Google+ Authourship RIP: Bylines vanish from search results

01/09/2014

Google+ has finally ditched its Authorship experiment this week, meaning that search results will no longer display an author’s name with retrieved articles.

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The Authorship project launched three years ago, with the unveiling of Google+. Using Plus, the search engine could tie all of an author’s online work to a single account. Search results would then display an author’s face, pulled from their Google Plus profile pic, alongside anything they had ever written on a website.

The announcement to ditch Authorship came from John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools. Google will now stop displaying authorship in Google Search and will no longer track data from content with the rel=author markup.

Google claims that displaying the authorship information wasn't as useful as the company had thought it would be. It can even distract from the results.

Over the past eight months, Google has made two major reductions of Authorship rich snippets.

In December 2013, the company reduced the display frequency of author photo snippets. As a result, only a few Authorship results were seen with an attached author photo while the rest had just a byline.

By the end of June 2014, Google has totally removed all author photos from the search results on a global scale. Only bylines for any qualified authorship results remained untouched.

Mueller explained that the photos were removed as part of the company's move in unifying the user experience between searching through the desktop and mobile. Since mobile devices have limited screen space and bandwidth, there is difficulty in displaying author photos. Moreover, Google noted that author photos have no significant effect in the number of clicks that a page gets. In other words, authorship is neither beneficial nor harmful.

Boosting ad rates- 48% higher click through rate for search ads

Many in the industry believe that the move was only implemented because Google Author photos were cannibalising clicks from Google AdWords, and research could back up these claims.

The study, from Larry Kim, CEO of WordStream, suggests that when there are less photos in the search results pages, then users click more on Google AdWords ads.

See Kim's tweet below:

In a WordStream blog post, Larry Kim showed research that he claims proves that the removal of Google Authorship photos “was based on authorship photos’ impact on the CTR of paid search ads”.

Kim “examined the CTR of the ad above both before and after Google’s announcement. We found hard evidence that the CTR of the ad improved significantly when author photos were no longer being displayed in the SERP.”

In the research, the CTR of an ad after the removal of author photos from the SERPs is much higher.

Kim states: “In fact, the CTR of the ad is 44.8% higher than beforehand within this ad group. We tested this data rigorously, and the difference we observed is statistically significant with 99% confidence due to the high number of daily ad impressions (thousands) for this keyword.”

A move away from Google+?

For many publishers, the authorship features are a key reason to be on Google+, as it was thought a presence on the internet giant’s social network boost visibility on its search results and the number of clicks.

Google+ currently has over a billion registered users, and almost 350m monthly active putting it between Facebook and Twitter in size, but doubts remain over how engaged these users really are, they are simply using Google’s other services (such as Gmail and YouTube) which are integrated into the social network.

The service was notably absent from its recent Google's I/O keynote, where the company lays out its plans for the next year to developers from around the world.

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