Towards the end of June, Google had bloggers and content marketers up in arms when they completely removed Google authorship photos from search results. These changes normally come as no surprise, as anyone who works in digital knows that Google giveth and Google taketh away. However, this development left more than the usual sting, seeing that Google spent considerable time and energy encouraging webmasters and content developers to make use of Google authorship, for the benefit of increased click throughs, personal branding and credibility. There was a flurry of controversy surrounding the removal of these authorship photos, the most accusatory argument being that the visual element distracted users from clicking on Google ads –the search engine’s cash cow. Other suggestions included a move towards a more mobile-friendly, clean user experience and author images being an endorsement of content quality, which in reality may not be the case.
Fast forward two months, and Google authorship has joined the dodo and the dinosaur with its functionality in any format now completely discontinued. Bugger – all that time building the authority of your personal brand, or that of a brand representative, implementing rich snippet markup and scrutinising over which picture to use for your authorship picture, now amount to nothing. The mood on Twitter is mixed, with many lamenting the move, whilst others are breathing a sigh of relief. But let’s just get to the point here – the digital landscape will always be in flux, and as digital marketers we have to adapt to new environments, and learn how to leverage new developments, instead of moan about them.
I have to agree that the real value of Google authorship for users was questionable. While Google authorship was in part an effort to improve the overall quality of content to web users by discouraging anonymity and building credibility, at the end of the day, it does not guarantee great content.
Google authorship also had a fairly low adoption rate or in many cases was not being implemented correctly, making it an ineffective quality score.
So where to from here bloggers, content marketers and web developers? Well first of all, you can remove all your rel=author markup – it’s useless now and nobody likes clutter. If you’re concerned about reduced click through, you will have to actually use masterly crafted, punchy headlines to attract the attention of your audience. And don’t just take for granted what’s a good title and what’s not, use Google Analytics to test what works for your audience. Make sure that publisher markup and other relevant rich snippets are implemented, as Google is still steadily moving towards a more semantic approach to search, as opposed to the more keyword driven approach. On that note, personalised search is in the Google arsenal for delivering the most relevant information to users, and as such Google will still return results from users and publishers in your Google+ circle – an excellent opportunity for delivering great content to a dedicated community – so start building yours.
So while the change can be frustrating to content producers and digital marketers, it’s about rolling with the punches, arming yourself with great content, and concerning yourself more with what your audience, not the search engine, wants.