Google Authorship: Why Did Google Remove the Profile Pictures?

On June 25th, Google made the shocking announcement that it would be pulling the featured Google+ author profile pictures from its Authorship program, meaning that author photos (as well as their Google+ circle counts) would no longer be showing up in search engine results. This announcement seemed to stun many industry professionals, as the featured profile picture was one of the selling points of the Google Authorship program.

While Google has explained it removed profile pictures from Authorship to create a better mobile experience, some industry experts have different ideas about what may have motivated this decision.

While Google has explained it removed profile pictures from Authorship to create a better mobile experience, some industry experts have different ideas about what may have motivated this decision.

In the wake of this announcement, Google representatives offered up the following explanations regarding their motivations for removing profile pictures from Authorship:

  • The picture removal is part of Google’s ongoing efforts to clean up the visual design of the engine’s search results.
  • Removing profile pictures from Authorship will also create a “better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices.”
  • The picture removal has no effect on users’ click-through behavior.

Industry Experts Weigh In: Alternate Reasons for Removing Profile Pictures from Google Authorship

While Google’s explanations as to why profile pictures were removed from Authorship seem – on the surface – fairly reasonable, some industry experts have cited other possible reasons that may have motivated this move. Among the various speculations that have arisen include that removing profile pictures from Google Authorship was the result of an effort to:

  • Reduce distractions that may have been deterring users from clicking on paid ads (which don’t have pictures) – Some industry professionals have gone so far as to suggest that the Authorship pictures were “cannibalizing” clicks for paid ads.
  • Embrace a design that is optimized for mobile devices, as the profile pictures can take up a lot of valuable real estate on smaller screens
  • Avoid any sort of implied endorsement of some content over other pieces of content based on the featured images for some listings and not others
  • Return to the simplicity of providing quality results in a simplified manner, which many have cited as being one of Google’s advantages/specific appeals over other search engines in its early days.

The bottom line is that there are likely motives that Google has not specifically articulated as to why it ultimately decided to remove the profile pictures from Authorship. In the wake of this decision, it remains to be seen how this picture removal will ultimately affect Authorship, click-through rates and the user experience.

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