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Authority vs. Popularity: Matt Cutts Teases New Google Search Result Shake-Up

jennifer-slegg
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Matt Cutts

Over the years Google algorithm has been changing to take into account social factors more than they were previously. And with a lot of social sharing comes the issue of how to separate knowing what is simply popular, or even a one-hit wonder in the social media world versus something with true authority. This is the latest topic from another of Matt Cutts' Google webmaster help videos.

As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?

"We've actually thought about this quite a bit because from the earliest days it would get us really kind of frustrated when we'd see reporters talk about PageRank and say PageRank is a measure of the popularity of websites because that's not true," Cutts said. "For example, if you're to look at sites that are popular, for example porn sites are very popular, but people tend not to link to porn sites. On the other hand, if you take something like the Wisconsin real estate board, probably not a ton of people go there, but quite a few people do link to government websites."

This is definitely true. PageRank was simply based on popularity, we would definitely see a different mix of websites with higher PageRank than they currently have.

"So popularity is some sense is a measure of where people go, whereas PageRank is much more a measure of reputation, it's much more reputation of where people link, and there is a disparity there or else porn sites would have the highest PageRank and government sites would be very, very low within our ranking system, and that's not the way that things work. We tend to see more links to reputable government websites."

So as Google can separate between popularity and authority, how does it then decide based on those factors which search results to show for specific query.

"Well it turns out you can say take PageRank for example, if you want to do a topical version of PageRank, you could look at the links to a page and say, 'OK suppose it's Matt Cutts, how many of my links actually talk about Matt Cutts?'" he said. "And if they are a lot of links or large fraction of links that I'm pretty topical, or maybe an authority on the phrase Matt Cutts."

If you always hear about how important authority is. Whenever you can make your site or your persona be an authority in your particular market area, not only can you benefit in the search rankings, but you can also benefit simply from other members within your market area perceiving you as an authority and promoting you and linking to you because of it.

"So it's definitely the case that you can think about not only taking popularity and going to something like reputation, which is PageRank, but you can also imagine more topical or you're an authority in the medical space, or you're an authority in the travel space or something like that," Cutts said. "By looking at extra signals where you can say oh you know what, as a percentage of the sort we see you are doing well for, or whatever, it turns out your links might be including more anchor text about travel or medical queries or something like that."

Cutts also gives us a rare heads up into some algorithmic changes that are coming in to the search results. Google is going to try to determine more between the site simply being popular and the site being a topic authority. Because he uses the example of medical queries, this could be an algorithmic change targeted to specific niche areas, such as medical queries or perhaps things like travel queries or legal queries.

"So it is difficult, but it is a lot of fun. We actually have some algorithmic changes that try to figure out hey this site is the better match for something like a medical query," Cutts said. "And I'm looking forward those rolling out because a lot of people have worked hard so that you don't just say oh this is a well-known site therefore should match for this query, it's this is a site that actually has some evidence that it should rank for something related to medical queries, and that's something where we can improve the quality of the algorithms even more."

Unfortunately, he doesn't give us a date of when this algorithm could potentially go live, but it is something webmasters should definitely be aware that it's coming.


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