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Google stop bashing my ego

By 26/06/2014Blog, SEO
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Google remove authorship images from search results

Ok so the title is a little pretentious and tongue in cheek but in essence this is exactly what Google have gone and done.  They have announced that they will be dropping authorship images from search results for both desktop and mobile.  This is a huge change as users had previously been encouraged to connect Google+ accounts to create these authorships.  Along with the images the circle count visibility will now also be ditched from search results!

An example of what one of our current results looks like:

zak jacobs seo cambridge

Heres what Google’s +John Mueller had the following to say about this change:
“We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results, in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices. As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)”

Why remove the authorship image?

There have been many reports recently where users have mentioned their mugshots disappearing from search results and despite the fact they thought they may not be ‘pretty’ enough to be shown to the world it was suggested that Google was updating the way is was delivering search results.  It now appears that this is just part of the roll out to remove authorship images altogether.

If you had set up authorship just to get your headshot seen in search results (vanity at its very best) then you may have been doing it for the wrong reasons in the first place.  If you had also been doing this to increase search ranking then  sadly this will not have been making any difference to results, a discussion I have had numerous times.  Authority is more than just a headshot and always has been, it takes time and is a sign of quality.  This is really where the misconception lies for those that just wanted to be seen in search results.

Many Google+ users connected their author images thinking this will give them some kind of priority status, well in truth it doesn’t, certainly not in Google’s eyes.

Signs of authorship spam

A big problem with authorship and images has become the dirty tricks in the way that they have started to be used, potentially leading to a spammy world similar to that of Twitter and Facebook.  I am sent numerous offers to buy Google+ followers and have even seen a local competitor go from 50 to almost 3000 followers in a day but where is the value in a huge fake audience?  Google have ways to determine which profiles have genuine authority but they themselves admit they are not expert with this at this stage.

Images themselves bring another problem.  In a world where we educate kids that looks and appearance do not matter we then go and display our head shots to the world to advertise our blog or business, how does this make any sense?  Encouraging others to potentially click on results of the best looking people and pushing the less photogenic individuals to one side?  Has this ever been the right message to send out?

As for removing circle counts, that kind of makes sense as mentioned above this can be easily manipulated to show fake followers and on top of that shows a bias towards those that may have been well connected in the Google ‘social space’.

Googles priority we would assume is still to identify the best authors within their niche subject area and to use this information to deliver relative informative results.  So removing the author images and circles figures may be a kick in the teeth but its certainly not a disaster when it comes to delivering results that people actually want to see.

So what does this actually mean for those that have already set up their authorship or are thinking about doing it?

Without a doubt the old format with a headshot lead to increased visibility and click throughs.  However if you look at the last 12 – 24months in the search industry the amount of changes to algorithms and search results has been phenomenal.  There is no way that Google are going to get it right every time (yes even Google can get it wrong) we’ve seen it with Google products released and then dropped so the surprise is just that but not a shock.  In fact if you think of yourself as a digital guinea pig fit for testing then you’ve probably hit the nail on the head.

The driving force behind the change seems to coincide with the continued uplift in mobile search.  When you consider that mobile is going to overtake desktop search then the removal of author images is no surprise.  The starting point on mobile is a search engine for over 40% of users.  Speed and convenience are the driving factors on mobile search so anything that could be slowing down the process is evaluated.  Google want to display results in the most effective way and clearly authorship was effecting this.  Mobile users like to react to search quickly, easily and often on the move.  Messy visual results and bad user experience simply offer no value and reduce conversions.  I do however have another theory in that the big money making machine ‘Google Adwords’ is reducing click through rate due to increases on clicks for results with images.  How long will it be before you can pay to have your logo or headshot next to your Adwords result? Watch this space…

mobile search 2014

What’s next for authorship?

I certainly wouldn’t now choose to neglect authorship, it still offers great value and in time this could be even more relevant to the way Google displays its search results.  Cleaning up the visibility of search results is one thing but they will not have lost site of the value that author data offers.  Authors will still continue to get a byline in search results so authorship hasn’t been dumped for good.  In the news results the circles results have been removed but there is still a ‘smaller’ image in place (for now).

The bigger fish in this whole whole authorship shift is around the much talked about ‘author rank’.  This doesn’t really have any real impact around the images themselves with the emphasis is on Googles ability to identify trusted authors producing great content.  This does seem a long way off right now and has been echoed recently by Google’s Matt Cutts at the SMX event.  Although he states it is a priority they are not any closer to making it happen.  He did also say earlier this month that a post on a low ranking page or forum written by a user with a trusted identity may lead to that page being given more authority in search results.

Google is a wise old owl if they make decisions to change they usually have good reason and data that backs this up.  Losing authorship photos is just one of those changes, it isn’t the first and won’t be the last.  Being involved in the search industry these days is both a fascinating and challenging task and lets face it without all the change we would only get complacent.  So before you chuck the towel in, be prepared to evolve with the times and ride the Google wave.

 

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Zak Jacobs

About Zak Jacobs

Zak Jacobs is the Director of UK Digital Agency Red Alien. An experienced digital marketing professional, passionate about online integrity, user experience, and performance marketing strategies.