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Google has announced that it is removing profile photos and the circle count from search results that include G+ authorship.

The stated aim is to create a more consistent look across devices and create a simpler, “less-cluttered” design.

Google’s John Mueller also suggested that the clickthrough rate on the new layout is “similar” to SERPs that included author photos.

This is the part of the announcement that marketers will find most dubious, as the increased visibility and social proof that came with Google authorship was proven to increase CTR.

For example, Justin Briggs used eye-tracking technology to show that search results with social annotations attracted more attention that ‘standard’ results, even when they appeared further down the page.

Furthermore, Cyrus Shepard managed to increase traffic by 35% just by optimising his profile picture.

Currently it seems that images are still showing in search results – here’s my beautiful face in a screenshot from earlier today:

However Search Engine Land says this is the new design. The image and circle count are gone, though the author’s name is still clickable:

Why?

As is usually the case, Google’s actions have created a great deal of debate online. The stated aim of creating a cleaner, universal look across different devices seems at least partly legit in my opinion.

But many SEOs believe that Google is moving to protect its ad revenues, as profile images make the natural listings more noticeable than paid results.

Google is constantly evolving the way it displays search results, to the point that PPC is becoming more and more indistinguishable from natural results.

Therefore it wouldn’t be that surprising if the removal of images was designed to reduce the prominence of organic results.

Another common point of discussion surrounds whether this spells the beginning of the end for Google+.

Personally I don’t feel this is the case, as G+ is about more than just authorship. 

And anyway, Google hasn’t done away with authorship altogether, only social annotations and images within search results.

While we can only guess as to why Google has removed the images, one thing most people seem to agree on is that Google has removed one of the only reasons for using its authorship mark up.

So... 

Is it still worthwhile having authorship?

Having an image show up in search results was certainly one of the most compelling reasons for using authorship. Now that’s gone, should we all abandon it?

Well probably not, as there isn’t really a great downside to having your Google profile associated with your blogs and articles.

Personally I’m happy to let Google know which sites I’m writing for, on the off chance that it does impact its algorithm at a later date.

Similarly, if you are an authority in a particular subject then it’s still useful to have your name displayed in search results. 

Ultimately though, the main impact from this update may be that in future fewer people sign up for authorship, as it’s undeniable that Google has removed one of the most visible and compelling incentives.

David Moth

Published 26 June, 2014 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1679 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Carl@ Kids Magician Ireland

This Google authorship can be a pain in the butt waiting to have your photo approved. I've been waiting for nearly 2 weeks and I'm constantly changing my photo to see if google will accept it or not.

about 2 years ago

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Nathaniel Tower

Magic Carl, it definitely can be a pain. Google has stated in the past that the image will appear only when they think it adds value to the search result. Now, apparently they have decided it doesn't add value at all.

about 2 years ago

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Daniel

"But many SEOs believe that Google is moving to protect its ad revenues, as profile images make the natural listings more noticeable than paid results."

This, this and this.

It's difficult to believe that the majority of Google's changes are for any other reason other than to increase their ad revenue. They're a listed company, it'd be naive to think anything else. Wonder how long it will be before the paid results include a graphical element to make them stand out more...

They've tried you tell us that the (not provided) referral information in organic results is due to privacy concerns, but they're quite happy you disclose the information if you're paying for it. If they cared about privacy they'd hide the information from paid searches as well - and imagine the impact that'd have on their revenue!

As for Google+, that's one of the main reasons anyone bothered with it gone. For many it's a complex, frustrating and awkward social network to use - particularly for the vast majority of people whose business and personal life are separate entities and this is further complicated when they're managing business pages as well. The benefits of spending time on it aren't immediately apparent, and one of the obvious ones is going.

about 2 years ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido LimitedSmall Business

Daniel has got it spot on here. This has to be a move to protect revenue from Adwords. People like people so are, I assume, always going to favour personal pics over any other link, even if it's at the top. I'm surprised it has taken this long to react to be honest.

It seems to me shareholder value seems to have taken over from long term strategy and/or profits here as I'm sure the push for G+ is still one they want to make (despite the lack of take up and apparent falling out of love by Sergey) to try and get more personal data for a long term audience advertising play.

about 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CTO at Fresh Relevance

Don't see this as sinister - I think it's just another sign Google is de-emphasising Plus, which hasn't been the success they hoped. See e.g: this post from yesterday:
http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/25/the-elephants-at-google-io-glass-and-plus/

about 2 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I'm with Daniel and Andy here. I can't see any reason to remove images except to maximise space for and revenues from paid search.

Also, I find it very hard to believe that, as Google says, that the CTR in broadly the same with or without an author image.

I wonder how many users G+ would have if Google had done this two years ago - this removes one of the main reasons for using it.

about 2 years ago

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Anthony Morgan

I'm not sure I agree that Authorship, and author images in particular, are the main reasons for using G+. They may be a big reason for joining in the first place (it's why I joined) but not for staying.

I spend far more time on Google+ than Facebook and I've pretty much abandoned Twitter altogether. The levels of engagement and the quality of content, particularly within the communities, mean that I'd carry on using G+, even if they did away with Authorship altogether.

about 2 years ago

Charity Stebbins

Charity Stebbins, Content Strategist at Conductor

Just from a purely aesthetic note--I'll miss the fact that authorship photos make the SERPs feel more communal, and made content's subjectivity a bit more apparent.

about 2 years ago

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