Is Google Authorship Photo Snippet Query Dependent, Not Content Quality or Author Dependent?

Google has recently confirmed, and Search Engine Land has reported back in December that Google “has applied a 15% reduction in the amount of rich snippets displayed in the search results.” Some have even called that an Authorshippocalypse is going on. Eeeek! Oh, the horror! There are changes going on.

google authorship

So, many website owners and bloggers who have verified their Google Authorship are not always having their photo appear in the search results. Blog posts that show the author’s photo in the search results get more clicks. And even maybe less clicks for authors who have verified authorship and only have their name linked (but no photo) show up in the search results.

There are even times when someone has verified their Google Authorship but they’re not seeing a snippet at all show up in the search results (no photo and no name). If this is the case, the author can verify that Google Authorship is working by going to the Rich Snippets Testing Tool. Entering a URL will show whether Google Authorship is working or not.

There appears to be three different “classes” of Google Authorship now:

1. The Google search result shows the verified author’s photo and name in the search result, like the one below:

globerunner google authorship example

2. The Google search result shows the verified author’s name, but no photo, like the one below:

authorship no photo in search results

3. The Google search result does not show the verified author’s name or photo in the search results.

There is some speculation out there as to why exactly the Google shows the photo of the author in the search results and in some cases shows the verified author’s name only. In other cases, there are no author details shown. So what can you do to “force” Google to show your photo in the search results if you’ve verified Google Authorship? Well, from what I can tell, it’s NOT the quality of your posts or content, and whether your photo appears is not dependent on the quality of the author.

From what I can tell, it’s query dependent, and not author or content dependent. Let’s look at some proof of search queries that show the same exact URL, the same exact verified author, but different search results.

Let’s look at an example of one particular search query (of one of my prior blog posts) that shows the author snippet but NO photo (look at the LAST search result shown below, it has no photo):


In the case above, you can see the search query, which, in this case, was “”. So, it looks like this blog post, about anchor text and links, is NOT “good enough” to force Google to show the author’s (my) photo in the search result.

But wait.

Let’s do a search query for something else. Let’s use another search query to force this same exact blog post to show up in the search results. Let’s use something that someone would actually search for:

google authorship example with photo

This just goes to show (or prove) that whether or not the Google Authorship photo appears in the search results DEPENDS ON THE SEARCH QUERY and does NOT depend on the quality of the article or the quality of the articles that the author writes (and posts).

Granted, in order to have your Google Authorship show up in the search result and have your photo show up, you have to verify authorship (that part is a given) and it has to be working properly. However, the quality of the content doesn’t matter. Google will, in fact, decide to show your photo in the search results based on the actual search query.

Added – January 8, 2014
Let’s look at another example of when the search query causes a photo to show in the search results and when it doesn’t show the photo:


In the case above, I’m not searching my site like I did previously. I searched for something that didn’t involve a search of my blog site. In the case below, however, let’s look at another query that is perhaps longer but still brings up the same “about” page on my blog:

authorship query showing photo

So, these are two different search queries that pull up the same exact URL in the search results, the “about” page on my personal blog. It appears to me that whether or not the photo appears in the search result depends on the actual query. As Mark suggests below in the comments, since I’m using the same site to show the difference between a search query that has the photo and a search query that does not have the photo, this is not the Google Authorship reduction.

Bill Hartzer is Globe Runner’s Senior SEO Strategist. Follow him on Google Plus.