You don’t need rel=author tags on your site anymore. Google no longer tracks data from them. All authorship results in Google search are gone, too. And don’t look for Authorship functionality in your Google Plus profile, either — it’s been removed. Google has ended Google Authorship.
There were signs of this coming
If you feel betrayed, it’s okay. Many search=marketing professionals feel the same way. But after a few moments to process the grief, you’ll probably remember we did have signs of this coming.
How? Because Google started removing author photographs from the search results as far back as December 2013. It removed all photographs of authors from the search results in June. The count for how many people were following the author on Google Plus was also removed around the same time.
Those were the signs.
2 Reasons Why Google Authorship Was Cancelled
- Low adoption. Less than a third of us were using it properly. Stone Temple Consulting did a study recently that showed 70 percent of authors had not connected their content with their authorship profiles, if they had an authorship profile at all.
Stone wasn’t alone in finding painful gaps between what Authorship could have been versus what it actually was. Mark Traphagen and Eric Enge, writing at Search Engine Land, took a look at “500 authors across 150 different major media web sites.” They found only 30 percent had both an authorship profile and links from that profile going back to their sites.
Google Authorship was cancelled in part because of low adoption. Nearly half of 500 authors who write for 150 major media sites had no Authorship profile at all.
- Google felt there was not enough benefit to users (user being search users, not the authors). There are several issues around this. First, the author photographs and the Google Plus circle counts were taken down in part because they muddied up mobile search results. (Remember, there are now more mobile searches than desktop searches.) The super-streamlined design of mobile search required Google do everything it could to clean up the search engine results, and so the photographs had to go.
In the words of Google’s John Mueller in a June 25 Google Plus post, “we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)”
Affect of Photos in Search Results
There is dispute on whether or not removing the photographs affected click-through rates. Many bloggers (me included) were reporting nice lifts in click-through rates after they added their Authorship photographs. Some people said they got as much as 35 percent more clicks with the photographs turned on.
Truth be told though, author photographs aren’t entirely gone. They are shown far less often. But you can still see them if (a) if you’ve got your Google account set to show personalized search (it’s the default setting), (b) you’re logged into your Google account, and (c) the author whose photo you’ll see has added you to one of their Google circles.
The next part of why Authorship got taken down is that it didn’t have a good return on investment for improving search after Google took the load on their servers into account. In short, Authorship was too resource intensive. Google may have some of the most massive server banks in the world, but even they have limits. Those limits have to be managed wisely. Authorship wasn’t a wise investment.
What About Author Rank?
Google’s Matt Cutts has said recently that Author Rank is still in play, especially for programs like Google’s In-Depth articles. Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, has also been quoted on the subject of Author Rank and how critical it is. Google may have sunsetted Authorship, but the idea of tracking by content creator is still on their radar.
Remember too, that Google Plus, at its very core, is not a typical social media platform. It is an identity system — specifically, one of the few federally credentialed Identity Providers of the NSTICs (National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace) Identity Ecosystem.
The key takeaway here is that identity tracking is in Google’s DNA. Identifying who wrote which blog post barely scratches the surface of what it knows about us. That’s not going to change any time soon.
Adios Google Plus?
Conspiracy theories aside, now that Authorship is gone (and we’re reminded of how quickly Google can axe programs), it’s inevitable for people to start wondering if Google Plus is next. Many of us joined Google Plus expressly to hook up Authorship.
Is Google Plus next? There’s no real way to tell, but there are a lot of guesses. Unfortunately, they’re all over the map: Some say Google Plus is fine. Others say it’s doomed, and still others say it may linger or change for a while before it’s ultimate death.
Google Plus is definitely weak in one of the same areas that Google Authorship was weak: Adoption. Look at pretty much any popular blog post and you are likely to see one tenth to one fifth as many Google+ shares as Facebook shares. However, there are other voices that say Google+ is the best social media investment Google has made, and the rest of us are missing out.
The best reason I can find to support Google Plus being around for has to do with search rankings. Google Pluses could be second most influential ranking metric, according to search professionals. If so, that means Google values them nearly as much as using relevant terms. And that means Google is still deeply invested in Google Plus, for now.