Google authorship in search results has, like many other failed Google initiatives, come to an untimely end over the past few months. This is an important piece of news as Google authorship was not a simple tweak to their search results but a potential game-changer for the way we see and use search results. However for various reasons Google did not find this initiative viable to continue pursuing in this particular form.
Google authorship was originally developed to add an element of expertise to search results under the premise that users would be more likely to trust results from authors with expertise in the field relevant to the search results rather than anonymous authors. Google’s Eric Schmidt famously stated that “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance”. This is how revolutionary Google saw authorship as an influence in the future of their search results and consequent author and searcher behaviour. Google followed through on this wish by quickly introducing authorship as a factor in search result rankings shortly after the launch of Google+ in June 2011, allowing authors to link their Google+ profiles to their work.
Then why did it fail?
Google authorship failed for a number of reasons revolving around adoption of the technology and user experience. Forbes found through a study of the 50 most influential social media marketers in November 2012 that only 30% tagged their blog posts with their authorship mark-ups connected to their profiles. Forbes also found that of the remaining 70% not participating in Google’s authorship experiment, 34% were automatically marked up with authorship tags, however this automatic authorship attribution has been known to go wrong on occasion. Search Engine Land found that the reasons for such low adoption rates involved the complexity of the authorship mark-up process and the subsequent room for errors, which many implementations were found to have. Perhaps many publishers simply didn’t see the value in investing such effort, as the weighting of this factor in search rankings was never perceived to be a major one.
From Google’s perspective, they simply didn’t see the return on investment from this initiative. Google found no noticeable difference in click-through rates with the implementation of authorship in search results and hence didn’t warrant the processing costs authorship implementation required. Furthermore with the transition of device use away from desktop towards mobile devices, Google did not find authorship to be compatible with such a transition as the photos and snippets used up valuable mobile screen space with little to no change in CTR. Google fully removed authorship photos from its search results in June 2014.
Ultimately most people can agree on the concept of expertise to be valued higher than anonymity in search results, however for this concept to work the implementation must be different. Hence here at Paradox SEO Services we do not foresee Google giving up completely on this concept, however the implementation is likely to take very different forms than simple photos and snippets.