First it was Authorship photos. Now, it's the whole shebang.
Yep, that's right -- Google Authorship is over. According to a Google+ post yesterday by Google Webmaster Tools' John Mueller, Google is removing authorship results from search and won't be tracking the rel=author tag data anymore (it'll be treated like any other type of markup on your website, and "won't cause problems," according to Mueller).
And the changes seem to be immediate. This search used to return results that looked like this (pre-Authorship photo removal):
Now results look like a throwback to 2011:
But search results won't be exactly like they were in 2011. Users will see Google+ posts in the main results and in the sidebar from their connections -- and the results seem to look very similar to the Authorship design:
On the "Death of Google Authorship", note Google+ posts still get both 'authorship' and author photos (brands too): pic.twitter.com/p9yFLSA919— dan barker (@danbarker) August 29, 2014
Many of us are wondering what gives, Google. Why would the search giant do away with Authorship?
Why Is Authorship Going Away?
In Mueller's post, he says the reason Google Authorship is getting the boot is because of users. Apparently it wasn't that helpful for users, and even ended up distracting them. And according to their tests, "removing Authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads."
Mueller got more specific about what went wrong with Authorship in a conversation with Search Engine Land. From three years of test data, Google found two main reasons to ax Authorship:
1) It had low publisher and webmaster adoption.
In the link above, Search Engine Land showcases some original data around Authorship adoption. They found that lots of people still weren't using Authorship, or if they were using it, it wasn't set up properly.
But if you've ever set up Authorship, it makes sense. Though there were some easy-to-use tools to help you set up Authorship, if you didn't have those tools, it was a hassle and a half to get it set up.
As a result, lots of people didn't set it up properly -- or at all.
2) Users didn't find value in it.
Besides being hard to set up without the right tools, Authorship wasn't getting the results Google hoped. When they announced the removal of Authorship photos, Google said that there was little effect on clickthrough rates with Authorship photos removed.
The combination of low adoption and low impact on search made it clear to Google that Authorship as we know it should go ... but that doesn't mean you're going to stop seeing photos in search anytime soon.
Authorship for Google+ Instead?
Frankly, the most interesting part of this whole story is that Google+ posts from your connections will now look like Authorship did -- so this change might be an aggressive ploy to get more and more people on Google+. With people trying to get any edge in the rankings they can, some people may default to ramping up their Google+ presence in the absence of Authorship.
So what should you do? Should you be doubling down on Google+ in the hopes of some more traffic to your site?
The biggest thing I'd urge you to do is to not panic. This does not spell the end of SEO. This does not mean your site is suddenly going to tank in the rankings. It just means that you have to tweak your marketing activities.
Maybe you'll ramp up your Google+ promotions and presence, but the core of your marketing will stay the same -- creating content people love on your website. Like with any other distribution platform, Google gets to make -- and change -- the rules of its platform. But if you're focusing the majority of your time on building your marketing for your audience, and then making smaller changes as social networks, search engines, and distribution platforms change their algorithms, you'll weather the storm just fine.