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Update (30/08/14): On 29th August 2014, Google announced the end of Google Authorship, which makes the content in the article below out of date. I’ll be blogging about this topic on Tuesday 2nd September, so watch this space.

If you have Google Authorship set up for the sites to which you regularly contribute blog articles, you may have noticed over the last month that your picture isn’t always showing in search engine results.

Why is this?

In his keynote speech at Pubcon Las Vegas in October 2013, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that there would be a Google Authorship shake-up, changing the way the authorship mark-up appears. This is what Matt said (23:50 minutes into the video I’ve linked above):

“We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we’re looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author.”


Why will a reduction in Google Authorship improve search quality?

Row of cherries - Google Authorship shake-up helps businesses stand out

It’s harder to stand out when everyone looks the same at first glance

As discussed in my article about Google Authorship back in November, it’s great for boosting your visibility in search engine results. People’s eyes tend to be drawn to the listings with images, so it’s a fantastic way of standing out.

The problem is that, because it’s relatively easy to set up Google Authorship, it’s not necessarily a trust marker or sign of quality anymore. There has been a sense for a while now that Google had possibly set the bar too low, allowing authorship to be too prominent, especially for poor quality websites. If a picture shows up against every listing, how are web users meant to see at a glance who has authority or who they can trust? The move to cut Google Authorship rich snippets means it serves as more than a visual tag; it’s a sign of trust.

What does this mean for you?

The Google Authorship changes were rolled out on 19th December 2013. From what I’ve seen and read so far – and from what some of my clients have told me about their experiences -, there appears to be several different tiers of Authorship mark-up.

Many authors have retained their image against their Authorship mark-up in listings. However, if a search brings up several of your blog articles or web pages because they’re all relevant to the same topic, you may find that your picture only appears against one of the listings. This is to avoid duplication.

There appears to be what I can only describe as a ‘second tier’ or limited mark-up, which shows your Authorship by-line and, sometimes, the number of Google+ circles you’re in, but without your Authorship picture.

Finally, many Google Authorship rich snippets have disappeared altogether for people who used to get Google Authorship mark-up on some or all of their content, but no longer do.

If you contribute to several websites, you may find that your mark-up has disappeared from some but not from others. There is a lot of debate amongst commentators about the reason for this. One theory is that your Authorship mark-up may disappear from lower quality sites or sites to which you contribute infrequently.

If this is the case, then it would suggest that the Google Authorship shake-up might also be related to the authority and quality of a specific website, as well as you as an author.

What can you do to help get your Google Authorship recognised?

Personally, I think the most sensible thing any small business owner can do is to continue to write blog articles with their ideal customer in mind, rather than focusing solely on Google Authorship.

Good advice I’ve found from across various sources suggests that factors that influence securing your Google Authorship picture in the listings is down to:

  • Consistently providing high quality content
  • Improving and demonstrating your individual authority
  • Social mentions
  • Solid, high quality links from other reputable sites

You might also want to look at how you’re using rel=”author”. You should only set your Authorship up for posts, not main website pages, product descriptions or listings.

I’m sure Google will continue to tweak and refine Google Authorship to help web users pick out high quality content at a glance. There are a lot of questions and conjecture right now but I will be keeping an eye out for more news and developments, so watch this space.


photo credit: Nina Matthews Photography via photopin cc

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Emma Heasman

Emma Heasman has been an in-house and freelance copywriter for the past 13 years and launched The Freelance Copywriter in 2003. Ever passionate about copywriting, she now works with small businesses to help them write copy that speaks to their ideal customers. Connect with Emma on Google+

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