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Quality and Authority: Relevance Alone Is Not Enough
msndude




msg:1533876
 8:30 pm on Jun 17, 2006 (gmt 0)

One complaint I hear a lot in this forum is that MSN Search fails to identify "quality" sites or "authority" sites. I'd actually be interested in hearing your collective idea of what these terms mean. It's hard for me to respond intelligently to this type of concern if I'm not sure we mean the same thing by the words.

Here are a few questions to get us started:

Does quality include the appearance of a site, or only the content? How about the organization of a site?

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational, or from a big corporation?

Is it possible for an authority to not be quality?

I realize this is a bit different from the usual sort of discussion we have here, but I hope I'm not the only one who'd welcome a little variety.

 

steveb




msg:1533906
 9:14 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

"If I can paraphrase a bit, this is saying that an authority is a site that users expect to see in response to a query. That means it has to be well-known -- at least to people who issue that kind of query."

No, it definitely does not need to be well known. It needs to be well known to OTHER AUTHORITIES. For example, for a query about the contents of my sock drawer, result from CNN at the top would stink. They aren't an authority on the query, though they are a quality site. My personal site would be the authority, with sites of ex-girlfriends next, other friends who know me, and friends of those friends who can make educated comments based on what they have heard and read from the main authority and the secondary authorities... those are the authorities and the authority-recognizers.

It's very important for an engine to not think that well known sites are authorities. blogspot.com or geocities.com are again obvious examples. They are well known, but generally useless in terms of authority on anything except free blogging or free hosting.

"I'm also interested in SteveB's implication that a quality site could be off-topic."

I'm not clear what you mean by this. I just said quality sites are not necessarily authorities. Niche authority almost always trumps general authority.

"Do you (any of you) think that quality is query-independent? I've been thinking of both quality and authority as a property of results, not just a property of a site."

It's like my sock drawer. Quality sites, like CNN, usually have mountains of very medicocre content. For example, if a movie leads the box office results in its third week of release, and the New York Times titles a page to that effect, what we will have is an authority site delivering quality information... that also happens to be enormously trivial except for a very exact query ("Star Wars week 3 box office").

This is oversimplifying it, but you find quality by seeing what the sites listed in Dmoz and the Yahoo Directory for the niche of the query say about a site. Quality peers recognize quality peers. Generic authority recognizes some niche authority. MSN to date has not cared one tiny bit about niche authority. Without understanding niche authority, you can't find quality for a specific query.

RichTC




msg:1533907
 11:03 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

SteveB

Quote:- "This is oversimplifying it, but you find quality by seeing what the sites listed in Dmoz and the Yahoo Directory for the niche of the query say about a site. Quality peers recognize quality peers. Generic authority recognizes some niche authority. MSN to date has not cared one tiny bit about niche authority. Without understanding niche authority, you can't find quality for a specific query."

Fair points made BUT the only way MSN could be 100% sure that a site is quality, a niche authority and of benefit to the end user is by looking at the site imo.

With so many sites that would obviously be a very labour intensive task BUT it could be done, Yahoo have perhaps one of the best directory listings imo on the net and they use this data, its unbiased and ahead of the likes of DMOZ which imo is well out of date and biased. Google on the other hand have been on the net the longest and know age of sites, age of links to them etc etc so have a better idea of established sites and those that are authority

Could MSN buy or agree a deal with Yahoo to take its directory data, add to it and use it as a base to identify authority from junk? Just a thought?. If not imo msn need to start their own directory otherwise they will continue to chuck out good sites that should be listed whilst listing garbage that should never be listed in its place.

Essex_boy




msg:1533908
 11:51 am on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Authorities are sites with a passion for accuracy. - That sums it up really.

Ive seen some really awful sites written by people with no colour sense but they have wonderful content and are easy to look around.

fred9989




msg:1533909
 12:17 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Authority surely implies reliability: good, solid, factual information on as comprehensive a range of topics about a subject as possible.
That might reflect the authority of someone with personal experience in the field, who is reporting in an unbiased, unprejudiced way the facts of the matter, or it might mean an expert from government, academia or the community at large.
Criteria include depth of thinking, breadth of knowledge, accuracy of facts, and respect from peers.
The problem in assessing this kind of site through metrics is that it is likely to be much less popular than a more trivial site, even when the issues it deals with affect a large number of people.
(Think of the UK tabloid press vs the UK broadsheet press. This makes it clear authority may not mean popular. What can be popular is trivial inaccurate flim flam that diverts and entertains a lot of people.)

