Noticed anything different about the SERPs lately? That’s right, no more author profile pictures. Google recently removed authorship photos and Circles numbers from the search results citing the need for a cleaner results page.
The move is bad news for those who’ve been working on optimising their authorship listings to gain increased click through rates (CTR) and branding. However, the Google Author concept and the prospect of ‘author rank’ remain intact; it’s just the pictures that have gone.
The Background to Google Authorship
Google introduced authorship in 2011 as a way of communicating author authority and identifying the creator of a piece of content. It functioned by using mark-up language to pull the writer’s Google + profile picture and display it in the listing shown in the search results.
After a slow start, its use rose when Google algorithm updates removed most spammy content from the rankings and quality authors saw the benefits of having their work recognised.
Using Google Authorship mark-up brought many benefits including branding, proof of content ownership, and status. However the most powerful benefit was that many webmasters reported increases in CTR.
Obviously losing this would be a problem. However, Google’s Webmaster trends analyst John Mueller revealed that in tests, CTR was unchanged. In addition, he claimed the tests revealed that most users both on mobile and desktop devices preferred the more minimal look.
If you want to check if your CTR has been affected, log into your Webmaster Tools and check Author Stats. It shows stats such as impressions, clicks, CTR and average position.
According to Mueller the dropping of author photos was part of a drive towards clearing up listings. He added this was needed to create a better mobile experience and help render a more consistent design across devices. Google’s ‘mobile first’ strategy recognises that searching on mobile devices is overtaking that done on desktops and laptops.
The Way Ahead
Google stresses that Google authorship is still a key component in its strategy to recognise and reward quality content creators. The procedure for verifying authorship are unchanged and authors that qualify still get a by-line.
One thing to bear in mind is that Author mark-up was never meant to be automatically applied for everyone. Google always asserted that they would only show the rich snippets when they considered it beneficial for the end user.
In fact earlier in the year, many publishers found their pictures had stopped showing. This suggested that Google was being more selective and wished to provide the service only for real authorities in a niche.
The main takeaway is to remember Author is still up and running and you will still get a by line. It just won’t look as good.
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