Google Authorship is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of search

Let’s play Devil’s Advocate a minute.

Google has said it will “stop showing authorship in search results.”. It has not said that it will stop using what it has learned about authorship to impact rankings.

Over the past few years, it has registered a huge range of major publishers in one form or another and you can imagine it has gathered a lot of useful data. Its map of where writing comes from and how authors behave is more complete than ever.

Like moths to a flame, every SEO and their content-marketing best friend has splurged out rel=author in the hope it would positively affect their rankings. The issue with something so visible is that it immediately tempts manipulation.

Google must realise it doesn’t need to know about the long tail of EVERY author, just important authors. It has them. In the announcement it also reaffirmed its commitment to structured markup, the long time future of a more organised web and the area authorship fit into.

This isn’t a Google+ story, as many have tried to make it. It’s an interesting example of user experience vs ranking factors. Making authorship a visible element in search results was not an improvement – so Google has removed it. But I don’t believe that it has turned its back on better understanding sources and producers of content vs the simple pages they generate.

Like Obi-Wan, the corporeal form of authorship may have been struck down — but if the data so far has made it more valuable to Google as a ranking factor, it may have become even more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

- Max Tatton-Brown

September 5th, 2014