Content Marketing

The Great Google Authorship Kidnapping: What Happened to Your Author Photo in Search?

Why Is Your Google Authorship Missing from Search?

UPDATE 28 August 2014: Google has no completely removed Authorship rich snippets from search results. For details see our Search Engine Land article.
UPDATE 28 July 2014: As of about a month ago, Google has removed all author photos from non-personalized search. Qualified content can still get an author byline in the search results. For more on this see my Moz article.
Original Post
In the middle of December 2013, Google Authorship mysteriously disappeared for some authors and their content. The following is our investigative report on those disappearances. Find out who made off with (some) Authorship results and why (and maybe how to stage a happy reunion).
For several years now Google Distinguished Engineer and anti-spam czar Matt Cutts has delivered the keynote at Pubcon in Las Vegas. It’s become a highly-anticipated speech, as Matt seems to save up a lot of juicy revelations about the future direction of Google Search for this talk. In 2013 he did not disappoint, with previews of a number of projects and enhancements Google is working up for search.
But among the most unexpected of those revelations was an announcement that Google would be cutting back on the amount of Authorship rich snippet results shown in search. These are the search results we’ve all seen by now, typically including at least an author’s Google+ profile photo and a byline:

Google Authorship search result

In his keynote, Matt said that in testing they found that reducing Authorship results by 10-15% increased the quality of those results.

We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we’re looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out  if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author.

“Possibly tightening that up” went from a possibility to reality in early December 2013. Here’s how it looked on the Authorship tracker in the Moz Feature Graph (which tracks the presence of special features in Google Search across a wide variety of search queries):

Google Authorship reduction graph

It looks like the reduction began on or around December 9, 2013, and leveled off around December 19, with another smaller reduction just after Christmas. It has remained relatively stable at its new level since then.

It was almost like someone crept into the Google Search results one dark night and kidnapped a bunch of them. Will they ever be seen again?

Characteristics of Authorship Kidnap Victims

The reduction was first picked up by observers like Cyrus Shepard, who noticed that some queries where he had previously seen a great many Authorship results now had fewer. But that wasn’t the only change.
Demoted to Second Class
As I noted in my post “Authorshipocalypse! The Great Google Authorship Purge Has Begun,” some authors appeared unaffected by the reduction, others had their results completely disappear, but there emerged a new “second class” of Authorship results: still a byline but no author photo: Second class authorship result We used to see byline-only results only when an author already had an Authorship result with profile photo elsewhere on he same results page. Now these are displaying as a kind of “Authorship second class,” still an Authorship result, but without the impact of the face photo.
Making the Cut (Or Not)

What happened to your Authorship photo in search? The Great Google Authorship Kidnapping Solved!

But the appearance of some Authorship results was not the only effect of the December cut. The way the reductions worked out on an author by author basis was all over the map. Authors reported any of the following:

  1. No change at all. The author appeared to be getting about the same Authorship results she was before December.
  2. Mixed change by site. The author lost (or went down to “second class”) Authorship snippets for some sites on which he publishes, but not others
  3. Mixed change by content. The author lost (or went to second class) Authorship for some pages of her site, but not others.
  4. Mixed by authors within a site. Some authors on a site still show Authorship snippets in search for their content on that site, but others do not.
  5. Total loss. The author lost all authorship snippets for all of his content on any site where he publishes.

And just to make it more confusing, there are authors who experience mixes of the above categories!
Queries Gone Queer
Dr. Pete Meyers of Moz observed that the biggest discernible change was at the query level. That is, some number of queries just stopped showing Authorship results altogether. That’s really what the Mozcast SERP Feature Graph above was showing. The Feature Graph tracks a set of queries and measures how many of them show the feature at all. So it’s an all or nothing measurement. If the feature is shown even once for a query, then that’s a positive. If it doesn’t appear at all, that’s a negative.
Therefore, the drop off we see in that graph is really a drop in queries that show Authorship snippets, not individual results or authors that show it. Pete dug deeper into the queries in the Moz data set that did still show Authorship snippets. His findings are in the following chart:
Moz count of number of Authorship results shown for various queries
As you can see, there is no significant statistical difference in the number of authorship results shown for the test set of queries after the purge. So the best we can say at the query level is that it appears that Google did make a reduction on a query-by-query basis, and that for many queries where Authorship remains, the number of results showing Authorship didn’t change all that much. (By the way, in his Moz article Pete lists a sampling of queries that lost Authorship snippets. It’s interesting to note that they are all head terms. Might be an indication that Google wants Authorship to be associated more with content that is more specific.)
But Wait, There’s More! It would be tempting at this point to say, “case closed!” and declare search queries as the culprit in the Great Authorship Kidnapping of 2013. But not so fast! There are still suspects at  large. Don’t forget about the individual author cases listed above, where some authors saw some or all of their Authorship results disappear. There is much more at work here than just queries, and I’ll discuss why in a moment. But first…breaking news!

A Few Hostages Released?

Is this way out of authorship jail?

