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.