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22 . 9 . 14

The Failure of Google Authorship


Following a hyped launch 3 years ago, Google has recently announced the complete retirement of Google Authorship. All authorship functionality is to be removed from its SERPs and Webmaster Tools reporting and diagnostic platform.

Signs the end could be coming for Google Authorship first surfaced when on June 25th, Google’s John Mueller announced it was to remove Author thumbnails from the SERPs. The complete retirement of Google Authorship comes as a logical conclusion and widely predicted move by many experts within the search industry.

What was Google Authorship?

Google Authorship was a method to enable authors to claim ownership of published content (often across multiple websites) via embedded markup. It was envisaged the attribution of authorship markup, would allow Google to more easily group together authored content by a single author. By grouping multiple content pieces by the same author, Google is able to better attribute authority as opposed to purely assessing website content from an individual page perspective. The greater the authority an author is attributed with, the greater the likelihood their content will be rewarded with increased visibility within the organic SERPs.

A secondary and much promoted additional feature / benefit of Google Authorship was the opportunity for authors to display a thumbnail image alongside organic listings. It was perceived the display of this thumbnail image would help increase author recognition, subsequently boosting organic CTR.

Why did Google retire Authorship?

Low adoption rates by authors and webmasters – Due to the complicated implementation requirements of Google Authorship markup, accurate installations were extremely limited. In a recent survey by SearchEngineLand polling 500 authors across 150 different major media websites it was found 70% of those polled had made no attempt to implement Google Authorship.

Inefficient use of processing power – This may come as a surprise to many but as yet Google doesn’t currently have unlimited processing power. The required processing requirements for Google Authorship were seen by some as an inefficient use of valuable processing power.

Limited change in click behaviour – The inclusion of author thumbnails failed to significantly influence CTR (click behaviour). As a result he expected increase in CTR for such listings was not recorded.

Distraction to users – Furthermore to the previous point, Authorship information wasn’t determined to be as useful to users as initially predicted. Worse still it was described by some users as a distraction, negatively influencing click behaviour within the SERPs.

Cluttered SERP – The addition of author thumbnails resulted in SERPs at times taking on a cluttered look, acting as a further distraction to users, negatively impacting click behaviour.

Mobile compatibility – The ever growing importance of mobile compatibility served as a further blow to Google Authorship. The display of author thumbnails utilised valuable screen real estate, a resource which is often extremely constrained when accessing the web on a mobile device.

The above factors combined with Google’s limited promotion of Authorship and the potential achievable benefits ultimately resulted in it’s early retirement. In order to gain greater adoption for such initiatives Google must better communicate the benefits, as opposed to simply relying on the organic spread of such information.

Should I remove Authorship Markup?

Its important to cover off one key myth which is currently in circulation. Failure to remove Google authorship markup will not have a negative impact on a website. In fact exactly the opposite is most likely true. While Google has publicly stated that it has retired the use of such markup within its algorithm, it is extremely likely other websites likely have not. Such structured markup could be highly valuable to range of other websites and services.

So what next…Author Rank

It is important to differentiate Google Authorship from Author Rank. While Google has taken the decision to retire Authorship, its interest in understanding author authority remains strong. Earlier this year in March, Google’s Matt Cutts confirmed the use of Author Rank as a ranking factor, but as is typical, failed to comment on the extent to which it plays a part within the wider algorithm. The following ranking factors are believed to currently comprise the core components of Google’s Author Rank:

  • Google Authorship
  • Diversity of websites to which an author contributes
  • Total volume of content produced by an author
  • Contextual relevance of websites to which an author contributes
  • Link value of individual content pieces produced by an author
  • Collective link value of sites to which an author contributes

A key and underlying challenge for Google is the ability to effectively identify and group entities including authors together to better attribute authority of related content across multiple websites. While Google may have taken the decision to retire Authorship markup theres is no question that behind the scenes engineers are working hard to progress such entity relationship identification and analysis.

Chris MannChris is Technical SEO Manager here at twentysix. With over 7 years professional experience, Chris delivers expert SEO and analytics knowledge with a strong technical focus. Away from the office he enjoys a strong passion for travel and motorsport, combining the two wherever possible.


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