This just in! In mid-January, I began receiving reports that some authors who had lost authorship altogether were beginning to see a total or partial return. Did Google ease up a bit on the Authorship cuts about that time?
Authors such as Dustin Stout, Ray Hiltz, and Michael Davies reported that they had lost all authorship snippets for their blogs in December, but in mid-January they began seeing some or all of them return.
This is common in Google updates that change the status of sites in rankings. When first instituted, the update is usually “rough” and takes down more sites than was probably intended. Google does a damage assessment, tweaks the algorithm, and some sites get their ranking status back. It appears they may have done that with the Authorship purge as well.
Here is another bit of evidence that some hostages were let go:
Some of the queries that Pete Meyers listed in his Moz post as no longer showing any Authorship results now have at least a few, for example, here’s one that now shows on the first page in a search for “Crohn’s disease” for which Moz’s metrics earlier this month showed no Authorship results.
Chron's disease google authorship result
I still see some authors being held hostage who probably shouldn’t be, and even some crazy anomalies that just can’t be right. One example is Perficient Digital’s own Eric Enge. As I expected, I found all his Authorship to be intact after the December purge. Eric has a sterling reputation in our industry. He writes very popular and widely quoted and linked-to content, and only on the highest quality sites. But then I found one inexplicable hole: his authorship results for his posts at Copyblogger have completely disappeared.  Copyblogger is a highly respected site, and everyone else who uses Authorship there seems to still have it in search. But not Eric. It’s totally without reason that I can see. I’m hoping future adjustment to the Authorship algorithm will correct such oversights. (Eric notes: “me too!”)

Some Ransom Notes

More breaking news on the Authorship kidnappings! We’ve heard from the kidnappers (Google).
As is common with Google, their messages are cryptic. But let’s see if they confirm some of what our investigation has turned up so far.
Ransom Note #1: Delivered to Search Engine Watch
Jennifer Slegg of Search Engine Watch got Google to make some statements about the Authorship reduction.  Go to her post to read their full quotes, but here are my takeaways:

  • “…we rolled out new algorithms designed to show author photos when they’re more likely to be relevant and interesting.” This could be, at least partially, a reference to the query-dependent reductions uncovered by Pete Meyers we discussed above.
  • “…the algorithms now try to estimate the quality of documents an author typically writes.” So “document quality” (whatever that means) is a factor. Could Google be applying some of the content quality algorithms they developed for updates like Panda to Authorship?
  • The comment about what “an author typically writes” is intriguing as well. Is that an indication that some kind of author score was developed, based on overall content quality? Does that mean some authors, based on their track record, are more likely to have author photos showing than others? The anonymous Google spokesperson went on to say, “If an author typically writes high-quality content, that author is more likely to be relevant to you.”
  • “We also rely on social signals designed to show you author portraits for the people you’ve circled on Google+.” This we’ve definitely seen. If you have lots of Google Authorship-using authors in your Google+ circles, you will see more Authorship results in your personalized (logged in to your Google account) search, and you’ll see some who aren’t getting such results in “regular” (non-logged in) search results.

Ransom Note #2: Delivered by Googler John Mueller
John Mueller is Webmaster Trends Analyst for Google Webmaster Tools, and has become beloved for his highly informative weekly “office hours hangouts” on Google+ Hangouts On Air, where he answers questions from his audience.
In last week’s office hours hangout, my friend Joshua Berg asked a series of questions about the recent changes in Authorship. You can hear those questions and John Mueller’s responses in the video below. He starts talking about Authorship at 53:30 into the video (so advance it to that point), but Joshua’s interesting follow-up questions start at 59:36):

First Joshua asks, “Is it safe to assume that the quality and authority of the website is a contributing factor in showing Authorship results?” John responds with several factors that could affect whether an Authorship result is shown:

  • Is the author someone that Google recognizes as someone they “should show in search in general.”
  • Does the person searching know this author? (I.e., are they in their Google+ circles.)
  • Is the content high quality?
  • Is it published on sites that are known for publishing high-quality content?

John summarized by saying that “all of those things sort of come together naturally to let us know that you’re an author of high-quality content.”
Joshua then commented that he had seen situations (as have I) where Authorship shows for a particular author for some sites on which he has published but not on others. John responded that “that’s definitely possible.” He also noted that it’s possible it “varies depending on the query” (confirming what Pete Meyers of Moz had seen).
So to sum up, it sounds like any or all of the following now come into play in determining when, where, and for what an Authorship result is shown in search:

  • Author reputation (a trust score of some sort?)
  • Relationship to the searcher (but only in personalized search)
  • Content quality
  • Site authority and trust level
  • Query suitability

Let’s take a deeper look at each of those. But in order to do that, I first will call another witness!

We Hear from the Victims!