Quality might imply a different set of criteria: well designed information provision, set out in a way that appeals to many people. The Daily Mail, IMO one of the most prejudiced, biggoted and hypocritical newspapers in the UK, is arguably also one of the most high quality - and it has an extremely high readership. It gives people what they want, not necessarily what they really need.
Now, imagine two websites reflecting those chacteristics about the same subject. How would you assess the significance of these websites, and how would you design a single system that presents both of them in the top results for a search query?
Rod

oldpro




msg:1533910
 12:25 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational,

In all seriousness...a government or educational site should automatically be disqualified as an authority site. As usual with most...to try to get an answer to a question you keep going around in circles trying to get an answer. This is especially true with State or Federal gov't websites. Maybe some consideration should be given to some educational sites...but the standards should be set at a much higher level for both .gov and .edu sites.

In my state most of the State dept websites are nothing but promotional or subtle campaign content for the popularly elected Dept. Commissioner.

For instance to get an answer to an incorporation or tax issue their are several sites that are private and give you the answers straight out. The same questions or issues that should be answered by the respective gov't sites do not even address the issue.

Ganceann




msg:1533911
 12:39 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Does quality include the appearance of a site, or only the content? How about the organization of a site?

Quality = useful information in the content ... not machine generated nonsense and keyword stuffing + content scraping.

Any site that scrapes content from another site cannot be offering quality content that is above the site that it takes the information from ... all too often the scraping site outranks the originators site due to having other ranking factors including in the overall analysis.

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational, or from a big corporation?

Yes.

Is it possible for an authority to not be quality?
Yes. Some sites may become authority sites due to the references to them.

angiolo




msg:1533912
 2:38 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

For me quality means:

- Excellent content

- Navigability: easy to find the requested information.

- No redundant keywords everywhere.

- Downloading fast

- Excellent code: no wrong links etc.

- working with any browser

- A contact page with regular address and phone number

Authorities:

They are related to their "niche"

"Official" sites are authorities.
Sites of "organizations" are authorities.

Authorities are the most reliable companies in their niche. There are several elements to consider:

- quality logos
- testimonials
- official recognitions
etc.

debvh




msg:1533913
 2:47 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interesting discussion. Here are my rather lengthy thoughts on the topic in general and then what I observe in my niche.

General thoughts -

I would use the term "authority" site to mean:
1. Comprehensiveness on a topic
2. Accuracy of the info
3. Timeliness of the info (which can mean very different things depending on the topic)
4. Trustworthiness of the source of the info

If an authority site has all of the above, it is probably a quality site too. However, if it is hard to navigate, looks crappy enough to interfere with use, etc., that would bring the quality down.

I would use "quality" to denote:
1. Accuracy and timeliness
2. Something that I think of as "uniqueness" but I want to use a different word or phrase because "unique content" already carries so much baggage. I'm thinking of either (a) specificity on a particular aspect of a topic; or (b) point of view, perspective, or "voice" on a topic; or (c) "just-rightness" relative to the search query - for example, when I searched for instructions for how to fold a suit jacket for packing in a suitcase, the highest-quality site was the one that actually had instructions for how to fold a suit jacket for packing in a suitcase.
3. Especially useful navigation/search/etc., to make it very easy to find just what you are looking for. This means it should be easy to tell what is on the site, so you know whether to bother navigating/searching/etc., or just move on.
4. Lack of extreme hideousness and/or annoyance.

Specific observations regarding lack of authority/quality in my niche -

I work in a a small niche (red widgets) with one major authority site. There are a number of excellent mini-authorities and high-quality sites, and very little spam.

G tends to like SITES (or subsections of sites) devoted to the topic. Y and MSN seem to like PAGES (including PDF's and other documents) related to the topic.

