Google Removing Author Profile Pictures From Search Results

No more author profile pictures
In a recent development, Google's Webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has announced that Google will be removing all author profile pictures from the search results. In addition to this, Google will also remove Google+ view count in a latest bid to free up some real estate on search results. This is true for both mobile and desktop versions of the search engine, and the changes will be slowly rolled out to all users over the next few days.

Since the introduction of Authorship on 2011, Google has done much to keep our hopes up on any possible Author Rank that could help quality content writers. But scraping profile pictures and view counts from search could be seen as a step away from all that. So why would Google such a thing?

According to a Google+ post from John Mueller;

Google announcement

Why is it important?

One of the biggest benefits of Authorship rich snippets in search results was a supposed significant boost in click-through rate (CTR) for those results. An author profile picture signifies authority. Even some eye tracking studies have  showed that, not surprisingly, people’s eyes were drawn to results that contained a face photo, even when those results were further down the search page.

However, John Mueller claimed that their "experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new, less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one". Mueller could be talking about the overall CTR for all the search results, and not just for Authorship results. But whatever the reasoning behind it, we do not agree, and I am sure many in the SEO community will agree.

Why is Google doing this?

The answer to that question isn't immediately clear, but 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.

Apart from UI considerations, this new change could have been effected by other factors. One possible theory is, Google might be winding up the free-for-all, and starting again, selectively this time. What I mean is, Google let everyone implement authorship in the past. But we all knew that the ultimate goal of authorship was to reward the top content creators.

Google hasn't said anything for now, but when the time comes, it might give a boost to only those who have proven themselves. The rest of the authors would then just have to make do. Google is taking the game to the next level, and only those will advance who are worthy.

The future of Authorship

First, let’s note that this change is not the death of Google Authorship, nor is it the end of Google’s long-term project to understand author authority as a possible search ranking authority.

Content creators can continue to set up Authorship connections between their Google+ profiles and their content anywhere on the web. In fact, in his announcement of the current change, John Mueller pointedly linked to Google’s instruction page for implementing Authorship.

Qualifying authors will still get the byline on search results for their content, even if the photo and Google+ circle count no longer show. And I would assume that Google will continue to track data on any such authors that could come into play for any future author rank system.

As recently as two weeks ago at the SMX Advanced Conference in Seattle, I heard Matt Cutts respond to a question about author rank by saying that he remains very much in favor of the concept and that he would love to see it continue to be developed by Google. He repeated his favorite hypothetical he’s been using for a year now about how “years from now it would be great” if a post by someone like Danny Sullivan on a lesser-known site would get elevated because Sullivan is such a trusted person in the search marketing world.

So my take would be that even if what many see as the top benefit of using Authorship now (their face photo next to search results) is gone, using Authorship still has its advantages, and it may be wise to continue as a long-term investment toward Google’s coming author rank.

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