Matt Cutts of Google has announced a number of coming changes to the Google algorithm in his most recent “Webmaster Help” video. Matt Cutts said Google is working on changes that will help it better identify when a site is an authority on a given topic. Whilst Matt didn’t go as far as providing us with any specifics, he said he’s “looking forward to those rolling out.”

The topic came up when the question was asked, “As Google continues to add social signals to the algorithm, how do you separate simple popularity from true authority?”

Cutts says that the first part of the question implies that Google is using social signals in its ranking algorithm. Matt continues to cover authority vs. popularity more generally, and doesn’t really get into social signals.

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.”

Matt 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.”

Now, the part you have been waiting for, 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.”

Only time will tell, however if successful, these changes could absolutely provide enhancement to search results quality. It’s somewhat what we expected of the Panda update, and what it was trying to achieve. Googles Panda was initially referred to as the “farmer” update because it was going after content farms, which were saturating the search results. It was understood that farms were drowning out authoritative sites on various topics.

There is supposed to be a “next generation” Panda update coming sometime also, 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, so we will have t wait for more information on that one.

Google started placing a great deal of emphasis on freshness, which led to a lot of newer content ranking for any given topic post the initial release of Panda. Many SEO professionals felt this didn’t help things on the authority side of things. Sometimes more authoritative (or simply just relevant) content was again getting pushed down in favor of newer, less helpful content. We would expect Google to continue working on this, as has been seen in the improvements over the past year or so.

Google is looking more at authority by topic now, and Cutts has also been suggesting that blogs tend to have a habit of staying on topic. However, Google has been cracking down on guest blog posts, and when one site was penalised, Cutts specifically suggested that the topic of one post wasn’t relevant to the blog, even though not all people agree with that assessment.

So, what do we take away from this? This is another clue that Google is very much 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.


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