Navigating Content Quality Signals in a Post Authorship World

Image of a tombstone with Google Authorship inscribed upon it
Late Thursday afternoon before Labor Day, John Mueller, notable Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, dropped some news that gave some of us enough heartburn to last through the celebrations and festivities of the long weekend. Writing in a post on Google+, he revealed, “[W]e’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”

If you read this and subsequently spent your weekend alternating between your bottle of Pepto and whatever beverage you happen to hold in your beer koozie, here’s a quick take on what happened, and what it means for your content plans going forward.

What happened to Google Authorship?

The fact is that Google’s been dialing back authorship embellishment in SERPs for a while now, and there’s no shortage of speculation as to why they’ve been doing it. Google’s stated reason is that authorship SERP embellishments didn’t fit into a mobile-first world and that users never really valued the enhancements. Other, non-Google employees speculate that the embellishments were stealing clicks away from the paid advertising that Google sells, and thus, had to go.

Whatever the reason, the fact that authorship embellishments have been removed from search is much less of a surprise than the fact that Google is no longer parsing the rel="author" authorship markup itself.

Even without enhanced SERPs, we’ve consistently been told that Google wants to better understand the relationship between author and content. Even recently.

Is the content author now irrelevant?

Probably not. I’m going to continue paying attention to it, but how I do this may change a bit.

First off, we need to understand that Google has been less-than-clear on whether it still wants to understand the author’s relation to content. Because they’ve not given clear guidance, speculation is rampant. Objectively, there’s merit to the idea that author is a quality signal. Even in the world of print this is something familiar to us. And if there’s one thing we know about Google, it’s that it is constantly trying to tease out valuable signals that help it improve search quality.

Instead of the familiar multi-step (and perhaps fragile) process required to establish authorship in the past, some speculate that Google may have found another way to understand the author of a given piece of content. Some even suggest that having a byline on the content is sufficient.

I’m not alone in my standing opinion that the author signal still an important piece of the quality puzzle, and we haven’t seen the end of it. Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen write:

So is authorship gone forever? Our guess is that it probably is not. The concept is a good one. We buy into the notion that some people are smarter about certain topics than others. The current attempts at figuring this out have failed, not the concept.

As Google moves forward in its commitment to semantic search, it has to develop ways to identify entities such as authors with a high degree of confidence […].

Do I need to remove authorship markup?

Absolutely not.

Google has indicated that it is no longer interpreting rel="author" (and rel="me") markup, but they have clearly stated that there’s no reason to remove it if you already have it in place. In fact, many SEO and content experts recommend continuing to use it for the simple fact that other search engines and services can still interpret and use it. My own recommendation is pretty simple: if you don’t yet have Google’s form of authorship in place, you can add it or ignore it as you see fit.

If you decide to do without it, at least make sure that each article/post (for which you’d normally use authorship) has a clear byline attribution to a specific person. Bonus points if the name in the byline links back to a biography, a LinkedIn page, a G+ account, or is wrapped in schema.org markup that indicates author.

Yes, semantic markup and structured content are still important. In fact, in the same post that Mueller announced that they have stopped interpreting authorship markup, he reiterated the recommendation that we all continue to embrace and adopt semantic markup of our content:

Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.

It’s hard for me to read this without thinking of the schema.org “author” property used in schemas for Creative Work, Article, BlogPosting, NewsArticle, etc….

Is Publisher markup affected by this change?

No. Google has been clear that Publisher markup is still considered, and Google’s use of it has not changed. So if you’ve implemented rel="publisher", Google is still interpreting it.

The G+ exception

Somewhat paradoxically, Google has insisted that SERPs will still be embellished when results include posts written by people in your Google+ circles. Mueller’s explains:

It’s also worth mentioning that Search users will still see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query — both in the main results, and on the right-hand side. Today’s authorship change doesn’t impact these social features.

So if you manage your hospital’s social media accounts, you may want to consider this when growing your circles to include members of your community. The more people in your circles, the more people will see your G+ posts (including your content promotions) in enhanced results when they perform relevant queries.

The Web is always changing

At the end of the day, this change is much like countless others before it. From keywords to directories and all the other things we’ve paid attention to in the past, authorship is indeed changing. But unlike many of these other things, I suspect that the authorship story is far from over.

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This entry was posted in Admin Feed, Best Practices, Search/SEO/PPC by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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