Content Marketing

Why Google Authorship Might Return – Here’s Why #43


Google Authorship was originally a way for online authors and publishers to link their content to their Google+ profiles so that Google could more readily associate their content with them. The added benefit of this experiment was that authors were given a rich snippet. A rich snippet provided the author’s image and byline and appeared directly in the search results.
In mid-2014, however, Google stopped showing Authorship results. After a recent announcement by a top Googler that site owners should keep the rel=author tags on their sites, could Authorship be making a comeback? In this episode of Here’s Why, Mark & Eric give you their predictions about the future of Google Authorship.

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Full Transcript:

Mark: Thank you! Thank you very much!
Eric: We’re Google Authorship!
Mark: And this is our big comeback tour!
Eric: Yeah, man, Google Authorship is back, baby!
Voice: Not so fast, boys!
Mark: Dude, who are you?
Voice: I’m the Great Tour Manager in the Sky, and I’m telling you your comeback may not be a sure thing, Google Authorship!
Eric: Before we dig into today’s topic, Mark, briefly explain what Google Authorship was.
Mark: Sure, Eric. Google Authorship was a three-year experiment by Google that encouraged online authors and publishers to link their content to their Google+ profiles so Google could identify the content associated with them. In return, Google said those authors might qualify to have an authorship rich snippet, the author’s profile image and byline, appear with search results for their content. In addition, Google said that at some point they might use authority data based on Authorship as a ranking factor in search, although we’re not sure they ever turned that on.
Eric: You speak about Authorship in the past tense, so what happened to it?
Mark: Google started ramping back on Authorship in search in December of 2013, saying that showing fewer Authorship results improved the quality of those results. Then in August 2014 I got a surprise phone call from Google’s John Mueller, who gave me 24-hour advance notice that Google was discontinuing Authorship completely. As you know, Eric, that enabled you and me to write an extensive article for Search Engine Land that went live two minutes after Google officially announced the end of Authorship.
Eric: And in that article you can find the reasons Google says like behind their ending of Authorship, along with a bit of our own educated speculation on additional reasons. Now, Mark, why over a year later are we hearing some rumbling about Authorship again?
Mark: At SMX East in October, Google spokesperson Gary Illyes shocked Danny Sullivan and the audience when he recommended that site owners keep the rel=author tag associated with Authorship on their site content, because it is possible Google could use it again. In the Twitter exchange you’re seeing now, I got Gary Illyes to clarify that it would likely take an increase in current usage of rel=author for Google to pay attention to it again.
Eric: So Mark, you studied Authorship more deeply than anyone else outside of Google. What do you think are the implications of Gary’s statements? Should we expect to see Authorship return?
Mark: My guess is no…at least, not in the same form we saw before. Let me provide my analysis. First, it’s important to note that Gary Illyes made no promise that authorship would return. To my ears, he was merely stating that webmasters should not remove a tag that causes no harm, and that it’s always possible that Google could make some use of it again.
But only possible. No promise. Second, the reasons why Authorship One, as I call it, failed still exist. It clutters up results where Google’s mobile-first initiative wants clean and simple, it calls more attention to results that Google can’t guarantee are higher quality than others on the page, and according to a study you ran, Eric, Authorship markup was often implemented incorrectly by those who did use it.
Eric: So is there any hope that Google will ever factor author authority into its search results?
Mark: Actually, I think there is. But I don’t think Authorship Two will look or work anything like Authorship One. Google is actively working on things that could overcome at least some of the problems associated with Authorship One. Specifically, I’m referring to their Knowledge Graph project, which seeks to identify entities, real-world people, places, things, and concepts, and understand how they relate to each other. That means that eventually, Google may be able to automate identifying real authors with their actual content across the web. For example, try searching “Who is Mark Traphagen?” on Google.
Eric: Who is Mark Traphagen?
Mark: Google responds with my Search Engine Land author bio. That means that Google has a high degree of confidence that I’m the Mark Traphagen you’re searching for, and that the Mark Traphagen who writes for Search Engine Land is me. Those kind of results are still spotty and sometimes inaccurate, but they show where Google is heading. So given those realities, here’s where I think Google might go with author authority in the future.
First, I believe it still matters to them. For at least a select group of respected writers and experts within a topic, it makes sense that Google would want to connect people with their content. Google spokespeople like Matt Cutts and others have said repeatedly that this would be a good thing for search. But notice that I talked about a “select group” of authors for a topic. I doubt that we will see again the land rush Google allowed with Authorship One, where virtually anyone and everyone could qualify to get a rich snippet result.
I believe that one of the lessons Google learned is that there is only value in boosting the very best authors on each topic; that’s all anyone cares about. Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if any future author authority boost would be highly personalized. That is, Google might keep track of subject matter experts that seem to matter to me, those whose content I come back to again and again when I search, or maybe even I share their stuff a lot, and boost their content for me when it is relevant to one of my searches.
Eric: Thanks, Mark. It will certainly be interesting to watch how author authority works out in the future. And it sounds like the advice I give all the time, “be an expert or go home,” is the best way to make sure whatever Google does in this area benefits your content.
Mark: I couldn’t agree more, Eric.
Eric: That’s it for this episode of Here’s Why.

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Thoughts on “Why Google Authorship Might Return – Here’s Why #43”

  1. Wasn’t Autorship killed (officially) because it was used wrong (thats what google said) all along the web and now (because @methode said) it may come back because it is still used on websites (in a correct way now???)? I would prefer a comeback of Autorship in a thinner way – I saw a lot of SERPs with 10 Autorimages. I wont see that again.
    I don’t believe that autorship would come back…
    I also think autor-authority is a factor in ranking.

  2. Andreas, many of your questions are answered in my article for Moz, the first one linked in the post above.
    Actually, the only public statements Google made about the end of Authorship were that 1) it didn’t seem to bring enough value to searchers and 2) it cluttered results too much given Google’s moves to simplify results as part of its “mobile first” initiative. No one at Google that I’m aware of said anything about the quality (or lack thereof) of the way people used Authorship. That idea came from a study conducted by Eric Enge that showed that a high percentage of authors and publishers, even on high profile sites, failed to implement Authorship markup correctly. He speculated that that may indeed have been an additional reason for Google to shut down Authorship, but no one at Google has publicly confirmed that.

  3. OK, thank you for the clarification. I have to admit, I saved your Mozpost to read it later, and I still didn’t had time for reading..

  4. Was kind of always expecting for it to come back, cause it look like they simply stopped it rather then getting rid of it. Probably was’t sure themselves what’s gonna happen with it.

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Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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