What’s the Real Reason Google Plus Authorship Photos Are Gone?

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Googler John Mueller shocked the SEO industry last week with his announcement that Google authorship photos are gone and circle counts are now removed from the SERPs.

The big question is: Why?

Why would Google kill a feature they had said would instill user trust in quality search results and help valuable content stand out? And why did they want us all to implement it in the first place? Was anything we were told about Google+ authorship markup and profile images in search true to begin with?

It didn’t take Moz’s Rand Fishkin long to tweet his thoughts on the motivation behind the change:

And even more pointedly:

Since Google+ authorship and the rich snippets with photos in search results were implemented, we’ve seen eye tracking studies point to additional attention for the enhanced results. We’ve seen research from Catalyst and Cyrus Shepard – and even Google itself – supporting the notion that results with authorship photos have higher click-through rates than their plain text counterparts. Our own internal research also confirms this.

authorship photos are gone

It does seem more than a little disingenuous for Google to suggest now, after all the work they did encouraging and convincing people that authorship photos in the SERPs would get them more clicks (and it wasn’t exactly easy to set them up), that authorship photos are actually costing people clicks or don’t help at all.

So what’s going on?

Google+ Authorship Clicks Had To Come From Somewhere

Clicks on the search results page are basically a zero sum game. If there’s an increase in CTR for one part of the SERP, some other part is losing that click. There must be a decrease in CTR elsewhere – and that includes the ads.

We know images in the SERPs have a big impact on users – and click-sucking monsters. Google knows this, too, which is why Google’s Shopping Ads (formerly Product Listing Ads) aren’t plain text.

Maybe Google realized they were giving away free branding with authorship markup – at the expense of paid clicks. Besides, they have their own Sponsored Posts on Google+ for authors who want to promote themselves.

Was it another way for Google to “break the spirits of SEOs,” by taking away a feature they had adopted wholeheartedly? That may be taking things too personally.

However, it’s pretty clear that Google’s excuse for removing author photos from organic results – uncluttering and improving user experience with no effect on CTR – just doesn’t hold water.

UPDATE: Check out Elisa’s alternate theory on why Google+ author photos are going away.

Image: Via Moz

More in: 8 Comments ▼

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.

8 Reactions
  1. I’ll be far from surprised if there’s indeed some truth to Rand’s reasoning. Makes sense. I wouldn’t put it past Google.

  2. Thanks for this.

    I’ve been following this and it’s pretty obvious that clicks without faces will decrease. I’m not why Google felt the need to spin it.

    It’s about The Money.

    More than ever…that’s how it feels, anyway.

    The Franchise King®

  3. It’s definitely about the money. As more people click on a link because of the picture, it takes the attention away from the ads. I think they would start putting images on their ads soon so that they can convince more business owners to advertise.

  4. Whether it’s about money or something else, I don’t care, I’m glad they are gone! Google was looking like a complete mess with images for shopping results in the top left (which rightfully should have images) and then those useless authorships photos which amount to nothing. Photos here and photos there it was horrendous, at least no it’s much nicer on the eyes again, organic results look nicely different from shopping (product) results. Well done Google, thumbs up!

  5. I agree with Rand and Larry: Images are click-magnets, and as Gary Vaynerchuk has stated over and over again, AdWords clickthrough rate declines steadily over time. It’s only logical for Google to protect their very own best interest, which almost always mean bad news for us, web publishers and business owners.

    My 2 cents.

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