Google: Slowly moving back to 10 blue links
Last night Google’s John Mueller announced on Google+ that “authorship” had been removed completely from the search results. Just like Google has recently removed most video snippets, this is another step towards Google’s search result pages going “back” to being 10 blue links.
Brief history of author highlighting / authorship
We were among the very early adopters of author highlighting, building features into WordPress SEO that made this very easy as well as writing tutorials on how to achieve the author highlights. The format went from a picture on the right of the search results (notice the +1 button that appeared in the SERPs at the same time):
to the picture being highlighted on the left, removing the +1 button but adding the number of “circles” the author was in on Google+:
to (more recently) it just being the name below the URL, with no mention of Google+ left:
“no traffic impact”
John Mueller, anticipating flack from SEOs and webmasters worldwide, said this in his post:
(If you’re curious — in our tests, removing authorship generally does not seem to reduce traffic to sites. Nor does it increase clicks on ads. We make these kinds of changes to improve our users’ experience.)
Now, that doesn’t surprise me, because they probably tested against the 3rd iteration of author highlights shown above. I’m guessing the impact was quite different when they took away the picture, and the impact might actually have been different for different audiences as well. I know I’ve had my fair share of tweets and mentions of people saying they saw my face in the search results the whole day, as they were working on specific WordPress stuff. It definitely had a branding impact.
In his post, John makes it a point to highlight that they’ll continue to show rich snippets based on Schema.org 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.
All four major search engines are backing schema.org and they’re used, for instance, in the creation of rich snippets with ratings and prices like these:
As AJ Kohn showed in his excellent post on rich snippets, schema.org data seems to be used for Knowledge Graph results too, for instance for books results. Another area where (the data from) schema.org markup is used heavily is in Local search, our Local SEO plugin does lots of schema.org markup around locations and business type.
Standing out in a crowded search result
Author highlights, video snippets, ratings: they’re all ways to stand out in a result that is otherwise just a “bland” 10 blue links. When we’re being limited by Google in how to stand out, we immediately start looking for new ways.
The third screenshot above shows that we’ve been playing with separators, a recent feature in our WordPress SEO plugin that lets you choose which separator to use:
While implementing this I was testing which separators still worked in search results. In the “old” days, you could use diamonds, airplanes and all sorts of other weird characters. This too has been severely limited. A few years ago, 888 used special characters in their titles like this:
They no longer do that as most of those special characters no long work.
So what’s the next step for creative optimization?
With all these changes, a few things remain that allow you to really stand out:
- rating snippets (though one must start to wonder for how long those will remain, with results like these);
- news results (for which you have to be included in Google News, in which case our News SEO plugin is awesome);
- YouTube videos still stand out (it’s no coincidence that we’ve finally gotten a Yoast YouTube channel) – note Google owns YouTube;
- optimizing for the knowledge graph. AJ Kohn’s earlier linked post is a good starting point for thinking about that. The knowledge graph comes with its own dangers though, if you search for [how to boil an egg] you’ll see what I mean.
Who knows what the future brings?
And of course, there will always be new features in Google. When we were discussing these changes with some SEO friends, one of them said “it’s awesome, it’s a chance to be the first movers on another new thing”. That’s one thing you can be sure of: we’ll be there helping you make the most of it!