For those who are unfamiliar, Google Authorship is a way to link the content you create with a Google+ profile, displaying your headshot and Google+ Circle count next to your content in Google’s SERPs. Google Authorship began in 2011 and was great for business and marketers, however Google rocked the search world on the 25th of June 2014, when Google’s very own John Mueller announced the removal of Authorship images from SERPs.

"Just after we optimised our Google+ accounts"; cries out the search community! This announcement may have come as a shock, however in January, Authorship results were cut by 20-40%, whilst the 22nd of May saw Authorship images drop out of SERPs for three hours. This was previously assumed to be a bug however it has now been regarded as a test by Google.

Google Authorship

Previously, if you were an author seeking to build a reputation in your field, Google Authorship was one of the best ways to grow your Author Rank. In a bid to instill user trust, increase relevance, ensure quality content stands out and remove the idea of a faceless web, Google not only valued those with Authorship (featuring an up-to-date headshot and profile) but positioned them higher on SERPs as a reward.

An additional incentive to sign up to Google Authorship was the ‘bounce back rate’ - providing a searcher stays on an authored page for one minute or more followed by a return to SERPs, they would be presented with additional content from the same author - great for CTR. The success of Authorship images and annotations seemed evident - before the recent changes, Cyrus Shepard increased traffic 35% through profile photo optimisation whilst a study showed results with social annotations receiving higher CTR’s than those without.

Google takes the stand...

In announcing the changes, John Mueller stated they are looking to visually clean up search results to “create a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices”. As we know, Google are huge fans of mobile and after recognising this is where many users are present and active, their reasoning becomes clear. John Mueller has stated the CTR will remain ‘about the same’ however, there is no certainty as to what this means as the removal of Authorship images are still relatively new.

What's the search community saying about it?

With every change to Google there is always some controversy and speculation, and unsurprisingly, this is no different. In recent days the change has sparked some slightly dubious online conversations with regards to the overall motive, with many focusing on the uncertainty regarding CTR. When introduced back in 2011, Google stated Authorship photos would attract a user more than plain text counterparts, in turn generating higher clicks to websites, which has since proven true. With this in mind, it is evident why Google’s Shopping Ads are featured with product photos as they are more appealing to the eye and aesthetically descriptive. However, with Google now stating CTR would remain ‘about the same’, many critics are branding the organisation untrustworthy.

Furthermore, critics (including Moz’s Rank Fishkin) have stated the recent move is to protect its ad revenues, as authorised organic listings in SERPs were becoming more appealing than paid ads. This change indicates users’ eyes will not be drawn to organic listings, instead will focus on the paid listings, in turn, generating cash flow for Google.

Finally, some critics believe the introduction of Google Authorship images into SERPs was a ploy from the start, to encourage sign-up to Google+, with many vowing now to never use the networking platform again.

However, despite the speculation Google Authorship is still pertinent to your search marketing strategy and will continue to benefit business through the ranking the author receives.

What it means for business

This is not the death of Google Authorship and all authors will still receive a byline under the title stating their name linking to their Google+ profile. Although images and social annotations are no longer present, the introduction of Google’s latest algorithm, Panda 4.0, will recognise Author Rank with high quality content being rewarded.

As the removal of Authorship images is relatively new, only time will tell as to whether click through rate will remain around the same level, as Google have insinuated. We advise tracking your Authorship CTR using Google Labs within Webmaster tools, comparing to CTR before Authorship images were removed to monitor differences for yourself.

Moving forward with content marketing

The key thing to remember here is Google’s main focus is to enhance overall user experience by providing users with high quality, relevant content. Google does not redesign any of their features or formulas with the SEO professional in mind, it is the job of the SEO expert to keep up-to-date with all recent advances. Google’s latest algorithm, Panda 4.0 is the latest to watch - rewarding those with quality, original content.

Our top tips

  • Don't give up on Authorship just yet. If you haven't authorised your Google+ account in line with the website you write for it is still worth doing so.
  • Continue to stick to your content strategy and provide relevant content, which educates and engages your readers, encouraging repeat visitation.
  • Although it is advised to write your content with the reader in mind, optimising your content for the web is great for reaching out to new audiences. Try to get the right balance between optimising your content and keeping it natural and readable.

UPDATE: On the 28th of August 2014, Google's very own John Mueller announced Google was dropping the Authorship Program altogether. Find out more about this in our updated blog article here.