Editor's Note: Since this post was published, Google has removed Authorship functionality entirely. Read more here.
Yesterday, Google's John Muller made an announcement that broke marketers' hearts: Google Authorship's about to get a makeover. And it's not the type of makeover that makes you say "ooo" and "ahh" and "how wonderful" -- it's the kind that could impact your search traffic.
Google's getting rid of author profile pictures and Google+ circle counts on desktop and mobile search. So search results that used to look like this:
Will now look like this:
So you'll still have your name in search results, and your name will be linked to your Google+ profile, but your photo and social following will be hidden ... which, let's be honest, was one of the main reasons we all set it up anyway.
There is a sliver of hope here -- for folks who make it into Google News search results, you'll have a tiny version of your photo next to a larger picture of the publication's logo:
Mum's the word on when this'll actually start taking place -- as of publish time this morning, search results were still displaying authorship photos and Google+ circle counts.
In his announcement, Muller says that this change was made because it offers a less cluttered experience for users, especially on mobile, and that tests indicate the clickthrough rates are similar:
But, from the research that's already been published by Google, that may not be the case.
Is Google Getting Rid of a Good Thing?
In part of his post, he dives into some eye tracking research Google's done about this all. Google found that social annotations (i.e. authorship profile photos and circle counts) completely change the way we look at search results. Without them, users tend to focus on the first few search results and ignore the rest. Here's what users focus on when annotations are added:
The results indicate users are drawn to results with Google Authorship pictures even if they're below the fold. And see that little click icon? It means the user ultimately chose that result.
So while Google's position is that removing author profile pictures and circle counts doesn't affect clickthrough rates, there's also data to support that it improves clickthrough rates.
Since the news is fresh and doesn't appear to have taken effect just yet, marketers haven't reacted, though I anticipate a renewed fixation on dominating the top three spots. Ranking high in Google search will always be important, but with Google's more recent algorithm changes, we have to remember that we can't hack our way to the top. You've got to continue to create content that helps people -- not robots. This update is confusing and potentially frustrating, but you'll survive okay if you're focusing on pleasing people first.
What do you think about this announcement? Do you think this'll help improve search results?