Sep23

Authorship Down

Posted by Neil Cumins

What’s happened to Google Authorship and what do you need to do about it?

Google Authorship sank without trace recently, and it seems few people even realized it was ever actually afloat. Launched in 2011, Google’s original plan was to create an automated system that cataloged the various website contributions of specific authors.

Blogging was exploding onto the public consciousness at the time, and Google quickly identified a way to connect disparate submissions by a particular person across different websites. By inserting a small piece of markup code into HTML, it was possible to link each blog or article to the author’s profile.

It was decided early on, after a few experimental runs, that the brand-new Google+ social network would underpin its Authorship sibling, with those invisible pieces of code in each published feature linking back to the creator’s Google+ account.

As an additional incentive, taglines and thumbnail photos would appear in Google results to promote the author. These digital signatures would allow audiences to quickly reference an individual’s content history, while simultaneously authenticating the articles as having been written by that person.

Authorship’s Achilles Heel?

achillles-heel

It would be easy to speculate about whether Authorship might have survived if Google+ had taken off. This was arguably Authorship’s Achilles heel – it required a Google+ account, which has always been a poor relation compared to Twitter and Facebook. In terms of Search Engine Results Pages, there was never any concrete evidence that linking content to a Google+ account bolstered the author’s SERPs rankings. It didn’t appear to improve click-through rates or enhance anyone’s public profile, either. The photos and taglines simply became another piece of visual clutter, alongside the News articles and sponsored links on each results page.

The Slippery Slope

Last December, Google began reducing the number of author photos it displayed, in a claimed attempt to improve the appearance of results on mobile devices. In June, the photography element was dropped altogether. Last month, the remaining Authorship components were mothballed and the scheme quietly died. It joins a graveyard of abandoned Google concepts, from customizable web portals and RSS news feeds through to on-demand video services and even a proprietary dictionary.

Long Live Author Rank

Confusingly, Google insist that the parallel Author Rank concept will be retained, even though it relied heavily on Authorship for raw data. Author Rank is a general industry term for rating information connected to a verified profile as being more important than unverified results. Bylines are therefore still valuable, and Google’s search engine algorithms can still identify them and match some bylines to the correct individuals. Anyone who went to the effort of creating bylines for Authorship should therefore retain them, since they may be of value for other SERPs in future.

The impact of Authorship’s demise upon search results is likely to be negligible, although it has underlined the importance of link building and using streamlined SEO text. While a few bloggers may lament Authorship’s departure, photo bylines are hardly the be-all-and-end-all of a creative’s career. Author Rank will live on and may assume greater significance if people begin to actually demand the facility. It’s even possible to concoct a home-made Authorship substitute, by creating (and regularly updating) a page or blog with links to previously published content.

Keep your eyes on the Midphase blog to find out ways of making up for the loss of Authorship.

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