Google ends authorship experiment – what now?

As some of you may already know, I am a massive advocate of authorship. I firmly believe that following the practise of documenting authors leads to better content and engagement.

With regard to Google authorship in particular, I wrote a piece for Econsultancy in September of last year considering how Google might use authorship to better understand content and attribute value. From about that point inwards, Google started to wind down its authorship experiment. In December, Google lowered the amount of author photos shown per query and at the end of June Google removed all author photos from SERPs.

Then, last month, Google’s John Mueller announced that Google will stop showing authorship data and will stop tracking authorship mark-up in effect ending their 3 year experiment.

Why quit now?

The Google authorship experiment had the potential to catapult Google in a new direction with regard to understanding the web and allocating value. By adding an author’s value to the mix, the algorithm would be less susceptible to link spam and we would eventually start to see the best authored content float to the top.

There is, however, one major hurdle to overcome and it is a whopper that has been the bane of many similar Google experiments – human usage!

For Google to understand who authored a particular piece of content, it needed to be marked up and associated with an author’s G+ account. Google tried to overcome this by automatic author discovery, but it was massively flawed and inaccurate – making the exercise worthless.

Adoption rates were poor outside of the technology niche to the point where, after three years, Google decided to pull the plug on the whole thing and focus their attention elsewhere (probably the Google Knowledge Vault).

The continued value of authorship

Authorship is not dead! Yes Google no longer values the specific Google mark-up but please don’t let that stop you applying authorship best practises to your content.

People want to know that the person writing the content they are reading knows what they are on about. They want to read other stuff by that person. They want to become advocates and they want to engage with a face not a generic guest or admin account.

Google tried to get us to follow a specific protocol with no real benefit to the adopter other than a picture (which apparently had no benefits to Google users). It was a great idea but the carrot just wasn’t big enough.

Maybe if they had said it was a ranking factor, albeit a minor one at present (see HTTPS), then maybe the story would have been different.

Google will continue to explore ways of identifying authors, be it via an automated method, new mark-up or by employing someone to sit at a screen and do it. The concept of Author Rank is still on Google’s radar and authorship just makes sense for users.

Malcolm Slade is SEO Project Manager at Epiphany.

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