Jonathan Saipe

Google Removes Author Photos & Circle Counts. Does This Herald The End Of Google+?

27 June 2014, Jonathan Saipe

Yesterday, John Mueller, trends analyst at Google, announced that in the coming days, Google will be removing author photos and circle counts from search results, leaving only the author’s byline.

You may have seen this happening already as below.

Author snippet before change:

Author snippet with photo

Author snippet after change:

Search Snippet With Author Photo

John Mueller commented that this is part of an effort to clean up search results, in particular to improve the mobile experience and consistency across devices.

He also mentioned that CTR in the improved design is much the same as it was with author photos and circle counts included.

SEO benefits of using Google+

Google Plus logoWhilst author snippets were effectively a by-product of using Google+, the truth is that this ubiquitously seen feature, in addition to well documented ranking effect of +1’s, and the ability to maximise your brand’s exposure in Google, were the main reasons many marketers embraced Google+.

For example, both Starbucks and The Economist admitted to using Google+ for its positive SEO effects not just for social engagement.

Following John Mueller’s announcement, unsurprisingly, there seems to be lots of chatter and debate that Google may be phasing out Google+ or at least making some pretty big changes.

What intrigues me is John’s comment that CTR on the improved design is much the same as the previous version (with author photos). Heatmap studies show that author photos stand out in SERPs and can also have a positive effect on scrolling further down search results. And a statistical analysis of your own CTR in Webmaster Tools, should corroborate the positive effect of author photos in SERPs.

I get the comment about making the search experience seamless across devices, but is this announcement just smoke and mirrors for something bigger happening behind the scenes?

The future of Google+

So what’s the future for Google+? Engagement has always been poorer on Google+ when compared to its rivals. Last year, Mashable published Nielsen data stating that average time on Google+ across one month was 6 minutes and 44 seconds versus nearly 7 hours for Facebook. (I’ve already spent 6+ minutes on Facebook since my first coffee this morning!)

But then again, is Facebook really a rival to Google+? In 2012, Google’s CEO, Larry Page referred to Google+ as a social spine connecting Google’s products through a single login. Is Google+ really a social network, or did Larry Page redefine Google+ as an excuse for its poorer-than-expected uptake? Quite possibly the latter.

The truth is that the incentive for consumers to engage on Google+ is still low. And whilst its search benefits made marketers use it for markup purposes, I do feel that Google has just hammered another nail in its own coffin.

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