This week marks the end of an era for the relationship between Google and content producers. Google announced it will end all functionality for Google Authorship. The writing had been on the wall for at least a month, when Google took author photos and Google Circle information out of search results on desktop and mobile. Even if the move was foreseeable, the news is still important. This article will briefly explain why Google killed it’s authorship program and what it means for marketers.
Ending the Google Authorship program is significant since it has been running since 2011. It was more than an experiment, there were a lot of webmasters who took advantage of the increased exposure in search results. As was mentioned before, Google had already removed some of the most visible features of Google Authorship meta data over a month ago. The newest announcement means Google will also stop showing authorship results in Google Search, nor will webmaster be able to get tracking data from their content using rel=author markup.
“I’ve been involved since we first started testing authorship markup and displaying it in search results,” began John Mueller, from Google Webmasters Tools, in a Google+ post announcing the change. “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.”
Mueller says the decision was based solely on concerns about user experience. He notes that according to data from Google, removing the authorship data doesn’t hurt traffic to the sites. And before anyone makes the usual “Google only cares about money” argument, Mueller also noted that removing Google Authorship didn’t improve ad clicks. According to Google, this was only about improving and simplifying the user interface.
According to Mark Traphagen, the (presumably former) leader of a Google Authorship community, Mueller gave two reasons for the end of Google Authorship. First, it was noted that the feature wasn’t used very much by webmasters. According to a 2012 study they noted, only 30 percent of Forbes 50 Most Influential Social Media Marketers added the Google Authorship markup to their own blogs. Second, Traphagen also said that Google noted a low value for searchers. In describing his conversation with Mueller, Traphagen said that “in aggregate, user behavior on a search page did not seem to be affected by the presence of author snippets. Perhaps over time users had become used to seeing them and they lost their novelty”.
So it appears Google Authorship is gone for good and there are no plans by Google to bring in something to replace it. In his Google+ post, Mueller noted that the next steps for the company in regards to webmaster tools:
“Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.”
The end of Google Authorship doesn’t mean that business owners and marketers can forget about Google+. The changes to Google Authorship will not affect the right hand column showing relevant Google+ posts or showing author photos when someone does a specific query for a Google+ account.
While the news is a little disheartening, it’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time that Google has ended one of its services nor will it be the last. In fact, the end of Google Authorship is a reminder that Google is devoted to results, and programs that don’t meet the standard get the axe. Marketers should keep a look out for what Google thinks up next to help webmasters make their sites better. For example, read this article about the SEO boost Google is giving to sites that use HTTPS.