Yes, you heard it right. We managed to establish a line of communication with some of the Google Authorship kidnapping victims. We reached them via my Google Authorship and Author Rank community on Google+. I asked the almost 18,000 members there to get in touch with me if they were sure that they had seen some change in the amount and/or way their Authorship was showing in search since December. I also asked to hear from others who (like myself) had seen little or no change.
I heard from several dozen members who told me, often in great detail, what results they were seeing before and after the December reduction. I’ve spent the past month combing through the various sites in their G+ Contributor To links, looking at their content, the link graphs to that content and the sites it’s published on, and how their results are showing in search for various queries. I would now like to bring that testimony together with the Google statements and other data we’ve already seen, and give my opinion on each of the Authorship criteria I pulled from the Google statements.
I want to emphasize first that everything that follows is my subjective opinion. It has been very difficult to nail down hard data on this. But I believe I have now spent more hours investigating this than anyone else likely has, I’ve looked at data from many different sources (as you’ve seen), and I have the experience I’ve gained from nearly three years of observing and testing how Google uses Authorship. So, take my opinions for what you think they’re worth 😉 Also, I’m going to leave out personalization and query factors as I think we’ve already established those as definite instigators.

Common Factors in Loss of Authorship in Search:

Factor 1: Author Reputation

My author rep is solid as stone!

This one is bound to be the most controversial, because in my experience, as soon as I even raise the possibility that Google may be using some kind of author trust scoring, a number of people begin to shout, “Author Rank!” Author Rank has become kind of the Holy Grail of Google Authorship for some advocates. It’s the idea, based on some old Google patents and intriguing but somewhat ambiguous statements from Googlers that Google will someday rank author’s content based on a topical authority score.
The basic concept of Author Rank is that wherever Google has the ability to verify (or at least have high confidence about) the authorship of a piece of content, that content would be parsed for its topicality, and then the social and other signals around that content, combined with all the other topically-related content from that author, would be combined into a topic authority score for that author, which in turn could be used to boost the ranking power of his or her content in search.
Disputing about whether or not some kind of Author Rank is in effect would go way beyond the scope of this article, so I’m not going to get deep into that subject. And I don’t think we need to be thinking Author Rank (necessarily) in order to talk about some kind of Author reputation/trust evaluation in effect.
So. Google says that they look at the quality of documents the author typically writes. What have I seen in my sample of “victims”?
As I’ve looked across my sample, it does indeed appear that in some cases there are authors who seem virtually impervious to Authorship kidnapping. These authors seemed to maintain their Authorship results for nearly everything they’ve written connected to Authorship, regardless of the site. In every case that I saw, these were authors who had the following:

  • A reputation for high-quality content
  • A long history of publishing such content
  • Content that consistently get lots of social shares and attracts plenty of quality links.

While it’s impossible to map out an exact list of factors that typify such authors, the characteristics I just mentioned are almost invariably present.
I’ll also add for the Author Rank crowd that I could find no evidence of any kind of topical authority at play in this. If an author is “non-kidnappable,” then her content tends to show a full Authorship result no matter the topic of the content.
So first conclusion: there does appear to be some kind of Authorship reputation score, but it only helps the highest-reputation authors.

Factor 2 & 3: Content Quality and Site Reputation

This is spam!!!!!

I’ve combined factors 2 and 3 because I found them to be so interwoven that it was nearly impossible to assess them separately.
In my survey of the sample authors, I came across many instances of sites (publishers) that seemed to have lost Authorship results (or had them severely reduced) for all authors on the site. In other words, to all appearances, the site lost Authorship privileges. Something about the site itself seemed to cause Google to take away Authorship in search results for any of its content.

I’ve also found a number of examples where Authorship is being shown partially for a site. This occurs in one of two ways:

  1. Some authors on the site get Authorship results, while others don’t. I want to qualify here that I am speaking only about authors for whom Authorship is properly set up for their content on the site and whose content verifies for Authorship setup in Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.
  2. Some pages or content on the site that used to show Authorship in results no longer do, but other pages or content still do.

Note: some sites show a mix of those two effects.
Bill Hartzer has suggested that the link graph of a site or individual page in a site might be the determining factor. I suspected this as well, but can’t find a strong enough correlation consistently between the Moz, Ahrefs, and MajesticSEO rankings for these sites and pages that lost or kept Authorship results to say that this is the only factor. It may certainly come into play, but if so is only one of a number of factors.
Conclusion two: There is a site and content quality (publisher) aspect to the loss of Authorship results.
While it’s difficult to nail down what that aspect entails, and there are exceptions to every pattern I saw, I think the following are true on the whole:

  1. Sites with higher domain authority, a long history with Google, that have never been penalized, and that consistently publish high quality content from highly-reputable authors, tend to have a better chance of having all or most Authorship results show for qualified content.
  2. Individual content pages within a site that do not conform to Google’s guidelines for Authorship as expressed in the Google Authorship FAQ published last fall are more likely to have lost their Authorship in search. Similarly, authors for whom most or all of their Authorship was connected to such non-conforming pages were more likely to have lost Authorship results. Pay particular attention to guidelines 1 and 7, as they seem most pertinent.
  3. In some cases, content that is newer and/or has a weaker link graph pointing to it may be less likely to display Authorship, but the evidence for this is weaker than the other two.

