One thing for sure about Google—change is a given. Just two short months ago we were talking about the end of profile pics in search results and now Google has pulled the plug entirely on Google Authorship.

Given that anyone who is paying attention realizes that Google is constantly testing and evaluating different products, this shouldn’t be surprising. Google Authorship made sense in 2011 when it first appeared, and with the launch of Google+ it appeared to be something to which Google was committed on a long-term basis.

Google’s John Mueller explains the change as follows.

“We’ve gotten lots of useful feedback from all kinds of webmasters and users, and we’ve tweaked, updated, and honed recognition and displaying of authorship information.” He goes on to add, “[u]nfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”

So there we have it; they gave it a try, tweaked and refined it then found it didn’t work so it’s time to move on. There’s actually more to this story, and this is the part that I find most interesting. Google Authorship was smart, it made sense, but it was too darn hard to get people to adopt it. And if people aren’t going to adopt something like this en masse, bloggers, companies, etc., it’s just not going to work.

Stone Temple Consulting did a study into the use off the rel=author markup, as reported by their founder and CEO Eric Enge, together with co-author by Mark Traphagen, over at Search Engine land. The results of the study back this up and explain the quandary that Google faced with Authorship and the likely rationale behind the decision.

The study looked at 500 authors across 150 major media web sites and the results confirmed Google’s conclusion that the adoption of Authorship had been patchy at best. This is the summary of the implementation of tagging from G+ profiles that the study revealed:

Kramer Post

So despite all of Google’s efforts over the last three years to encourage authors to link their content to their profile, only a paltry 30% made the effort to do so.

A deeper analysis of the data also revealed that a third of the sites studied didn’t have any author pages at all. The majority of authors on the remaining sites, failed to take up the opportunity to add links and attribution to their published content. Worse than that was the fact that the implementation of authorship was inconsistent and prone to errors so that few of the authors actually received rich snippets in SERPS results.

Assuming that Google’s own, no doubt broader and deeper research, confirmed these results, it’s little wonder that they decided to call time on the Authorship project. Enge and Traphagen also speculate in their article that limits on processing power and the rapid increase in the use of mobile may also have played a part, with a reluctance to take up valuable and limited screen space with authorship markups. With mobile more than anything, it’s always about real estate, real estate, real estate. And if something doesn’t add tangible value, it’s not worth giving up the real estate.

So, what to do now? Do we leave our existing markups in place or add them to new content? The answer from John Mueller in conversation with Mark Traphagen, as reported in the comments to the Search Engine post (if that isn’t a mouthful, I don’t know what is), would appear to be that there is no harm in doing so even though they will have no effect for the time being. I agree, after all, what can it hurt? The comments are well worth a read by the way, with some interesting and sometimes heated debate. That’s what I love most about the SEO community, smart people with lots of interesting ideas and opinions.

What do you think? Does the death of Authorship due to lack of adoption only make sense? It does to me. But I can also see great value for authors in being able to plant a flag in your content that’s written and published across the web. It will be interesting to see if something else of that nature comes along from The Goog. Next time around, hopefully they’ll learn from their Authorship experiment and make it easier to implement.

Shelly Kramer is the Founder and CEO of V3 Integrated Marketing. A 20+ year marketing veteran, she’s a brand strategist focused on delivering integrated marketing solutions and helping businesses leverage the web for growth and profitability. She’s an expert at content strategy and execution and tying social media to business initiatives. Recognized by Forbes on a number of occasions, most recently as one of the Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Experts  and Top 50 Social Media Influencers, she’s half marketer, half geek, with a propensity for numbers, producing results and a dash of quick repartee. Her blog has been recognized by Forbes as one of the Top 20 Best Marketing and Social Media Blogs and by PostRank as one of the Top 100 Most Engaging Social Media Blogs. Find her on LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter. 

This post was originally published on the V3 Integrated Marketing Blog.

Other resources on this topic 

Google Authorship and Author Rank aren’t the same thing. Here’s why Google Authorship can die yet Author Rank lives on