September 24, 2014

Is Google Authorship Really Gone?

Google+ authorship

First Google dropped author photos from appearing in snippets on Google search engine results, back in June.  Now Google says it is dropping “authorship” from Google search results altogether.

But is Google authorship really gone?

Better yet, do you have any idea what I’m talking about?

What is Google Authorship?

First, let me explain what I’m referring to when I say “Google authorship.”  It is a way of marking the HTML code in a website to identify an author of an article.  Once that is done, you were advised by Google to cross link that author’s article or profile page, to the author’s Google+ profile — and vice versa.  Doing so resulted in having a small picture of the author show up in Google search results.

The image below illustrates what you might have seen — in the past — for a reference to an article here on Small Business Trends.  Notice the little author picture to the left of the search snippet, identifying the author.

Google authorship gone

When Google+ first recommended this technique, quite a few website owners and bloggers added in the authorship markup to their sites.  They paid their development staff to code their websites for this purpose.  Or they found plugins for WordPress, Joomla or whatever software package they were using, to add in the author markup. They linked to authors’ Google+ profiles.  Then they linked back from Google+ profiles to their author profiles on their sites, to complete the cross reference.

Why bother doing this?  Some believed that having a picture next to a search result made it more likely that a searcher would click on that result.

For a multi-author publisher like Small Business Trends, accomplishing this authorship markup was no small feat.  We coded the markup language in the site.  A plugin we used attempted to it add it, too, causing some conflict. So we had to do some extra troubleshooting to fix it.  Then we created a set of instructions for authors.  We contacted over 300 authors.  In quite a few cases, the authors didn’t know what we were talking about (since most are small-business people, not search professionals).  So we had to first educate them.  For those who responded back, we inserted the Google+ profile addresses they supplied us, manually into this site.  And we asked those authors to place a link in their Google+ profiles back to Small Business Trends, as Google recommended at the time.  And then we followed up with reminders for those who didn’t respond back.

For a small business of six people like ours, it was no insignificant amount of work.  Or expense.

It seems that now all of that was for naught.  Google first stopped showing the photos. And with yesterday’s announcement, they are no longer making any references to who the author is (even in text) in Google search results.

But it turns out, there is one exception.  Google still shows author photos — but only when referring to postings from its Google+ site in search results.

As the following image shows, when you do a search in Google now, you may see author images.  But the author photo will be next to a reference to a Google+ posting by that author.  It won’t show for an article that the same author published on a non-Google site.

Google authorship and Google+

What The Drop of Authorship Means

There’s some confusion — and speculation — over what this means. Some are predicting that Google+ is dying.  Others disagree.

And no matter how things appear today, Google may change what it does in the future.

At this point, though, it seems safe to say the following:

  • There’s no point in adding cross references between Google+ profiles and your own site, along with authorship markup language.  Doing so will not help authors show up in the search results next to the articles they wrote.  And any advantage to that — real or perceived — is now gone.
  • There may be other useful reasons to include author markup language in your website.  They just aren’t related to appearing in Google search results at the moment.  So most search experts are recommending that if you already have author markup in your site, do not remove it.
  • It seems that there is some benefit to increasing your participation at Google+. That’s because your Google+ activity may, in fact, show up in the search results called out with your author photo.  More on this point appears in this article by Aaron Friedman on Search Engine Land.  And Martin Shervington suggests you should focus on (1) curating content of your own or others on Google+, and (2) publishing original articles and updates on Google+.   You should also comment more on Google+, says Shervington. Increasing your Google+ participation increases the chances of you showing up in Google results with a photo to call out the reference to your Google+ posting. That gives you one more shot at some Google search results “real estate.”