One overall observation: While I obviously think there are multiple factors that contribute to earning or losing one’s Authorship results, I do NOT think they are all equal. From my observations, publisher factors are more important than author factors, at least for now. That is, it appears Google went after the “low hanging fruit” in terms of what is already easy for them to do: assessing site and content quality. Grading authors is a lot tougher. I think they are beginning to do it, but it’s not as big a factor. For now.

Recovering the Victims

Why Did Author Images Disappear from Google Search for Some Authors?
So, we’ve established that a “crime” took place (the kidnapping of some Authorship results in search), identified the suspects (Matt Cutts and the Google search quality teams, who were concerned about a glut of Authorship in search and wanted to pare it back to improve quality), and we’ve identified the likely characteristics of kidnap victims.
What about bringing some of those victims back home?
Based on what I’ve observed, I make the following recommendations to anyone either looking to get back home after being Authorship kidnapped, or to anyone who would like to build toward an immunity to such kidnapping in the future.
1. Publish only on high quality, trusted sites.
It’s an old saw that “you are known by the company you keep,” but it’s certainly truer in online content and SEO all the time. Authorship comes with its privileges, but it also means that Google is better able to track not only what you write and how it’s received, but where you choose to publish. If you seek out publishing on low-quality sites, what does that say about you? Here’s a rule of thumb: any site that would let you publish on it without any check of your work or reputation, don’t go there.
This just in from the news desk! As I was preparing this post for publication, Google’s Matt Cutts released  a new blog post titled “The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO.” While it’s primarily a rant about the too-widespread practice of churning out endless low-quality guest posts that have no reason to exist other than to create links back to a site, we should see this as yet another sign that Google is serious about going after low-quality content and the sites who publish it. You don’t want your Authorship anywhere near that sort of stuff.
2. Create quality over quantity.
Stop worrying about how much you write and how many different places, and concentrate more on producing content that serves a genuine purpose, that stands out and says something unique and worthwhile, that is truly helpful or answers a question in a way no one else has already done. Above all, as my friend AJ Kohn says, be memorable.
While I’m mentioning AJ, he’s a great example of quality over quantity paying off. He hasn’t guest posted in years, and even on his own blog (Blind Five Year Old) he puts up a post on average just once a month. But every single one is epic. They’re all knocking it out of the park with content. But AJ has no problem ranking well in search, gets plenty of traffic, has no lack of clients for his business, and gets invited to speak at top conferences. I’m not saying you need to imitate his practices, but you sure could learn a lot from him. (A great read from AJ and apropos to this article: “Build Your Authority, Not Your Author Rank.”
3. Be careful where you connect your Authorship.
We’ve seen some evidence that users are losing Authorship in search results if they have connected their Authorship to pages on sites that do not contain content that Google considers Authorship-worthy. Your best guide here is the aforementioned Google Authorship FAQ, again in particular questions #1 and #7.
4. Build and nurture your social networks.
From everything Google has been saying for the past several years, it is clear that they are going to judge you by the company you keep, not only in terms of publishing sites, but the social circles in which you hang. Already we’ve seen that in Google’s own social network, Google+, profiles gain varying levels of authority, and that authority is in part determined by the trustworthiness and authority of the others who engage with that profile.
But more importantly, your social network is your reputation builders. If you’ve worked hard at building a network of real relationships, made up of influential friends and enthusiastic fans, they will be sharing and engaging with your content. They’ll make it known to others, creating a growing layer of positive social signals all around you. At Pubcon last October Matt Cutts said that social signals are for long-term benefit. Over the years, if you are continually and consistently getting lots of positive engagement with your content, you will be more likely to become one of those impermeable authors I wrote about above.
Final word: If you’re a Google Authorship kidnap victim (or just haven’t even gotten on their radar yet), I want to hold out some hope. I am confident this Authorship update is not static. That is, it’s not some permanent box you’ve been sealed into. You can break free and become a highly-visible author, but like anything worthwhile, it may take time. Keep working at it, be consistent, keep your standards high. We’ll have a welcome home party once you’ve arrived.

Photo credit: Cat meme photo by Byron Chin. Used according to a Creative Commons attribution license.

About the Author

Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.

More from this Author

Thoughts on “The Great Google Authorship Kidnapping: What Happened to Your Author Photo in Search?”

  1. I saw this whilst building a twitter feed of the PYB moderators. David Amerland had posted about it,…so with you two involved, I obviously wanted to read it. It’s a great post, and based on what I’ve experienced, very correct. Some of my clients who create quality content at a snails pace fared better than those that post images of their lunchroom burger. Those that do both… didn’t experience much difference. Thanks for the time you took in putting this together. I appreciate it.

