By Tommy P. Landry
Back in June of 2011, Google announced the advent of a new authorship program. This program was coupled together with Google+, and it was meant to provide an identity authentication solution as part of the site’s crusade against webspam.
If you recall, Google launched its first webspam penalty (Google Panda) back in February of that same year. All of the talk among SEOs was focused on how aggressive Google was pushing to clean up the quality of the search engine results pages (SERPs).
Over the next two to three years, Google pushed hard for webmasters to deploy Google Authorship markup on their websites for all authors and writers. Google understood how critical it was to achieve critical mass in adoption, and it worked tirelessly to attain that goal.
And Then Suddenly, Authorship Was No More
Fast forward to 2014, and Google announced that it would no longer be supporting author markup in the search rankings. After three years of promoting it, authorship as we knew it was officially a done deal.
Earlier that year, Google had already removed author photos from the SERPs. Since the author thumbnails were a huge benefit to using the markup, the natural question was whether or not we should even bother with it any more.
Google gave no definitive answer–essentially, feel free to use it or stop using it, because it makes no difference but it can’t hurt.
But Wait, Maybe the Story Doesn’t End There…
Many of us in the SEO and inbound marketing industry decided to keep using author markup “just in case” it ever became a hot topic again. Over the next several months, even some die-hard supporters had started to lose interest and removed it from their service offerings for website build out and optimization.
We still offered it as a checkpoint on SEO audits and website launches, but made it an optional service. Why force the issue when it likely had no future impact on ranking or SEO?
Very little was said about authorship markup until Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land posed a question about it to Google’s very own Gary Illyes, the company’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, at SMX East on October 1, 2015.
During Illyes’ keynote speech at this flagship event in the search industry, Sullivan asked if it was worth it to keep deploying author markup at all any more. The answer was a huge surprise to all in attendance.
Illyes recommended to keep using it “…because it is possible Google might make use of [rel=author] again in the future.” [Note that "rel=author” is the HTML code that marks up content to designate whom the author is.]
Based on further digging by industry thought leader Mark Traphagen, we learned that there is no concrete plan to bring back authorship. Instead, he suggested that authorship may very well have the potential of a rebirth if that highly sought-after critical mass is reached anyway.
What Does This All Mean?
Before Google pulled the rug on us, I spent a great deal of time educating clients and others in the industry about what Authorship was, how to markup websites for it, and the importance of getting on board. The vision was that, with fully credible authentication, the author of a piece of content can be factored into the overall algorithm for content quality.
If you know a writer is of high quality and knowledgeable about a particular topic, then content they generate on that topic should be of interest on merit alone. And I still think this concept holds water in the grand scheme of search engine optimization.
My advice to you: stay the course with Google Authorship, keep marking up your content, and watch for what Google decides down the road. I have worked with both marketing and SEO since the 1990s (before we even had a name for SEO), and it is always best to be poised for success than it is to find yourself caught off guard.