Who you are matters more in search than ever. This is reflected in search engines' increased focus on social signals, and especially with authorship markup, which connects the content you produce with your Google profile, and ultimately your Google presence.
Late on Friday, Google released its monthly list of search algorithm changes, and among them was:
More authoritative results. We’ve tweaked a signal we use to surface more authoritative content.
Google has tried to deliver the most authoritative content in search results for as long as I can remember, but clearly it's been pretty hard to get right all the time. The Panda update, introduced in February 2011, was a huge step in the right direction - that is if you think Panda has done its job well. Perhaps to a lesser extent, the Penguin update is another step, as its aim is to eliminate the spam cluttering up the search results, taking away from the actual authority sites.
About a year ago, Google released a list of questions that "one could use to assess the quality of a page or an article." This was as close as we got to a guide on how to approach search in light of the Pand update. There were 23 questions in all. Some of them are directly related to authority.
Would you trust the information presented in this article?
Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
How much quality control is done on content?
Does the article describe both sides of a story?
Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
Does this article contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
Of course, we don't know what exactly Google did to the signal (one of many, I presume) it uses to surface more authoritative content. It's worth noting that they made a change to it, however, and it will be interesting to see if there's a noticeable impact in search results.
It's one thing for Google to preach about quality content, and saying that's what it wants to deliver to users, but we continue to see Google cite specific actions it has taken to make good on that, even if we can't know exactly what they are (Google is vague when it lists its changes). Panda and Penguin are obviously major steps, but Google seems to be doing a variety of other things that cater to that too.
I mentioned authorship. That's a big one, and one you should be taking advantage of if you want to be seen as an authority in Google's eyes. It really means you should be engaging on Google+ too, because it's tied directly to it. For some authors, Google will even show how many people have you in Circles in the search results. It's hard to dispute you being an authority if you manage to rack up a substantial follower count.