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: