The world of search is still in shock after Google announced that they would be scaling back Google+ visibility in the search results.
John Mueller, a webmaster trend analyst for Google confirmed on Wednesday evening that they have "been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results". The re-design will see less information pulled from the firm's own social network, Google+, in order to create "a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices."
Mueller wrote in his post on Google+:
As a part of this, we're simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behaviour on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)
Expected to roll out "globally over the next few days", this has left those who have invested the time in Google Authorship confused and asking why Google would do this?
Why is Google removing author photos?
Simple answer, we're not exactly sure. For many of us, the features of Google Authorship were the key reason to be on Google+. "By highlighting a particular result with an image and an author's name, the features are thought to boost the number of clicks" commented theguardian.com. In Mueller's post he said that removing the profile photo left searchers acting in a 'similar' fashion, we're not convinced.
Commenting on Mueller's post, Kristine Schachinger from Search Engine Watch said:
I have 3x intentionally lost my image from the results and EACH Time the drop was approximately 25%. Since I have 1 million impressions and 110k CTR on average every 3 months, I think my tests show there is a significant drop. Also your assertion it does not change CTR would violate all other usability and eye-tracking studies that show that an image in search increases CTR.
When rich snippets were first launched, Google said: "users recognize when your site is relevant to their search, and may result in more clicks to your pages." Since then, studies have been completed on eye-tracking highlighting the positive effect author photos can have your CTR (click through rate).
Probably one of the most confusing changes Google has made to the SERPs in a while, it would appear that Google has abandoned the idea of building two separate versions for desktop and mobile instead favouring a unified "clean" design created with mobile in mind.
What does this mean for Google Authorship users?
According to Mueller:
This is really just about the UI shown in search. We’re always working on making Google Search better -- we made 890 updates in 2013 alone. We’ve decided this new design works better, particularly on mobile.
In mid December 2013, Google's new authorship algorithms were designed "to show author photos when they're more likely to be relevant and interesting. (For example, the algorithms now try to estimate the quality of documents an author typically writes)." In January 2014, Matt Cutts commented in his Keynote that Google would be tightening up on authorship to help combat spam, cutting between 20-40%.
It is clear that the algorithm changes favour high quality authors, and Google has shown that it is refining Authorship. Everyone can still implement rel=author, but now it has become a lot more difficult to have your snippet shown in the SERPs.
Of the 205 messages from Google+ users to Mueller, most weren't those of praise but disappointment and annoyance. Mark Trapenhagen of Search Engine Land said:
I think Google may be saying, in essence, “Thanks for playing, everyone. We are now going to reward the winners.
Content creators can continue to use Google Authorship with their Google+ profiles. 'Qualifying' authors will be given a byline; most likely without a author photo and, Author Rank, for the time being, still exists.
If you have Google Authorship, expect to see your articles appear without an author photo next to them in Google's SERPs. Back to faceless SERPs.
Featured Image: google.com