What a waste of time! The end of Google Authorship

So it’s official. Google Authorship is no longer part of web design. We all saw the warning signs, but it’s still a bit of a shock!

What was Google Authorship?

Introduced 3 years ago, Google Authorship was a Google program allowing website owners to link their website to a Google+ profile. By linking the two, Google’s search engine algorithms could prioritise web pages from a trusted author. For example, if a web page was linked to a reputable Google+ author with many followers and positive comments then the website would be ranked more highly than one from a less trusted source – makes sense, doesn’t it?

Yes, Google Authorship was also a blatant attempt for Google to promote their own social network in their bid for world domination. However, the party line was that it would make the search results more accurate and valuable for searchers.

Google Authorship could be achieved through a form of reciprocal linking – edit your Google+ profile to list yourself as a contributor to the website; and link to your Google+ profile from your website. This would tell Google that the two are created by the same person.

As well as telling Google that a website is by a trusted author, Google Authorship would also add information to the search results – for example your Google+ profile picture (although this became less frequent after the 2013 algorithm change), a link to your Google+ profile and the number of followers.

If you’re interested, Search Engine Land have written an in-depth article tracing the history of Google Authorship, culminating in its recent removal.

Why has it been removed?

Last year, Google showed the first signs that their Authorship program was not as effective as they hoped. They announced that Google Authorship information would become less prominent in the search results, and would be displayed in more specific circumstances. And now they have removed it completely.

Google explained that the information displayed in search results as part of Google Authorship is not as interesting to users as they had hoped, and that it does not significantly influence click-through rates. I find this a bit strange because the original explanation for introducing Google+ Authorship was to make search results more reliable by using the author’s status on Google+ as a ranking factor – if this was the case, surely they would just remove the “uninteresting” Google+ profile information from search results and continue to use Google Authorship behind the scenes to help with rankings… Perhaps it’s more likely that Google+ simply hasn’t taken off as much as Google had hoped, which means that someone’s Google+ status isn’t a reliable indicator of whether they’re a trusted author. But of course they wouldn’t admit this…

I’m not denying the statistics, but several people enquiring about our WordPress web design services have mentioned that they phoned us because my picture was visible in the Google search results. They said that it personalises our company and makes us stand out against the other Google results. Surely Barn2 Media aren’t alone in this?

Yes, Google Authorship was often used inappropriately. It wasn’t appropriate to display an author’s photo alongside a corporate web page, e.g. one of the ‘Our Services’ pages in the search results. However it was entirely appropriate for blog posts and articles , which are written by a specific individual. With a bit of research, Google Authorship could be set up to work in exactly this way, and we had implemented this on the Barn2 Media website and our WordPress web design clients’ sites.

I think it’s absolutely right for Google to monitor search engine trends and make continual improvements. However I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated that so many people wasted so much time learning how to set up Google Authorship correctly, only for it to be removed. We’re only one small company, and we spent quite a while researching the best way to implement Google Authorship (the guidance for which seemed to change every 5 minutes) and even had a page on it in our team wiki!

And it’s not just time that was wasted – over the past few months, more and more of our WordPress web design clients have commissioned to set up Google Authorship for their websites. This means that they have wasted money paying us to provide a service that is now obselete. Obviously we won’t provide this service in future, but I like to think that the improvements we make to people’s WordPress websites will help their business for years to come! – which hasn’t happened in this case.

Anyway, it’s all irrelevant now.

Do I need to remove the Google Authorship from my WordPress website?

Google’s John Mueller has confirmed that you don’t need to remove your Google Authorship (i.e. the ‘author=#’ markup) from your website. It won’t do any harm, it’s just that Google are no longer using it for anything. No need to panic.

What about Publisher markup?

Although this post (and all the recent hype) focusses on Google Authorship, it’s important not to forget about Google Publisher. Google Authorship added markup to your website code called author=. This linked a web page with an individual Google+ author and was useful for personal content such as blog posts.

The lesser-known publisher= markup links a web page with a company Google+ page and has NOT been removed by Google (at least, not yet!). This means that it’s still worth including Publisher markup as part of a WordPress web design project. (Read more about the difference between Authorship and Publisher.)