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Why I Am Removing Google Authorship

Some of you may remember that “The Google Cache” began as a protest site years ago. At that time (as I still do today), I believed that Google’s default behavior of “caching” all pages on the Internet was unethical. While most people just confused “indexing” with “caching”, a few people agreed that what Google was doing was at face value a massive copyright violation. It is one thing to index the web and make it searchable, it is a different thing to make a cached version of that page available. One is a card catalogue, the other is a copy. Nevertheless, I eventually pulled down the protest site and put up the blog as you now know it.

**See Update at Bottom for New Stats and Evidence**

Well, today I am starting a new personal protest against Google as well – in particular, Google+. A few weeks ago I published a piece called “How to Buy 1178857 Links the Google Way.” The piece outlined how the Google+ Authorship program (and specifically the use of the rel=author links back to Google+ profiles) resulted in the largest incentivized link campaign ever known. Google+ has now moved to position 93 on the majestic million, adding subnets faster than all but 1 in the top 100, and beating out flagship Google properties like Gmail and link powerhouses like t.co. What has been responsible for this explosive link growth? Google’s promise to put a pretty icon next to your listings in Google if you link to your Google Plus profile.

While the spam team was willing to penalize Google Chrome for a handful of indirectly acquired links of little to no concern, they have overlooked this incredible violation.

What is perhaps most infuriating is that Google+ had the capacity, all along, to verify authorship without using the links. There are numerous ways to accomplish this:

  1. The email verification method they now currently have in place
  2. Meta tags, similar to those used to verify in Google Webmaster Tools
  3. Attributes to other tags (this would be ideal, because then they could apply multiple authors to different content sections on the same page)

There has been a lot of discussion about Google unfairly using its search engine to promote Google+ (such as the direct integrations on the side, the user icons, etc.). In my opinion, all of these pale in comparison to the huge oversight of this massive incentivized link campaign. So, I am removing my Google Authorship links, and am asking you to remove yours as well. If you really depend on it, you can at least nofollow those links or replace your verification method with email verification. I am not against the authorship program, I am against the hypocrisy of Google+ getting away with a 1,000,000+ incentivized link campaign while sending out 700,000 “unnatural link profile” notices to websites for far less egregious offenses. I won’t be using Google Authorship until Vic Gundotra sees one of these in his Google Webmaster Tools account.


So, many people have asked me to comment on whether or not Google really is benefiting from these links. Perhaps Google already devalued them? Perhaps they are really so insignificant that they don’t affect rankings.

Well, luckily, this is a pretty easy thing to test.

  1. We acquire a large list of Google+ profiles. In this case, around 1000.
  2. We then spider these profiles to determine whether or not they have filled out the “contributor to” section, and what their name is
  3. We then search google for their names to determine whether their profile shows in the top 10 and how many pages exist with their name to determine keyword competitiveness.
  4. Finally, we determine whether people who have used the contributor to section are more likely to show up in the top 10.

And the results… 31% of Google+ users without the contributor to section set rank for their name, 47% of those with the contributor to section included rank for their name. We controlled for keyword difficulty, excluding rare names and very popular names. Even when including other metrics like Google+ activity (such as the number of searches), we only see an additional boost of 11%. Is it really that surprising though? Of course links help Google+ profile pages rank in Google. The problem is that Google paid for these links with enhanced search results.

Why I Am Removing Google Authorship by No tags for this post.

20 Comments

  1. Nate
    Apr 20, 2012

    I see your point, I really do. Really opened my eyes to the awesome power Google has. I had never thought of the authorship program as a link campaign but it’s an intelligent observation.

    However, I link to my G+ profile for more than the pretty little picture in the SERP’s. While part of me wants to stop because it really does look like, smells like, feels like, and sounds like a sneaky way to get millions of links, most of me will be linking to my G+ profile for the same reason I link to my Twitter. More and more people are embracing G+ everyday. And I’ve found that the people that are hopping on that bandwagon are a little excited about it (at first, anyway). And if I can get a few more followers through a new medium, great. I want Pinterest followers, I want Twitter followers, I even want Digg followers. Why not have some Google plus followers, right? So while I’m linking to my G+ profile for the sole purpose of getting followers, why not make Google happy and add the rel=author? I’m giving them that link so might as well take advantage of personalization.

    Honestly, you really had me torn for a moment because again, you make an excellent point. I’d love to hear more opinions.

    Thanks

    Author Response: Easy fix. Nofollow those links wherever possible.
  2. Keith
    Apr 20, 2012

    Hadn’t heard anyone put it that way before, but when you step back and think about it, they are guaranteeing a massive influx of links from everyone. From your moms blog to mashable, you have to link to them first…

  3. Nate
    Apr 20, 2012

    You never cease to amaze me.

