There has been a lot of marketing talk about advantages of using a Google+ author pic next to your title link in SERPs (search engine results pages). We all know now that the authorship mark-up can add credibility and authority, attract more clicks, build up your author profile and possibly influence your website rankings (at least indirectly via social signals for now). We also know that it is relatively easy to implement the authorship functionality once you have a Google+ account. What we may not know is what to fix to make your author pic show up in SERPs after you’ve meticulously followed the instructions of verifying your author profile with Google and had no luck.
In this blog post I will describe a real “Google author pic problem” that happened to me a few weeks ago. I will list all of the changes that I’ve made to my Google+ profile pic and the site code as well as all of the steps that I’ve taken trying to fix the problem of not having my author pic show up in Google. Fortunately, I ended up fixing the problem a couple of days ago, and while I believe I found the reason why, I’m still not sure of what exactly was the main fault. Hopefully my steps will shed some light on the issue and help others.
So, let’s get started.
After I successfully verified my author profile with Google a couple of months ago, I’ve seen my pic appear next to my articles on both http://www.artdriver.com and http://www.artdriver.co.uk sites (I publish my blog posts on both sites):
3 weeks ago I decided to change my Google+ profile pic from the one displayed in the screenshot above to the one below:
Following my profile pic change and another Google crawl of our sites, my photo had disappeared from SERPs on both http://www.artdriver.com and http://www.artdriver.co.uk sites. Now it was the action time for me to find the solution to bring my face back in Google.
Duplicate Content Penalty?
Initially I thought that the problem might have had to do with the fact that I published the same blog posts on two different sites (.com and .co.uk) without implementing a canonical tag. In the past, I was pretty sure that this should not have been an issue because both sites target different geographic areas. So I made an experiment on a couple of blog posts and implemented the canonicals. After another Google crawl, no luck again!
Duplicate rel=”author” Code Snippets?
Another issue that I thought might have been the culprit of my suffering was the fact that I had a sitewide link in the footer of our site linking to my Google+ profile and using a rel=”author” in addition to having another rel=”author” link in the author bio box on individual blog post pages:
After getting rid of the sitewide Google+ rel=”author” link, the problem was still there. It's worth mentioning that for everything I've tried so far, when I tested my pic using Google Rich Snippets Testing Tool, the pic was there all the time.
Incorrect Coding For the Authorship Markup?
I then researched various ways of implementing the authorship markup into HTML. There are numerous resources online that tell you how to do it. One video tutorial that stood out was the video by Google Webmaster Help team:
I also read an excellent post by Andrea Pernici titled “An In-depth Analysis of Authorship, Google+ and Snippets“ and reached out to Andrea on Twitter for advice (thanks Andrea!):
I’ve found webmasters use the following ways to implement the authorship markup:
<a rel=”me” href="[profile_url]”>Google</a> - DO NOT DO THIS <a rel=”author” href="[profile_url]”>Google</a> <a href="[profile_url]?rel=author">Google</a>
If your site is using HTML5 (look for a clean doctype that looks like <!DOCTYPE html>), then you should use the following format according to Google:
If your site is not HTML5, then use:
<a rel=”author” href="[profile_url]”>Google</a>
While Andrea recommended to use ?rel=”author”, our site was not HTML5, so we’ve implemented this: <a rel=”author” href="[profile_url]”>Google</a>. This has not helped us either.
Format of the Author Picture?
At this time I was pretty desperate and not sure what else to try. I reread Andrea’s post on SEOMoz, and while he stressed out that the actual author image (face focused vs not face focused, human pic v pet pic, 1 face v 2 faces) may not really be the evil (since he gave examples of various combinations of author pics coming up in SERPs), all I could think of was the fact that I started having all these problems not because I had duplicate posts on two sites, not because I had multiple author markups on the same page, not because I had rel=”me” and ?rel=”author” implementation, but because I CHANGED MY PROFILE PIC and the new pic had my forehead and chin cut off. So I decided to change my photo back to what it originally was….and two days later, I am back!!!!
According to Google: “If you want your authorship information to appear in search results for the content you create, you'll need a Google+ Profile with a good, recognizable headshot as your profile photo.” Was it the main reason for my problem? I think it was. What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.
UPDATE: December 15, 2013
I've been hearing from quite a few folks that their authorship pics have started to dissapear from SERPs even though no changes had been made to the content, Google+ profiles or website code. This brings me to conclusion that Google has initiated certain restrictions to improve the quality of SERPs.
Google's Matt Cutts has stated at Las Vegas Pubcon in October 2013 that Google tested a reduction in a number of authorship snippets (~15%) shown in SERPs, and as a result the "quality went up":
We want to make sure that the people who we show as authors are high quality authors. And so we are looking at the process of possibly tightening that up. It turns out if we reduce the amount of authorship we are showing by just about 10 or 15 percent, we’re radically able to improve the quality of the authors that we show. Which is another nice signal for those searchers and users who are typing into Google and say, “Ah, I see this picture, I see this person is an author. This is something I can trust. This is content that I really want to see.” So it’s not just going to be about the markup; it’s going to be about the quality of the author. By Matt Cutts
My initial conclusion is that the restriction algo for authorship snippets is based on the following:
- The quality and trust of the actual website where the authorship pic is being displayed (not the number of people in the author's circles)
- Topic/niche competence of the author for the web page content associated with the pic (Google probably determines this by the number of shares, likes for other topic related articles by this author on the same or different domains or by the number of topic related Google+ posts and their engagement rate, so being active on Google+ may play a role here)
- The conformity with Google's guidelines about how the authorship pic is connected to pages (proper code markup, no authorship on pages like product listings or real estate property listings, etc)
Stay tuned for more updates.