The debate about Google authorship and its relationship to SEO has been a long one. To make matters even more interesting, we recently saw a bump in the road when Google announced they would be removing the author photos from search results (more on this later), which blurred the lines between the two even more.
Many agree that authorship isn’t going to hurt your search results or hurt your website in any way, but does it really have anything to do with SEO? Is there actually an intersection between the two, or are people trying to make something out of nothing?
What Google’s Decision to Remove Author Photos Means for SEO
First things first, we need to address the recent announcement from Google that author photos will be removed from search results. Prior to this announcement, authorship was a way to add a thumbnail of your Google+ profile picture to your articles when they show up on a SERP. You did this by visiting the “Contributor to” section of your Google+ profile, adding your author page URL for a particular site, and then tagging your profile on each of those sites. If you’re unfamiliar with how authorship works, you can learn more about getting started here.
Authorship was known as one type of rich snippet, and it looked like this:
Last month on June 26, however, Google announced that author photos will no longer be a part of search results and therefore, in typical Google form, left everyone confused. Google Authorship has been hammered into the heads of authors and marketers since it was first introduced in 2011. The photos clearly look more appealing, they show credibility, and several studies have been conducted to prove that authorship-tagged results have higher click-through rates (CTRs). Nonetheless, Google made this decision because their “experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.” Now future authorship results will look like this:
Some speculate that Google simply couldn’t handle the amount of spam and don’t buy the design excuse, but regardless of their reasoning, this will play a role in just how important authorship is when thinking about SEO.
The Case for Authorship and its Effect on SEO
Below lists all of the different ways that authorship does and does not intersect with SEO.
How Authorship Effects SEO
- Author Rank is a very convincing idea.
Author Rank is something that has not been confirmed by Google, but it has been a rumor around the SEO space for quite some time. This term refers to the possibility that Google will start to use authorship and the authority of an author in its ranking algorithm (some suspect Google is already doing this). In other words, authorship would be a signal, much like PageRank, that will affect rankings.
It’s important to understand, however, that Google has publicly denied using authorship as a ranking signal in their algorithm. While this is probably the biggest intersection between authorship and SEO, it is still speculation. Those who believe in this theory are using authorship now and hoping it will pay off in this way in the future.
- Google+ is Google’s social media network.
Because Google+ is a Google product, it would make sense that posts found on this network are generally indexed in real-time by Google search engine bots. Sharing posts on Google+ and letting Google know where these posts are being published via authorship can help ensure that the bots are seeing your articles right away.
On the contrary, Google does not have full access to Twitter and Facebook the way it does Google+. Therefore when it comes time to using social signals to determine rankings (as discussed in the point above), this is going to be the most likely network that Google will use. Authorship gives Google+ more information about you as an author, so having that ready to go for a potential Author Rank algorithm is a definite plus.
How Authorship Is Not Related to SEO
- Authorship sometimes showcases people who are simply better at personal branding as opposed to real industry experts (the goal of authorship).
This isn’t a point about SEO so much as the fact that authorship may never be used as an SEO signal. SEO consultant James A. Martin wrote an article and quoted Shari Thurow, founder and SEO director of Omni Marketing Interactive, saying, “Most experts have more important things to do, like be experts in their fields. So in order for Google Authorship to succeed in its mission, genuine experts have to participate. And guess who doesn’t care about Google+ and Google Authorship?”
- Google is removing the photos from authorship-tagged search results.
As discussed in the section above, this is a pretty big reason why people are further discounting authorship as having any affect on SEO. It was the photos that made the result stand out and therefore improve CTR, so without the photo and without a confirmation from Google that authorship is used as a ranking signal, what’s the appeal?
- Everything with authorship and SEO is still speculation.
Once again, the fact that everything is speculation—authorship used as a ranking signal, Google using Google+ information over other social networks and so on—doesn’t help the case for authorship. Although predictions for the future can be exciting, there are still no guarantees.
The Verdict: Analysis of Authorship and Its SEO Intersection
Conducting different studies should be the easy way to solve the debate, but the truth is that different companies have found differing results. Some have seen huge jumps in CTR since applying authorship, while others haven’t seen any change at all.
So how do you know whether or not authorship really matters for SEO? We don’t really know, and we might not know for quite some time. However, it stands to reason that getting involved with authorship is a good move. It’s not going to hurt anything—all authorship is confirmed to be doing right now is validating that you are the author of different articles and giving your followers a place to find articles you’ve written. Although your picture may no longer show up in search results, your name and a Google+ profile link still do.
Authorship is easy to set up, and I personally believe that eventually authorship will have a larger significance when it comes to SEO. For now, I think it looks better and I want to be prepared. I see no reason not to use authorship, even if you’re just reaching for a potential intersection in the future.
What are your thoughts on the intersection between authorship and SEO? Do you think this will become more significant in the future, do you think it is already significant, or are authors and companies wasting time? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.