It’s a good thing that Google is now taking more and more social signals into consideration in its algorithm. This, however, begs the question: how does Google separate authority from popularity? You see, popularity does not always mean authority and vice-versa, and this issue is the focal point of the latest webmaster help video by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team.
PageRank not a measure of popularity, but of reputation
According to Cutts, they have been frustrated for a long time about how blurred the lines are between popularity and authority as measured by PageRank. Reporters, complains Cutts, typically say PageRank is a measure of the popularity of websites when that isn’t really the case. He cites porn sites as an example. While very popular, porn sites are not exactly the types of sites that people would link to which, in effect, increases its authority. Conversely, a site like the one for the Wisconsin real estate board may not really be popular at all, but it has authority, mainly because a lot of people to link to government websites like it.
“So popularity in 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”, says Cutts in the video.
How Google matches results with queries
If that is how Google separates authority from popularity, the next question that readily comes to mind is how the search engine giant determines which results match perfectly for any specific query. Cutts says Google looks at how topical the anchor text is on the inbound links, and if the links pointing to your site carry the same phrases or keywords over and over again, your site will be viewed by Google as an authority on that specific topic.
“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? And if they are a lot of links or large fraction of links that I’m pretty topical, or maybe an authority for the phrase Matt Cutts”, says Cutts.
New algorithm changes
What’s pretty telling in the latest video, however, is the hint given out by Cutts regarding some algorithm changes that they are about to roll out. He says that these algorithmic changes are meant to help Google see which sites are particularly authoritative on which topics. With the upcoming algorithmic changes, Cutts says, Google will start moving away from giving popular sites ranking preference and will now focus on finding out whether any given site is an authority for a specific query.
Then again, Cutts didn’t say anything about when the algorithm changes are going to roll out, so webmasters better be on their toes for the foreseeable future.