Is the Web Really Going to Be More Personal? The End of Google Authorship

So, one of Google’s guiding philosophies when ranking content has been to give preference to established brands and people. With authorship, you could include a tag in your content, “rel=author,” that attributes that content to you. If you have a built-up web reputation with lots of social shares on your content, Google by association would give preferential treatment when ranking it.

Makes sense, right? Rather than someone writing their first blog post ever and ranking it high, Google would rank you higher because of your built-up authority.

But all that is no more.

Why Did Google Discontinue Authorship?

For us internet marketing professionals who stay in the know, this isn’t a surprise. In December of last year, Google drastically cut the author photos shown next to some search results. Then in June of this year, they removed all of these images.

Google takes a fearless approach in trying new things and discontinuing them. For example, you may (or may not) remember things like Aardvark, Google Answers, Google Buzz, Google Reader, Google Labs, Google 411, and many others. They have no qualms about discontinuing things that do not provide you value.

What the Data Says

An article at Search Engine Land details Google’s data-driven reasons for doing this. Two main reasons were clear:

  1. Authors and Webmasters Were Not Quick to Adopt Authorship

Some verticals, like SEO and content marketing, pick up authorship quickly. But most others did not. It was too complicated for many who aren’t tech-savvy. Many of those that did use authorship didn’t do so correctly.

  1. Searchers Didn’t Care

Google was not able to find evidence that authorship photos affected click behavior in any significant way. Some marketers had conducted their own tests and found authorship did in fact affect click behavior.

So what’s probably going on is that on the whole, searcher behavior did not change. For a few people this probably made a big difference, but not for the average searcher.

You May Still Notice Authorship Photos in Search Results If You Use Google+

If someone is in your Google+ circles and they author content, you will notice a photo next to their search result (if they’ve claimed authorship). Google currently has no plans to make any changes to this.

What’s Next for a Less Anonymous, More Connected Web?

Google wants well-known content at the top of its search results. Authorship appeared to be a good way to get more of that up there. But that didn’t work out in reality.

We know they have a history of try-and-fail your way forward. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with next.