With the recent removal of profile pictures from Google search results, many have declared the Authorship experiment to be over. Dead, done, scratched out, ended, it’s ready to be buried in the history books along with dozens of other failed Google initiatives. Immediately following that wave of pessimism and depression came the optimistic hope that Authorship still lives, that it’s still valuable, that years of persuading marketers to use it haven’t been wasted. Well, thankfully, it’s true. Authorship does maintain some value, and it’s likely to increase in the future.
1. It’s Still Valuable Without Profile Pictures
That brings us to the first point. Authorship is still valuable without the pictures, it’s just a little less noticeable. Google removed the profile picture and circle count from search results, but it still allows you the custom rich text snippet and the Google+ author name in said snippet.
With the new version of Authorship, yes, you lack a profile photo, which was easily the most visible benefit to Authorship. The thing is, according to Google themselves, the photo wasn’t actually that beneficial. It didn’t significantly change click behavior one way or another. For that matter, since the start of the year, many people already had the photo-limited Authorship snippet.
For a while, Google had been working to filter the quality of Authorship results. At the start, sure, everyone who jumped through the right hoops could earn a profile picture. Eventually, Google started tightening the restrictions on quality, both of author and of picture. Brands creating author personas just to get a picture would find it harder and harder to do so. Many who previously had pictures found themselves demoted to second-class Authorship status, with the byline but no picture. Now, evidently, that second-class Authorship has become the standard.
Authorship also ties in with the more nebulous concept of Author Rank, another factor mentioned in Google’s algorithm but not quite explained. Essentially, Google has been working to tie a reputation and value to individual authors, not just individual domains. This is important because it gives authors a measure of authority, a way to become more resilient to the issues of sites they contribute to, among other problems. Potentially, on a multiple author blog, an author with a high trust Author Rank could survive when other authors are caught and penalized for copying content or buying links. Does it actually work that way? As of yet, it’s hard to tell.
2. It’s Easier than Ever to Get
In the previous point, you may have noticed the bit about the high quality standards Google required for Authorship. Those standards have all but disappeared in the last month, largely due to no longer needing to vet the quality and content of profile pictures.
All you need for a successful Authorship integration now is an active Google+ profile and two-way verification. Put the rel=”author” markup on your website in the proper locations. Add the site to the Google+ contributor list. As soon as Google notices that the two are linked, Authorship will take effect. It’s that simple, it’s that easy and it works in a matter of hours, not days.
Of course, that implies that Google Authorship is universal. While it’s easy to get and easy to verify through the Authorship texting tool in the Google Webmaster Tools suite, that doesn’t mean it’s active. Some high profile authors are still noticing that their byline doesn’t show up on content for certain sites, even though those sites are still reputable, their Author Rank is high and their content is legitimate and valuable. It’s simply a quirk of Google for now that Authorship doesn’t work on every query.
With the lowered requirements, there are more sites showing up with Authorship than ever before. They’re a little harder to spot, due to the gray text as the only signifier. There are also a whole host of sites that should have Authorship working but don’t.
Google is still experimenting with the system, which is to be expected after such a major change. Some sites no doubt have stopped supporting their Authorship markup, while others have leapt at the chance to take advantage of the easier requirements. What remains to be seen now is how webmasters will find a way to abuse the system, as they do with every other system Google has ever implemented.
3. Profile Pictures Still Exist
Does that headline give you pause? If you’re a frequent web searcher, you no doubt can verify that profile pictures are gone from the organic search results. The thing is, those aren’t the only results available to Google, and they aren’t the only results Google can add a picture to. There are, for the moment, three ways a picture can show up in Google search results.
First, you have Google News. Google News has always been a much more visual page than the standard search results. It stands to reason that Google has less incentive to remove pictures from the news results than from standard search. Of course, they have significantly dialed back on the availability of pictures in news results. They still show up, rarely, but more often the author is simply granted a bright and visible blue link to their Google+ profile.
Second, you have Google+ interaction. Some marketers have reported seeing profile pictures in the wild once more, but only in very specific circumstances. The profile picture will only appear when certain conditions are met.
• You, the reader, must be signed in to your Google+ account.
• You must have the author of the content in one of your circles.
• The picture is more likely to show up the more engagement you have with the author on Google+. Greater levels of engagement and a more relevant position in your social circles means more visibility for that author’s profile picture.
So you can see that Google has simply found another way to leverage profile pictures as a dangling carrot to draw marketers into Google+ use. This is likely a reaction to the all-too-common theme that marketers and authors would create Google+ profiles for the Authorship, but never really make use of the site as a social network.
Third and finally, Google has begun to sneak in brand logos as a sort of pseudo-Authorship picture result. Rather than requiring a public face, Google just uses that brand’s logo. It works the same way; you must be logged in and you must be engaged with the brand through Google+.
It seems fairly evident now that the removal of profile pictures in general search results was just a step along the way to further, more intricate use of Google+ for marketing value. Google is just taking another step to encourage marketers to get their readers on Google+ and engage them there.