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Google Authorship Changes: What You Need to Know

Ann Smarty

In late June, Google's John Mueller announced they were removing author photos from search results which caused a lot of disappointment in the Internet Marketing world.

In short, this is what happened:

Having that little competitive advantage in the SERPs was fun. It gave authors additional branding benefits, let alone a higher click-through for the articles that weren't even ranking in the top 5. So why did Google take it away?

I'm really stubborn; if I believe something, it's really hard for me to change my mind. Long ago I decided Google was not evil. Whatever it does, I still don't think so. :)

So my own take on the reasoning behind that move (as if knowing the reasoning would change anything, right?) is that photos in search results were probably adding too much noise to search results (screwing their click-through and dwell time signals).

Now, by saying that I don't believe Google was evil enough to remove author pictures to attract more clicks to ads, I don't mean to say I am really buying what they say:

  • Why not explain why you decided to do that? Saying you are optimizing SERPs for mobile user experience just doesn't sound convincing. We are not really asking for much: Just have a little bit of respect to us, authors, and let us know why exactly you are doing that. That will work well for our self-esteem!
  • Saying there will be no effect on click-through is a little bit distasteful. We are actually using your search engine many times a day: We KNOW we liked to click those photo-enhanced results. Now I have hard time even identifying authorship results in SERPs! (Still waiting for some research on that! All I can see is a 56 percent decline in clicks in my own Author Stats, provided, guess what, by Google).

Enough for the rants (You can read more opinions on both of these points in our group interview).

To make a long story short, it's probably a positive thing for most good authors: they are not forced to market their faces to ensure they will get more exposure in search. So at the end of the day, what happened needed to happen.

Let's switch to the good news now:

1. Authorship is Easier to Get

And yes, it's still worth it. Read up to the end. :)

Previously, you'd never know... You would make sure everything was set up correctly, but there was no way to guarantee the Authorship would make it to the actual SERPs.

Now, all you need is to make sure you verified your content correctly and the Rich Snippets tool can recognize your markup.

On the flip side, that also means that competitive advantage we used to have (a) is becoming less useful without photos and (b) is getting less competitive (everyone can now have it). So let's agree there's no longer too much of a competitive advantage in Authorship results. :)

2. Authorship Makes it to the SERPs Multiple Times for One Author

Previously, you could only have one authorship snippet per SERPs (no matter how many of your verified articles made it to the search results page).

Now, everything you have verified will come up with Authorship markup:

authorship markup

3. Photo-enhanced Updates Still Make it to the Personalized Search Results

Unless you disable personalized results, you'll still see some results with photos. These are relevant Google+ updates from people in your circle.

That being said, if you keep growing your Google+ connections, you are still getting a little bit of that "social-assisted" branding component: Your friends seeing you in search results will more eagerly interact with your update and quicker recognize you on social media.

google plus photos

4. Google Still Seems to be Interested in Finding Authors Behind Content

Author Rank is still the future!

This is, at last, the "Why even care any more" part... Google is taking this seriously. They want to teach their algorithm to recognize experts behind their content. Their recent "Google rater's guide" is the best proof of that.

Think of Google Authorship as the way to make it "easier" for Google to connect the dots around your author profiles and social media activity. Make it easier for Google to assume you must be an expert.

Here's my analogy: as an SEO, you wouldn't rely on Google to figure out your site on their own. Hence, you have meta information, sitemap, Robots.txt, rich markup, etc. Google Authorship is a similar way to make it easier for Google to figure out your identity. They will most probably learn to find authors without Google Authorship assigned (and they may be doing that!) but why rely on that if you can point them to exactly what is important!

That's how I am looking at Google Authorship: I've always thought of Google Authorship as the "sitemap" for your cross-domain activity! Yes, author pictures are sad to lose but, again, it must be the right move.

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Ann Smarty is the content marketer and blogger for multiple blogs including Small Biz Trends, Search Engine Journal and others. She is the Brand Manager at InternetMarketingNinjas.com and founder of MyBlogU.com, the free platform for bloggers to connect and get cited by participating in group interviews.
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Jignesh Gohel
Hi Ann,

As this article was published before John's recent announcement on authorship i would like to know your views on this step by Google. Do you really think Google will still give weight to authorship? As they have publicly denied it but i would like to know your views on authorship.
Kathleen Garvin
Jignesh Gohel
Good question, Jignesh! We'll have to ask Ann for a follow-up. ;)
Julia McCoy
Excellent findings and insight. I had no idea that we could rank/appear multiple times now for one Authorship markup. In the end, it does seem that by refining (and caring about) Authorship, Google will be using it to determine credibility...and it will be more important than ever to utilize it.
Thank you for softening the blow a little with some good news, Ann! I enjoyed reading it and I'm sure it'll help my clients breathe a little easier, too!
Michael Stricker
+Ann Smarty - this is such a nice, balanced rundown, thank you! I feel better, now. Do you agree that Authorship for Google goes beyond verifiable identity and demonstrated topical expertise to relationships among expert entities? I know Bill Slawski and Mark Traphagen have spoken of the 'bigger picture'. Could be good, now that the 'little picture' is history!
Ann Smarty
Michael Stricker
Thanks for the comment! "Do you agree that Authorship for Google goes beyond verifiable identity and demonstrated topical expertise to relationships among expert entities"

-> I definitely hope so! Their biggest issue is actually determining those identities. When they have the dots, they will surely connect them (at least, that makes sense!)
Michael Stricker
Ann Smarty
Uh-oh! Google will no longer require your true identity! Now, how will we know?! http://www.theverge.com/2014/7...