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Google gives big sites a free pass on author profile pictures

September 16, 2011 3 Comments

Google results with author profile pictures

These aren't what you think

Notice anything odd about these two web results? They've got Google's new author profile pictures in, right?

How you normally make those photos appear

Well, no. Normal websites have to go through a slightly complicated process to get photos of the author of a page showing up in Google's web results (the old process, the new process). This basically involves cross linking your Google profile and either the page in question or to an "author page" that the page in question also links to.

Normal Google author result

There's a "by Malcolm Coles" link next to the photo

But when you do that, Google's results show not just a photo - but also a link to your Google profile.

And this link to the Google profile is missing from the screenshot above (but you can see it in the picture here).

So what's going on?

It turns out that those two web results from the Guardian aren't showing photos because of Google's normal process for making them appear.

There are no links from the author profiles on the Guardian to the journalist's Google profiles. And their Google profiles don't link to their author pages. (Here is Charles Arthur's author page on the Guardian and his Google profile. Here is Jemima Kiss's author page on the Guardian and her Google profile.)

However, both those author pages link to the journalist's twitter accounts - as do their Google profiles. And it appears that Google has decided that on the basis of this, it can presume that the photo on their Twitter profile picture is a picture of the article's author - and is showing the photo.

I think we can assume that this isn't going to work for most sites ... Thanks to @yesiamben, @ysekand, @danbarker and @yoast for helping work all this out yesterday.

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3 Comments »

  • I actually do think they'll make this work for more people. Let's look at the rationale for Google for trying to do this in the first place: they've got a huge scraping problem, so much so, that they've solicited people to actually fill out forms to report scrapers because they have a tough time distinguishing them automatically. The scraping problem is forcing them to do huge updates like Panda and yet, those aren't solving all the issues.

    If they could figure out the original author of an article better, they'd have a handle to more easily find the original place of publication, thereby making it easier for them to distinguish scrapers. This is not just about Google wanting to show your pretty face in the SERPs, this is much more about Google wanting to use the social graph to prevent spam.

    The fact that it ties into Google+ is an added benefit: it helps spread the word about the social network and it helps Google convince authors that they need a profile. The fact that your +1's need to be public on your profile for you to qualify for author highlights is just as much a sign of that: you have to be comfortable with what you're doing online to not mind your +1's being public.

    So in essence, I think they'll try to make the author highlights easier for everyone, to gain data on authorship and thereby help them prevent scraping spam.

  • Yousaf says:

    I can see why Google is doing this but I think it is very biased. There are many trustworthy authors who post valuable content but they are not as big as the likes of Guardian, do they deserve to be sidelined?

    I hate it when websites with commercial motives i.e. Mashable get all these bells and whistles and their non-commercial equivalents don't get jack all.

  • dan barker says:

    I quite like the idea. *Sort of* turns SERPs into a non-linear version of twitter.

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