Google Authorship is a feature available to individuals on Google+. Since it first debuted, it’s been seen as a must-use feature for anyone with a content marketing strategy, but some recent changes to the feature have called its power into question. Google may be gradually stripping away the power of Google Authorship with a series of subtle changes, and if they are, you’ll need to adjust your strategy accordingly.
When Google Authorship was first rolled out in 2011, it seemed like a new and exciting concept. By connecting a Google+ account, writers could build their authority by connecting themselves to the pieces they wrote online, across any external sites. These articles would show up with the author’s headshot, name, and circle information, and over time, consistent authors would grow in authority and become more visible.
The system was well-received because it gave authors more power to build their reputations and increase the click-through rates of their articles on SERPs because of the accompanying image. Google Authorship was hailed as a breakthrough program, which would grow in power and significance over time. However, this may no longer be the case.
Since it debuted, Google has made a number of alterations to the display and significance of Google Authorship. It’s normal for Google to make revisions to its products and features, especially in their infancy, but these changes suggest a strong departure from previous speculations on the future of the program.
Back in June, Google’s John Mueller announced that Google would be eliminating both the profile photo and the displayed circle count from search results that feature a Google Author. Listings would still feature a clickable name of the Google Author responsible for the work, but the signature image would be gone. Mueller justified the change by calling it “less cluttered” and insisting that click-through rates were more or less the same for both the old and the new format.
At the beginning of August, Google rolled out another massive change. Back in 2011, Google launched a feature in Google Webmaster Tools known as “Author Stats,” which allowed Google Authors to see the impressions and click-through-rates of content they’ve written across multiple sites. Many users noticed these stats failing to update since July 9th. On August 4th, Google quietly removed this feature entirely.
However, there’s another interesting change that some authors have noted. If you are logged into your Google+ profile and you perform a search, Google Author images still do appear—but only for actual Google+ posts. It’s a potential sign that Google isn’t necessarily getting rid of Google Authorship entirely, but it is changing the way we use it.
There are several reasons that could be motivating Google’s seeming reduction of Google Authorship.
First, let’s believe John Mueller’s statement. It could be a simple matter of cleaning up the search engine results pages, allowing for a simpler, cleaner look. The new results entries do appear less cluttered than their older, image-laden counterparts, and if click-through rates are just as high for the imageless entries, there really isn’t an immediate disadvantage for the authors—at least not yet.
Google profile images have also been abused. Some businesses have had authorship displaying for their homepages, despite the fact that they hadn’t actually written anything. It’s a reasonable deduction; practically any time Google comes out with a new feature or a new algorithm change, people try their best to abuse it in order to gain more traffic. The entire concept of SEO is, on some level, a way of taking advantage of their system. All of Google’s search engine algorithm updates have been designed to move gradually from a system that can be taken advantage of to a system that objectively measures and ranks authority. The removal of the authorship image could just be an alternative way for Google to fight back against people taking advantage of the system.
Finally, the fact that profile images are still present for Google+ articles when you are logged into Google+ is a telling sign that Google is more interested in building the credibility of their own social network than they are building the credibility of their registered authors. It’s the latest step in a series of moves that have built up the power and significance of Google+. Despite the fact that it’s still lagging behind its competitors in terms of popularity, Google’s dominance over the web and commitment to encouraging Google+ articles suggests that Google+ will continue to grow whether you like it or not.
For writers who have invested heavily in Google Authorship, thinking of it as a powerful and long-term strategy, these changes are somewhat perplexing and disheartening. The entire concept of “Author Rank,” the level of authority Google gives an author based on the number of articles he/she has written and the amount of social influence he/she has, could be becoming obsolete. If, as a Google Author, you’ve spent the majority of your time writing for external sites in the hopes of building your overall credibility, the loss of Author Stats and profile visibility could be damaging. And if Google continues to diminish the power of non-Google+ Google Authorship, all that effort could be wasted.
There’s a lot of speculation surrounding these recent changes, but here’s what we know for sure: Google loves Google+, and will keep making efforts to increase its audience and reward its users. Even if Google Authorship for external sites dwindles away, the ranking potential and author credentials of Google Authors posting on Google+ will continue to grow.
If you’re looking to build your reputation as a writer, make sure you are using your Google+ profile and posting to it regularly. Already, posts on Google+ receive a ranking boost from Google, and if their pattern of behavior continues, that boost will only increase.
If you’ve been using Google Authorship on your business’s website for the sole purpose of generating more traffic, these changes aren’t good for you. If Google’s claims about click-through rates are true, you won’t have lost any traffic in the short-term, but if you were investing in Google Authorship as a long-term strategy, it may be time to switch gears. It’s uncertain whether there are more changes for Google Authorship in store, but for now it’s a wise decision to hedge your bets and start posting on Google+ more often as part of your content strategy.
Google is always updating things. New features and new products are being rolled out constantly, some of which are refined over and over again, and some of which are scrapped entirely. These recent changes to Google Authorship could be the beginning of the end of the entire concept, or they could just be a temporary step backward for the feature.
At only three years old, Google Authorship is still a fairly new concept. The past three years could have been a simple experiment to gather data about the feature and see if it’s worth developing further. As such, it’s hard to tell exactly what the future holds for Google Authorship, but the most significant takeaway is this: if you’re not yet actively posting on Google+, it’s time to start.