Google Retires Authorship: A Tribute to One of the Greats

On August 28th, Google’s John Mueller announced via his Google+ page that Google was effectively retiring its Authorship program.

Back in June, Mueller made a similar announcement when he revealed that author photos were being removed from search results. He cited mobile user experience as the driving force behind this change, acknowledging that author photos took up too much precious real estate. However, there were no immediate plans to remove author names or cancel authorship markup.

Still, yesterday’s announcement wasn’t a complete shock. After all, Google did remove our author stats a few weeks ago (and I subsequently predicted the death of authorship). As Google continued to cut the individual pieces of Authorship, it was inevitable that the whole thing would disappear eventually.

Why Did Google Cut Authorship?

Google has always claimed that its mission is to provide the best user experience and best search results possible. This requires constant testing and willingness to change. Authorship was one such test. If Google could somehow connect all of an individual’s articles through one system, then they might be able to improve the overall search experience. Just imagine seeing an article from one of your favorite industry leaders right there in the search results. How could you not click?

Such improvement didn’t quite work as well as Google anticipated. From authorship spam to implementation errors, Google Authorship was never a perfect program. Even among industry leaders, it's estimated that 70% were not using authorship markup. For many website owners, implementing authorship was a nightmare. How many hours did you spend trying to set up authorship on your first blog post, only to find your author photo not appear in the search results until many months later?

Spam and errors aside, Mueller reports that authorship did not provide enough value to searchers. Although it may go against what we thought Google originally told us about the program, Mueller stated that in their tests, “removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads.”

Typically when making data-driven decisions, one does not rely on terms like “generally” or “seems,” but we should probably give Google the benefit of the doubt on this one. At least the statement regarding ads sounds pretty definitive.

Is Google Authorship Gone for Good?

While Google has discontinued quite a few services in the past, some people are still holding out hope for Authorship to reemerge somehow in the future. However, Mueller’s statements on Google+ imply that it’s all over: “On a personal note, it’s been fun and interesting travelling the road of authorship with all of you…”

If that doesn’t sound like a retirement statement, then I don’t know what does. Then again, maybe we should ask a former Vikings quarterback about retirement:

google authorship retires

What Should I Do with My Authorship Now?

Before jumping ahead of ourselves, let's make sure we understand exactly what this all means. This is not just a case of removing an aspect of authorship from the search results to enhance user experience. Mueller made this clear in a later comment when he said, “we’re no longer processing this data—it’s not just a UI change.” In other words, Google Authorship is officially (for the time being) dead.

If you have implemented authorship on your blog, website, or elsewhere, you don’t need to remove it. While Google’s announcement indicates that authorship markup is no longer tracked, it also says that authorship does not hurt your site’s performance. In fact, giving your users the extra information about yourself (as in the link back to your Google+ profile) can be a bonus.

Additionally, Google+ posts from people in your circles will still appear in the search results (images included). Of course, since the average Google+ user has about 12 people* in his or her circles, this may not be as exciting as Google suggests.

*Note: This statement is a reflection of general opinion regarding the unpopularity of Google+ and is not supported by any extensive research or data.

Bidding a Final Farewell to Google Authorship

It’s been a fun ride, Google Authorship. From stunning profile photos to author names and those all-important circle counts, you gave us many reasons to click over the years. We will miss you, but we look forward to focusing on those “cleaner” and more valuable search results that Google promises for the future.

Now it's your turn to pay tribute to Google Authorship. Share your thoughts on the program's retirement in the comments below.

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