In October 2013 Matt Cutts from Google announced there would be some radical changes to how Authorship is shown in the Search Results. In December many of us noticed this drastic and almost instant change implemented by Google for Authorship in Search.

Further evidence that this change is underway can be seen in this screen cap from the new Moz Google Features Graph. It shows the amount of Google Authorship snippets showing in the SERPs for the past 30 days (up to 18 December 2013).

Moz Google Features Graph

As you can see, it appears Authorship snippets started to decline around the beginning of December, then took a nose dive around the 12th, and after a couple of days of leveling off, have taken another plunge. It’s true that if you look at the scale of the graph it’s only about a 3% reduction overall so far, but given that Authorship has been pretty steady in the SERPs for a long time, that’s still a significant change.

In his keynote speech at Pubcon Las Vegas this past October, Google’s Matt Cutts said that they had been testing a reduction in the amount of Authorship snippets shown in search results, and they found that when they reduced them by about 15%, “quality went up.” Cutts did not make clear whether it was the quality of the authorship results or the overall quality of the SERPs that improved, or for that matter, even what he meant by “quality.”

But one thing seemed clear: at some point the amount of Authorship snippets in search would decline, and that “quality” would be the reason, and perhaps the criteria.

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts

Here’s exactly what Matt Cutts said at Pubcon:

“We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we’re looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author.”

Three Classes of Authorship NOW

Another change being noticed by Authorship observers is that there now appears to be three “classes” of people who use Google Authorship in terms of how they show up (or don’t show up) in search:

1st Class: Full Authorship Snippet

Google Authorship 1st class

These authors still tend to get the full authorship snippet (author photo + byline + [optional] number of Google+ circles).

2nd Class: Byline But No Photo

Google Authorship 2nd class

These authors still get an author byline under the link text in their search results (and sometimes the number of Google+ circles they’re in, at least in the US), but no author photo.

3rd Class: No Authorship Rich Snippet At All

These authors used to get authorship rich snippets for some or all of their content, but no longer get it.

What is most interesting here, of course, is that new “second class.” We used to only see that kind of authorship result when the author already had another result on the same SERP showing an author photo. Google only allows one author photo per author per search page. But now we are seeing these “headless snippets” appearing all by themselves. They indeed seem to be a new “middle class” of authorship rich snippets.

What Authors Are Being Affected?

It’s too early to say for sure if there are definite signs or telltale common characteristics among authors who have dropped to the second or third class of authorship. But we are seeing the emergence of some patterns from the anecdotal reports we are receiving from users whose authorship has dropped. So far the primary patterns seem to have more to do with sites than authors. In addition. there has been no discernible rankings change for most authors. So this does not appear to be an “author rank” update, but rather a culling out of sites that are not meeting some undefined threshold of quality for showing full author snippets.

Well-established authors who regularly publish in-depth content on trusted sites and whose content tends to get a lot of links and social shares appear to have been spared. I have yet to receive a report of anyone at that level who has dropped to second or third class.

Number of Google+ followers has no bearing. I’m still seeing first class examples with just a handful of people circling them.

It is looking more and more like this may be a site-by-site assessment rather than author-by-author. I am hearing about sites where the snippet class of all their authors dropped for content they had published on the site. And as noted above, some authors are showing full rich snippets for some sites but not for others.

Connecting authorship to pages that violate the guidelines in the Google Authorship FAQ published earlier this year may cause one to drop in Authorship class. These are pages that don’t “convey a real person’s perspective or analysis on a topic.” Examples given include product pages and property listings.

What Does This Means to You?

Just like any other Google Update you should understand it is slowly being integrated and it is showing quite a bit of influence based on the site in which your Authorship is being used and the perceived quality of your content. This should now be a decent barometer for you to check and see which content you are creating is deemed to be of “high quality” by Google and/ or if the site you are posting on is considered to be a “high quality” site.

This definitely DOES NOT mean you should stop using Authorship.

One thing which stands out and needs to be mentioned is that when you use Authorship, you should use it ONLY when you are creating quality content. Do not use it for everything. I personally have begun creating an “Admin” Author on my sites with ZERO Authorship connections and have been changing my regular the Author of Pages, Product Pages, and Custom Post Types which are general in nature to this general Admin Author. By doing this these pages/ content will now just be listed under your Google Publisher status versus Google Authorship. This will elevate Your personal AuthorRank and the overall quality ratings of your content, thus elevating the level at which Google perceives your authored content to be.

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