Changes to Google Authorship: An Overview

Lindsey Weedston Content Marketing, Social Media, Website SEO

A couple months ago, we posted a two-part article about Google Authorship, including what it is, why it’s helpful, and how you can set it up for yourself. Google Authorship has been a very helpful tool in establishing credibility for yourself and increasing click-through rates (CTRs) in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs).

If you don’t recall, Google Authorship basically allows you to make it so that the picture from your Google+ profile shows up next to the link to your webpage, usually a blog post, when it appears in the SERPs after someone’s searched for something relevant to that page. It was thought that people are more likely to pick a link with a photo of a person next to it, even if it wasn’t the top result. People have seen a 30-150% increase in traffic to their websites just by setting up Google Authorship.

Last Wednesday, if you perusing the SEO and marketing sector of the Internet, you would have noticed that everyone is getting very worked up about a significant change to Google Authorship. Those photos that made the links seem so human and friendly? Those are going away. Your name will still appear under the link, but your face and the number of people in your Google+ circles will be gone.

Understandably, a lot of people are upset. Was the time spent setting up Google Authorship and building your Google+ presence a waste?

Google Plus Logo


Why Are They Doing This To Us?

With Google, it can be hard to remember that they’re not out to cater to businesses. They’re only interested in their customers, and that means all users. Most users aren’t business owners.

The change was announced by Google’s John Mueller, who explained that the reason for the change was all about user experience – especially when it comes to mobile search.

We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count.John Mueller

This makes a lot of sense. On mobile devices, pictures are going to take up a lot of space. Better to get rid of them and make everything uniform. After all, a picture next to a link doesn’t mean that said link will take you to the most useful content.

Mobile Phone
When you think of it in these terms, it’s not entirely surprising that Google made this change. I’ve seen some marketers complaining that 90% of their whole marketing strategy revolves around Google Authorship. This seems incredibly high to me – it smells like exploitation. Google hates it when people exploit their search features and most of their big updates and changes are focused on stopping that kind of behavior. If they thought that Google Authorship was being exploited, it was only a matter of time before something changed.

Is your content not so great? Not really useful or interesting to anyone? No problem. Just set up Google Authorship and you’ll get a boost in your CTR, hurting sites that might have better content. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Taking the photos away might even out the playing field while also making Google more user-friendly. It’s a win-win for them.


How Will This Affect Me?

Always an important question. If you have Google Authorship set up, it makes sense to assume that you will see a significant drop in your CTRs and traffic. John Mueller, however, said that their tests showed little change when the photos were removed: “Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.”

This statement is a little vague, and Google’s predictions in these situations usually don’t work out the same for everybody. Mark Traphagen of Stone Temple Consulting listed some possible interpretations of this claim and why it seems counter to the conventional line of thought that photos boost CTRs.

He also stresses, and I agree with him, that this is just a step in the evolution process of a relatively new Google feature. Before people start saying it over and over, Google Authorship is not “dead.” As always, it’s just changing. Authorship and Google+ will still have a role in SEO, and the authors with the best, most useful and reliable content will be rewarded most, while spammy, low-quality authors will be punished. This has always been and always will be Google’s goal.
Tree In Globe

Keep nurturing the Google Authorship tree. It seems very likely that it will bear some particularly tasty fruit in the future.