Google Drops Author Photos From SERPs, But The Authorship Experiment Is Hardly Over

When Google’s John Mueller announced that the search giant was eliminating author photos from SERPs in favor of  a clean, simple byline, the first thing that crossed many content creators minds was, “Is this the end of authorship?”

Now instead of this:

old-authorship

Results with author attributes will look like this:

new-authorship

 Obviously the lack of Google+ news from Google I/O earlier this week only made matters worse for Google’s identity engine, but the plain simple truth is authorship is still a work in progress. It’s only been two years since the concept was introduced and we’ve still yet to determine the true value of the attribute. Now that the one identifiable benefit that we had is actually gone, it makes sense to ask again, “What’s it all about?”

The Relevance of You

Outside of Google, nobody really knows the true plan for Google’s author attribute. We continue to speculate based on comments by Google reps that it can and will have an impact on search results.

As Mark Traphagen pointed out in his article on the subject:

As recently as two weeks ago at the SMX Advanced Conference in Seattle, I heard Matt Cutts respond to a question about author rank by saying that he remains very much in favor of the concept and that he would love to see it continue to be developed by Google. He repeated his favorite hypothetical he’s been using for a year now about how “years from now it would be great” if a post by someone like Danny Sullivan on a lesser-known site would get elevated because Sullivan is such a trusted person in the search marketing world.

Back in March, Cutts even said that author authority was a factor actively used in the “In-Depth” articles feature. How it works is still a bit of a mystery, but Cutts, as the head of webspam for Google, has a philosophical stake in this topic if nothing else. Who you are and what you do matters online. In the world where we’re inundated with more and more content, it becomes imperative to determine whose content is really of value.

Determining the value of content based on authority in the subject makes sense because it’s a very traditional idea. Media personalities, industry experts, bloggers, journalists and thought leaders have always been part of the content landscape. With authorship, Google is taking this idea and putting it in action within search results… the place we almost always go first for answers to our questions.

Is It All About Revenue?

Whenever Google makes any change, there’s always that sneaking suspicion in the back of marketers minds that Google did it for the Benjamins. It’s the first thing and the most logical thing we could presume when keyword data was hidden from analytics under the guise of privacy. And here, Google is making this about U/I design, a simple, streamlined, mobile-friendly display. Mueller even went as far as saying “Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new, less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.”

Independent studies speak to the contrary, however. Though not specifically focused on authorship, studies have indicated anywhere from a 30% to 150% lift in CTR when a website implements structured data, which includes the authorship attribute.

Could those results with author pictures be more enticing that the advertisements that precede them on the page? It’s worth considering.

Taking Google at Face Value

If we simply believe this is a U/I change, however, then we can almost certainly agree that authorship isn’t dead. In fact, it may prove to be more valuable to not have the picture there at all.

Considering that the U/I that included author photos could litter a page with images, this new design could allow for more authored articles appearing on a page.

Would you really want a SERP that looks like this?

author-serp

Too many author images diminishes the value of authorship altogether. (And it looks more like Twitter than Google!) If author attributed posts look more like standard search results, then you can have more of them on a SERP without overwhelming the user with image after image of people they may not know or care about.

It’s a subtle but rather ingenious way of integrating authority into rankings without making it about the author alone. Authority, after all, should be based on the value of the content, not the appeal of a profile picture.

Author: Dan Stasiewski

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