I like the page-level results because you can find great stuff that you won't find on G. But, often the MSN results are so specific (i.e., at the document level) that they become LESS relevant. You have to navigate up a level or 2 in the site's structure to figure out what you are looking at. THOSE pages may turn out to be mini-authority sites.

MSN seems to favor pages having to do with professional training in red widgets , particularly if the training is offered by a university or by someone with "red widgets" in their site url (perhaps a side effect of keyword density and percieved trustworthiness?). The quality is short-lived and the searcher finds links to courses that have already ended.

The url of the authority site, plus the description "this page uses frames..." is the #1 result. Can't you filter that? (The authority site, with it's proper name and description is #2)

Several of the results within the top 20 for red widgets directly duplicate content from the red widget authority site. I'ts all properly cited and above board, but how many times does the searcher need to read the same paragraphs? Several MORE contain very similar bibilography/reference pages, which are authoritative, but again, how many of them do you need, especially if they aren't annotated (quality) and don't link to any of the articles cited (quality)? One result includes only a short paragraph of text and a link to the authority site.

3 of the top 20 results are to places you can buy the most authoritative text on red widgets.

2 of the top 30 results are to the same several-years-old forum post (which is neither particularly high-quality nor authoritative).

6 of the top 30 results are exact duplicates, "indents," or pages directly accessible from another page in the top 30.

The duplication and lack of quality/authority isn't obviously due to the size of the niche: there easily 50-100 sites that belong in the top 50-100 results. None of the major search engines do a great job of finding them. Hence, even more need for authority/quality near the top.

[edited by: debvh at 2:59 pm (utc) on June 19, 2006]

kneukm03




msg:1533914
 2:53 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

One of the things that I think underemphasized here is that a quality site is only quality in relation to the search term. Some people are mentioning this in passing but I think it's the key point.

For example, I picked a random term, Honda Civic, and typed it into MSN. What do I get?

1 & 2 - The manufacturer's site. That's obviously a good authority. Even if it's a bad site, someone searching for that is very likely to want to go there. The problem here: these two random pages don't look like anything I would have been particularly interested in. The first result is about hybrids - what did I type that indicated I'm interested in a hybrid? So I'd have to go search around the web site to find something more specific, but at least it took me to the right place. Authority site, it's also quality.

3-4 The same thing, but for Honda UK. This is organized a little better, because it takes me straight to the honda sub-page. But why am I interested in the UK manufacturer's site? I live in the U.S., and even though this is a professional, well-made site with information, it is NOT QUALITY OR AUTHORITY. It gives information relevant to a different search - hondas in britain, hondas in UK, whatever, or someone whose IP is in the UK searching for that.

5 - A Honda ad, listed as an IP address. Pretty much useless. It's a professional ad - but it's not labeled, and I probably wasn't looking for a car ad when I typed that in.

6-7 A Black-Eyed Peas band related website whose tour is sponsored by the Honda Civic. Again, this is a well-done, professional site with lots of information. The problem? It's information about some band I don't care about, not information about a car.

8 - The official main page for Honda. This one is pretty much the same thing as #1 & 2 - it's a doorway that leads to those other two pages, which have the specific car information. We probably don't need all 3 results.

9 - Another part of the official Honda website. It's a store that lets me buy parts and accessories. I probably would have typed something like "parts" if I'd wanted that - again, informational, but not what I care about given THIS SEARCH.

10-11 - A completely useless Adsense type site. Well, not completely - but none of the useful information is here. It's less spammy than some - but mainly it's just links to other pages. I did find some pictures on there that appear to be hosted on this site. This probably isn't very helpful to me. But it's a good instructive example: why isn't this site an authority? It's not because of how it looks or the prominent ads. It's because there's not much information on it. An authority would link out to other sites, true. But it would not consist primarily of those links - that's a directory, not an authority. If this site had specs for the Civic, buying tips, reviews, etc., then it would be an authority.

12 - Here is something more promising. Again, it's clearly a made for Adsense-type site. It has the basic formula down to be an authority. Frankly, it would be - if only it had information in VOLUME. It looks like they put up just enough information to get ranked, or the site is incomplete. But the structure and basics of what are on there should be instructive to you of what we think an authority would consist of.