  2. Something to think about:
    If Google is trying to limit the number of “rich snippets” per page, as it appears to be doing, your search ranking may have a big influence on whether you get a photo and byline. Let’s say one of your articles ranks on page 1 of a SERP for a given search query. So does an article by John Doe. If John Doe has more authorship oomph than you do, from Google’s point of view, you might have a better chance of getting a photo and byline by ranking on page 2 or 3 of the results for that query.
    Side note: For the search queries that I watch from time to time, most author photos are way down in the SERPs. In one particular case, I always see an author photo and byline on page 1, but I sometimes have to drill down four or five pages in the search results to see another author photo. This makes it pretty clear that author photos and bylines have more to do with Google’s UI algorithm than with the factors that go into search rankings.

  3. Hi Mark,
    Great article. Cant’s say that I see anything in here that I don’t agree with. I also have spend hours analysing the authorship. Even though not as thouroughly research as you did I have seen enough to be able to have a idea of what is going on.
    I also have seen that in different languages the results differ for per queries for which the author the pic is shown. The same query with the language set to Dutch does not per se show the same result as when set to English.
    PS. I also lost all pics for my blog (we have discussed this but for the record) but not for some domains I guest blog on with long domain history and very high domain authority. This seems to correspond with this assessment.
    Keep up the great work and thanks again.
    Gr Daniel Mulder

  4. Mark, author trust is author rank. Author score is author rank, What ever you want to call it, Google is evaluating authors and ranking accordingly.

  5. Great points, Durant. It makes sense that there would now actually be a snippet competition on the first page if snippets are being limited. That’s why I’m telling people in conversations that they should be aware that results are also query dependent, and it’s possible any given piece of their content may show Authorship for some queries but not for others. Snippet competition could be one reason for that.

  6. Al,
    Author trust is NOT author rank. Author rank would mean Google is using some form of author data to affect search rankings. There is no evidence of that. Zero. Zip. As I’ve explained to you many, many times elsewhere, your little anecdotes do not constitute evidence because they are a) not reproducible by others and b) able to be explained by other existing means, as was explained to you by many experienced SEOs in the Authorship community (whose explanations you never once responded to).
    The author trust rating of which I speak in this post is NOT “author rank” because it has nothing to do with search rankings. If it exists at all, it appears at this point that Google is only using it to decide to what extent they will show an author’s photo in search, in combination with other factors mentioned.

  7. wow, who knew! I have been hanging out on FB biz page to long! I need to spend more quality time on g+ with braniacs @stonetempleconsulting !

  8. Mark,
    I thank you for conducting this exhaustive study. I have personally experienced some combination of hijacking and am grateful to read the why’s and how’s. I look forward to a brighter future where we all have a face.
    Best to you.

  9. Shelley, make sure you are checking while not logged in to your G+ account. If you search logged in, Google will show you authorship results differently than it does to the rest of the world.

  10. Thanks Mark, and love the “investigative report” style blog post, very creative.
    I’d like to know this, with such a huge feature (AuthorRank) that has been alluded to so many times by members of G, why don’t they just come forward and announce that the feature is being developed like other companies? Or if not, deny it. Why so secretive? It’s not like the patent hasn’t already been reverse-engineered / analyzed a 1000 times anyway.
    I didn’t lose authorship completely but it did disappear for a few posts, which really baffles me. Am I a shady author or not? Is it a shady domain or not?
    Also very odd the fact that certain SERPs seem to be restricting the amount of rich snippets. I know for a fact I’ve seen SERPs with 8/10 results to be a rich result of some sort.
    On the other hand, its been mentioned many times that Google builds key features into the algorithm (not just the ranking part of the algorithm) as an attempt to throw people off – so maybe that is what some of this is!

  11. Thanks for another monster post, Mark! I’ve also noticed that my authorship snippets have disappeared from some of the lower quality sites I contribute to, although it continues to show for most other sites.
    I wonder if it would be a good idea to disconnect my authorship for the sites that Google apparently thinks are low quality, in case they might somehow damage my overall “author score”? Or do you think it’s fine to have a few sites in your profile for which snippets don’t show up?

  12. Once again, Google thing. First they release a feature and then tighten it to remove spam or low quality snippets. Looks like they are giving some rank to authors internally.
    Another factor as described above is the quality of site on which we are posting content. This have something to do with low quality guest posting going around. Nonetheless, awesome and quality writers will always win the game.

  13. Wonderfully written and informative ~ thank you! I have been kidnapped, but only partially. Timing is everything, and this one was disastrous as my site was having a problem I was unaware of. E-Gads! It is fixed now but, sadly, I think it contributed to the kidnapping.
    Hopefully as I continue down the road I will be released from the grasp of the kidnappers 🙂

  14. Hi Mark, Last year you might remember that I wrote about how the Authorship for YouTube disappeared. At the time your commented that Google is constantly testing the Authorship on YouTube but I tend to disagree.
    As a long time blogger I always felt like have a Gravatar in the comment section was important. Way before there was Google+ or any talk about Google Authorship, I blogged about the importance of having a Gravatar. I’m really surprised to see that your Gravatar isn’t showing here. I think it’s more important to see the Gravatar on a blog post than it is to to see it appear in search. But as I’m writing this comment I don’t see my Gravatar in the preview below.
    Hope it shows up when I hit “post comment” 🙂

  15. I’ll respectfully disagree with you on whether Gravatars in comments are more important than Google+ profile photos in search 😉
    As for my gravatar here, I attempted to set it up when I started blogging here this week, but it’s not working. Back to the drawing board!

