Google has announced big changes to the way Authorship shows up in search results. Under the changes, announced a couple of weeks ago, photos and circle counts will no longer appear. The move might have left you (and quite a few others!) scratching your head and wondering how the change will affect you and what you should do about it. In this post, we will take a look at Google’s reasoning behind the decision, and what you can do to help maintain your position on the web.
Why is Google removing photos from search?
One of the main reasons cited by Google is that they want to clean up SERP visual design so that it is less cluttered, and also more streamlined and consistent across multiple devices – especially mobile ones. This is because Google is of the view that mobile use will surpass that of desktop in the very near future, and photos can take up a lot of space on a small screen, creating a lot of unwanted clutter.
Is there more to it?
There is some speculation that some broader reasoning also applies. This includes the speculation that Google is in the process of refining Authorship – which basically is likely to involve providing a ranking boost to authors who have known credibility and authority in their subject areas, rather than rewarding Authorship per se.
In addition, with Authorship possibly being misused by some for SEO purposes, it is likely that Google may be cracking down on this practice, and making sure to reward the original authors of top content.
For example, in some cases where expert content has been plagiarised, the content thieves have even claimed ownership of the content through Authorship – resulting in a boost to their site above that of the original authors.
Fortunately it appears this problem is being dealt with by Google, indicating that they recognise that Authorship – like any SEO tool – is capable of being gamed by unscrupulous operators.
Another speculation is that Google is readying itself for the introduction of Author Rank – designed to promote quality authors and content. Defining Author Rank will be done using a number of contributing factors, such as the quality of backlinks to your site, reputation on social networks, PageRank and other signals.
What can you do about all this?
If you are currently in the process of building a great reputation through the provision of high-quality, expert content, and you have already set yourself up in Authorship and taken steps to protect your content, you really don’t need to do much at all. Just keep doing what you are doing already and you should be on the right track.
But if you’ve not yet taken advantage of Authorship, now might be the time – in spite of the fact that Google might not display your photo in search results.
This is because Authorship still provides many benefits, and while your photo and circle counts may not appear in results, your name will still be displayed as the content author along with your byline.
In any case, don’t abandon or disregard Authorship – it is still a good tool for establishing your identity as a quality content author on the web, and it may also provide you with good preparation for Author Rank.
Will this change affect click-through rates?
It has been generally considered that photos in search results tend to improve click-through rates (CTR), and site owners may be concerned that their CTRs may fall as a result of this change. However, it may also be the case that these higher CTRs may flatten out when data is taken as a whole – that is, across all search queries and across all types of devices. So to state categorically that CTRs will fall may not be accurate.
In any case, it is possible to track your CTRs to see if they are dropping. This can be done through Labs and Author Stats in Google Webmaster Tools.
So to sum up – while this change by Google may have come as a surprise, it might not be as bad as all that. As long as you maintain the quality and expertise of your content for your audience, it’s likely your position on the web will not be negatively affected.