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John Mueller Elaborates on Google's Dropping Author Photos from Search

Big HT to +Joshua Berg for alerting me to this video, and for his participation in it.

As many of you know, Googler +John Mueller was the one who broke the news that Google will soon be dropping all author photos from search on both desktop and mobile. For my take on this news, see http://stonet.co/1lwxaDm

Yesterday Mueller was asked in the Google Webmaster Central Office Hours Hangout to elaborate on this change.

At 37:23 (and continuing for about two minutes) he pretty much reiterates what he said in his first announcement:
 
- The change was a user interface and experience decision as Google moves toward a "mobile first" implementation (a consistent appearance across both desktop and mobile).

- On mobile, author photos eat up both considerable display resources and space on the screen.

- He repeated his assertion of "no perceptible change in CTR" without any further elaboration (+Joshua Berg I wish you had gone after him on that one! But see below for John's eye tracking study remark, which may obliquely address this.)

- Tiny author thumbnails in Google News and In Depth Articles search boxes may remain, but he wasn't sure.

Is Author/Content Quality Still a Factor?
They return to this subject at 48:33. +Joshua Berg notes that it has always been true that different authors got differing levels of Authorship credit in search, assumedly based on their authority and the quality of their content. Since last December, this was reflected in some authors more frequently getting a photo snippet, some just a byline, and others losing authorship snippets altogether.

Joshua asked John if there would still be a similar differentiation in the new version of these results.

John answered that actually he thinks they will now concentrate more on just the technical aspects of whether or not authorship was implemented correctly on the page. So now, if you don't get even the byline, it will usually mean that you didn't set it up correctly. (Aside to +Grace Massa Langlois - you should take note of this!). 

He went on to say that therefore if you have Authorship set up technically correct, you will likely get the byline. In other words, for now, there is no consideration of content quality or author authority for the Authorship rich snippet!

John went on to say that in the future they may have to reevaluate that position once they get more experience with the byline only results. He promised that there will be continued experimentation. If they see that people are using the bylines as a gauge of how great or trustworthy an author is, that might be impetus enough to try to re-implement some kind of quality factor into whether or not one gets a byline.

Maybe Too Many Author Photos
John then hints that part of why they may have done this is that there was too much Authorship in some query verticals. They don't think it's a good user experience when any feature too dominates in results.

Maybe This Is Why CTR Is No Longer A Big Deal for Author Photos
He also makes a passing remark about the eye tracking studies from two years ago. These were studies done that showed that people's attentions were powerfully drawn toward the results with faces next to them. John suggests that that effect may have worn off over the past two years as people got more used to seeing face photos in search. That may explain why he said that Google now sees little CTR difference between non-photo and photo search pages.

John launched off from that to make a more general remark on why they sometimes make these kinds of large changes in search. People remark, "Why did you have to change it? It was working fine!" but Google's data actually shows that over time user behavior in response to whatever the feature is actually has changed. Some things lose their effect over time, while others might gain, and that necessitates changes.

John remarked that Google search will never remain static. Users should always expect change because the way people use and interact with search is constantly evolving. But no change is done on a whim; it is always based in solid data over time. 

#authorship   #googleauthorship   #authorrank   #googleauthorrank   #seo  
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JD Ebberly's profile photoRay Hiltz's profile photoRahul G's profile photoTony Melling's profile photo
9 comments
 
Glad to know this was useful +Mark Traphagen. I think you absorbed more of those points better than I did, excellent synopsis.
 
Thanks +Joshua Berg. I always so appreciate your "taking one for the team" by being on these sessions, and the great questions you asked. Not the first time you've uncovered useful info!
 
+Mark Traphagen thanks for the writeup. Not sure that I ever saw too many profile pics when I did my searching.
 
+Ronnie Bincer it was very dependent upon the search queries you typically search. Some would have tons, others hardly any.
 
Yep +Mark Traphagen, I think I at least know what it is that we want to know.

On the CTR questions there's a reason I didn't push for more on this. As you mentioned in your recent exceptional article, I don't believe we have a lot of hard data on recent user behavior in this regard & how it has evolved, especially in comparisons with recent exponentially high mobile adoption.

One thing I do believe is that, as +Cyrus Shepard mentioned, once these profile images disappear there's going to be significant data coming available to us that may shed more light on recent variances.
 
+Joshua Berg I see the wisdom of that, and as I noted, John's eye study comments were clue enough for me: the data has changed over time, and isn't now what most assume it to be.

FYI I'm in close touch with Cyrus and Dr. Pete over at Moz as they are watching the evolving data, and may be collaborating with them on some content, if we find anything useful.
 
Personally I think the portraits are somewhat distracting - I see result #8 b/c it has a face next to it - the first 7 ones I 'overlook'. I think I'm not the only one with that 'issue'....
Whatever the real reason, I find it hard to accept that because of 'mobile', they change the desktop search engine. Sure, you want uniformity, but if faces are so valuable, why not keep them? 
To me it seems they just want to clean up the results-list - it was not enough adapted and/or too distracting.
Not that it is a big deal anyway.
 
Mark,

So what makes sense forward going forward with Google Authorship on a WordPress blog, A) set up authorship on all your posts, or B) or just set up Google Authorship on your best (quality) posts?

And does rel=publisher has any relevance? (if indeed it ever did)  
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