In the latest Google Webmaster Help video, Matt Cutts addresses the question: “As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?”
Cutts doesn’t really answer the question in terms of social signals, but he does give us an idea how Google distinguishes popularity and “true authority” in search results. Many people make the mistake of equating PageRank with popularity, and Cutts says this isn’t true. As an example, he compares porn sites with government websites. Many people visit porn sites, therefore making them “popular”, but not a lot of people link to them. Government sites, on the other hand, get more links, making them more authoritative. Cutts then defines “popularity” as “where people go”, and PageRank as “a measurement of reputation” (or of where people link).
Popularity and reputation are not the only things to look at when talking about page authority. Cutts says that looking at extra signals, such as topical anchor text links, also matter. He uses his own site as an example. When looking at links from a topical perspective, you have to determine how many links actually talk about Matt Cutts. This is how you would label one site more authoritative for queries about a specific topic.
Cutts closes his video by mentioning that they’re working on algorithm changes that will improve how Google retrieves better matches for topic-specific queries. He says, “I’m looking forward to 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 it 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.”
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