Authorship Badges Removed: Still Worth Setting Up

by Posted @ Jul 07 2014

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We’ve been recommending to our clients that they create Google+ Profiles for themselves and that they participate actively in the social network, along with other social channels that can help them expand their visibility across the Web. It’s something that we believe in doing for ourselves, and that we believe can help our clients tremendously.

google+profile

This includes linking to and verifying the sites that they publish content. There have been some benefits to doing this and maybe more in the future. Regardless of Google removing the author’s images from search results, there are still many good reasons for allocating time and effort to Google+.

Google Social Results Boosted Rankings and Display

When people connected to you through Google+ are logged into their Google Account, and they perform a search, Google will show them relevant search results that can include content that you’ve created or shared or endorsed. Those social annotations used to be accompanied by small profile pictures that would appear under the socially annotated search result.

Google removed these smaller photos after the publication of a white paper by Google’s Ed Chi, Social Annotations in Web Search (pdf) that showed that most searchers ignored those smaller photos.

Google Logged Out Search Results Display

When Google Authorship markup has been added to a site, Google has been showing for some sites, Author Profile pictures, an author byline, and a count of the number of circles the author is in at Google+. This is changing, but here’s what one of those search results looked like:

authorship picture old

Here’s what one of those results looks like now, after a recent change was announced:

authorship picture new

Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller announced during one of his weekly Google On Air “Office Hours” hangouts, on June 27th, that the way Google authorship pictures are displayed will soon be changed. The author’s profile photo and the number of circles that an author is a member of would no longer be displayed in search results in logged off searches.

The photos and the circle counts both appear to be gone now (see above for how those have changed) The justification from Google for change has two parts.

The first is that Google is redesigning to focus more on mobile users, and the author photos don’t help make the pages mobile-friendly. Google I/O 2014 announcements support the mobile-focused redesign statement

The second is that Google usability studies show that the author photos don’t seem to lead to many clicks, much like the smaller social annotation photos. There are a couple of other usability studies papers from Ed Chi that support that contention, and we will look at those.

There have been a couple of blog posts and articles that accuse Google of lying about click-throughs, but the lack of clicks on those photos seems to have taken Google by surprise, too.

The more counterintuitive result from our first study was that subjects did not notice social annotations. From our second experiment, we were able to conclude that this unawareness was mainly due to specialized attention patterns that users exhibit while processing search pages.

Users deconstruct the search results: they pay attention to titles and URLs and then turn toward snippets and annotations for further evidence of a good result to click on Moreover, the reading of snippets and annotations appears to follow a traditional top-to-bottom reading order, and friend pictures that are too small simply blend into snippets and become part of them.

These focused attention behaviors seem to derive from the task-oriented mindset of users during the search and might be explained by the effect of inattention blindness. All of this makes existing social annotations slip by, unnoticed.

Google Logged Out Search Results Rankings

In February of 2007, I wrote a blog post at Search Engine Land on Agent Rank – a way to score content created by that author that Google based upon reputation scores. It’s the first place where Agent Rank was mentioned on the Web other than in the patent, and people writing about it have taken to calling it “Author Rank”, even though Google doesn’t use that name. The editor of my post changed it to include the phrase ‘Author Rank”.

The idea behind Agent Rank is that Google might calculate reputation scores for different agents (authors, publishers, editors, etc.) who work on a page, connecting to it using a digital signature (the long string of letter/numbers) in a Google Account URL. We haven’t seen this kind of Agent Rank or Author Rank expressly in use yet, but we have seen several statements from Google’s Matt Cutts that they are still pursuing a ranking signal based upon an author’s expertise.

Attribution, Verification, and Plagiarism

Google’s patent on Authorship Badges allows for content created on an author’s page to be recorded so that if someone then scrapes and copies and republishes that content, the copying site won’t get credit for the content and possibly out-rank the original in search results.

The patent also tells us that authorship for the site will include a link that goes to the author’s profile page so that searchers can verify who the author is. The “By-line” that will show up for a site allows for his kind of verification.

In the article Identity And Impersonation In The Search Ecosystem, I described how Google might identify people trying to impersonate others as part of Online Identity theft, and how having author markup can prevent the creation of such accounts.

In-Depth Articles

In addition to Authorship snippets, Google added a new snippet type referred to as “In-Depth articles” rich snippets. These require authorship markup set up for a profile and also require some additional semantic Markup added to pages of a site, including article Schema and organization schema for a logo that might be associated with a site.

Here’s Google’s article explaining how pages need to be set up to appear in these types of snippets: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/3280182

Ed Chi’s Papers on Social Annotations

Do people click on authorship markup results at a higher frequency than just plain text results?

When Google introduced rich snippets to search results, on the Official Google Blog, they mentioned the possibility and introduced us to an experiment to test it.

In Introducing Rich Snippets, they tell us:

When searching for a product or service, users can easily see reviews and ratings, and when searching for a person, they’ll get help distinguishing between people with the same name. It’s a simple change to the display of search results, yet our experiments have shown that users find the new data valuable — if they see useful and relevant information from the page, they are more likely to click through.

Now we’re beginning the process of opening up this successful experiment so that more websites can participate. As a webmaster, you can help by annotating your pages with structured data in a standard format.,

We’ve been told frequently by Google in the past that searchers like to see rating and review data, so having pages marked up as containing ratings and reviews shouldn’t surprise if they earn more clicks.

In the white paper All the News that’s Fit to Read: A Study of Social Annotations for News Reading describes social annotations about the authors of news articles, how those might differ from each other, and whether or not they influence some results getting more clicks than others. This authorship markup doesn’t seem to boost the number of clicks for most types of results.

This paper does reinforce what John Mueller stated when he said that Google research doesn’t seem to show a lot of additional clicks when there’s a photo for an author showing up.

Conclusion

Even though author photos are disappearing from Google Search Results, there’s still a lot of benefit in setting up authorship markup, which includes:

  • Showing up in boosted logged-in search results for people whom you are connected to in Google+
  • Having your author byline show up in logged out search results.
  • Having your content be properly attributed to you so that you aren’t outranked by scrapers.
  • Making it less likely that your identity is ripped off by people pretending to be you.

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