Google: Slowly moving back to 10 blue links

August 29th, 2014 – 44 Comments

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):

rel=me / rel=author search in Google showing my author highlight

to the picture being highlighted on the left, removing the +1 button but adding the number of “circles” the author was in on Google+:

wordpress seo article Google Search 133

to (more recently) it just being the name below the URL, with no mention of Google+ left:

recent author highlight

“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.

Schema.org

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:

wordpress seo plugin rich snippet

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:

title separator option

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:

888.com result with special characters in the title

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!

 


44 Responses to Google: Slowly moving back to 10 blue links

  1. Mike Hardaker
    By Mike Hardaker on 11 September, 2014

    We have stopped using Google+ as our articles were competing against our post. We have made all of our YouTube videos private, again as we were sick of competing our videos competing against our post..

    Google’s new search result ads are interesting, no longer shaded, do a search for Vail Colorado and the first add looks very similar to an organic ad. Is tricking people into clicking in ads Google’s MO? Is this Good for Advertisers?

    Can anyone recommend a good schema plugin? We had been using Author Product Review however he is no longer supporting the plugin….

    Keep it up team YOAST!!

  2. Feroz
    By Feroz on 11 September, 2014

    If this was a bad trick to promote Google Plus, forcing anyone and everyone to create a G+ profile to show their photo and name in SERP;s, and when they got enough G+ Sign-up’s they removed it.
    Sorry for being so rude to the big G

  3. Descargar
    By Descargar on 10 September, 2014

    That is good to know, Thank you!

  4. Andre
    By Andre on 9 September, 2014

    Removing the rel=”author” tag from Yoast Seo Plugin is a dubious decision. Google is not displaying anymore the author information on the Serp’s, but the “author rank” is a ongoing project.

  5. borris
    By borris on 9 September, 2014

    its abit tricky now how google changes their system very often . as a new comer to Web world its confusing for me to understand what they really want

  6. Oak Laurel
    By Oak Laurel on 6 September, 2014

    Even if Google believes that it did not improve the CTR, it should be up to the site to decide if they wanted to use it or not. There must be another reason for its removal.

  7. Chris
    By Chris on 3 September, 2014

    The removal of the authorship foto, was for me a huge change in the way I look at the SERP. I guess that Google must have thought this through, because many clients who rely on visibility in the SERPs, can’t understand why the visual image have gone.

  8. Tristan Watkins
    By Tristan Watkins on 2 September, 2014

    Great article about recent changes to Google search and what we can do to stay ahead in the great rankings game. Thanks Joost!

  9. Jeffrey
    By Jeffrey on 2 September, 2014

    Other than link building, are there still reasons to maintain on Google+ author-page?

  10. ProSiteNews
    By ProSiteNews on 2 September, 2014

    I do not know what will be done by google, always changing and test all of the search results, hopefully a quick google to stop with this

  11. Erum
    By Erum on 31 August, 2014

    Good Article contains valuable information, good to know about recent updates.

  12. Andrew
    By Andrew on 31 August, 2014

    Easy come, easy go eh?

    Well, maybe not so”easy. How many hours did YOU spend studying and implementing authorship markup?

    Those hours would have been better spent asleep on a tropical beach with a margarita dangling from one hand…or passed out drunk on a random stranger’s floor for that matter. C’est la vie.

  13. Avadhesh Bhunwaliya
    By Avadhesh Bhunwaliya on 30 August, 2014

    If this was a bad trick to promote Google Plus, forcing anyone and everyone to create a G+ profile to show their photo and name in SERP;s, and when they got enough G+ Sign-up’s they removed it.
    Sorry for being so rude to the big G.
    But as everyone know what they did with G BUZZ and rest is the history.
    And this time they found a more legal way to get G+ Users.

  14. Dennis
    By Dennis on 30 August, 2014

    I think “Authorship” was a way for Google to inspire the early adopters to start using Google Plus in the hope the rest would follow. But I guess we all know how that turned out.

  15. Beled
    By Beled on 30 August, 2014

    Google Authorship was a glorious attempt to provide values in search results. The core idea is to relate a specific topic with expert authors to provide valuable information to searchers.
    I think Google may drop Authorship but not the concept of Author Rank. We may see an enhanced version of this concept very soon.

    • Narender Singh
      By Narender Singh on 9 September, 2014

      I’d say nothing but agree with you. There should also be some priority given to a person who is regularly writes on a topic over a person who is doing the same for the first time.

