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What the Death of Google Authorship Means for Bloggers

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When Google launches a new feature it’s rare that it sticks, just take look at Google’s abandoned projects, which has its own Wikipedia page.

This time it was Google Authorship, which after 3 years, was brought to an end. The concept of a digital signature which linked authors with content was innovative, but when put into practice it was not.

If you were one of the authors that embraced the idea, it seems you were in the minority. A report by Stone Temple Consulting revealed that more than 70% had ignored the programme completely.

Google & Authorship: how did it begin?

Google Authorship arose back in 2007, with the Google agent rank patent – the idea of linking pieces of content by the digital signature of an author. This meant an author could be recognised across the web and ranked according to trust and authority.

However, it floated about as nothing more than an idea until June 2011, when Google announced it would support authorship mark-up to connect content with authors.

Later in June, the whole concept came together when Google+ entered the scene. This linked a piece of content, not only to that author, but to the author’s Google+ profile. It seemed like all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place and bloggers began to get involved.

The rel=author mark-up could be used to gather data on an author’s authority and the Google+ profile link allowed the author’s image to appear in the search results.

The scheme promised to separate newbies from experienced bloggers, rating authors with a vast repertoire of content higher up the search results.

However, many bloggers didn’t see a sudden boost in popularity. Over the next eight months, the scheme was gradually dismantled, starting with a reduction in the amount of author photo snippets shown per query in December 2013.

By June 2014, all author photos were removed from the search results, leaving just the by-lines. With the push towards mobile browsing, the photos were removed due to the limited screen space and bandwidth of mobile devices, which made this pictorial approach to search results impractical.

The problems with Google Authorship

So, why didn’t Google just stop there? Surely removing the images would solve the problem?

Google Authorship had bigger problems, mainly the disappointing uptake amongst authors and publishers, but also the fact that the scheme appeared to offer very little value to searchers.

Why were adoption rates so low?

One of the reasons could be the sheer complexity of setting it up. Out of those that did set up authorship, many did so incorrectly.

To correct this, Google attempted to auto-attribute authorship where there were problems with the mark-up, but these led to well-publicised cases of mis-attribution. Such as an incident at the New York Times where Truman Capote was attributed as the author of an article 28 years after his death.

Why did the scheme have little impact on click behaviour?

One of the most surprising aspects of this story is that the author’s profile picture used in search results showed no significant difference in click behaviour despite the promise of increasing traffic through eye-catching images.

It’s not yet certain why this was the case but one possibility is that people just got used to seeing them.

Why Google abandoned the project?

It’s easy to think of Google as an all-powerful online giant with limitless resources to throw at the project, but the huge amount of processing power they were using on this scheme was seeing little return.

But that’s not to say the scheme has been forgotten. The concept of authorship is still valid and is likely to resurface in the future when it’s more developed to deliver results.

How does this affect Google+?

Whilst the death of Google Authorship may take a chunk out of Google+ itself, the platform is still as important as ever to bloggers.

The key benefits of Google+ still stand, such as the way the platform can influence the search results, with people in your circles appearing higher than those who are not.

At the moment, if you’re connected with an author on Google+ their image will appear in the search. This more personalised search is important, highlighting the authors that you already have a personal connection with.

This is not only beneficial for helping personalise your search results, but in helping your own content appear higher in the search results to all those you are connected with on Google+.

It’s also still an important channel to be actively engaged in – whether that’s via Google Hangouts or via writing and sharing content on Google+. You can read more about the benefits of Google+ – which still stands today even after the demise of authorship – in our Google+: Do Bloggers Need it? post.

How does this affect bloggers?

In terms of the technicalities, Googles decision will make little difference to bloggers. If you’re concerned about how this affects an authorship schema you already have set up, Google’s John Mueller stated:

“We’re no longer using it for authorship; we treat it like any other mark-up on your pages. Leaving it is fine, it won’t cause problems (and perhaps your users appreciate being able to find out more about you through your profile too).”

The announcement has also made the authorship plugin Jetpack 2.5 and many other SEO WordPress plug-ins obsolete, but the developers of these plug-ins are sure to adapt to whatever comes next.

However, Google are continuing their support for structured mark-up, which hints at what’s to come. John Mueller said this in a Google+ post:

“Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured mark-up (such as schema.org). This mark-up 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.”

Is there a future for authorship online?

Other than the technical side of things, the concept of authorship is still valid. Google will still want to look to who the author is as a determining factor of content value.

Instead of the official authorship scheme, Google is likely to look for by-lines in articles, which have always existed and are not likely to go away any time soon. This way you’re not ranking content on who posts it, but rather on what is being said.

Google Authorship may have seen it last days but author rank has not. In terms of how it affects you, it’s still just as important to build your authority as an author and to build your following on Google+.

Things at Google change so frequently and many expect a reincarnated scheme to appear at some point or another but until then; it’s still business as usual for the blogosphere.

What do you think of about Google’s decision to axe the scheme? How will it affect your blog?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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