Google is making big changes to its Authorship program that are stirring up mixed feelings amongst content creators.

Many small businesses with a penchant for producing quality content flocked to Google Authorship. With a little work, this handy tool added some unique information to your content when it popped up in search results, including your picture and the number of followers in your Google+ community. It looked like this:

Now, Google has done away with the author’s photo and follower count in searches. Your name will still be included in the search results, but no picture or social stat. Now, it looks like this:

What’s behind the changes?
John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends analyst for Google, briefly explained the reason for the change on – where else – his Google+ page. He says Google is trying to “clean up its look” and enhance the overall appearance of search results on mobile devices. In other words, pictures and follower counts were cluttering up prime real estate on Google searches.

Were pictures and social stats important?
Research indicated that a reader’s eye was drawn to those small profile pictures. Not only did they attract attention, but content with a profile picture had higher clickthrough rates, says JoAnne Funch, owner of Marketing Dish.

However, Mueller says that recent Google research shows clickthrough behavior isn’t much different with or without the picture.

Is Google Authorship still worth it?
Google Authorship isn’t going away, but it’s safe to say that one of the main reasons that people signed up for it was to get their picture in search results. With that feature gone, marketers think fewer people will take the time to set it up.

However, your byline will still appear in the results, and while that’s not as attention-grabbing, it can still make a difference in your website traffic, Funch says.

Plus, Authorship is a good way to let Google know that you exist. Google has touted the importance of businesses showcasing their authority on certain topics, and Authorship is still a viable way to say, ‘Hey Google, my business knows its stuff.’

What else should you know?
There are a lot of questions about this new change and details are still developing, but here are a few other pieces of information you should know:

  • Your Google search rankings won’t change
  • Your picture and stats are gone but it won’t have any effect on where your site lands in a search.
  • Pictures will be offered with Google News
  • Content that lands within Google News will have a smaller profile picture next to the company’s logo, like this:

  • Most content written by a small business owner, however, won’t make it to Google News.
  • Tracking is still available.
  • If you’re a metrics nut, you can still see how your authored content is doing via Google Webmaster Tools.

Despite the changes, it’s best for companies to keep creating quality content, says Scott Rodgers, co-founder of marketing company Tier10.

“Stay the course,” he says. “Create relevant, unique content. It seems that kind of content will survive past, current and future changes.”

What do you think of the new changes? How do you think the elimination of photos will affect clickthrough rates? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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