  16. Mark, the Gravatar finally kicked in 🙂
    Here’s my logic, even if we don’t show up in search – the one place above all others that we need to “show-up” is on our home base.
    Nice to see you here.

  17. Well, I have no argument with that!
    I finally figured out that I had to go back to my gravatar account, choose my Perficient Digital email address, and activate a photo. Glad to have a face again!

  18. Thanks for all these details, I have noticed most of my posts are no longer showing authorship. I’m glad they are still showing it for people that are in circles (at least for now) because it helps pick out useful information that my friends have shared. They needed to find some way to get us over to G+ and actually use it and this might be it 🙂

  19. Thanks Mark! Your in-depth analysis is awesome.
    I also set Google authorship somewhere in 2013, and it worked well till the end of 2013 (such a unique story, huh 🙂 ).
    On my blog I also have schema org mark-up for rating a post (the mark-up is just a bonus to a plugin allowing to rate a post). It was implemented ages ago and co-existed well with authorship: only the latter was seen in my snippets.
    What I have now: the photo was replaced by ratings in snippets for all pages, except for the main and about. I tried to turn off those ratings for 2 weeks and hoped that the photo will show up. But it didn’t worked. So I turned on the ratings again.
    The Structured data tool shows the ratings in the preview as well as states that the authorship is found.
    Could ratings kind of override the authorship? What do you think about it?

  20. Hi Kristina, I’m always a bit reluctant to try to diagnose an individual case, but I don’t think your ratings (if properly implemented and being used for legitimate reasons) should be a problem. Google should be able to handle more than one kind of markup on a page.

  21. I found this article while investigating my own Google Authorship demotion. Thank you for writing it, it’s been really helpful!
    One of the most popular articles I’ve written is on “how to get your face to show up in Google search results”, and one of my commenters pointed out that my own photo was no longer displaying by the result for that article (how very meta). I didn’t understand what was wrong because I had been given second class status, as you referred to it. My profile link was there, but no photo.
    After using the structured data testing tool, it was confusing because the results were that everything was correct and my photo also showed up in their example of my content, but there was a note that said that photos were only going to be displayed if they were “useful” to the user, which made me wonder what made a photo “useful” in the context of search results. It made me wonder if Google is trying to weed out clicks that they feel are disproportionally driven by someone’s image. If you have any thoughts on that theory, would you be so kind as to share them?
    Thanks again for the well researched piece, it was very helpful.

  22. I’d heard about this but tonight is the first time I decided to check on it for myself. I tested posts for two of my blogs and luckily I haven’t lost my authorship. Then again, I’ve been writing one of those blogs for 7 years and the other for 9 years, so maybe I’ve built up enough good press with them; whew! 🙂

  23. Great question Kaitlin. It’s always hard to know exactly what Google means when they use vague terms like “quality” and “useful.” In this case, I would take useful to translate to “whenever all the factors in our highly complex algorithm, based on extensive testing, determine that this would be a useful result for a particular user for a particular query at a particular time, combined with the overall relevancy of the particular result to the query.”
    Or something 😉
    But your speculation that “Google is trying to weed out clicks that they feel are disproportionally driven by someone’s image” is intriguing. Always possible, but nearly impossible to prove from our end.

  24. Mitch, that very well might be a factor. It’s now guarantee (you can’t sit back and rest on your domain authority), but it’s well known that Google likes sites that have a long, good history.
    That being said, Matt Cutts just this past week put out a video where he said that if a site stops being updated (both in content and user interface), it can indeed begin to fall out of favor with Google, no matter how long its been around.

  25. I was a victim of the first change and lost my authorship. I made some changes to webmaster tools and my website and after a week or so I had my authorship back across the website.
    Yesterday, I lost it again on my most content rich – most powerful website and yet authorship is still showing on a 7 page website I have which is pretty basic.
    Quite annoying as there’s a direct drop in my traffic when authorship is removed.
    Thanks for the post though it made me understand what’s going on much better.

  26. Just as we get clients woken up to the importance of actually starting to build up their authorship! In many ways it’s good that Google have raised the bar, as otherwise it will just be another spammed feature. Most of your commentors seem to be fairly big wheels; has anybody dug into how this plays out at the more local level with little guys like me and my clients? I haven’t noticed much change, but Cumbria is a bit of a backwater 😉

  27. Ray, I see examples all the time of people who are doing well with authorship in smaller niches. It’s not necessarily about being “big.”
    Also never discount the value of personalized search. If you are building decent Google+ authority, your content may show higher in results for people who follow you, and you may show Authorship for them even if you’re not currently showing it in global search.

  28. Good point about the personalisation Mark. Even though it’s the smallest pie slice on David Mihm’s overview of Local Ranking Factors from last summer, that’s still one of the top 8 factors out of 200 and it is easy to forget how high up the influence hierarchy it is. All the best and thanks again.