  4. Jonathan Squire
    Apr 20, 2012

    I totally understand your point and admire your principled stand – however rather than removing the authorship verification, I’ll go with the nofollow option. Essentially ‘buying’ links like this is something that is too easy when you hold all the cards and can change the rules of the game when it suits… But really, it’s not all about links anymore is it? It’s about relationships.

  5. Riemer
    Apr 20, 2012

    Why are links important? Because Google uses them in their rankings. Can Google make a distinction between a normal hyperlink and a authorship link? Sure, they can and they do. Authorship links are not counted as incoming links by Google, nor should they by other webtools. So there is no “incredible violation”.
    If Google wants to push G+ in their SERPs they can do so (and actually did far too much for a short time) without authorization links.
    This whole “smart observation” points mainly to paranoia. Think before you publish.

    Author Response: If google announces that they are nofollowing rel=author links ill gladly stop protesting. But they have not. If you know of a public statement from google that author links do not pass pagerank, kindly let me know. Until then, my argument stands.

  6. Risko
    Apr 21, 2012

    Why would Google care about PageRank? It’s their search engine, can’t they just put Google+ at the number 1 spot of “social network” manually?

    author response: first, I have no idea if this was deliberate. frankly, it doesn’t matter. If those links are not editorially placed they should be devalued. Second, Google has long been careful to not show preference to its properties I organic search because it would garnish the brand and invite anti-competitive lawsuits. They can’t just take the #1 spot and expect to avoid a nasty legal battle.

  7. Dave Blaze
    Apr 21, 2012

    What the hell are you talking about. Which SERPs do you think Google would benefit from having these links pointing to Google+? This is the rant of a madman.

    author response: Thanks for the ad hominem attack. I’ll try and write simply as you clearly struggled understanding my arguments. First, it doesn’t matter whether google was trying to rank or not, incentivized links should be devalued. Period. Second, if you don’t see why it is valuable for google+ to magically acquire top rankings for the names of every person who participates in a social network, you are just stupid. Right now, nearly every participant in the authorship program has given google the ability to rank for his or her name by linking to the profile from every site they have posted on. Now, whenever someone searches that name, they find google+ and sign up to interact with that author, rather than on Facebook or twitter.

    The product is called Google+, Facebook is called Facebook and Twitter is called twitter. From the millions using these networks as a result of brand awareness (plus the millions spend on advertising) I highly doubt Google, Facebook, Twitter etc are concerned about their backlink profiles to capture a relatively small number of people searching for say, “social network”. In which case they would more than likely be searching for the film anyway! There is literally no advantage for them appearing high the in the SERPs for some pathetic term that only an SME would be concerned about.

    author response: once again, please read the whole article. Google’s intent does not matter. The links are incentivized, they should be devalued. Period.

    Take off your tin hat and stop being so paranoid.

    author response: do people like you? I mean, at all? Your parents don’t count.

  8. Gary Arndt
    Apr 21, 2012

    Google doesn’t need links. They own the search engine. They could arbitrarily just insert Google into any search engine result they want without links.

    They are the one company to which links don’t matter. They don’t play be the same SEO rules as everyone else because they make the SEO rules.

    All of your other attribution methods you listed could easily be faked or would have serious deficiencies when trying to apply attribution on multiple sites. This isn’t as easy as you make it.

  9. admin
    Apr 22, 2012

    Gary, first they can’t arbitrarily drop in Google results without damaging their perception as being unbiased in organic or bringing on lawsuits for anti competitive, monopolistic behavior. In fact, they are already being legally attacked for this right now for google+. Seriously, if someone makes this argument again I’m going to go nuts. Googles entire brand identity is wrapped up in the perception of the quality of their search results. Take that away, and they lose.

    Second, all of these methods work as long as they are coupled with a 2nd verification while logged into google+. This could be a link or just a simple form like google webmaster tools. More importantly, they could just no follow or devalue the links, while using their current method, without risking this bias or giving up their existing authorship methods. This would be the simplest.

    Finally, none of the intent matters. If a website incentivized links, intentionally or non intentionally, it is still against Googles webmaster guidelines and those links should be removed, devalued, or penalized.

  10. Dan
    Apr 22, 2012

    I see you point and I appreciate your protest against what is, in some ways, a great PR advantage for Google.

    However, I have begun to use the rel=aut tag because Internet users are much more demanding nowadays and I feel the picture tag adds an element of trust. Rather than seeing a random, unfamiliar domain name, I feel that if my readers can see a face and a profile they are more likely to trust and revisit my blog and websites.

