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The Death of Google Authorship - Long Live Authorship!

John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools announced in August that Google Authorship photos will stop being shown on results in Google Search, and Google will no longer track what sites are utilizing the rel=author markup. This announcement officially ends the speculation of how Google Authorship will be utilized in the future of natural search.

While the actual Google Authorship program dates back to 2007, Google spent a majority of the recent years deciphering what influence the Authorship program should have on the results. By the end of June 2014, Google had announced that they would be removing all authorship photos from Google Search results but leaving bylines for qualified authorship results, effectively removing the largest impact Google Authorship had to Google Search results:

Google's search results before the Authorship photo was removed

Figure 1: Authorship Example: "by Matt Cutts" and “More by Matt Cutts” are linked to more articles; Google+ profile image is located on the left

Within John Mueller’s post he provides some insight into why the project is now being cancelled altogether:

We've gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we've tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information. Unfortunately, we've also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we've made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results. 

(If you’re curious — in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads. We make these kinds of changes to improve our users’ experience.)

Google's new search results, without the Authorship photo

Figure 2: "Post-Authorship" Example: Author name and photo removed

John Mueller also points out towards the end of his statement that the use of Schema.org Structured Data will gain increased importance over time with Google. Schema.org markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of your web pages. The implementation of Schema.org on your website is now more vital than ever. Schema.org can inform users of article author and creative license information, citations, and can identify a piece of work as a larger portion of work – such as a popular blog column in a larger online magazine. Google provides a Structured Data Markup Helper tool that can help any publisher mark their page’s content without the use of development team resources:

Google's Structured Data Helper for Article Markup

Figure 3: Google's Structured Data Helper UI for Article Markup

While Authorship was exclusive in the beginning of its existence, seemingly everyone had an authorship picture showing on their Google SERP listing by the time it was announced that it was over.

Marketers and writers have been concerned over the change in results, but considering the fact that people were starting to be drawn to images rather than the content itself (CTR increased with Authorship Images), it was the right thing to do by Google’s standards. The quality of the information on the actual page (content, Schema, etc.), the meta description, and the meta title tag are what should be the deciding factors to attain a visit from the SERPs, not one picture that’s related to the overall brand but not the content.

Reaction by marketers to Google authorship changes

Figure 4: Many notable marketers were saddened by the news to end Google Authorship photos

The meta Information is your first chance to entice the reader into visiting your site. This information can be almost as important as the content yourself, and you should always work to make the meta title and meta description interesting enough to convince the searcher to click on your search listing. Here are a few ways that we suggest to help increase the click through rate for your website:

  1. Keep meta titles short and concise, definitely under 70 characters in length
  2. Include keywords and synonyms in meta descriptions – while descriptions can change based on query, including keywords helps relevancy when the default description is shown
  3. Keep the meta information relevant to the content of the page
  4. Consider readability and emotional impact when creating a meta title (e.g., “10 Ways You Can Make Your Morning More Productive”)
  5. Leverage your brand — If possible, make sure to include your brand in the meta title (e.g., “Five Ways To Improve Your Meta Information | Merkle”)

While it remains to be seen what Google Rich Snippets holds in the future, John’s open support for Schema.org is essential in increasing the awareness and adoption rate of structured data on websites nationwide. Websites undergoing redesign now, or those focused on creative works, should begin incorporating Schema.org code within all creative works to keep their competitive edge within the search results. The markup will help associate the website to more search queries as well as prepare the website for the ever-changing search results page.

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