Back in October of 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that they’d found a 15% reduction in Authorship Markups yielded higher quality results. In their never-ending quest to provide the highest-quality search engine results, Google has utilized this data and begun revoking authorship privileges accordingly. Around December 19th, Cutts confirmed that this change had been rolled out.
Why would Google crack down on authors’ images in the search results? After all, authorship doesn’t have any bearing on a site’s ranking within the results page.
While Authorship has no effect on ranking, it has been shown that including the authorship markup can improve your clickthrough rate. That fact alone has resulted in exploitation of the markup and violation of the structured data guidelines.
The true purpose of the authorship markup is to show search engine users that the content associated with it is coming from a trusted source. The user should see the markup and know that the author is an authority on the subject. When a search engine user is looking for information on – for example – the differences between all-season and winter tires, they are likely to click on pages with an authorship markup. That’s because those pages appear to provide insight and information rather than a sales pitch. When a user expects to gain information from a page and is instead taken to a page that attempts to sell them something, that’s a poor user experience and exactly what Google is looking to avoid.
So when should you use the authorship markup, and how can you avoid losing it? The rule of thumb is that you should absolutely use the authorship markup on pages that convey an author’s opinion and insight. Authorship markup is great for blog posts, articles, how-to’s and reviews. Authorship should NOT go on homepages, landing pages, or product pages. If you’re considering utilizing the authorship markup, take a moment to ask yourself, “would this page look alright with ‘By [My Name]’ at the top?” (This is important because one of the best methods for activating authorship is to include a byline on the page.)
If your page does not meet the criteria for the authorship markup, you don’t need to fret. Likely, the pages you’re competing against will not meet the criteria either and will eventually lose their markup. There are, however, future plans for markups that are more appropriate for homepages and companies. By verifying your brand on Google+, you are able to utilize the publisher markup, which may be beneficial in the future.
If you meet the criteria for authorship, and are worried about your markup, there are some steps you can take to maintain it.
Currently, the appearance (or disappearance) of the authorship markup seems to be based more on page authority than author authority. The best thing you can do as an author is to put your name (and content) on high-quality websites. Of course, that’s easier said than done. If you wish to improve the page/domain authority of your website, our team at Web3 has been committed to studying the absolute best ways to do just that.
While page authority is currently the more important factor in whether or not Google displays your markup, AuthorRank is a concept that is generating a lot of buzz lately. The best way to improve your AuthorRank is simply to be an author. By writing well and writing often, as well as engaging in social circles on Google+, you show Google (and the world) that you are an authority on the topics you cover.
So what can happen if you misuse the authorship markup?
By misleading search engine users, you hurt your website’s analytics. If a user navigates to your site hoping for information and instead ends up on a products page, they’re going to leave pretty quickly. This drives your bounce rate up, and is something you don’t want. Another potential issue is that Google has set up a form for reporting abuses of the authorship markup. While this may not necessarily result in harsh punishments for your website, it is always best to avoid conflict with Google whenever possible.
While this reduction in authorship may be frustrating for authors and companies that used it, it’s certainly caused many to take a step back and really assess why they’re utilizing the authorship markup in the first place. Google’s main rule for SEO is to avoid practices that are misleading. It’s not okay to stuff your page with invisible keywords, and it’s not okay to use a rich snippets badge to bring traffic to a sales page. By penalizing the people and companies that do this, Google is improving the search experience for the users, and that’s their main goal as a company.