digital marketing
By Carrie-ann | Jan 20, 2014 | SEO

Google Authorship Image not Showing Up?

You may have noticed a drop in the number of Google searches being returned that include your authorship image – what’s known in the trade as a ‘rich snippet’. You are not alone. But I must say on balance I am not surprised it’s happened. After all, when there is an opportunity for webmasters to enhance their profile in the serps some over-egg things. It appears then Google may have come to conclusion content being served was not of sufficient quality and too numerous.
When a search returns nothing but a page full of author photos and their links, it can do so at the expense of reputable businesses who don’t use Google +. It depends on the individual search.  From Google’s point of view what’s the point of these results being returned if no one clicks on them?   Of course some authorship links have created huge returns for authors in terms of traffic but that can’t be said of all. And at the end of the day, all that matters to Google is how well results serve searcher intent.
If you are getting less traffic as a result of this development my message is don’t panic.  It seems Google Authorship is in a state of flux, just like other aspects of Google’s algorithm. Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised when it changes. After all, when it comes to internet marketing, you must adapt to thrive.

What is Google Authorship?

Google Authorship is the photo and byline that appears in the search results. Back in the day, around the mid-2000s, Google filed a patent called Agent Rank. The point of this was to reward more credible authors by allowing them to rank more highly in the search results. However Agent Rank as it was known back then wasn’t sufficient to put Google’s initiative into practice. It also needed a means by which to find such authors.   It was only when Google + came into being that Google was able to morph Agent Rank into Google Authorship.
If you scrutinise the serp results which contain Google Authorship links you will also find more information including the number of Google circles an author is a member of. Naturally with the internet community realising social signals were a component of ranking, Google + became popular. Google + users tend to have a different profile than those on Facebook and Twitter and is particularly popular with the internet community.  You can see where this is going, can’t you? This isn’t the first time Google has had to scale back an element designed to ‘reward’ content or site owners. Look what happened to link building.

Why Google Authorship Became Important

The ability to link your Google + profile to the content you create had a strategic element from Google’s point of view. On the surface it doesn’t appear that much is involved. You simply link the content you publish on specific domains to your Google + account. However what is actually happening is you are creating (in Google’s eyes) a verified connection between content and its creator. Google assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that if you were willing to put your name to content, it was going to be quality content.
‘Under the hood’ of a rich snippet you will find Google authorship markup and the rel=author tag. Don’t worry if this is unfamiliar. The point is really that these rich snippets only exist because Google makes it happen.

Implications of the Shake Up in the Serps

It’s important to emphasise that Google Authorship has not disappeared altogether with some searches being more impacted than others. One type of search that does seem to have been impacted are what I call “vanity” searches. In other words, searches for an author’s name.  You may find their Google + photo is nowhere to be seen in the serps. This, in my view, gives us a clue to why Google has made this adjustment but it’s not the only viewpoint.
Some commentators are postulating that in Google’s eyes, authors have various levels of credibility, leading them to suggest various sub groups exist with the leading authors not impacted by the shake-up.  This is reflected in the fact that it’s been possible to identify various types of authorship snippet, from the rich snippet down to the absence of one.
On the other hand, others say the shake up is less about authors per se and more about sites. So for example, any author publishing on a specific site may have had their authorship class reduced for content relating to that specific site. There’s also the question of whether authors who violate Google’s authorship guidelines have been penalised. Some are also suggesting there may be a sector bias to the changes with the seo / internet sector less impacted that (for example) travel or restaurant sites.
If you have lost mark up for some searches there is little you can do about it right now. While some say this isn’t a penalty as such, it’s clear that in Google’s view, use of authorship markup has become too omnipresent.  In addition, this will have fed through to Google’s ranking signals which are being adjusted all the time. Authorship markup has perhaps lost its ability to discriminate between great content and average content.
Of course this shake up also comes hot on the heels of Google’s shift towards semantic search. Content has to meet new criteria otherwise it won’t rank for a specific search. Perhaps then in a similar way, Google has now refined the triggers for authorship markup to appear.
It’s easy to see that some business owners may have become too reliant on using authorship tags to help drive traffic to content. This isn’t a substitute for other internet marketing activity and was never going to be the main plank of content marketing.  That said, it’s worth having a look at other ranking factors such as social mentions, to see if these may have accounted for a ‘demotion’. However at the end of the day, internet marketing has to be broad based to reduce the risk that Google or someone else will pull the rug from under your feet. I also believe we’ll see further tweaks to Google + itself.