Google Authorship Changes and How it Affects You

In October Matt Cutts from Google announced there would be some radical changes to how Authorship is shown in the Search Results.  This is important to note since we have received some queries from SEO Booster users asking why their Author Photo and other information is no longer being displayed in Google Search.  I have personally seen the same thing, but there is a reason for it and its NOT because Authorship isn’t working and it is NOT because the SEO Booster is not working.  Read below.

In December many of us noticed this drastic and almost instant change implemented by Google for Authorship in Search.

For example, this side-by-side before and after SERPs comparison for the same query, posted by Cyrus Shepard on Google+:

Has Google Begun to Purge Google Authorship in Search?

Further evidence that this change is underway can be seen in this screen cap from the new Moz Google Features Graph. It shows the amount of Google Authorship snippets showing in the SERPs for the past 30 days (up to 18 December 2013).

Has Google Begun to Purge Google Authorship in Search?

As you can see, it appears Authorship snippets started to decline around the beginning of December, then took a nose dive around the 12th, and after a couple of days of leveling off, have taken another plunge. It’s true that if you look at the scale of the graph it’s only about a 3% reduction overall so far, but given that Authorship has been pretty steady in the SERPs for a long time, that’s still a significant change.

Reduction in Authorship in SERPs Was Promised by Google

Has Google Begun to Purge Google Authorship in Search?

In his keynote speech at Pubcon Las Vegas this past October, Google’s Matt Cutts said that they had been testing a reduction in the amount of Authorship snippets shown in search results, and they found that when they reduced them by about 15%, “quality went up.” Cutts did not make clear whether it was the quality of the authorship results or the overall quality of the SERPs that improved, or for that matter, even what he meant by “quality.”

But one thing seemed clear: at some point the amount of Authorship snippets in search would decline, and that “quality” would be the reason, and perhaps the criteria.

For reference, here’s exactly what Matt Cutts said at Pubcon:

We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we’re looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out  if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author.

Three Classes of Authorship

Another change being noticed by Authorship observers is that there now appears to be three “classes” of people who use Google Authorship in terms of how they show up (or don’t show up) in search:

First Class: Full Authorship Snippet

These authors still tend to get the full authorship snippet (author photo + byline + [optional] number of Google+ circles).

Has Google Begun to Purge Google Authorship in Search?

Second Class: Byline But No Photo

These authors still get an author byline under the link text in their search results (and sometimes the number of Google+ circles they’re in, at least in the US), but no author photo.

Has Google Begun to Purge Google Authorship in Search?

Third Class: No Authorship Rich Snippet At All

These authors used to get authorship rich snippets for some or all of their content, but no longer get it.

What is most interesting here, of course, is that new “second class.” We used to only see that kind of authorship result when the author already had another result on the same SERP showing an author photo. Google only allows one author photo per author per search page. But now we are seeing these “headless snippets” appearing all by themselves. They indeed seem to be a new “middle class” of authorship rich snippets.

 

What Authors Are Being Affected?

It’s too early to say for sure if there are definite signs or telltale common characteristics among authors who have dropped to the second or third class of authorship. But we are seeing the emergence of some patterns from the anecdotal reports we are receiving from users whose authorship has dropped. So far the primary patterns seem to have more to do with sites than authors. In addition. there has been no discernible rankings change for most authors. So this does not appear to be an “author rank” update, but rather a culling out of sites that are not meeting some undefined threshold of quality for showing full author snippets.

  • Well-established authors who regularly publish in-depth content on trusted sites and whose content tends to get a lot of links and social shares appear to have been spared. I have yet to receive a report of anyone at that level who has dropped to second or third class.
  • Exception to above: I’ve now found a few such authors who still get first class results for some sites on which they publish, but not others. This indicates that the loss of authorship may be more site-tied than author-tied.
  • Number of Google+ followers has no bearing. I’m still seeing first class examples with just a handful of people circling them.
  • It is looking more and more like this may be  a site-by-site assessment rather than author-by-author.  I am hearing about sites where the snippet class of all their authors dropped for content they had published on the site. And as noted above, some authors are showing full rich snippets for some sites but not for others.
  • Connecting authorship to pages that violate the guidelines in the Google Authorship FAQ published earlier this year may cause one to drop in Authorship class. These are pages that don’t “convey a real person’s perspective or analysis on a topic.” Examples given include product pages and property listings.

UPDATE 5:42 PM EST 19 December 2013: I’m hearing from more and more high reputation authors who are seeing changes to their authorship class that are site-specific. See this comment from Jon Henshaw of Raven Tools:

Google Begins to Purge Authorship in Search

What Does This Means to You?

Just like any other Google Update you should understand it is slowly being integrated and it is showing quite a bit of influence based on the site in which your Authorship is being used and the perceived quality of your content.  This should now be a decent barometer for you to check and see which content you are creating is deemed to be of “high quality” by Google and/ or if the site you are posting on is considered to be a “high quality” site.

