Will the New Google Authorship Search Results Policy Put You Out Of The Picture?

It’s only been about a week since Google announced it was dropping the Google authorship pictures that used to be displayed during a Google search, and already the fallout has become fast and furious.

In the world of SEO, content marketing and social media for business, the reaction is split evenly; approximately one half of those you ask are angry and upset; the other half are livid.

Why is this seemingly insignificant change stirring up so much negativity and spawning so many hate-blog posts?

Could it be because internet marketing writers are so vain that they need to see their miniscule images right up there next to their entries? Maybe.

Is it because some content managers are so high-strung and addicted to Google that they cannot live without a new trending topic to discuss every 15 minutes? Possibly.

Or is it because Google sort of unceremoniously dropped the bad news on us casually, and then glossed over the repercussions? Now you’re talking!

Google’s John Mueller posted the announcement on Google+ last week and it read like a defensive message. Google knew that this new policy was going to ruffle a lot of feathers and they worded the post like a three-part apology.

The opening sentence blames the change on their tireless efforts to “clean up the visual design” of the search results and achieve “a more consistent design across devices.” Fair enough, because we all know that web pages can look different on different browsers.

Relax, It Only Affects Google Mobile And Desktop Searches!

Then Mueller drops the bomb, explaining that Google authorship profile photos and circle counts will be removed from “mobile and desktop search results.”

Wait, what? Does that mean I can still see the Google authorship pictures on my old pink Sony Vaio laptop? Doesn’t the phrase “from mobile and desktop search results” mean from everywhere?

Now you’re starting to understand why there’s so much of a public outcry. People like to be treated like adults. They don’t want hard facts to be sugar-coated.

But the most controversial part is the afterthought. The last sentence is in parentheses, and I quote, “(Our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)”

First of all, this statement stretches their credibility to the breaking point, not to mention it sounds like it was written for a fly-by-night web page hawking Dr. Oz-inspired supplements.

Second of all, it suspends belief by breaking one of the major rules of good journalism – you have to acknowledge your sources, you need to be very specific about facts and figures, and you must back them up.

Other studies and forums on the subject have shown the contrary. On a very popular online forum, people have been charting their successes and failures by experimenting with different Google authorship images. If one picture brings in more clicks than another, it follows that the absence of a picture will have a major effect on your business.

A vague statement to the effect of “things won’t change much” just doesn’t cut it in a world of complex algorithms, detailed infographics and enormous pay-per-click stakes.

If It Ain’t Broke…

Businesses that use social media forB2B lead generation and writers who specialize in internet marketing rely on search engines for their livelihoods. They don’t want to see needless change, especially needless change for the worse, as they perceive it.

The main complaint about the recent Google authorship no-pic policy is that it undermines everything we have come to believe about human nature and visual perception, such as:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words
  • Every picture tells a story
  • Let them see the big picture

For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to be a genius to understand that pictures are good; a 4-year-old child understands the power of visual stimulation as well as a diner at a Denny’s restaurant. Even cavemen understood that words are better with pictures. There have been a lot of studies done on the impact of pictures and visual mediums. Google’s own studies as well as others, showed that results with authorship photos improved click through rates. So, it’s weak to say that there will be no change.

Will The New Google Authorship Search Display Policy Keep You Out Of The Picture?

This new move by Google doesn’t appear to be cost-driven or punitive, although many authors who make their living in marketing feel as though they’re being made to stand in the corner for no reason.

The practice of including Google authorship pictures in Google searches is about a year and a half old, it was well received when it was announced and public opinion is stacking up pretty quickly against this latest change. After all, when you take something away from us, how can that be a good thing?

But maybe there’s method to the madness, some sort of silver lining that we can’t see in our angry, blind rage. Maybe Google is planning to bring back author pictures at a later date, as a paid option. Ka-ching!

It’s not likely, because it is rumored that the white elephant of a barge floating in the San Francisco Bay is actually Google’s new mint for printing money. Google is so progressive that they’ve already solved major world problems like road rage (driverless cars) and obtaining eyeglasses without a prescription (Google glasses), so we already know they’re the smartest guys in the room.

The buzz in some SEO circles is that Google has plans to fill up the space vacated by Google authorship pictures with…wait for it…MORE ADS!  I tend to fall on the side of the argument that says they worked “too” well – they took clicks away from paid ads.

So, What Does It Mean for YOU?

Who knows?!  It’s frustrating, I’ll give you that. I have a history of “Google-bashing” if you will, and this latest move doesn’t impress me either.

But, I can tell you that if you’re currently writing and publishing content, keep at it!  This does not change what you should be doing or the underlying validity of content marketing.  Every piece of content you publish is another hook in the sea. The more hooks, the more fish you’ll catch.

We just won’t see our pretty mug next to it anymore.

You will want to continue to focus on SEO (or start if you haven’t been) because this does mean that people won’t be drawn to the post with the picture any more.  You’ll have to make sure your content and site is well-optimized for search.

With the recent announcement of Google’s Matt Cutts taking a four month leave of absence, it will be interesting to see what comes next or if things quiet down for a bit. Stay tuned…