Glenn Stok is a systems analyst with a Master’s Degree in Computer Science. He writes instructive articles to help educate his readers.
This article (updated in 2020) is a review of the beginnings of Google Authorship, how it got started, how it worked, changes it went through, and the reason why it was no longer supported after August of 2014.
I'll discuss the following:
- What Was Google Authorship?
- What Were Authorship Markup Tags?
- Why Authorship Markup Methods Kept Changing
- Why Google Authorship Failed
- Authorship Included a Headshot in Search Results
- For a While Author Images Still Showed in SERPs
- What Replaced Authorship Markup?
What Was Google Authorship?
In 2007 Google patented an algorithm for “Agent Rank/Author Rank” to influence page rankings based on author reputation. This was later implemented as Google Authorship in 2011.
The method used author tags as HTML markup code. With reciprocal links between an author’s content and their profile page, one was able to establish proof of authorship.
I quickly claimed my Authorship in 2011 by adding the required markup code to my personal website. In addition, the host platform that publishes my articles implemented the markup code, linking articles with each author's profile.
What Were Authorship Markup Tags?
Back in July 2011, Google announced that it would begin supporting the authorship markup tags that were part of the HTML standards. (HTML is the language that's used to create web pages).
Google created a way to prove an author's identity by implementing a reciprocal link to and from one's Google Profile by using these two HTML tags:
The rel="author" tag was used to point all content pages to one's author profile page. 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 write on more than one website platform.
People with their own websites would add this markup code. Many content platform sites started doing this automatically so writers didn't need to get involved with HTML programming.
See how these tags point to each other in the drawing below.
Why Authorship Markup Methods Kept Changing
I was one of the first to implement the authorship markup, so I saw what was going on. 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. They did have the ability to enter URL addresses to their other sites, so Google added a new method that would work with that. That eliminated the requirement to do HTML programming.
Google also kept the initial method so as not to break what people already had done. I followed along in forums and saw how people were getting confused between the two methods.
As a computer programmer myself, I have been able to interpret Google's instructions, but Google didn't appreciate that many writers are not programmers. They made the implementation difficult for most people to understand.
Why Google Authorship Failed
Google had a lot of problems with the Authorship implementation. Many people incorrectly installed the markup code. Proper linking was necessary for proving Authorship.
Few people ever 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 so important to check one's work. I suppose Google got frustrated with that.
Google even tried to automate the process to eliminate human error, but then their algorithm ended up attributing the wrong headshot images to the wrong people. 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.
Many tweaks to the algorithm were continuously being done in an effort to fix bugs and achieve the results originally intended. Google’s research has shown that Authorship Status didn't seem to change click-through-rates anyway.
By 2014, two important personnel had left the company1:
- 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 one's articles, but Search Engine Land reported that Google said the experiment failed.2
In August 2014, Google abandoned the program, discontinued all authorship functionality, and announced that Authorship markup was no longer supported in web search.3
Authorship Included a Headshot in Search Results
Once you had authorship established, Google placed your headshot in the SERP listings. Using a good headshot is one of the requirements that Google indicated in its instructions. Google bots ignored avatars. 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.
This example below is how it used to look in the SERPs with the author's image displayed. This example was my previous tutorial about claiming authorship.
Author Images Still Showed in SERPs For a While
For a while, Author Images were still included in search listings, but only when the author was in the searcher's Google+ circle.
However, this wouldn't be a game-changer for displaying author images in SERPs. Google+ was meant to compete with Facebook, but never could keep up, and was discontinued in 2019.
What Replaced Authorship Markup?
Did anything replace the markup code that was used to claim Authorship? Yes. Google made a strong commitment to the use of Structured Data in Rich Snippets.
This is a way of improving search results without the crazy linking that Authorship Markup required. However, it requires a total understanding of HTML and Structured Data implementation.
That’s not the subject of this article, so I’ll just leave you with a simple explanation:
Google bots use Structured Data on web sites to understand the content of the page and format special search results.
Here are two examples:
- Structured Data in a recipe article can help Google display the recipe as a graphical search result.
- 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.
- Gina Badalaty (June 21,2014) Google Authorship: Why You Should Use it. WebHostingSecretRevealed.net
- Eric Enge (August 28, 2014) It’s Over: The Rise & Fall Of Google Authorship For Search Results. SearchEngineLand.com
- 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