Google’s announcement last month that it was putting an end to the author photo and Google + count components of the Google Authorship program took many in the SEO world by surprise.
After all, author photos were a big part of the program that was designed to make author authority a bigger part of the search puzzle. The idea was that search results from authors who had had more experience writing on a particular subject would get higher rankings than content from less experienced authors.
Author photos, according to Google anyways, would add an additional boost by drawing the reader’s eye to authorship results.
The plan looked great on paper, so why is Google giving it the axe?
It’s All About the End-Users
The official end of Authorship photos came in a three-sentence posting on Google + from Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller. In that posting Mueller said the company was removing author photos as part of an effort to de-clutter search result pages.
Given Google’s drive to make mobile-friendly products that offer a consistent end-user experience, Mueller’s explanation makes a lot of sense. Author photos really don’t add much to the mobile experience and can create plenty of clutter, even on a large smartphone screen.
Did Authorship Photos Increase CTR’s?
One of Authorship’s biggest selling points was that all those photos would draw eyeballs and increase click-through-rates. Whether that was actually the case sort of depends on who you believe.
A recent posting on SearchEngineLand.com by Mark Traphagen points out that some web publishers claim to have seen CTR’s increase in the range of 30%-150% as a result of Authorship photos. Other studies confirm that user eyeballs are definitely drawn to those handsome portraits of web content authors.
Mueller, on the other hand, says that Google’s own studies show that the pictures don’t have much impact on CTR’s one way or the other.
Though the jury is still out on this question, it seems like Google is either glossing over the benefits of a feature they’d like to kill or there’s a serious gap in research methodology going on here; something doesn’t really add up.
This is Not the End of Authorship
Even though Authorship photos are going away, Google Authorship itself is still a big part of Google’s master plan. Matt Cutts has endorsed Authorship at recent SEO conference and suggested that Authorship authority could help lift rankings for smaller sites that feature content from well-regarded authors.