John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, announced today that Google will be discontinuing its support for authorship in search results.
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. Unfortunately, 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.
In June 2014, author photos were dropped from search results in order to reduce clutter in the design, according to Mueller. Today’s announcement means that the rel=author markup will no longer be tracked on websites.
Authorship was an experiment that Google had been running for the past three years. Mueller reported that their tests showed that removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites, nor does it make it more likely that users will click on ads. The change was allegedly implemented to improve users’ experience.
Although the authorship schema is no longer used to identify a post’s author in search results, Mueller says there’s no need to be in a rush to remove it from your code. “We’re no longer using it for authorship, we treat it like any other markup on your pages. Leaving it is fine, it won’t cause problems (and perhaps your users appreciate being able to find out more about you through your profile too),” he said.
Jetpack 2.5 introduced an easy way for WordPress users to add authorship to posts. Representatives from the Jetpack team were not immediately available to comment on whether or not the plugin will shed the dead weight of authorship in the next release. There are many other WordPress plugins that add Google authorship, though not as elegantly as Jetpack did. Several major SEO plugins also incorporate ways to add authorship to posts. The authorship-related functionality in these plugins is now obsolete.
Mueller emphasized that even though authorship is being discontinued, Google will continue its support for structured markup:
Going forward, we’re strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we’ll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.
Many SEO specialists have speculated that linking authorship to Google+ profiles was a ploy to get more people to use Google+, a product that has failed to gain momentum. Fans of the authorship feature are baffled by its removal, given that Google’s research indicates that it doesn’t seem to affect search results. From a user’s standpoint, seeing an author you recognize can be tremendously beneficial when selecting among similar search results.
Google is well known for experimenting with features and products and killing them off as soon as tests show that they are no longer valuable. It’s not clear whether or not authorship will be reincarnated in some other form down the road. If you’re using a WordPress plugin that adds authorship to your site for SEO purposes, you are safe to disable it, as Google is no longer interested in that data.