Author statistics used to be a function in the Google Search Console, which made it possible to view statistics on published articles and posts. However, only statistics for ads which had a link to a Google Plus profile with an author tag were displayed. Author statistics are considered obsolete (or depreciated) since August 2014. The related concept of authorship markup is no longer being used by Google as a semantic markup or for changes in the SERPs.
The author statistics were introduced on the Internet in the context of increasing anonymity. Eric Schmidt said the following in The New Digital Age: “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”
Google wanted to measure the relevance of web content with this function by linking to the author. The approach is based on a patent, which is referred to as Agent Rank. Agent Rank is a system that assigns a digital signature to different parts of content and evaluates it using the access data for the content. This evaluation then flows as a trust and authority signal into the complex algorithm that determines the hierarchy in the search results.
The patent was filed in 2007. It wasn’t implemented until 2011 when the schema.org standards for structured data were adapted. Different contextual information about individual content could be linked using this semantic markup. The content had to be marked up with the corresponding rel ="author" and rel ="me" tags. A personal or commercial Google Plus profile served as a digital signature that identified the agent. The profile pictures of the author were displayed for some time in the SERPs. These were to increase the click-through rates compared to conventional, content which was not marked up.
Google frequently changed the features of the authorship markup and tested various variations such as displaying author images from the Google Plus profile. Like many other Google products, the author statistics were considered a temporary experiment, which could be terminated at any time. When Google realized that the authorship of articles and in particular the associated, relatively complex implementation of the markup was not accepted by users, the project was probably reconsidered.
Next, auto-attribution of posts was tested to cut out the work involved markup. But users without a Google Plus profile did not adopt this function either. Moreover, Google noted that the CTR values for content with a digital signature did not differ materially from those without signature. John Mueller of the Google team in Switzerland published a post on Google Plus in late August 2014 that announced the termination of author statistics and the associated markup.
The Google Search Console author statistics showed the following performance indicators:
Viewing author statistics in the Google Search Console had the advantage that the performance of individual posts which were registered with an author could be monitored. At the same time the search engine had the opportunity to measure the influence of a specific author. If you, for example, had an account with Google Plus and marked your posts, blogs and web articles with an author tag, then you could show Google with the author statistics evaluation that you are an expert or specialist in a particular subject. Consequently, external links (or outbound links) from your articles would have rated higher.
If you were engaged in reputation management, author statistics would have provided interesting input to the measurable success of the author’s contributions on the web. These statistics probably made it possible to scale and plan your SEO actions better. Moreover, authors could better assess whether to mark a post with an author tag or not to maintain positive evaluation of the statistics.
A significant drawback was that many non-tech-savvy users had difficulty in implementing author statistics. They sometimes had to change the HTML source code of their website to include relevant tags and send signals to Google. This was obviously one of the main reasons why this procedure was terminated in the end. The subsequent analysis of the consulting firm Stone Temple Consulting provided evidence to suggest that authorship had some significant drawbacks. But more important was the lack of benefits for users of the search engine. No significant changes in search and click behavior were observed, regardless of whether posts were marked up correctly or not.
Author statistics were important to online publishers for a limited time. The fact that Google integrated this feature into its Search Console pointed out that they were willing to grant greater importance to social profiles in future rankings. Furthermore, one could speculate that Google could utilize the metrics of author statistics to evaluate social signals (an already widely discussed topic in SEO). Therefore, positive author statistics in terms of high traffic and high CTR rates would generate high-quality social signals that probably were incorporated in the ranking algorithm.
Nevertheless, the author statistics feature was still part of Google Labs and thus a beta version. But author statistics gave some insight into future ranking criteria. At least it could be assumed that authorship markup indicated a future development towards social signals. As long as this was the case, conjectures about the influence of authors or their social signal prevailed. But there is no certainty about their influence on the ranking.
Since the inclusion of author statistics in the GWT, it was also speculated that Google sees this as a way to assess the relevance of content. Many experts believe that Google uses other means for that purpose including structured data, semantic markup, or other signals. The termination of authorship statistics therefore does not mean that issues such as authorship, relevance, authority, expertise, or social signal is no longer of relevance for Google.