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Saying 'Goodbye' To Google's Authorship Program

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It’s official: Authorship is no longer supported in Google’s search results, meaning (among other things) that you’ll no longer see head shots of your favorite bloggers and writers displayed in the SERPS.

John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, issued the following statement in regards to the Google Authorship program on his Google+ page.

I’ve been involved since we first started testing authorship markup and displaying it in search results. We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we’ve tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information. Unfortunately, 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 all mean? With Authorship markup support gone, authors’ Google+ profile photos, names and Circle count will no longer be displayed in Google’s search results. Previously, content creators could connect their Google+ account to webpages containing their content to display this information in the SERPS.

In order to Authorship, content creators were forced to include the rel=”author” and rel=”me” tags on pages that published their content. This essentially told Google the Google the content was theirs, pointing Google’s bots to the author’s Plus page. But adding a couple tags wasn’t a chore by any means, especially considering the fact that a number of content management systems, plugins and extensions were modified to support the Authorship program.

Benefits of Google’s Authorship Program

There were a few notable benefits of participating in Google’s Authorship program, one of which is increased exposure. It’s often difficult for new bloggers and authors to make a name for themselves. Unless you write for a major publication, you aren’t going to attract attention to your work.

Well, the Authorship program allowed aspiring bloggers and writers to gain notoriety by displaying their name, Google+ profile photo and Circle count next to listings associated with their content. If a person wanted to learn more about the author, he or she could click on their Google+ name. This proved to be an incredibly effective way for authors to find new gigs and develop invaluable professional relationships.

In addition to the increased exposure the Authorship presented to bloggers and content creators, there was also some belief that it had a positive impact on search rankings. The general belief – at least by some – was that the connecting a website to an actively engaged Google+ author account would yield higher rankings in Google’s search results. There were several studies conducted by SEO and marketing agencies, some of which found Authorship to provide a slight boost in rankings, whereas others found Authorship to have little-to-no effect on rankings.

The End of Authorship, What Next?

Authorship has since gone the way of the dinosaurs, though, as Google has scrapped it from their projects list. Before we speculate as to why Google chose to abruptly end its Authorship program, let’s take a step back in time to look at the program’s brief, but notable, history.

Google first introduced Authorship back in 2011, the same year it launched its own social media network, Google +. The program received mixed responses from bloggers and webmasters, but the Mountain View company continued to develop and promote the system. Matt Cutts, Google’s Webspam team leader, discussed some of the changes made to the Authorship algorithm in an interview with Search Engine Watch.

We made some minor updates. We had been showing author information whenever we could based on authorship markup, email verification, and other signals of authorship on the web. In mid-December, we rolled out new algorithms designed to show author photos when they’re more likely to be relevant and interesting. (For example, the algorithms now try to estimate the quality of documents an author typically writes),” said Cutts.

Ultimately, these algorithm changes didn’t yield a positive enough effect for Google to continue with its Authorship program. At last year’s Pubcon in Las Vegas, Nevada, Cutts revealed that Google was reducing the number of Authorship photos displayed in its search results by 20-40%. This was the first sign of trouble on the horizon for the program. Sure enough, users began to report seeing fewer profile photos in Google’s SERPS. But it didn’t stop there, as more and more Authorship photos were subsequently removed from Google’s search listings.

So, why did Google axe its Authorship program? According to Mueller, it hasn’t been as useful as Google had hoped, and in some cases Authorship distracts users from the actual search listings.

It’s important to note that Google+ pages will still appear in Google’s index, assuming they are relevant to the search query.