This definitely DOES NOT mean you should stop using Authorship.

One thing which stands out and needs to be mentioned is that when you use Authorship, you should use it ONLY when you are creating quality content.  Do not use it for everything.  I personally have begun creating an “Admin” Author on my sites with ZERO Authorship connections and have been changing my regular the Author of Pages, Product Pages, and Custom Post Types which are general in nature to this general Admin Author.  By doing this these pages/ content will now just be listed under your Google Publisher status versus Google Authorship.  This will elevate Your personal AuthorRank and the overall quality ratings of your content, thus elevating the level at which Google perceives your authored content to be.

Update 01/09/2014:  Google isn’t showing my picture for every post from this site, but they must like this post.  They gave me a First Class Rating for it:

Authorship Update WP Social Mike Johnson

*Remember, when in doubt, you can always check your sites Authorship status by using the Google Structured Data Testing Tool.

 **Portions of this Article were Curated from here:  Virante Orange Juice

21 comments
JudyJong
JudyJong

Hello Mike,


It seems that loads of more pictures show up today...I guess Google is updating again

Bhumi Faldu
Bhumi Faldu

Same thing Happens with me. It shows me a photograph in rich snippet but not visible in search engine ? any reason sir?

AnnS
AnnS

I guess I can see a decline for stuff like this, when new stuff like this comes out, every spammer site on the net puts their picture out for better click throughs, so then, they take action on the lower quality sites by not giving them any further status. You can believe anytime a new tool comes out that spammers can take advantage of, then shortly after google will find the way to derank, kill off your author, or whatever it is; I guess it was just a matter of time seeing all these cluttered listings with repeat authors over, and over.

John Mauldin
John Mauldin

I am blown away by SEO success with first class listings. One example: I had seven keywords I was trying to rank a site with 26 million competing pages. Got a first class listing In less than four weeks on the front/first page of google for all the targeted keywords, And just this past week, I got a first class listing for a two-keyword phrase, with 396 million competing pages, in the sixth position of the first page. It took only two weeks to achieve this position. LOTS of traffic resulting!

Charles
Charles

Hey Mike, Great post. Thanks for this interesting and USEFUL information! I had no idea about this change until I read it here!

James Mathews blog
James Mathews blog

May I simply say what a relief to discover someone who really knows what they're talking about on the net. You definitely understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More and more people must look at this and understand this side of the story. I was surprised that you are not more popular since you surely have the gift.

Alan Redmond
Alan Redmond

Hi Mike, I think that I get it. If I want to get a Level 1 author rank or as high as possible I create 2 authors and 1 publisher for each site. The "admin" author writes the product pages, general pages etc and I use my own author profile for quality posts. Should I make an admin persona for each site and setup a G+ profile for that admin persona and then use my own G+ profile on every quality post on every site that I own. Thanks Alan

Tim
Tim

Thanks for the excellent post Mike, wondered why my photo fell of of some of my sites in the search results, have asked about, but got no real answers till now, Cheers!!

nDragon
nDragon

some rich snippets has gone from my sites and others people (like stars) it's connected with this?

gio
gio

He Mike, Thanks a lot for posting this. I noticed that my pictures didn't show up anymore as well. Quite frankly I thought I had set up my seobooster settings the wrong way... I only have small affiliate niche sites and some of them only show my names now. One site didn't show up anything. So basically I am a second or third category author :( now....

Glenn
Glenn

So assuming I create good content, what do I need to change in the plugin settings to get the picture back? I'm in the Second Class category.

JudyJong
JudyJong

Update: today everything disappeared....

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

Google has their reasons. What they are exactly only Google knows. Mike

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

You are 90% there. You do not need another Google Plus account for your "Admin" profile. This Profile is simply there to keep from stamping every page on your site with your authorship, thus bringing up your personal AuthorRank and quality rating. Mike

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

Yes it is. Google has been making changes to Search Display and Rich Snippets based on a new algorithm change. Mike

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

Thanks. Keep working at it and I am sure your level will rise. I have found that with some of my content my picture is listed and with some of it its not. It is all in how Google sees it. Mike

Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson

Glenn, Please read the post again. The Plugin has absolutely nothing to do with how Authorship is being displayed in Google. It is all how Google has categorized You and Your content. Period. The plugin will create the connections for you so Authorship is setup and established for you on your blog and this can always be verified via the Structured Data Testing tool as I said in the Article above. Beyond that it is all Google's decision on how to display your authorship in the search result. Edit: Follow the guidelines above and you might elevate your status to Level 1. As far as what Google's criteria is, that still remains to be seen and is something we will have to continue to evaluate over time. Mike

Prokache
Prokache

I learned a lot from your suggestions! I am currently trying the Structured Data Testing tool and well it's a very easy thing to use considering I'm a noob.