      • Ben
        By Ben on 12 September, 2014

        I never have done all the work to setup an author page, despite blogging a niche for 10+ years. These 2 comments (Beled & Narender Singh) make sense to me.

        What would be a good strategy now to be ready for what is to come? Is there a value to having a Google+ Author page still? Other?

  16. Imran Hunzai
    By Imran Hunzai on 30 August, 2014

    I don’t know if this would put an effect on traffic but, as you said, it has clearly affected personal branding. Why was it there in the first place?

  17. Alexander Rus
    By Alexander Rus on 29 August, 2014

    Although I am very disappointed that authorship had to go I love how the game is evolving. Some paths are cut off because they don’t work, some are followed whereever they lead.

    But: I still think this change was because images in the SERPs are just too awesome and so reduce CTRs on AdWords. Google is a business and needs to follow the money and not what we want :D

    Seperators and special chars in titles are getting more and more confusing. There are even some that will show up for a few weeks and then disappear. You add them again on a another page on the same site. Same thing happens. Funny how the algo works…

    Greetings from Innsbruck,
    Alex

  18. Doc
    By Doc on 29 August, 2014

    Good Article. Authorship really helped the little guys stand out in the crowd. From what i read the thumbs made it difficult for mobile searches. It was nothing more than a Google experiment that failed their grading. Sad it’s gone.

  19. Kymmberly
    By Kymmberly on 29 August, 2014

    Thanks for keeping us informed AND secure in the knowledge that Yoast is going to keep our sites playing “nice” with whatever the goog throws at us

  20. Susanta Kumar Sahoo
    By Susanta Kumar Sahoo on 29 August, 2014

    Google’s vacillation on Google Plus only vindicates most of the users and Webmasters that didn’t really care about integrating Google Authorship markup in their websites/blog. I wonder how many SEO folks have slogged over making their markup perfect and reading countless rankings on how Googld Auttjorship could revolutionize the search rankings down the road.

  21. Sahil Garg
    By Sahil Garg on 29 August, 2014

    this is what i like Most in this Plugin, is Suggestions which Improve Post Seo and help us to know more about the Plugin. thanks a lot for sharing such Updates.. :)

  22. Muskie
    By Muskie on 29 August, 2014

    I don’t plan to change a thing about my personal website, I have other metatags I implemented around the same time, but the one that seems most relevant is rel=”me” which I believe is part of the HTML5 standard. There are other search engine besides Google, Bing & Klout were supposedly working on an Authorship style feature, Twitter opened accessed to their analytics this week, but for my personal website over two thirds of the traffic comes from Google, it was like that before and after I implemented the Authorship tag, so my sample size of one backs Google’s finding, but the Authorship snippet did look more professional, I know I used it to weed out writers I didn’t want to read in my own web surfing…

  23. Gerard
    By Gerard on 29 August, 2014

    Actually, from the moment the authorship with photo was an optional functionality only used for some users, it became a new way —let’s say— to spam in the search results, getting more clicks with independence of the relevancy/quality of the content. So that’s a reason that explains this regression.
    Also, it’s positive to keep the search results similar to ads, not 100%, but yes much more than it was with the photo of the authorship. Remember, the searcher is the biggest business of Google thanks to its ads, and they want to have a good conversion.

  24. Jerry Stevens
    By Jerry Stevens on 29 August, 2014

    Ten blue links… after a half page of map results. It’s so useful when I’m searching for a service that comes to me, such as plumbers, and the first results are the locations of plumbers on a map. Maybe I should drive over and tell them my problem.

  25. Ekendra
    By Ekendra on 29 August, 2014

    Well, whatever Google does it new, and the world has to follow them to sustain – this is a self understood principalia of the web. Even if Google comes with just 10 blue links, there would be even more competition on SEO, hence the business, Google gets it all over.
    BTW, your title separator trick is still being used on my blog and looks stunning.

    • @Gene_us
      By @Gene_us on 5 September, 2014

      whatever Google does it new, and the world has to follow them to sustain – this is a self understood principalia of the web. What utter nonsense! You cannot base your entire business on the premise of another. You do not need Google to be successful on the web. Anyone who told you different lied to you!

