What Google giveth, Google can also taketh away.
The search engine giant announced recently that it will be removing author profile pictures as well as Google+ circle counts in the results it serves up on both desktop and mobile. In the surprising announcement, Webmaster trends analyst John Mueller cited a desire to “clean up” the visual design of its search results, working toward a more uniform approach across devices.
Mueller claimed that click-through behavior on what he called the “less-cluttered” design was similar to when authorship information was displayed. But of course, the announcement caused panic in the search engine optimization community, because Google Authorship has proven such a potent way to increase traffic in the past.
Is it even still worth it to claim authorship? Will this impact author ranks and make it harder to build traffic? Why in the world is Google doing this? Those are the questions on everyone’s minds.
The Rise of Google Authorship
Introduced in 2011, Google Authorship is essentially a portable byline that writers can carry with them to different sites. So if you write a piece for website A and website B, you’ll still have the same byline across both posts. It also includes information about your Google Circles, which essentially tells people that you are widely read and widely appreciated.
This is hugely useful because Google likes authors with credibility. It also likes authors who use Google products. You put together a plethora of bylines and great Google+ credentials, and you’ve got an article that will rise to the top of search results. Google Authorship also helps articles stand out from other search results; it’s almost like putting a “verified” seal of approval on an article, meaning “this wasn’t written by a content mill hack.” Articles can see huge traffic gains with implementation of Google Authorship.
By doing away with the author photos and Google+ information, however, it will become harder to discern credible authors. You may have recognized someone’s picture from past searches before and clicked on them again when their profile came up in a search. Now you’ll have to actually remember their name to do that, which seems like a stretch.
Why Do Away With Photos?
As many have noted, Google’s decision to do away with photos and social information seems counterintuitive to the search engine’s goals. It has said it wants to bring high-quality content to the top of search results, highlighting the best authors. And many of the best and most knowledgeable writers are those who take the time to use Google Authorship.
It may simply be that Google didn’t like the SEO games people play with Google Authorship, trying to game the system by getting more traffic using photos. There’s certainly nothing Google hates more than people playing SEO games.
The Future of Google Authorship
Regardless of why Google made its decision, the question going forward is whether writers should continue to use Google Authorship. Is it worth it anymore, now that pictures won’t be included in results? Studies showed those pictures drew people’s eyes away from other results on a page which is one of the big benefits of using the authorship tags.
Though removing pictures and social media information may seem to devalue the use of Authorship, the truth is that Google probably has an endgame in mind for this decision that will eventually justify the change, and the end result could be rewarding top authors even more.
Google has often said in the past its goal with Google Authorship was to give the top authors in different subject areas a lift. And truthfully, this isn’t the first time Google has messed with the program. Last year Google pulled back on the Authorship results found in searches, a hint that it had other plans on the horizon for the program.
There are no indications that Google plans to abandon this tool. In fact, in announcing the changes, Mueller made a point to link to the Google Authorship page, which he would not have done if the search giant was trying to discourage people from using it or planning to phase it out.
Should You Still Use Google Authorship?
The bottom line is that despite the change, there will still be benefits to using the Google Authorship tag, including:
- Building yourself up as an expert. It’s still desirable to get as many bylines as possible on a subject, which people can find through your Google Authorship.
- Gaining name recognition. No, your photo won’t be there to tip people off, but there is something to be said for name recognition. People will notice when your name comes up time after time when you write about a certain subject.
- Long-term benefits. At the recent SMX Advanced Conference, Matt Cutts continued to sing the praises of using Google Authorship to build up authority. The benefits may not come tomorrow but they will build over time.
- Google loves Google products. This is the notion I keep coming back to. Google search results just adore anything Google-related, so if you continue to use Google Authorship, at the very least you are not going to be punished.
The Bottom Line
This is Google, people. It’s a company that likes to show it’s one step ahead of SEOs on everything, and sometimes it likes to do things for no discernible reason, other than it can. When it notices that people are using Google Authorship to spark traffic, it’s going to play around with the formula to try to throw people off.
But Google’s one downfall is its vanity. It developed Google Authorship, and it’s not going to abandon it, even if it’s displeased with the way it’s been employed. Some people may take a reactionary approach and stop using the “rel=author” tag. Don’t be one of them. This is Google’s way of refining the product without tossing it aside. There will be other changes, too, but in the end, you’ll benefit from continuing to use Google Authorship with all your articles.