayed.

This eliminates any possible ambiguity resulting from the variance in CTR based on ad position. You’ll also notice that two articles authored by me are included prominently in the SERP, as well as another article authored by Darian Schouten over at TechWyse. These three results would have been accompanied by Google author images prior to their removal on June 25.

We examined the CTR of the ad above both before and after Google’s announcement. We found hard evidence that the CTR of the ad improved significantly when Google author images were no longer being displayed in the SERP.

google author images

Obviously, the peaks and valleys shown in the figure above are normal. CTR varies from one day to the next, so these fluctuations should come as no surprise.

As is clearly evident from this data, the CTR of the ad after the removal of Google author images from the SERPs is much higher. In fact, the CTR of the ad is 44.8% higher than beforehand within this ad group. We tested this data rigorously, and the difference we observed is statistically significant with 99% confidence due to the high number of daily ad impressions (thousands) for this keyword.

We would love to test this theory with other keywords, but finding suitable terms that both meet the criteria and for which we have data for, is challenging.

However, it’s clear to us that based on this data, it’s not realistic to say the deletion of Google author images has no impact on the CTR of other elements on the SERP.

Gun Photo via Shutterstock

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Larry Kim


Larry Kim Larry Kim founded WordStream in 2007. He serves as company CTO and is the author of 4 Award-Winning Books on Software Development. Larry also blogs at the WordStream Blog and practices photography in his spare time.

9 Reactions

  1. Larry, I’m not sure your argument is valid. Statistically, you’ve proven that there’s a difference between author photos being there and not, but contextually I believe Google’s official position was something like”putting those pictures didn’t boost click-through, so let’s save the bandwidth”.

    You’ve actually argued that omitting them made certain (higher quality?) links perform better; and if we stipulate that you’re correct that doesn’t prove anything about the impact having the pictures had.

    I postulate that what Google actually did here was stop focusing attention on what amounted to “non-paid ads”. I wrote about it peripherally, here: http://answerguy.com/2014/07/01/facebook-newsfeed-data-study-social-media-long-tail-marketing/ . And with the author pictures removed, it becomes the viewers’ responsibility to decipher for visual cues to importance, on their own.
    I think what you HAVE prove is that inclusion in the (it’s sort of tannish-yellow, right? [which is part of my point]) ads box at the top of SERP results doesn’t draw the eye well enough, or maybe that being in that box is actually counter-useful to click-through.

    And also the thing you and I agree on: Google lied.

    • I agree. They can make up as much stories as they can about why they removed it but people can see why. C’mon, we’re marketers too right? They cannot fool us.

    • the only conclusion i’ve made here is: “it’s not realistic to say the deletion of Google author images has no impact on the CTR of other elements on the SERP”

  2. I had so much trouble trying to set up Google Authorship and now it seems that it’s no longer a useful thing.

    • Having given this a bit more thought, I think we should next be asking about whether what you just said is correct. Authorship is NOT (yet) useless; the attribution is still “in the system”, AND while your picture may have disappeared your name has not. So it’s not without value so much as it now has LESS value.

      And Google will continue to gather the data and store it, so the question is when they’ll stop displaying your name or if they’ll bring back pix but only for people with enough juice (think Twitter verified accounts).

      I’d totally leave that authorship data in there and be telling clients who haven’t set it up yet to do so even though the pix are gone.

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