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Google had used rel=author as part of its Google Authorship feature that (potentially) displayed a special author rich snippet in search results for content using the tag. Google ended support of this feature in August 2014.

The phrase that made everyone sit up and say, "Did he just say that?" was this: "...because it is possible Google might make use of [rel=author] again in the future."

Even though Google's John Mueller made the same recommendation after he announced that Google was no longer making use of Google Authorship in search (to be precise, Mueller said leaving the tag in place "did no harm"), Illyes's statement seemed to shock many because Google has said nothing about Google Authorship or the rel=author tag since they said they stopped supporting it.

In a subsequent Twitter exchange I had with Gary Illyes, he explained that if enough users are implementing something, Google might consider using it. I asked him if that meant specifically if more people started using rel=author again, that Google might make use of it again. Illyes replied, "That would be safe to say."

Before I provide my commentary on what all this means, and whether we should expect to see a resumption of Google Authorship in Google Search, let me provide a brief overview of Authorship for anyone who may not be familiar with it. If you already understand Google Authorship, feel free to skip down to the Will Google Bring Back Authorship? section.

A brief history of Google Authorship

Google Authorship was a feature that showed in Google Search results for about three years (from July 2011 until August 2014). It allowed authors and publishers to tag their content, linking it to an author's Google+ profile, in order to provide a more-certain identification of the content author for Google.

In return, Google said they might display an authorship rich snippet for content so tagged in search results. The authorship rich snippet varied in form over the three years Authorship was in use, but generally it consisted of the author's profile photo next to the result and his or her byline name under the title. For part of the run of Authorship, one could click on an author byline in search to see results showing related content from that author.

Google Authorship began with an official blog post in June of 2011 where Othar Hansson announced that Google would begin supporting the rel=author tag, but with no specifics on how they might use it.

Then in a July 2011 video, Hansson and Matt Cutts explained that Google+ would be the hub for author identification, and that Google might start showing a special Authorship rich snippet result for properly tagged content.

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