A few years ago, Google announced ‘authorship’ and everybody clamored to make sure their posts would work with the new system. What this essentially meant was that you could tell Google that you were the author of a post and link that to your Google+ account. As a result, your photo, a blurb about you and a link to your G+ profile would appear right next to your link on the search results pages. The hope was that this would then mean more people clicked on your links because they’d be attracted by the image and because your name would add credibility and authority to your post.
Approximately three years later, Google officially announced they would be doing away with authorship altogether, claiming that the information ‘isn’t as useful to our users as [they’d] hoped’ and that it could even be ‘distracting’.
Apparently, Google tested removing the photos and found there was no impact on click-through behavior and so they go rid of it. Never-mind all the work every webmaster had done to ensure they complied with the new system. Nice.
The Real Story
That’s the official word, however, in reality, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that Authorship did make an impact (here’s some evidence looking at eye tracking for instance). Even Google said it was important at one point.
Apart from anything else, it’s simply counterintuitive to imagine that having a big picture of someone next to an article wouldn’t have a big impact on how many people looked at that article and clicked on it.
But just because it had an impact, that doesn’t mean that it would result in visitors being attracted to the most relevant or most deserving listing. Rather, it would simply highlight the content that webmasters were working hardest to promote in keeping with Google’s instructions. In short, it’s just one more way for optimizers to ‘game’ Google’s systems and gain an unfair advantage over less savvy webmasters and businesses.
Google would have known this going in, so perhaps their intention was always to scrap authorships down the line? In the meantime, they got a lot of webmasters to sign up to and manage their Google+ accounts, helping to give the then-new social network a big boost. It’s a cynical view, but it makes a lot of sense.
It’s also possible that Google removed authorship in order to enable a more consistent design across devices, keeping their site crisper and more minimal for smartphones and the forthcoming influx of wearable devices. This is a possible explanation, but again it’s something Google would have known three years ago.
Another cynical take on this move comes from Moz founder and industry expert Rand Fishkin’s Twitter account. Here, Rand suggested that Google might have been alarmed that authorship was distracting from adverts, thus resulting in less revenue. If more people were clicking those listings, it’s very possible that some of those clicks being taken away from advertising.
Either way, Rand wasn’t happy and pointed out that Google was either lying before about Click Through Ratio (CTR), or was lying now. Whatever the explanation, there is unfortunately no getting away from this fact.