It’s again that time of the month. Google has announced several drastic changes to its algorithm in the latest Webmaster video. The director of web-spam, Matt Cutts, announced that the search engine is implementing some changes that will help Google to better determine when a site or blog is an authority on a certain topic. Matt did not state any specific dates or whatsoever, but says that he is “looking forward to to those rolling out.”
This delicate topic came up when someone with the nickname Blind Five Year Old asked Matt Cutts, “As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?”
Matt explains in the video that the first part of this question is based on the “assumption” that Google uses social signals in its ranking algorithm. During the rest of the time, Cutts explains some more about the authority vs. popularity in general, and he does not really get into the social signals at all.
Cutts says about popularity versus authority: “We have actually thought about this quite a bit because from the earliest days it would get us really kind of frustrated when we would see reporters talk about PageRank, and say, ‘PageRank is a measure of popularity of websites,’ because that’s not true.”
The spam guru goes on to talk about how pornographic websites are extremely popular because a lot of people visit them, but not so many people will place a link to them, and how on the other hand, many people place links to websites that are government related, but not as many go to them. Google wants the government websites to have authority, rather than the porn sites.
“You can separate simple popularity from reputation or authority, but now how do we try to figure out whether you are a good match for a given query?” Matt Cutts continues. “Well, it turns out you can say, take PageRank for example – if you wanted to do a topical version of PageRank, you could look at the links to a page, and you could say, ‘OK, suppose it’s Matt Cutts. How many of my links actually talk about Matt Cutts?’ And if there are a lot of links or a large fraction of the links, then I’m pretty topical. I’m maybe an authority for the phrase Matt Cutts.”
“It is definitely the case that you can think about not only taking popularity, and going to something like reputation, which is PageRank, but you could also imagine more topical…’Oh, you are an authority in the medical space” or ‘You’re an authority in the travel space’ or something like that. By looking at extra signals where you could say, ‘Oh, you know what? As a percentage of the sorts of things we see you doing well for or whatever, it turns out that your links might be including more anchor text about travel or about medical queries or something like that,’ so it is difficult, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Then we get to the topic about the upcoming Google algorithm changes for 2014.
“We actually have some algorithmic changes that try to figure out, ‘Hey, this site is a better match for something like a medical query, and I am looking forward to those rolling out, because a lot of people have worked hard so that you do not just say, ‘Hey, this is a well-known site, therefore it should match for this query.’ It is ‘this is a site that actually has some evidence that it should rank for something related to medical queries,’ and that is something where we can improve the quality of the algorithms even more.”
If these new improvements actually work like Matt explains, these changes will indeed provide a great boost to search result quality. In fact, these adjustments is just the kind of change that it seemed like the Panda update of 2013 was originally designed to do. Do you remember how that was initially referred to by Google as the “farmer” update because it was chasing the content farms, which ware saturating the search results? Too much of those articles from said farms were drowning out authoritative sites on several topics.
After the initial Panda update took place, Google started placing to place their focus on freshness, which led to a lot of newer content that was ranking for any given topic. This, in my opinion, did not help things a lot on the authority side of things. Sometimes the more authoritative (or frankly relevant to the topic) content was once again getting pushed down in the favour of newer and less helpful content. I do think that things have gotten a little better on that front over maybe the past six months or so, but there is always a lot room for improvement.
It is very interesting that the Google team is putting more focus on authority by topic now, because Matt Cutts has also been saying that blogs stay on topic (I think whatever topic Google believes you should be writing about) at least when it comes down to publishing guest blog posts. As you may already know, Google has been actively cracking down on guest blog posts, and when one site was penalised, Matt specifically said that the topic of one post was not even relevant to the blog (many people seem to disagree with that).
Either way, this is yet another clue that Google once again is looking at authority by topic. It seems like it might be a perfect time to be creating content that is geared toward a specific niche..