  29. True Ray, but every indication is that more and more people each year use the web while logged in to a Google account. When you combine that with the way that Google has been pushing people into G+ accounts, it appears personalization will only grow as an important factor.

  30. Nearly impossible to avoid being logged in somewhere 😉 Set up Places for a new client today who had no Google in him at all and although it looked as if we were going to get into a plain ole google account… when the dust settled it was a Google Plus Local Page. Not complaining as we all like to use the freebies that have become so ubiquitous.

  31. Yeah I am also a victim of this. I had a photo showing in SERPs and then suddenly it stooped showing, I thought it was a temporary problem but now it seams impossible to get out of it.

  32. Authorship doesn’t matter me anymore. I had website with authorship and still I know lots of websites without having any authorship is ranking well on Google. I don’t care of such Google updates which just make web masters foolish.

  33. AA4, it is true that Authorship does not (yet) affect rankings, and that you don’t have to have it to rank, now or in the future, but it will be a competitive advantage to those who can become trusted authors in Google’s eyes.

  34. Kamran, not impossible. I know people who have already recovered just by making sure their authorship is not connected to non-content pages on their site. For others, it will take longer, but whatever you do to more and more become a valued authority by real people in your field can only benefit your goals.

  35. One thing I’ve noticed in my own case:
    Author photos and bylines disappeared from the SERPs for my main site,, way back in early 2013 (probably around the same time that Barry Schwarz lost his).
    – I still get rich snippets for my posts at, and…
    – I get rich snippets for articles on a new site,, that was launched about three weeks ago.
    From that experience, I might wonder if our primary domain is getting the middle-finger treatment from Google, except for one thing: Pages from that domain tend to rank far better on Google than pages on and do. If the algorithm that serves up “author snippets” DOES think has bad breath, it’s at odds with the ranking algorithm.

  36. Durant, of course, I can’t say for sure, but some things that could be factors, keeping in mind that there may be some overlap between search ranking factors and Authorship display factors, but the latter is likely to have its own unique factors,
    1. The site doesn’t have a constant flow of new content. We are currently testing a theory that authors who are regularly and recently publishing new content may have an advantage for displaying authorship.
    2. A lot (but not all) of the content on the site is rather brief.
    3. The content is mostly informational, not giving a unique, editorial-style take on a topic.
    Again, we really don’t know if any of those are actual factors, but I’m observed them as common to many (but not all!) sites that lost Authorship snippets.
    Also, have you checked our Google Webmaster Tools Author Stats? If impressions for are showing there, it is possible that it is being shown to some users for queries that you aren’t checking.

  37. Actually, Mark, our main site has more new content in a typical year than the blog does (several hundred pages, on average), and most of the content is anything BUT brief. (The average article is far longer than the average post on our blog or the average page on our new QuickVenice site, which is aimed at the Cliff’s Notes audience.)
    And while the content on is informational, it’s certainly “authored” in the same way that, say, a Rick Steves guidebook is “authored.” I’m the guy giving the advice–or, in some instances, the in-depth reviews–and the text is written with a distinctive point of view.
    Even weirder, to my mind, is the fact that has far more inbound link authority than the blog and the new site do: It has links from the likes of the BBC, Die Zeit, the Washington Post and Forbes (in fact, WaPo and Forbes named it a “Best of the Web” travel site).
    And now for some pure conjecture: One possible reason for the disappearing “author snippets” could be the fact that the site has many, many pages with my byline, and that may have triggered some sort of Google Authorship “skepticism signal.” Still, the bylines are legit: The site dates back to 1997 (2001 at its current domain), and I’ve written a lot of articles over the last 17 years–many of which are still online with occasional to frequent updating.
    At any rate, it does seem odd to me that the most authoritative site wouldn’t have author snippets most of the time while the much newer blog and the brand-new “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version” site do.
    Re WMT: Yes, I’ve checked WMT, and while there are a few impressions for our main site’s pages here and there, the vast majority of the impressions are from our blog.

  38. OK, you’ve got me stumped! But it won’t be the first site that’s inexplicable.
    I kind of doubt that there is a “too much authorship by X” penalty. I see plenty of sites with tons of content over many years from one author that still get authorship displayed.

  39. I have a bit of a unique problem with Google Authorship. I have 200+ Google followers, articles on high profile sites in my industry (that get plenty of likes + shares) and the structured data tool is showing that everything’s A-OK with my authorship. But my picture still doesn’t appear in any search results, nor do I get that “second class” tidbit. What could be the problem?

  40. Im having the same problem and cant figure it out how to get back the Authorship on Google results. It just looks like, no matter what I do, it just wont show up anymore.
    I have done it all there is I can do, so I just wait until it will show up on results.
    Good luck to you Sherice,
    If anyone has an idea, I would appreciate it. Thanks

  41. Have you considered topical authority of a site in determining whether to show author snippet for posts about topics (or for authors who write about topics) in which the site may not have a high authority? Copyblogger may be seen as high authority on content marketing & copywriting but not SEO hence Eric not getting a snippet there?

