Team Portent Bids Farewell to Authorship

One spring day of 2011, Google announced a new thing called “Authorship.” They described it as a way of using data to “help people find content from great authors in our search results.” With little exception, the SEO community rejoiced. Finally, we, the content creators and bloggers of the world, were on top. By adding a few lines of codes, our names, social profiles and, (most importantly?) faces were the main attraction on an actual, Google search result. We were the “great authors” that Google was talking about!

The best authorship result
Expert search result

Look at this expert search result!

Then, over two years later, it happened. First, Authorship pictures were significantly reduced. Then they disappeared entirely. Next was the data from Webmaster Tools. Finally, a modest Google+ post formally announced its death. This is the way Google authorship ends; not with a bang but a whimper.

Upon hearing this grim news, I mustered the strength to send an email to my fellow Portent marketers to get their thoughts and predictions about the death of Authorship. What’s different now? Why did it happen? What does its death mean? Did it ever really mean anything in the first place?

Why did it happen?

The first thing many asked was “why?” Why did they do this to us. Marianne Sweeney, our own SEO/UX expert gave her insight on this:

“Google is a for-profit company. I believe that they initiated the enthusiasm for Authorship to build participants for their social network. They have failed miserably to draw close to Facebook’s membership numbers and so have decided that the cost of processing results with this feature does not warrant the benefit that they are getting.”

Another one of our SEOs, David Portney, is suspicious of Google’s motives:

“I’m not the only one who finds it pretty interesting that the death of Google Authorship markup does not include Publisher markup… but can it be far behind? Same for Google Plus altogether?”

For me, the main take away from both Marianne and David is that Google wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t somehow making more money. How that is, exactly, is the question. Perhaps our VP of Search and PPC expert, Elizabeth Marsten, has the answer:

“More space for ads.”

How will it impact websites and authors?

“Is it really dead or just keywords dead, which is not dead at all, but just not something you can’t track anymore? ” – Meegan Kauffman, Content Strategist

The impact of this is difficult to say since, unfortunately, none of us at Portent are also Google. But a few Portentites did have some thoughts about this, starting with our CEO and Overlord, Ian Lurie:

“Google is being carefully vague about this. “They’re no longer processing this data” but we should still use schema markup. And they’re still using publisher markup? My gut tells me they’re still tying citations together across the internet, and this markup is still playing a role. They’re likely seeing abuse, and want to nip it in the bud.”

Marianne similarly predicts that the data driving authorship may still play a role:

“This is hard to predict as it was not so much the Authorship use but the association with Google+ that seemed to enhance ranking during Google’s fascination with social annotation phase. Authors may notice a drop in traffic to their sites from searchers that actually clicked on the thumbnail image or the More from link in the SERP blurb. “

Another of our SEOs Katilin McMichael, saw a silver lining many people were skipping over:

“Google+ profile pics still show up, if they’re in your circles. I think that’s a distinction most people miss. “

While this may not seem significant, people should remember that the default setting in Google search is to have your results personalized. This means that if your active on Google+ your activity still affects people in your circle. As a matter of fact, since sharing a post still actually puts your profile picture in search results, you could argue that this move highlights the person who shares a post on Google+ even more than the author that actually wrote the post! And down the rabbit hole we go…

What will you miss most?

For whatever reason, the Authorship show has come to an end. And, as with all endings, opinions differed. I asked the folks at Portent if they wanted to share any parting words before heading back to our respective corners of the Internet.

“[I’ll miss] the image of the author in the SERP. I actually found it to be useful amongst the noise.” – Elizabeth Marsten

“Nothing. Now I can delete my neglected Google+ page.” – Marianne Sweeney

“The awkward headshots” – Mike Fitterer, Account Wrangler

“My thumbnail made me look fat, so good riddance.” – Braxton Kellogg – Social Media Diva

In the end, though, our Social Media Strategist Madelaine Kellman probably summed up the number one concern for most all of us consultants out there;

“This was my biggest argument for a brand to actually use Google+.”

I guess we’ll see if Google sees things the same way.

What are your thoughts about Google’s shutdown of authorship? What will you miss most about it? Share your thoughts and concerns in the comments below.

Portent Alum George is a former member and lead of Portent's SEO team. George went on to Moz as an expert on local SEO and is now in residence at

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  1. I have always suspected that Google’s main motivation for authorship was, in the first phase, creating the connections between authors and their work, for the Knowledge Base. In the second phase, I think they were mostly checking the findings of their algos, to see how reliable their own process was. I suspect that they’ve come to the conclusion that the results their algos provide are sufficiently accurate that they no longer need our input to establish those connections, so as Marianne says, they’re reducing their processing load accordingly.

  2. I agree with Madelaine Kellman. If Google has killed authorship, is there really any reason to keep cajoling my clients they need to be on G+ in the first place? It’s been an awful lot like pushing mud up a hill to convince them. No amount of early adopter benefits and increased authority reasoning has helped much.
    While I find it to be a good channel for me with the creative community, many of my clients in the B2B space are finding it difficult to build networks.

  3. I have to agree with Marianne Sweeney the most. First off, I’m kind of happy to see G+ go. After all, I don’t think I ever met anyone that enjoyed updating it…so as with Marianne, and in my opinion most others, mine wasn’t updated much. So good ridden.
    As far as was it effective for marketers?
    You know, Google did say they were using + as a ranking signal, but even as an author, with authorship on USNews & World Report, I honestly didn’t see any benefit in it. Obviously I write for some pretty popular publications…If this is said to be used as a ranking symbol, why no jump in rankings? Am I already perfect already? Although I’d like to think so, I highly doubt it! After all, if that was the case, I’d be ranking for anything and everything…right?
    As far as my predictions for the future…
    As I mentioned above, I agree most with Marianne Sweeney. Especially because this…
    “Google is a for-profit company. I believe that they initiated the enthusiasm for Authorship to build participants for their social network.”
    As with what Madelaine Kellman said…
    “This was my biggest argument for a brand to actually use Google+.”
    I think that was the main reason for authorship…to get marketers and business owners to recommend others to G+.
    All of that being said, G+ is nothing if it can’t turn a profit. I think what’ we’re seeing is the slow, agonizing death of Google+. The simple fact is that social is a very saturated market. People love Facebook, people love Twitter, and most people don’t care to learn about G+ because their needs are already met. So in a sense, Google is trying to make a vampire out of a dead corpse with +. Maybe they’ll keep it around for another 2 or 3 years to try and make a miracle happen, but in the end, I think + is soon going to be a thing of the past.

  4. If you carefully think about it this had to happen. Google Authorship has been abused to the max. It was possible to create a fake account with a fake picture and imitate a famous person. My favorite incident was “Matt Cutts” selling bulk tweets. That is not a great user experience :/
    There was just too much freedom. And there were just not enough people using it looking beyond tech.
    Also: Even though most forget… Google wants and needs to make money. Photos get a lot of attention and AdWords didn’t have photos 😀
    Greetings from Austria,

  5. Authorship going away is unfortunate, but it doesn’t seem like G+ is going anywhere. While G+ is never going to be Facebook, it’s an important way to tie together Google account services, and Google will continue to make strategic acquisitions. With streaming video being as popular as it is now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hangouts become more prominent, especially if Twitch and YouTube continue to struggle with their copyrighted content issues.

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