Images: Google+ via Shutterstock; screenshots,

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Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

10 Reactions

  1. Thanks for keeping me up on the technical aspects of owning a business. You are appreciated.

  2. Never fear…Although it is true that Google has continued to dabble with display of author Google+ profiles in SRPs, the value of authorship and authority to the Google search algorithm is not likely to diminish any time soon. The modification in display of author photos has disappointed many. Speculation is the decision may have been related to loss of funding for identity verification…Add that to the increased click rate to content with profile photos (to the detrement of Paid/Son so red content) and you can see the move may have been to support profits vs. dining authors.
    Rest assured, Google’s interest in knowing who is publishing what and who they influence with that content (what I call Speres of Influence) is here to stay in the increasingly social landscape of content publishing.
    This is an accurate representation of a shift in display – but in true Google fashion, they will always gravitate to what is best for Google ….which definitely includes displaying quality content…so keep writing, engaging and maintaining authorship. My sources in the industry tell me authored content is here to stay, even as it continues to evolve.

  3. I think it has something to do with them not getting anything out of the authorship thing. It also makes some less visible personalities to look like experts when they are not. So I guess that is one of the reasons why they are ditching it.

  4. I have noticed that Google’s methodology is to direct users to use more Google. Therefore, by dropping authorship on other websites and keeping it only on G+, it will drive more users to post more material and build up G+. The same thing is on your phone with the push to direct users to other Google apps. They rule cyberspace and intend to keep it that way.

  5. Very informative! I am making a strong effort to enhance my SEO/SEM knowledge, and articles like this are very easy to read and comprehend for a novice!

  6. The bottom line for Google is the quality and relevancy of their search results, as judged by users. Anita, as your experience demonstrates, Google Authorship was more a measure of how web savvy a person or company is, not how relevant or valuable their content is for a particular search. If Authorship was not resulting in a better experience for searchers then there is no reason to keep it.

    If I search for a dog trainer I want to find someone who is good with dogs not with the nuances of SEO. That is why using links as an important ranking factor makes sense. If lots of people are linking to one dog trainer and not another that tells me something important as a dog owner. Ranking factors that have to do with what amounts to “inside information” are measuring something that is not important to me as a dog owner.

    As the video from Martin Shervington states, your private results will include G+ posts from people already in your circle. And you will only show up in search results for people who have you in their circle. I don’t know a single person in my personal life that uses G+ or even has any interest in finding out if they should. Last week I made a concerted effort to go through my twitter followers who are involved in my niche and follow them on G+. 9 out of 10 didn’t have a link to a G+ account but they all had buttons for Facebook and/or LinkedIn.

    G+ is a lot like Google Authorship, it is studied very closely by a very specific group of people. It is a niche – it is important to Internet marketers who teach other Internet marketers how to use G+.

    Until G+ provides the type of fun, entertainment and connection that Facebook and YouTube do, people won’t use it in large numbers. If people don’t use it in large numbers it can only have a very limited impact of search results.

  7. So what’s the best plan for articles I write for other sites

    Add my G+ profile to the article and add the site to the contributor section of my profile.

    or

    just add the link to the article but not my G+ profile

    Or simply not bother

    Many Thanks

    • Hi Dan,

      If it were me ….

      Yes, I would still cross-link between Google+ and the other site. Here’s why.

      You see, “authorship” is more than pictures in search engine results. It’s a type of markup language that helps Google understand a site and the information on it.

      The pictures may be gone, but some search experts believe authorship is still being used in other ways by Google. If you are someone trying to build a personal brand or establish a reputation as an authority in your field, I think authorship has value. It helps search engines understand that you are an authority, and it may translate in a boost in search results.

      It is especially important if the other sites you write for are ‘authoritative’ and high quality sites. Right now, it seems to be important if you write “in depth” content — long, original, well-researched content. You want to be associated with such content.

      Is that cross-linkage with your Google+ profile going to make a big difference? The majority of the time, no. But cross-linking only takes a few minutes. So for the few minutes of effort involved, I plan to still do it. It certainly can’t hurt, and if the third party site is an authoritative one it may lend some weight to your “authority” as an author online.

      And the real point is, you’re hedging your bets. If Google decides to use authorship in other ways in the future, for the few minutes you spent you’re that much farther ahead.

      And besides, the linking can give a tiny bit of visibility and link weight for your Google+ profile, and for your profile on the other site.

      Anita

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