Google Authorship has become something of a popular buzzword as of late. Google’s certainly pushing it and SEOs, webmasters, publishers and many writers are also interested in seeing their headshot appear right on a Google search result page.
In a nutshell, Authorship is really meant to call attention to pages that contain content by the same author, such as blog posts and bylines, and content which conveys the personal opinions of that author. Authorship can reward implementers with the inclusion of a “headshot” in the Search results which can increase click-through-rate and the trustworthiness of that content. The idea really being, if you like an author and see a result with their ugly mug next to it in a search result, you’re probably more likely to click on that result.
However, while the buzz of the search marketing industry has implied that implementing Authorship will only add value to your site, there is a downside to improper application of the tag and as we’ll show below the potential risk is surprisingly big.
Trying out Authorship
Earlier this summer, I redesigned and re-launched one of my personal websites, OceanCruises.com. A fantastic cruise and travel resource.
After closely monitoring all site metrics after a full migration and waiting for performance to stabilize (as is typical for any migration), I decided to implement Authorship code. I used an SEO plug-in which added the code to all pages of my site. While I knew this wasn’t the exact proper way of implementing the tag, I figured that at worst, Google would figure out that my “Vacation Destinations” page wasn’t exactly an opinion piece and apply the “authorship affect appropriately”. After all, Google loves saying they’ll figure things out… “leave it up to us” they say.
Well maybe they don’t exactly say that but… boy was I wrong about the “figure it out” and “apply appropriately” part.
What the H?!?
Almost immediately, site impressions plummeted.
When I implemented Google Authorship on Ocean Cruises, the code was applied to each page via a SEO plug-in on both Pages and Posts. After seeing this drop and knowing the only thing I had done to the website which could affect the domain “site-wide” was add Authorship, I quickly went looking at search results to confirm if it started to appear. Low and behold, I saw that my author image was showing up for my site’s homepage. Not what I had intended, but I kept looking. What I found was both blog posts (opinion content) and pages (factual information) were appearing with Authorship.
To confirm my suspicions though I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being manually penalized for my “Picark” profile picture, which I admit, could create the impression that Patrick Stewart was the captain of my website. I submitted a reconsideration request in Webmaster Tools just in case and quickly received the all clear from Google. No manual penalty applied.
So there you go, Authorship algorithmically hit me in a very negative way.
After removing authorship from the site completely, impressions and rankings normalized quickly. Shortly after the recovery, I re-applied authorship only to the posts which had bylines and impressions and rankings have remained stable.
Let my folly be your salvation
Though Google hasn’t confirmed this with me (they must have lost my cell number) I suspect that by applying Authorship to all of my pages; I turned all of my pages including factual static website content into “opinion content”. If they then were ranking my opinion content up against Carnival.com for instance, due to my low Author Rank vs. Carnival Corporation, my pages were possibly seen as less authoritative and were therefore pushed down in the search results. Naturally, impressions declined.
It’s hard to say for certain what Algorithmic trigger was pulled here, but the moral of my story is that you need to keep in mind that Authorship is certainly not only additive it can be subtractive. Authorship appears to have algorithmic sensitivities that I don’t believe have been explained by Google. Webmasters (and SEOs) should be selective of its application down to the page level. Applying authorship to non-opinion pages could prompt a “search engine smack down” so if you choose to try what I did, keep your eyes on performance and be mindful of any dramatic changes to visibility and click-through-rates.
Google recommends, Rel=author should be limited to use on pages that:
- Contain a single article or single piece of content by the same author
- Show a byline on the page, stating the author wrote the article and using the same name as used on their Google+ profile
And by “should” I think they mean, “without any doubt”.