Google seems to have announced some coming changes to its algorithm in the latest “Webmaster Help” video. Head of webspam Matt Cutts said the search engine is working on some changes that will help it better determine when a site is an authority on a topic. He didn’t give any specific dates or anything, but says he’s “looking forward to to those rolling out.”
Do you think Google is good at determining which sites are authorities on certain topics right now? Do you expect these changes to lead to better results? Let us know what you think in the comments.
The topic came up when Blind Five Year Old asked Cutts, “As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?”
Cutts says in the video that the first part of that question makes an “assumption” in that Google is using social signals in its ranking algorithm. The rest of the time, he talks more about authority vs. popularity more generally, and doesn’t really get into social signals at all.
Regarding popularity versus authority, Cutts says, “We’ve 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.”
He goes on to talk about how porn sites are popular because a lot of people go to them, but not a lot of people link to them, and how on the other hand, a lot of people link to government websites, but not as many go to them. They want the government sites to have authority, but porn sites not so much.
“You can separate simple popularity from reputation or authority, but now how do we try to figure out whether you’re a good match for a given query?” 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’s 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’re 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 part about the upcoming algorithm changes.
“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’m looking forward to those rolling out, because a lot of people have worked hard so that you don’t just say, ‘Hey, 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.”
If they actually work, these changes could indeed provide a boost to search result quality. In fact, this is just the kind of thing that it seemed like the Panda update was originally designed to do. Remember how it was initially referred to as the “farmer” update because it was going after content farms, which ware saturating the search results? Many of those articles from said farms were drowning out authoritative sites on various topics.
There is supposed to be a “next generation” Panda update hitting sometime as well, though Cutts didn’t really suggest in the video that this was directly related to that. That one, he said, could help small businesses and small sites.
After the initial Panda update, Google started placing a great deal of emphasis on freshness, which led to a lot of newer content ranking for any given topic. This, in my opinion, didn’t help things much on the authority side of things. Sometimes more authoritative (or frankly relevant) content was again getting pushed down in favor of newer, less helpful content. I do think things have gotten a bit better on that front over maybe the past year or so, but there’s always room for improvement.
It’s interesting that Google is looking more at authority by topic now, because Cutts has also been suggesting that blogs stay on topic (I guess whatever topic Google thinks you should be writing about) at least when it comes to guest blog posts. As you may know, Google has been cracking down on guest blog posts, and when one site was penalized, Cutts specifically suggested that the topic of one post wasn’t relevant to the blog (even though most people seem to disagree with that).
Either way, this is another clue that Google really is looking at authority by topic. It seems like it might be as good a time as any to be creating content geared toward a specific niche.
Do you think these algorithm changes will help or hurt your site? Will they improve Google’s search results? Let us know what you think in the comments.