The Truth Behind the Death of Authorship Rumors

Google Authorship has been one of the biggest topics of conversation within the SEO community over the last year or so, but many SEOs are now speculating on the possible demise of the concept. Author Rank was expected to become a huge ranking factor, but so far it hasn’t panned out. From the discovery that the Authorship project no longer exists to the fact that fewer author snippets are now being displayed in the SERPs, there are many signs that have SEOs wondering if Authorship is set to disappear.

The End of Authorship?

A.J. Kohn launched much of the speculation around the death of Authorship in October when he posted an article announcing that Google Authorship was dead. In this article, Kohn revealed that Othar Hansson, who originally headed up the Authorship project, is now a part of the Android search team instead and the Authorship project is in fact finished. This news suggests that Google has decided that Authorship is no longer a priority for them. As Kohn cleverly suggests by including the following image in his article, we’ve all been discussing Authorship continuously while Google surreptitiously moved on to other concerns.

Kohn image

Another potential blow to Authorship came in October when Matt Cutts announced that Google would be decreasing the number of author snippets displayed in the SERPs by roughly 15%. With a lower chance of getting the Authorship tag to show up in the SERPs, SEOs speculated that fewer writers would take the time to use the markup.

However, the point of this change was to actually increase the quality of author snippets. By making these snippets more selective, Google automatically raised the bar for quality authors. When snippets began disappearing in the wake of the update in December, the author snippets that were left were generally linked to better, more authoritative authors. Since anyone with a Google+ account can use the tag, this move on Google’s part was an attempt to weed out some of the less authoritative authors who had been using the tag to gain more attention.

The Problems of Author Rank

One of the main problems with Authorship and the concept of Author Rank has always been participation. Unless every writer participates, Authorship can’t serve as a completely reliable factor for Author Rank. Unsurprisingly, not every single author on the internet has adopted the Authorship tag yet, so Author Rank would be seriously flawed at this point.

Another key issue for Author Rank was the fact that the most well-respected authors in any field were always able to get their work published on major sites and would therefore not need to worry about their rankings in the SERPs. Considering these two problems, it’s not at all surprising that Google seems to be abandoning the idea of Author Rank.

Is Authorship Still Valuable?

As Google makes these changes to Authorship, the question remains for SEOs: should you use the Authorship markup? In my opinion, the short answer is yes, absolutely. Despite these shifts, there are still obvious benefits to using the Authorship tag. Consider the following advantages:

–          Better CTRs. Although author snippets initially caused little difference in the SERPs, searchers are now used to them and are more likely to click on a listing if it is attached to an author snippet.

–          An engaged community on Google. As Stephen Kenwright points out, Authorship allows you the chance to build an engaged community on Google+, and therefore Google. Developing a community on Google can only mean good things for your rankings.

–          More attention in the SERPs. Eye-tracking studies have repeatedly shown that listings with Authorship images and snippets attract much more interest. For example, the following image demonstrates that the searcher spent the majority of his time on the page studying the results with an author snippet.

Eye-tracking study

The Future of Authorship

Clearly, the majority of the SEO community is still convinced that Authorship is crucial, even though Google has shuttered the project. Writers continue to publish articles discussing the importance of Authorship and still offer tips on how to deal with various Authorship problems. Articles like these clearly indicate that the issue of Authorship is here to stay.

Authorship may offer the most benefits to brands in the future. While individuals continue to relate through networks like Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is ideal for branding purposes. As an author, building up your body of work that is connected to a Google+ account offers the chance to create a reputation and “brand” for yourself.

Ultimately, Authorship is all about trust and authority, which means that it may very easily continue to be highly influential in the future even if it doesn’t directly contribute to Google’s ranking system. Since authority has become crucial for SEOs, why would you miss this opportunity to enhance your reputation? Authorship will always be beneficial for writers and publishers that maintain high standards for relevant, engaging content that adds new thoughts and opinions to the conversation within their industry.

Although I fully expect to see reputable authors maintaining a religious use of Authorship, one change that might occur in the coming months is that lower quality writers won’t waste their time on the markup. Since Authorship can only hurt sub-par writers and content by drawing attention to a poor body of work, these writers will abandon the pretense of using the markup. Fortunately, this shift would be good news for all of the great writers out there who are desperately trying to gain more readers.

The best way to make the most of Authorship in the future? Focus on creating engaging, relevant, high quality content. No matter how many changes Google makes to its algorithms, quality content will continue to gain attention and demand respect.

How do you expect Google Authorship to evolve in 2014?

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Sarah Beth

Sarah Beth Wiltse earned her BA in English at Boston University. Though she currently lives in Dallas, TX, she spent a year in Paris, France after college, cultivating her love of the French language and a passion for travelling. She has spent much of her life developing her skills in the arts, primarily as a ballerina, violinist, and pianist - and now, a writer! Follow her on Twitter!

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