  42. When authorship first showed up, I was surprised because Google had added my Google Plus photo to articles all over the Internet–even when I didn’t have the domain listed as a contributor on my Google Plus page, nor did I have an email address . I wondered if someone had manually verified them, because how else would they have known that it was me? Lately, though, I’ve been demoted to a 2nd-tier author (my name shows but my photo doesn’t) and I have no authorship snippets at all on sites (including CNN) that I previously had a photo. Doesn’t make sense because I assume that’s a trusted site.

  43. Hi,
    thanks for the great post. In response to Kristina’s mail on the 26th of Jan I see the same thing using Joomla/EasyBlog. If I turn on ratings for a post then the photo disappears (when testing with the richsnippets tool). If I disable the ratings the photo reappears. It seems Google may be using this as another way to filter out too many author photos?

  44. Now its working again, I believe that they did a test and it didn’t give the right result, that Google was expecting. Thank God its up again, because I was loosing a lot of traffic. The Author markup really helps, and I think that Google realizes that its great for user experience.
    Thanks for the great article Mark.

  45. Oskars there has been no overall change that we can discern. The Moz features graph shows it still hovering around 21% where it has been since it dropped in December (
    However, we have heard of individual cases of people getting their author photo back for several months now. Sometimes that can be because of a tweak to the algorithm, in others it is probably because you improved in some way that got you qualified again.
    But no, they have not reneged on limiting authorship snippets in general.

  46. Still struggling here.
    I have the snippets and no photo. I find it odd that the only other person writing about Lake Powell Real Estate does not write any of her own content (has a guest blogger) and yet… yes, you guessed it – her photo is there.
    I’ve always written high quality content and not participated in any link games so I am not sure what my drop was. The two things I can think is I did have authorship on the static listing pages I build so I have removed that. One other issue was after an update a year ago my log in to my site changed, and good heavens, I did not realize I was writing under a different name. I went back and corrected all of the wrong posts. Waiting and Writing 🙂

  47. Hi Heather,
    While my article sets out the general trends I observed across hundreds of authorship profiles, there were outliers and anomalies in every case. It’s unfortunately impossible to diagnose any particular case. My observations here are generalities based on overall observations, but it is impossible to know exactly what factors are in the very complex rich snippets algorithm.
    The other thing to note is that like most algo updates, Google is tinkering with the rich snippets update all the time. Over the months since January we have seen people come and go as far as author photos in the SERPs. All I can say is keep producing quality, try to increase your audience, and keep plugging away. You particularly want to be doing as much as possible to build the authority of your content pages by attracting high quality links. We don’t know exactly what it is, but there is some tipping point where you begin to look trustworthy enough to Google that they start showing your author photo consistently.

  48. “there is some tipping point where you begin to look trustworthy enough to Google that they start showing your author photo consistently.”
    It still doesn’t make sense to me that my author photo should be shown consistently for my low-traffic blogs and a brand-new site while they aren’t shown at all for an editorial site that is older, more established, far more popular, and higher-ranking in Google’s search results (especially when the site was one of the first to receive “rich snippets” several years ago when Google Authorship went public).

  49. Durant, all I can say is that like all Google algorithm updates designed to try to improve overall quality in search, this one isn’t perfect. There are always outliers and anomalies left behind after any update. For example, Google’s Penguin update did indeed wipe out huge swaths of spammy and blackhat sites from the results, but it is quite possible to still find such ranking high depending on the query.

  50. From past few months I have tried all the stuffs but still not able to get back the author pic. I get an error message in rich snippets tool (Email verification has not established authorship for this webpage.). But i have verified, is there anything i can do, kindly help me out.

  51. Balu, recently Google removes all author photos from non-personalized search. Are you getting a byline in results for any of your content? Be sure to check while logged out of your Google+ account.

  52. Can be frustrating making all the efforts to please Google, especially when they keep changing the rules. I sense I’ve somehow made it to one of their “blacklists” for something I’ve done, like clicking on my own post in search results.
    It’s become a concern mostly because they seem to have a smug attitude that this is their internet and we just use it. Okay, I get it, your search engine is the mostly popular in the world, but that adds more reason for some degree of integrity, transparency and customer service.

  53. Thank you! It’s very interesting! But a few words about Google authorship .. google creates a new algorithm for the CEO blogs. to a phased the ranking of blogs on ranking Athor. I think this is a new stage in the development of search engine

  54. Authorship doesn’t make a difference to me any longer. I had a site with authorship, and still, I know loads of sites without having any initiation is positioning great on Google. I couldn’t care less of such Google refreshes which simply make website admins stupid.

  55. If you’re saying that people tend to spend too much time thinking about Google, instead of creating great web sites and content, I agree with you!

  56. In case you’re stating that individuals have a tendency to invest excessively energy contemplating Google, rather than making awesome sites and substance, I concur with you!

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