Matt Cutts Explains How Google Separates Popularity From True Authority

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Matt Cutts Explains How Google Separates Popularity From True Authority

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, answer’s a question about ranking signals in his latest Webmaster Help video where a user writes in to ask:

As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?

Matt says he’s disregarding the assumptions made about social signals in the first part of the question and focusing strictly on the second half of the question, which is how to separate popularity from authority.

Google has thought about this quite a lot, Matt explains, even dating back to the earliest days of Google. When Google first introduced PageRank Matt says the team at Google would get frustrated when reporters described it as “a measure of the popularity of websites.” That’s just not true, Matt says.

Just because a site is popular doesn’t mean it will be linked to as an authority. Matt gives the example of porn sites being very popular, while explaining people tend to not link to those kinds of sites. On the other hand, a website like the Wisconsin Real Estate Board doesn’t generate a lot of traffic, but quite a few people link to government websites.

Matt describes popularity as being a measure of where people go on the web, while PageRank is a measure of reputation determined by inbound links.

One of the ways Google separates popularity from authority, and uses that distinction to determine whether or not a page is an appropriate match for a given query, is by looking at how topical the anchor text is on the inbound links. If the same phrases or keywords come up over and over again in the links pointing to your site, Google will view you as an authority on that topic.

Matt says there are some algorithmic changes set to roll out that help Google figure out what topics a site is particularly authoritative on. Matt explains the upcoming changes will move away from Google giving ranking preference to well known sites, and start looking for evidence within the site that suggests it is an authority for a given query.

To hear Matt’s full response to the above question, please see the video below:

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
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  • Rajesh Arinos


    Thanks for sharing very useful information.Your blog gives me very clear idea about popularity from true authority.Thanks for sharing video links to us.Keep post this kind of information.

  • Alex Morris

    Yeah, I just watched this before. It’s clear people are still very confused by all of this. Not that I fully understand it, but adhering to Google’s quality control guidelines, and producing great content, is all that’s really required of SEO practitioners now. Plus, use Google+ a lot. If you’re not then it’s a bit of a disaster.

    I like his t-shirt. If you go through his other videos, what’s clear is Cutts likes wearing an interesting array of them to keep his posts lively. Or, perhaps, he’s attempting to brainwash us all!

    • Ryne Landers

      Alex, if you believe the party line of “just create good content and it will magically be found and rank”, then 1) you don’t actually understand how the world works, or 2) you didn’t read this article, wherein Matt Cutts actually talks about authority and popularity online, being driven by inbound links. Both of those are essential to getting your content found.

      As Sugar Rae said in January:
      “They created a currency around links, then failed to control it, then issued mandates to alter it to compensate for their failings for their own benefit.
      We’re told to “create good content” and our Google rankings will be fine.

      I’m sorry, but I live in reality. In reality, creating good content guarantees you nothing.

      There’s no guarantee good content will magically be shared.”

      Neil Patel said the same thing about marketing really good content:
      “You could spend months creating the most awesome infographic, but if no one knows that it exists, then you’ve wasted your time.
      You actually have to share it for it to do well. But unless you have the following of a Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber, a couple of tweets, an email or a blog post are not going to do the trick.
      You need to bring out the big guns.”

      As you can see, very well known, very authoritative experts in the field are saying that simply creating content is not enough – it needs to be shared to get links and traffic to it. This in turn will create additional rankings as that authority and popularity are perceived by Google and they give it a rankings injection.

  • Sameer Manas

    Like Alex said, they maybe looking at Google+ as a source of authority. However Matt hasn’t specified anything about it. Look’s like he never spills out secrets 🙂

  • Jeff Chance

    Matt Cutts says EM anchor text helps to define authority and it is OK to use (and in fact is beneficial). This all, also, leads one to easily deduce that there is in fact a working authority rank that is part of the algo and likely part of Penguin as well (or ties in aspects from varied algo’s from linktext to target page, to social, to citations, to publications, in-depth articles and of course the level of authority of those linking, citing, etc. Oh what a wicked web is woven…

  • Kamalesh

    It seems this will be rolled out in a next google update making websites to rely on google plus to gain authority.

  • Jeff Chance

    It was also interesting how he spoke about being topically targeted. A site is found to be topically relevant, however he said nothing about rankings being specifically targeted to the query. He only spoke generally (e.g. medical supplies) but his lack of discussing specificity doesn’t rule out the importance of being both generally and specifically targeted to the query and building authority both extensively and intensively.

    It’s also interesting that he seemed to dismiss the first part of the question by stating that it makes assumptions about the algorithm but he didn’t say those assumptions were wrong!

  • Ryne Landers

    SEJ, you guys have a huge spam comment issue here. Is there no moderation to be had? Looking at comments w/ exact match anchor text as the name (“Texas SEO”, “Escorts Madrid”) and comments that are obviously from the same guy posting the same comment twice, under two different names (Sameer Manas and SEOspell – or, one copied the other’s comment, but I find it unlikely).

    • Kelsey Jones

      Yep. You’re right. I will talk to our team about this. Thanks!

  • Ehtesham Shaikh

    Hi Matt,
    I am still wondering what could be the evidence within the site they are looking for?
    And is there any hierarchy for Reputation, Authority, Popularity and how to build it?