The ever-changing pursuit of better search results.
Google doesn't always make things easy for the SEO industry, nor for the web site owners who they are so important to. In the ever-changing pursuit of better search results, less Spam and greater advertising revenues, they often introduce and later roll back changes to which we all have to respond.
When Google says "Jump", we say "How high?".
So it should come as no great surprise to us, that after pushing "Author Markup" in a big way for about 3 -years, as a method of determining the authority of web-authors and therefore allowing content from those known "decent" authors to rank better, Google have first removed the author bio images from their search results (June), and now excluded Authorship information from search results altogether.
It certainly makes a degree of sense. Authorship only worked for people who had set up a Google+ profile, AND markup in their web site (saying "rel=author") which linked to that profile. For something that technical there was only ever going to be a fairly limited uptake. While it certainly helped get a little more traction for Google+ and more users from within the SEO and web marketing community, it would not be accurate to say that the vast majority of decent authors ever started using it.
So the main benefit was to the technical SEO community, who like Google's own Matt Cutts were able to both set up the Google+ profile AND add the relevant markup to their web sites. Good for the SEO world, but less good for Google's ability to filter the better author's work from the rest in the wider world.
So should we be surprised that Authorship has now been removed?
What was authorship anyway?
Here is an example from our own blog a couple of years ago.
In a nut shell, for some organic search results, where the author could be determined by Google, they displayed the listing with a small square author image (from their Google+ profile), and a link to their Google+ profile.
In fact, Google was pushing authorship so hard that we even contributed a plug-in to the Joomla community, allowing authorship information to be automatically inserted into the header of every article, along similar lines to extensions that were also become available in the WordPress world.
So when Google announced the final dropping of the authorship markup a couple of weeks ago, through the slightly unusual route of John Mueller's Google+ page , the SEO community was in turns; (1) grumpy that they had gone to all the effort to set up all that authorship markup, only to have it removed 3-years later, and (2) puzzled as to Google's next efforts to determine the authority of authors and help people find and rank their content accordingly.
Well Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land probably hit the nail on the head the best, with his post explaining the difference between "Authorship Markup", and "Author Rank":
I won't re-hash everything that Sullivan said, but his central premise is that Google has another way of determining Author Rank which does not rely on the defunct author markup. However, they only really use this in determining the results that they return in the "In Depth Articles" section that they sometimes include in the search results – not the main search results.
Google's own advice for how to appear in the "In Depth Articles" section does advise you on what to do to your site in order to maximize your chances. As well as writing great content of course, it basically involved the following:
- Using correct page structure
- Using Schema.org markup
- Having and linking correctly to a Google + "Publisher" page.
There's more about it here . It remains to be seen whether this advice will now be changing in the light of the removal of the Authorship results, but it looks more like it relates to the (retained) "Publisher" markup anyway. Many of the features that this requires are actually built in to the popular CMS systems like WordPress and Joomla, either being there as default, or you can switch them on, or add them in quite simply with a plug-in.
Other points of interest are:
Although Authorship markup has been killed off, its sister "publisher" markup is still retained. This was always less significant as it didn't show in the search results, so it is currently hard to see whether this will have very great significance now.
Google still recommends using schema markup such as schema.org , to help search engines and others with the indexing and categorization of your content. For example the "Organization" markup is recommended on the page describing how to make it into the "In Depth Articles" section.
What should you be doing?
As a web site owner or webmaster what should be doing in the light of these changes?
Firstly are the "rel=author" tags worth retaining on your pages? From what we can see the only reason you would want them now is if you are an author that actually contributes to a number of different sites online. In this event the markup would still allow you to use your Google+ Profile as a central place where you could easily list your various contributions to the different sites, as it does now, and allow your readers to easily navigate from one to another.
This however presupposes both:
- That the sites you contribute to continue to use the Author markup in the light of these Google changes. You would have to assume that many sites will just drop this markup now.
- That you actually want to use your Google+ profile page as a central source of your authorship / contributions. You would need to be fairly committed to Google+ for this to be the case, especially in light of the significant range of other properties that you might prefer to use for your main author bio – not least of all your own web site.
So, I think it is safe to say that in the absence of any new revelations from Google on the subject, authorship markup will now start to drift out of use. I would not be removing it just yet however. Although Google are claiming that they are no longer looking at it, it does seem that the ongoing search for decent authorship information will continue and that being a respected, known and accredited author will still carry weight in the search rankings.
So my action on the rel=author tags would be to leave them in place for now and in a few months time we will start to see more about any benefits of using them and how Google is now using authorship information in its algorithm.
The most important thing you should be doing as a website owner is continuing to create good, relevant content for your website(s) - that has never changed - don't let all this talk about authorship be a distraction. Authorship was never the main game in town, only one small tool in the SEO armoury. Regular high-quality content always has and probably always will be, by far the most important thing you can be contributing to your web site.
And as for Google?
Well finally what does this mean for Google, its search results, and Google+?
There has been a significant amount of talk about the dismantling of Google+, particularly back in April of this year when the head of Google+ moved on. It is certainly the case that the use of Authorship markup and the desire to use it for increased authority for websites has driven quite a large number of users to Google+ and that many of them might decide to use it less now that incentive has been withdrawn.
But Google+ is also much more than that - apart from anything else you now use it to sign into every single Google product, so although it will inevitably change, it won't be going away just yet. Here is an interesting related article from Search Engine Land on the dismantling, or not, of Google+ http://marketingland.com/google-plus-will-die-may-change-82377 .
As for the search results, and the everlasting search for ways to increase the authority and ranking of your web pages? Well Authorship by markup may have gone, but it appears that Google already has other ways of determining authorship and the tried and tested method of all – good quality links / citations to a web page, still remains by far the most potent indicator of authority, despite the many changes that have happened there.
Overall, we can say that these changes while interesting, will only affect a relatively small number of websites & authors and in the bigger scheme of Google changes, are only a relatively minor ripple on the sea.
- Keep writing great content
- Leave the Authorship markup for now
- Keep using Google+, it still counts.
If you have experience of this or a view on anything covered in the article please let us know by starting a discussion.