The Death Of The Author: Google Ends Authorship Program

AuthorshipIt was a great idea in theory: some writers can be relied on to publish authoritative content on particular topics, but the implementation was flawed, and so, Google Authorship goes the way of all Google programs that have failed to demonstrate their value to the search giant.

Authorship

In what will not be much of a surprise to those who have been following Google Authorship, the system for linking content to an author via a Google Plus profile has been retired. The writing was on the wall for Google Authorship since last month, when it was announced that the rich authorship snippets that Google has been including in the SERPs for the past couple of years were to be slimmed down with the removal of the byline head shots that had been Authorship’s major draw.

As of earlier this month, Google is no longer paying any attention to the rel=’author’ or rel=’me’ markup that the company had been encouraging writers and publishers to add to their content for the last few years. Authorship rich snippets will not appear in search results.

According to a study from Stone Temple Consulting, home of Google Authorship’s most prominent proponent Mark Traphagen, adoption has been scanty and among those who have attempted to implement the identification system, a significant proportion got it wrong.

Seventy percent of 500 authors surveyed made no attempt to verify their authorship. In spite of a concerted effort by search engine optimizers and marketers to persuade writers of the benefits of implementing Authorship on their sites, hardly any did.

Surprisingly, those who did implement Authorship saw very little benefit from it. According to Google’s John Mueller, click through rates in the SERPs were not improved by the rich snippets. The key driver of adoption was the idea that having an author’s image along with a byline would attract more user attention than plain results. Google’s own metrics showed otherwise.

Google is not a sentimental company when it comes to products. Authorship was showing low adoption among authors and wasn’t improving search results, so it was retired, but does that mean the end of the concept of authorship in search? I don’t think so.

Google Authorship was a clumsy and inelegant implementation of what is a fine idea. Requiring writers and publishers to include metadata on pages and have a Google Plus profile is overcomplicated. Besides which, Google prides itself on being an algorithm-led company, on being able to sift the raw Internet for useful signals. Ideally, Google should be able to determine authorship from information that is already part of pages. A traditional byline should be enough; in fact, due to the low update of Google Authorship, the company has already been trying to determine authorship in the absence of the rel=“author” markup.

I believe that authorship is still firmly on Google’s mind, and in the future we’ll see it used a signal; the information content is too juicy for Google to ignore completely, but it won’t use authorship markup and it probably won’t be associated with rich snippets of the sort we’ve been used to.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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