Initially the SEO industry was excited by the introduction of Google Authorship and delved straight in to find the effect that it had on rankings. Many studies such as that conducted by Jeff Sauer arrived at the disappointing conclusion that as a standalone factor Google Authorship has no direct impact on a site’s rankings.
This was followed by the recent confirmation from Google Web Trends Analyst John Mueller, that Google Authorship does not affect rankings, so the question now is not “if it is integrated will it have an effect on rankings?”, but “when will it have an effect?”
While Google Authorship apparently has no direct effect on the SERPs, meaning it is not one of the 200 plus factors used in the ranking algorithm, it will still have an effect in some way; just indirectly.
Google Authorship was created to personalise individual content and give it a more personal feel when it appears in searches. Using your own Google Plus profile, Google links your details to the content you have written on a particular domain.
As Google was behind this development, the likelihood is that it will be beneficial in more ways than one; it is just narrowing down your options. Using Google Authorship, a picture will appear next to your content in the search results as part of the rich snippet, which helps to draw the user’s eye to it. Alongside the picture will be a snippet of your article and some information about your Google Plus circles, which should draw the reader to your piece by giving them upfront information about the author.
Initial reports suggested that the addition of authorship could draw people towards your content and therefore your website, with a positive impact of between 30% – 150%. If this was the case, then hopefully there would be a corresponding effect on rankings, because if more people are clicking through to your website, then Google could see the higher click through rate as a reason to push your content up the rankings.
Eddie Emmanuel, Search Director at Catalyst Online, found that rich snippets used on recipes and reviews increased his click through rate by 150%. Another study by Cyrus Shepard found that just by enhancing his profile picture he received a 35% increase in click through rate.
A very interesting eye-tracking study by Justin Briggs showed that a user’s eye is more likely to travel down to a result that has implemented Google Authorship even if it ranks lower. This heat map image demonstrates that the dark red areas were looked at most, even though they were much further down than the top results:
One of the main points of analysis for a website is the traffic that visits your site. Back in January 2013, 25% of internet users had profiles on Google Plus and were using the network and it was ranked as the second most popular social platforms in terms of usage after Facebook.
A while ago, Alex Yumashev caused a bit of drama around the Google Authorship feature, by claiming that it has caused a 90% decrease in traffic to his site. This caused a lot of people to worry about the effect that Google Authorship might have on their traffic but Matt Cutts wrote in a Hacker News thread:
“Authorship had nothing to do with this site’s drop. The site has been affected by our Penguin webspam algorithm and that accounts for the drop.”
Conversely, a study by search marketing company Catalyst found that using Google Authorship did have a positive effect on traffic as they saw a 150% increase in its visits and page views. All they did was implement the authorship mark-up and get their rich snippet to show next to their content and their traffic rocketed:
The Future of Search
Moz.com completes a yearly study of hundreds of SEO professionals to gather together what they think contributes to the current Google Algorithm and what will contribute to it in the future, as well as the weighting of each contributing factor.
As we can see by the table below (data collected mid-July 2013) the SEO community at large believed that Authorship would become an important ranking factor and, in the survey, showed the second highest increase in its perceived importance to the search results.
But most people thought the world was flat.
This study was completed around the same time there was a lot of hype around Authorship, Author Rank and Agent Rank.
Currently there is no correlation between the popularity of the author and their rankings. But it is clear that Google is looking to enrich its search results with personal recommendations.
Looking at the changes over the last few months, algorithm revamps such as Hummingbird have been designed to make sure that faster, more personal search results can be delivered to the end user.
Location based search results for anybody logged into a Google account ensures you are finding businesses near you.
Take our “pub” example below:
This shows the power of Google’s local and personalised search results; a generic phrase “pubs” gives me access to not only the pubs near me, but reviews of the pubs themselves, their exact location and their contact details. This level of information is akin to a well-designed infographic, ensuring you get what you want from the information available.
Query information like the Ryan Reynolds shot below again provides the user with the desired content based on popular searches, rather than manipulation of the search results.
From an SEO point of view the increases in personalised searches means making personal connections is even more important.
So although Google Authorship may not affect overall rankings at the moment, it is likely that personalised searches will mean that Google will eventually give you results from authors you interact with / click on regularly. Ultimately it is more likely to present you with information it thinks you want to see, rather than the writers who have managed to manipulate the search results the best.
What Next for Google Authorship?
There are of course many other factors to take into consideration when measuring the effects of Google Authorship, including the ranking of your content – the higher you rank, the more likely your content will be seen and clicked on.
If you want your content to be more visible and catch the eyes of internet users, then there is no two ways about it, creating a Google Plus profile and using Google Authorship is a no brainer. By adopting it now, you will grow your profile and build up an audience larger social media base so that if and when Author Rank is fully implemented you will have more leverage to top the SERPS.