Matt Cutts had mentioned in a keynote speech at Pubcon, Las Vegas last October that Google were planning to make changes to authorship in order to increase the number of good quality authors in search results and reduce those which were less relevant, or low-quality. He told audience members that when Google reduced 15% of less credible authors the increase in valid and high-quality authors jumped up greatly.
These changes were rolled out around mid-December last year when new authorship algorithms were released. Ultimately the changes mean that Google can decide which authors they deem to be most interesting and/or relevant to a user’s specific sear query. On this release they said the following:
“We made some minor updates. We had been showing author information whenever we could based on authorship mark-up, email verification, and other signals of authorship on the web. In mid-December, we rolled out new algorithms designed to show author photos when they’re more likely to be relevant and interesting (for example, the algorithms now try to estimate the quality of documents an author typically writes).”
The reason behind Google wishing to display fewer but more credible authors in search results is to reward high quality content and authors with greater SERP visibility. Much in the same way that search rankings are highly influenced by what Google deems to be high-quality and credible (through a number of ways), the move is set to better display those which have signalled to Google they will be most useful, using a variety of indicators.
Google+ will also play a larger role in authorship in Google – when you share circles with a particular author for instance, their image is far likelier to show up. Google confirmed:
“We also rely on social signals designed to show you author portraits for the people you’ve circled on Google+. So now you’ll see 20-40% fewer author photos overall to start with, and even when you don’t see an author portrait you’ll still see the author name.
As part of the changes Google recommend that those who post content online are using authorship as this could have an impact on search results overall, with preference given to content assigned to an author. Google+ circles will still show the number of circles the author has, regardless of whether or not it shows the image alongside.
It’s not just the credibility of the author however so it can’t be assumed that if the image is showing up in one search that it will show up in another; the credibility of the site they are posted content on is also a factor. If Google assign it less credibility and quality there’s a chance a high-quality author’s authorship and/or image won’t show up in search results.
Currently the result of these changes is a drop in authorship showing up. Google doesn’t have stats on how many author images are showing up as a result of the changes.