There has been a lot of chatter over the web about Google dropping author pictures in search results. Where did it start and what should you know about it?
- October 2013: Matt Cutts at Pubcon Las Vegas mentions they will reduce the number of authors they show in SERPs by 10% to 15% (the smartest of us immediately started asking, "Is it the beginning of Author Rank?"...)
- Shortly after that website owners started reporting they had lost their Authorship in search results
- January 2014: Authorship has begun to partially re-appear for many people. Mark Traphagen comments:
"I can confirm this. Starting in mid January there appeared to be a slight easing off of the Authorship change that resulted in some authors seeing some or all of their Authorship snippets returned.This is common in Google updates that change the status of sites in rankings. When first instituted, the update is usually "rough" and take down more sites than was probably intended. Google does a damage assessment, tweaks the algo, and some sites get their ranking status back."
Now, what actually happened?
Jennifer Slegg has a good overview of explanations and quotes:
In mid-December, we rolled out new algorithms designed to show author photos when they're more likely to be relevant and interesting.
*They do mention the quality of content the author "typically" produces which is rather vague: "For example, the algorithms now try to estimate the quality of documents an author typically writes" [probably, that's the PageRank of / quality of backlinks to the page, see this post shared by Bill in the comments]
Update: Check out this very indepth research by Mark Traphagen and here's one of his conclusion:
While I obviously think there are multiple factors that contribute to earning or losing one’s Authorship results, I do NOT think they are all equal. From my observations, publisher factors are more important than author factors, at least for now. That is, it appears Google went after the “low hanging fruit” in terms of what is already easy for them to do: assessing site and content quality. Grading authors is a lot tougher. I think they are beginning to do it, but it’s not as big a factor. For now.
If you have someone in your circles in Google+, their social signals will increase the likelihood that you will see that person's image in the search results
Site-specific (why Author Rank is not the major factor here):
Whether an author's portrait is displayed seems to be not only influenced by personal quality, but also the quality of the site that the author posted to. The same author can have his portrait shown for one site, but merely a byline on a second site.