Search Trends: Creating A Google

    March 17, 2004

The term “authority site” comes from a concept in “Hilltop: A Search Engine based on Expert Documents,” an academic paper that some search optimizers speculate is a part of Google’s algorithm.

Keeping an Eye on the Trends
Keeping an Eye on the Trends

I’ve read a great deal lately in various forums discussing what exactly an authority site is and how to create one. I also spoke with several search engine optimization experts to get their thoughts on how seriously we should take this optimization trend.

First it must be noted that there is no way of knowing if Google’s using HillTop in their algorithm or not – there are many intelligent people who swear it’s there, and just as many who swear it isn’t. Google won’t say either way. That said, let’s look at a definition of authority site.

Jason Dowdell of GlobalPromoter defined it this way: “authority sites are sites that have been linked to and referenced on other web sites covering the same subject matter and they also will have hundreds if not thousands of pages covering that subject matter and nearly every facet of it.”

Barry Schwarz of RustyBrick gave a more mathematical answer: “there is strong belief that an authority is determined by the value of their InDegree (an InDegree in our terms is the number of pages linking from page A to page B). The larger the number, the more authoritative that page is in terms of the types of themed pages that are linked to that page. A page within a theme is stronger based on the number of times a query term is found within the page.” Be sure to read the full text of his post on authority sites – he also mentions their relationship to “hub sites.”

Barry also mentioned this paper as an excellent resource for learning more about authority sites.

So what would be the difference between a so-called authority site and a site with high PageRank? Or, as Dan Thies put it, “Google already has a concept of authority that they’re very comfortable with – it’s called PageRank.”

For those interested in becoming an authority, check out this post from Webby on the cre8siteforums. His research leads him to believe that Google uses HillTop, and therefore that one should create authority sites.

Here are some of his tips on becoming a Google authority site:

1) increase your total site size
2) obtain more incoming links
3) buy text links
4) find directory/hub links
5) make sure link partners are still linking to you
6) trade links with competitors – themed incoming links have increased weight in the algorithm
7) internal linkage should be thorough

His article sized post should give you all the direction you need.

While there are some aspects of building an authority site, such as obtaining more links, that would benefit rankings in general, should you really dig in and start creating an authority site?

Matt Bailey of the Karcher Group believes there’s only one route to go. He says you can, “do what makes sense for the user, or chase the algorithm.”

If you focus on the user experience then, “you’ll create a website that grows with users and is designed for them and creates conversions.” Otherwise, “you’ll re-design your site every day trying to chase the latest buzz that will find the hole in the algorithm. Funny thing is, the latter strategy, if successful, is only good until the next algo shift.”

Jason Dowdell seconded this belief: “you’ll find algorithm chasers are everywhere and typically their results fade with each changing algo.”

Jason added that, “I subscribe to Jill Whalen’s school of thought: content, content, content. Put lots of free content out there that’s spider friendly and promotes learning and you’ll have all the links you need. Of course a link-to-us page doesn’t hurt either.”

Still, with Google’s frequent updates and the seemingly random dropping of sites from results pages it’s understandable how people begin to watch, and sometimes chase, algorithms. The forums are filled with people who lost their position and are looking for a solution to rank flux.

While an “authority site” might not be the best solution, I did get some interesting stories during my interviews.

Jason offered an anecdote regarding links into your site, “although hilltop is unproven there are some clients of ours that have experienced fantastic placement for competitive keywords in Google within weeks of receiving links from sites already on the first page of Google for the desired keyword. I think it has more to do with being a related site than it does the hilltop algo though.”

Matt shared one too:

    “One ‘authority’ link can outweigh tens or hundreds of low-quality or average links, simply because of the importance of the site that is doing the linking. From how I see it, what is now called an authority link is simply a link that makes sense. These are the links that take planning and marketing savvy to build, not software or link farms.”

    “For example, I dealt with a manufacturer of a product that used DuPont technology in the development of their product. The company was named in a case study on the DuPont site. So, of course, we approached DuPont about linking to the manufacturer’s website from the case study. They had no qualms about doing so, and it happened in less than a week. We
    now had an incoming “authority link” for lack of a better term.”

There’s also talk these days that linking into an authority site will boost your ranking. This speculation raises Matt’s ire. “What’s funny,” said Matt, “is the complete reversal of logic from what existed only a few months ago, when webmasters refused to create outgoing links for fear of ‘leaking PR.'”

    “I just wrote an article about handling the Robots.txt protocol. As part of the references, I added links to and a couple other reference websites.

    “Did I do it for the PR or link benefit? No. That’s silly. I did it for my users who could benefit from seeing the link and following it to gain more in-depth information. If my site happens to benefit from that – great. Big Deal. But to pursue authority sites simply for better ranking – that seems shortsighted to me.”

An authority site (whether in HillTop terms or PageRank terms) is worth persuing for links to your site for sure, but is it worth your time to build one according to Webby’s specifications? If you do, let me know how it turns out, and be sure to post your results in the forum.

Garrett French is the editor of iEntry’s eBusiness channel. You can talk to him directly at WebProWorld, the eBusiness Community Forum.