As we gear up for the start of 2015 in T-minus three days, we’re spotlighting some of the biggest SEO news of 2014. As we lock in our cruise control for the final days of the year, let’s take a moment to consider some of the biggest changes, starting with Google Authorship biting the dust.
Another so-called experiment by Google chalked full of potential and promise, ended this year. The newswire lit up in August of 2014, as the big dogs in search engine optimization trends echoed Google’s announcement. The Authorship program had come to an end:
Google has never claimed, nor acted like, any of its products are sacred, infallible or generally untouchable (RIP Google Reader), but why did this program get the axe? In truth (and this is going to hurt for some of us), because no one was using it, and if they were it was incorrectly.
Before finger pointing starts flaring, let’s get something straight. The total lack of use (or proper use) of the program was not entirely the users’ fault. In fact, “user-friendly” was often not the first thing to come to mind with Authorship. Many an author found it confusing and opted not to bother, especially if they didn’t have a tech department on standby.
The Rise of Google Authorship
Authorship was started in June 2011 with Google announcing that Webmasters could now add rel=“author” and rel=“me” tags to connect their content to their G+ profiles. This is where our story begins.
Authorship, as its name suggests, was designed to affect the search engine ranking of a site based on the author’s online reputation. It was a means of essentially showcasing the talent behind the written content, something every author on the planet can thoroughly appreciate. It also built trust and credibility (something the customer can thoroughly appreciate) because the more often a user saw the same name pop in search, the more likely they were to trust and follow them as a source.
It sounds like a grand idea, doesn’t it? After all, when we go to a bookstore to get a new book, we usually try and find a work from an author whose other works we enjoy. So why wouldn’t the same concept work in the online world? Google’s attempt to answer this question came in the form of Google Authorship and Author Rank.
The linchpin of the plan for Authorship was Google Plus. It was the network where all of your online professional life could link, and it was the perfect focal point. Initially, the program was relatively successful. According to Searchmetrics, one year after launch, roughly 17 percent of SERPs had the “rel=author” tag.
The Fall of Google Authorship
While the idea of authorship was excellent in theory, it fell apart in practice. Authorship ultimately relied on the Webmaster to cite the author, as opposed to an automated process.
Google failed to market it as they typically don’t market their products. They instead chose to allow their program to grow organically through the natural waves of the Internet. But the Internet is both fickle and unpredictable.
Authorship could be said to have targeted authors. And the truth is authors are not necessarily a crowd staying abreast of the latest in SEO. Their aspirations lie elsewhere. Unless something is quick and easy, their efforts go into their work. Even then, brands and businesses leveraging a ghostwriter didn’t always get their P’s and Q’s in order with the program.
A relatively low percentage of users were adopting Authorship, and the few who did were using it ineffectively or incorrectly. By early 2012, Google began to simplify things by attempting automatic attribution where there would theoretically be no improper markup or link ascription.
The next nail in the coffin was discovered in a late 2012 study of Forbes most influential social media marketers. Only 30 percent used authorship tags in their blogs. The kicker was that 34 percent of those who didn’t use it still got authorship rich snippets on their blogs, and 70 percent of authors were making little to no attempt to connect with the content they had published on the Internet.
It was later discovered that Google’s automatic attributing wasn’t always accurate. A combination of the lack of knowledge regarding how to properly cite authors as well as inaccurate automatic citations by Google, coupled with the need to have a G+ account (which is still one of the least adopted social networks) seemed to doom the experiment from the start.
According to Forbes, at Pubcon 2013, Matt Cutts said Google was “looking for a 15 [percent] reduction to ensure that the quality of the authorship [was] still high and relevant.” By December 2013, author pictures were on the decline. They were eliminated from search results entirely by June 2014 with Google citing the need for simplification of search results. Two months later, in August 2014, the Authorship program was dropped entirely. But should it have survived?
Google Authorship and Author Rank
Google Authorship and Author Rank are quite similar but noticeably different. Authorship connected an author’s Web content to their personal G+ profile. It also expanded search information by extracting and showing multiple pieces of data from one link. In contrast, Author Rank relates the credibility of a given author back to Google’s search algorithms. Think of it like this:
- Google Authorship is like baseball stats; more stats equal a better search. Expansive information is better for retrieving the most accurate reading.
- Google Author Rank is like a metacritic score, a composite of all the information you want in one metric.
- Authorship is better for advanced search parameters. Author Rank is better for general search.
What Does Authorship’s Death Mean for Authors?
The death of the Authorship program doesn’t mean the end of finding trusted experts in a niche. Author Rank is still very much alive, and Google’s Knowledge Vault could very well be a huge factor in helping people find information from experts. When asked about the end of the program, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Tom Meuller put it thusly:
“If you’re curious — in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads.”
Google ended the program because its effects were negligible. As we launch into the New Year, there’s one valuable lesson to take away from all of this. The ultimate linchpin in building a strong online presence lies in our content. It’s what we write, how we write it, and why we write it that matters.
Will we see an adaptation of Google Authorship in the future? Perhaps. Regardless, focus on excellent, relevant content and the name behind it—your name—will spread naturally.
Additional Contributor: Carlo Solorzano
Feature Image Credit: Micha Klootwijk via 123RF Stock Photo