  26. Ralph D. Klonz
    By Ralph D. Klonz on 29 August, 2014

    Google gives and Google takes.
    Cheers from Texas
    Have a save long week end

  27. Peter Larsen
    By Peter Larsen on 29 August, 2014

    Going back to basics with 10 blue links is a great way for Google to clean up the cluttered serps. For a while now it’s got out of hand with all these tests they’ve been doing and hopefully we can get some clicks from the 10 instead of 7.

    I saw the opposite in my results using the authorship images. I received more clicks than before i implemented and even when my serp position was low i received more than i would of done by standing out from the crowd.

    As always it’s Googles playground and we have to bow to every whim.

  28. dev
    By dev on 29 August, 2014

    I simply don’t understand what they are trying to do? They first forced us into submission to use authorship and now they are saying – sorry guys we have messed up things. This is ridiculous.

    • Piet
      By Piet on 31 August, 2014

      You are forgetting that Google is a company that needs to make money. Whatever their experiment was the past 3 years (of course they only now say it was an experiment), it was aimed at them making more money.
      As that clearly has failed as described above by Steve Scott, they are now reverting everything back to what it was before and of course they quickly add that “the experiment” is over.

      Now they will try to make you crazy about schema.org and when that fails in 5 years, there will be something new again, maybe they want you to wear a yellow bowler hat in your sleep? Who knows and who knows how many people will obediently follow whatever experiment they do with one and only one goal: more money in their pockets (Google’s that is, not yours).

      • Ed Parry
        By Ed Parry on 4 September, 2014

        imho the only thing we can really predict with google is that quality will remain king. When they let the quality of their results slip they will fatally undermine their castle.

        It will probably happen eventually not least because with the status quo corporates are duty bound to maximise profit (regardless of the expense to society etc). So the psycho’s on the board will eventually get the whole of page 1 to only show adverts.

        But that probably won’t be for many years. Until then all these comings and goings of the new this / that will only be the cherry on the cake for quality offerings. Without quality there won’t be any point at all.

  29. Angel
    By Angel on 29 August, 2014

    I was in the process of buying the Seo video plug in after I saw a video tutorial and how it gave you rich snippets in Google search results, does this mean you will be optimizing the plug in to better play with YouTube?

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 29 August, 2014

      Probably best to read my post about Video SEO’s demise: this one.

  30. ashu
    By ashu on 29 August, 2014

    ty for sharing sir.

  31. giankar
    By giankar on 29 August, 2014

    It was expected. All SEOs around the globe were claiming that authorship (and other rich snippets) offered higher click through rates although nobody ever proved it. The best proof is the withdrawal of the functionality from Google’s end

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 29 August, 2014

      Well, OR it was working far too well and AdWords was suffering because of it :)

      • Steve Scott
        By Steve Scott on 29 August, 2014

        Joost, I have to agree with you that the author snippet and other rich snippets like videos and more were working TOO well for users and caused a drop in revenue to AdWords ads. I’ve seen several eye tracking studies that showed searchers being pulled down to rich snippet listings over AdWords and higher ranking sites without snippets.

        In addition, with Google now pushing the use of Ad Formats as a way to boost quality score (as discussed in the recent video from Hal Varian),we can see that the more Ad Formats in use the more screen real estate is taken up by the AdWords Ads at the top of the screen.

        All this screen real estate and Ad Formats helps the AdWords Ads stand out more than ever before.

        To me, it seems fair to say that the recent changes back to 10 Blue links is more likely about profits than about better results for users.

        Thoughts?

        • Andrew
          By Andrew on 31 August, 2014

          Today’s innovator is tomorrow’s greedy corporate monopolist. Despite growing grass on their rooftop and solar power in the parking lots, Google is no exception.

          Microsoft was once an innovator, too.

  32. Iain Cameron
    By Iain Cameron on 29 August, 2014

    Great article, thanks again for keeping us informed. I found the Separator option today coincidently, and thought ‘flip’, has that been there all along….

  33. Arnout Hellemans
    By Arnout Hellemans on 29 August, 2014

    In my opinion it also has to do with the search results and ads being more alike. This would make sense from a revenue point-of-view. A lot of the recent changes (video snippets etc.) might also have to do with this.
    Any opinions on this?

    • Ngan
      By Ngan on 29 August, 2014

      nah, if that is the case, it is easier to implement G+ and profile/logo pic on Adwords.

      honestly, I hate the previous search results with pic and g+, kind of messy. gotta say this new simple clean 10 blue links are way better.

    • Joost de Valk
      By Joost de Valk on 29 August, 2014

      I don’t really know of my opinion matters in that regard ;)


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