    You are right though, this is part of an epic link building process for Google but also another way for them to collect even more info from across the web.

  11. admin
    Apr 22, 2012

    Just nofollow the rel=author links, best of both worlds

  12. As others have pointed out, Google doesn’t need a massive incentivised link campaign. It can favour Google+ directly, if it chooses to do so.

    Author Response: I respond to this in some of the comments. First, Google can’t simply favor Google+ and keep up the appearance of unbiased search results. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has already filed an FTC complaint about the integration of Google+. More importantly, intent does not matter in terms of incentivized links. The reality is that these links are unfairly pushing down other listings, many of which are competing social networks. Historically, Google’s response has been to at least devalue these links in a do-no-harm kind of solution. I think that solution is appropriate in this case.

    Yes, I have read your responses above where you argue that it could not favour its own product without tarnishing its reputation for unbiased search results. But, I disagree. Google has never been transparent about its search algorithms and its success is based on users finding what they are looking for, not whether the organic search results are deemed to be neutral.

    The evidence already shows that Google is willing to forsake neutrality – that’s what Panda is all about. Panda means that inbound links are already less important than they used to be and social criteria based on Google+ has been emphasised instead.

    Author Response: How is Panda non-neutral? They have created a filter that is used to judge all sites evenly. No one gets to bypass that judgment. Google in past has penalized its own properties when they violated the Google Webmaster Guidelines (see the Chrome link at the beginning of my post). Why should Google+ get a pass?

    I’m not personally convinced that Panda will deliver the goods – it makes it hard to find things that my friends haven’t already liked or shared. Be that as it may, that’s the path Google is going down and it doesn’t have a lot to do with building inbound links.

    Author Response: It is hard for me not to get angry over statements that inbound links are going away as a ranking method. The entire Google algorithm – what made it special, what differentiated it from other search engines of the time, and what now is the foundation of every major and minor search engine – is the hyperlink. It is not going away. You might as well say that “hamburgers aren’t going to have a lot to do with beef” in the near future.
  13. Cory Howell
    Apr 23, 2012

    OMG, I almost fell out of my chair laughing…

    “Second, if you don’t see why it is valuable for google+ to magically acquire top rankings for the names of every person who participates in a social network, you are just stupid.”

    Spot on analysis. I do think that adding the nofollow tag is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t address the underlying issue – that the author links are a massive link-building campaign.

    Thanks for the analysis!

  14. Joydeep
    Apr 23, 2012

    I see your point here, and agree that verification can be done by other ways.

    {A HREF REL=AUTHOR} – seems quick and easy way to prove your authorship, specially when you are writing for multiple websites.

    And as you suggested NOFOLLOW is a easy fix for now.

  15. Liz
    Apr 24, 2012

    I am ROFL too. The thing is hamburgers aren’t going to have a lot to do with meat in the future (maybe just not the very near future).
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16972761

    Author Response: Nice find :-)
  16. mahmud
    Jun 14, 2012

    I am a new blogger and just got confused what to do now. I am very pleased to see my image in google search. but your post make me tensed to decide and rethink what would be my next step. Please help.

  17. Andrew
    Sep 18, 2012

    How do you just remove the authorship of the website in google search results?

  18. Steve
    Nov 5, 2012

    In this case we need to also address all the other caching companies out there like waybackmachine.com and many others who are sucking up websites by the billions and “storing them” for public view. On another point it would be good in say a DMCA case where you had to prove that content was up before another person copied it. Interesting point of view…had to comment. :)

    Author Response: Actually, I do think that archive.org should be opt-in.
  19. Modesto
    Nov 16, 2012

    Great post!

    As you said, Google always always tries to make its products rankings top by applying what works for its algo – on and off site. Google+ is one of the most geniously implemented SEO campaigns ever. They take full advantage on and off-site ranking signals so they can always argue that their algo is fair for everyone.

    Another great example is YouTube. Try placing the same video on YouTube, your site as well as any other video sharing platform and then search for it. The YouTube video will always outrank all other sites (including your own site), purely based on it’s huge domain authority.

    I agree that authorship is one of the most succesful link building campaigns I’ve ever come across. Whoever can’t get it simply doesn’t understand SEO, Google’s algo and Google’s actions so they cannot be accused for anti-competitiveness.

  20. Freelancer
    Jun 9, 2014

    Hello,

    Is there any way to remove google authorship from SERPs. I have a client that wishes to remove authorship but google cannot remove the photo. All links to google+ been removed, g+ contribute to does not have related links but it still show in serp.

    Thanks for replies

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