John Mueller of Google Webmaster Tools recently announced that the search giant was ending its great experiment with authorship markup. Not only will Google no longer show authorship results in SERPs, but they won’t even be tracking data from content using the rel=author markup.

The aim of the authorship principle was a noble one – “to influence page rank based on an author’s reputation and digital presence”. In essence, content from a well-respected online contributor, which was shared and recommended, would be given higher prominence than content from an unknown source. With Google’s quest to provide search users with the best and most relevant content, this seemed to be a logical and highly promising step. When the Google+ platform was released, all the pieces of the author attribution puzzle seemed to fall in to place. Here we finally had an elegant way of connecting online content with its author.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan. Whilst many of us found this extremely useful from a search perspective, being able to see the source of online articles allowing us to decide on the relevance and reliability of content, there were problems from the start. These included authors not linking content to their Google+ profiles, or not even having one in the first place, sites not including author pages, no attribution to individual authors, and so on. Couple this with the fact that many webmasters and developers either didn’t or couldn’t implement the code, or implemented it incorrectly, and authorship hasn’t been the easiest SEO feature to live with. Poor understanding of its benefits, coupled with difficulty implementing it have meant that more often than not it was a real headache.

In June of this year Google removed author images from global search completely. The reason cited here was that it was intended to “simplify the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search”. Google also stated that listings with images shown had no significant difference in click through rates (CTR) than their non-image counterparts. I personally find this hard to believe as I would be much more likely to click on a link with an image of Rand Fishkin or Matt Cutts over an image of a cartoon avatar or an unknown face.

Then came the news that was something of a shock to many, especially those of us who have been trumpeting the benefits of authorship and Google+ to anyone who would listen (and even those who wouldn’t) – Authorship was gone, for good.

Google cited two very good reasons for this though:

Low adoption rates by webmasters

Very few sites were actually implementing the markup. Even SEOs and digital marketers were slow to take it up, with a recent study showing that out of the top social media marketers only around a third had actually used it on their own blogs. In addition, where the markup was incorrectly added, or was missing, Google was attributing authorship incorrectly.

Low value for searchers

When Google announced in June that they were removing author images from their search listings the justification was that these results showed no significant increase in CTRs over those without such snippets, and could in fact be distracting to users. It seems that this has continued, and that Google’s own methods of displaying this information has proven to be irrelevant and of little use. In the search ecosystem we know that there is no room for such a creature, and so authorship has gone the way of the Dodo.
So what does this now mean for webmasters, after so much hard work and effort should we start removing the authorship markup from our sites?

I would say no, in fact we should keep adopting the principles of authorship using structured markup such as Google has indicated that it will be expanding its support for such markup, and other search engines, companies and online services may well still be using this information. The idea behind authorship was a good one in that it would provide users with a guarantee of the authenticity and reliability of an article based on its author – this was especially true within niche sectors such as ours. Ultimately, it’s about the end user and such markup, if implemented correctly, can only add value to the user’s online experience. In addition, there are other methods to indicate to the search engine and users who the author of an article is, using author bylines for instance.

Authorship may be gone, but Google hasn’t removed support for the Publisher markup and Author Rank seems to still be very much alive and kicking. Ultimately, as webmasters and SEOs our first duty is to provide web users with an informative and hassle free experience, and as long as we can clearly indicate who has authored our content then Google and our readers will figure it out too.

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