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The Reason “Google Authorship” Failed for Content Writers

As a writer of educational articles with a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, I write topics such as this to offer additional insight.

Google Authorship was created for writers to identify themselves in their written content.

Google Authorship was created for writers to identify themselves in their written content.

What Was Google Authorship?

In 2007 Google patented an algorithm for “Agent Rank/Author Rank” to influence page rankings based on author reputation.1

That was later implemented as Google Authorship in 2011 to allow writers to identify themselves with HTML snippets embedded in their online articles to establish proof of authorship.

In addition to the embedded code snippets, reciprocal links between an author’s content and profile page completed the process.

I did that to establish my authorship on my personal website. In addition, the host platform that publishes my articles implemented the code snippets and linked articles with each author's profile.

Read on to learn how it worked, the changes it went through, and why it was discontinued in August 2014.

How Authorship Markup Tags Were Used

Authorship markup tags were part of the HTML standards for a long time, but Google announced that it would begin supporting them in July 2011.

The plan was to provide a way to prove an author’s identity by implementing a reciprocal link to and from one’s Google Profile with two specific HTML tags:

  • rel=author
  • rel=me

These tags covered two purposes:

  1. The “rel=author” tag was used to point all content pages to one’s author profile page.
  2. All profile pages can point to each other with a “rel=me” in case an author has more than one. That would be the case if they publish on more than one website platform.

Many online content writing platforms started doing this automatically, so writers didn't need to get involved with HTML programming. But people with their own websites could easily add this markup code too.

See how these tags point to each other in the drawing below.

Illustration of how Google Authorship linking used to function.

Illustration of how Google Authorship linking used to function.

Why Google Kept Changing the Implementation Methods

I was one of the first to implement the authorship markup when it was first announced, so I saw what changes it was going through. Unfortunately, when all this started, Google quickly discovered problems that needed to be considered.

Some people complained that they didn’t have control over HTML programming on some sites where they published articles.

However, they did have the ability to enter URL links to their other sites. So Google took advantage of that by adding a new method that would work with that. That eliminated the requirement to do HTML programming.

Google also kept the initial method to avoid breaking what people had already done. I followed along in various forums and saw how people were getting confused between the two methods.

Being a computer programmer, I have been able to interpret Google’s instructions, but Google didn’t consider that many writers are not programmers. As a result, they made the implementation difficult for most people to understand.

Authorship Included a Headshot in Search Results

Once writers had authorship established, Google placed their headshots in the search listings (SERPs). Using a good headshot is one of the requirements that Google indicated in its instructions. Google bots ignored fake avatars, and a real photo was required.

Some people found that they can control which photos appeared in the SERP listings using schema markup code to display other images from the content.

The image below shows how it used to look in the SERPs with the author's image displayed.

This example image was my previous tutorial about claiming authorship.

This example image was my previous tutorial about claiming authorship.

Why Google Authorship Failed

Google had a lot of problems with the authorship implementation. Proper linking was crucial for proving authorship, and many people incorrectly installed the markup code.

Incorrect Implementation Caused Disappointment

Few people actually tested their implementation to be sure they did it right. I understand that non-programmers will make mistakes with complex HTML programming. That’s why it’s crucial to check one's work to avoid disappointing results. I suppose Google got frustrated with that.

Incorrect Attribution to Content Writers

Google even tried to automate the process to eliminate human error, but their algorithm ended up assigning the wrong headshot images to online writers. An example is a well-publicized fiasco with Truman Capote being shown as the author of a New York Times article written long after his death.

Numerous Tweaks to Fix Bugs Didn't Help

Many tweaks to the algorithm were continuously being done to fix bugs and achieve the intended initial results. However, Google’s research has shown that authorship status didn't change click-through rates anyway.

Two Google Personnel Gave Up

By 2014, two essential employees had left the company.2

  • Sagar Kamdar, Google’s former Director of Product Management on Search
  • Othar Hansson, the developer of the Authorship Project.

It was hoped that claiming authorship would enhance traffic to authors’ articles, but Google eventually said the experiment failed, according to a story in Search Engine Land.3

In August 2014, Google abandoned the program, discontinued all authorship functionality, and announced they no longer supported authorship markup for web search results.4

Author Images Still Appeared in the SERPs

After Google dropped support of Google Authorship markup code, authors’ images were still included in search results for a while, but only when the author was in the searcher's Google+ circle.

Interestingly, Google+ was also dropped years later. It was meant to compete with Facebook but never could keep up and therefore was discontinued in 2019.

Structured Data Rich Snippets Replaced Authorship Markup

After the Authorship markup code failed, Google committed to using Structured Data in Rich Snippets.

That was a way of improving search results without the critical linking that Authorship Markup required. However, it required a complete understanding of HTML and Structured Data implementation.

That’s not the subject of this article, so I’ll just give you a simple explanation:

Google bots use Structured Data on websites to understand the content of the page and format particular search results.

Here are two examples:

  1. Structured Data in a recipe article can help Google display the recipe as a graphical search result.
  2. Proper Structured Data with bullied lists or tables can help Google display a Featured Snippet of important content from one’s article in the search results.

Google has always been experimenting with methods to improve search results.

References

  1. Bill Slawski. (February 9, 2007). Google’s Agent Rank / Author Rank Patent Application. SearchEngineLand.com
  2. Gina Badalaty (June 21,2014) Google Authorship: Why You Should Use it. WebHostingSecretRevealed.net
  3. Eric Enge (August 28, 2014) It’s Over: The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results. SearchEngineLand.com
  4. Authorship in web-search | Google Support

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Glenn Stok