Google Closes Book on Authorship

A look back at Google Authorship. Now the story’s over, what’s next?

A look back at Google Authorship. Now the story’s over, what’s next?

You may have seen a lot of talk around the death of Google Authorship recently. Some of you may already know what this is (sorry, was), but for those who don’t know, Google Authorship was essentially a way for Google to associate content online with a particular person.

This was done through implementing authorship markup (rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags) as well as connecting the author’s content with a Google+ account.

Those making use of Google Authorship had their author names and images appear next to stories they’d written and it was believed that this would increase clicks. As well as this, there was debate around other benefits such as rich snippets potentially influencing page rankings.

However, as Matt Cutts (head of the webspam team at Google) said when discussing shema.org markup, which while not the same as Authorship, is probably treated in a similar fashion “just because somebody implements shema.org markup, that doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily and automatically a better site, so I wouldn’t count on that giving you a good ranking boost”.

Google Authorship officially began in June 2011 (though the Authorship seed was planted back in 2007 with Google’s Agent Rank patent) and it came about just before the unveiling of Google+. The launch of both in the same month certainly wasn’t a coincidence. Google+ became Google’s universal identity platform for connecting authors with their content.

It’s apparent that there were high hopes for Google Authorship but unfortunately there was a low implementation rate and in some verticals, it was even non-existent. Of those sites that did attempt to participate in it, many did so incorrectly.

Following the realisation that Google Authorship wasn’t as useful to users as they had hoped, Google attempted to auto-attribute authors to content however this wasn’t as foolproof as they might have imagined. There were various cases recorded of the wrong authors being credited – a minor mishap to say the least but even more of a Google Authorship faux pas when that credited author had been dead for 28 years. Not only this, but the ‘author’ Truman Capote had been credited for a New York Times article – an establishment he had never even been part of.

This method of auto-attribution clearly wasn’t going to be sustainable and it also came to light that Google Authorship offered low value to searches. Google stated that they were seeing very little difference in click behaviour between those with Authorship snippets and those without. This realisation came by surprise and was of course not ideal due to Google Authorship’s focus being centred on the ethos that Authorship would influence that very thing – clicks.

Eventually Google dropped the image support of Google Authorship in June this year, and later, on August 28th ended Google Authorship entirely.

John Mueller of Google announced that day:

“We’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”

So what does this mean for us now?

Although Google may now be ignoring Google Authorship markup, it doesn’t mean that we should stop applying authorship best practices to our content.

Whilst the rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags will no longer bring the benefits of additional author rich snippets and so gain the potential CTR benefits – according to Google, it won’t be doing any harm either. And whilst it’s not confirmed, there is always the possibility that Google may continue to use this markup to better understand your site.

So whilst Google Authorship as we know it, may be dead, it’s probably still worth continuing to apply authorship. From a users perspective, no one wants to read posts by ‘admin’. People like people. They want to know the author, their experiences and they want to be able to trust them as a writer. And whilst this is separate to authorship markup, if you have gone to the trouble of setting up authors on your blog then why not take that next step and implement the markup.

As well as this, there is the concept of Author Rank, which is separate to Google Authorship but holds a similar idea – if the author is deemed trustworthy then the rankings may be affected. This was a term coined by the SEO community and in March this year, Matt Cutts (you’ll hear his name mentioned a lot in the SEO community!) tweeted that Author Rank “does come into play in some ways” and that this is used within in-depth articles.

In conclusion, whilst there are no hard facts to support authorship at the moment, we would still recommend that you don’t completely disregard the concept.

As Eric Schmidt famously said – “the true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance”.

And although Google Authorship may be dead, it’s not to say that Google won’t find another solution to this in the future. Even though they didn’t succeed this time around, the concept behind this is indeed very strong. After all... if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Perhaps then, Google Authorship isn’t dead, it’s simply dormant.

By Emily McLaren, SEO Executive

Photo courtesy of Karen Bryan.