I haven't gone through all the results or anything past this. But this is the top 12, and we didn't really find that much useful to me based on what I searched for. The hypothetical person typing in that search could have wanted a number of things - pictures of the car, a place to buy it, or more likely just general information on it. We basically got one site out of 12 results that would give us that - the manufacturer's official page, repeated several times. THIS is what we mean when we say you have no authority sites. Where are the hobbyist sites that compare all the different cars? Where is the Bluebook? Where is wikipedia? Where is a site with big picture galleries of Hondas? Not all of those might be expected to show up in the top 10 - but SOMETHING having the information I want should.

[edited by: kneukm03 at 3:18 pm (utc) on June 19, 2006]

randle




msg:1533915
 3:07 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Well, I may be off base here but it sure doesn’t sound like your question is geared toward finding an algorithmic effort to bring authority sites to the top of your results; but rather to have a method to review your results after an update and grade or measure the change; relative to the presence of “authoritative” sites.

If that is the case, and your going to have people sitting there entering queries and trying to grade these results for the increase, or decrease, of these “authoritative” sites then you need a relatively quick glance grading system.

The topic is quite narrow in focus
Total absence of “click here for (consumer action)”
High Page Rank (I know all about the rise and fall of PR but it’s a quick factor to look at)
No Adsense anywhere (Sure, there could be the extreme exception, a non-profit trying to raise $)
The ratio of inbound links to outbound is extremely high; at least 95% (Just look for an absence of reciprocal linking pages)

Sure this test is full of holes, and does not “define” an authority site by any stretch but if time and manpower are factors you will get a read on your results from this.

p.s. I applaud you for coming to a forum like this and asking this type of question.

Jane_Doe




msg:1533916
 3:31 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational, or from a big corporation?

If quality means only sites from big institutions, then people like Copernicus, Columbus, Galileo or the Wright brothers, if they had web sites, would not have stood a chance to have their ideas published and ranking well because they all had ideas that went against the prevailing wisdom of the big institutions of their day.

Often the big institutions have virtually similar information with no new added concepts or unique perspectives. And a lot of that information is wrong or simply outdated.

For example, most big institution sites still tell people to avoid the sun and wear sun screen to prevent cancer. Yet the research on this is far from conclusive, and many experts now believe that sunshine actually prevents cancer.

[usatoday.com...]

Shurik




msg:1533917
 3:37 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Site quality is query independent. Any minimally trained human within a minute can tell weather he/she is looking at a quality site or not. It is relatively easy to judge site quality and for the most part can be achieved using modern algos.

On the other hand authority is topical. Most non-expert humans would have tough time selecting authority sites from a bunch of quality sites. Some niches may not have any authority sites at all. Most “commercially viable” queries that seek widgets should not have any authority sites in the SERPS as there isn’t any.

IMO because current MSN algo does not recognize any authority sites many searches for commercial products and services result in better SERPs then Google which operates under false assumption that some sites are authorities on widgets.

jessejump




msg:1533918
 3:38 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

>>>>> if you were going to hire some people to rate how many "quality" results or how many "authority" results an engine gave for a particular query (or set of queries), what sort of instructions would you give to those judges?

I don't think you can just hire "some people" to judge quality on a wide variety of subjects.

If a University was looking to buy textbooks, they can't just hire "some students" to judge book quality. People with expertise or a good deal of knowledge would be called to rate and grade the books.

Where do "experts" in a field go when they need to find quality information.

What sites do "doctors" go to the most when needing information, or computer programmers?

I would hope a group of "computer types" wouldn't be called upon to grade and judge sites. Unless the subject was computers.

DawnArdent




msg:1533919
 4:02 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

I don't think in 'authority' versus 'quality'.

A website is either a quality website or it is not (and the nuances between). Quality is what matters (both quality content and clear form/organization of that content).

A website can also be official (to some topic), but that doesn't make it better or worse, though it may mean it has some information not accessible elsewhere.

I regard a website 'authoritative' if it is of very high quality.

In other words, a website is authoritative if it is "teh website"; if it has exceptionally better quality than the other sites in the same context.

aleksl




msg:1533920
 5:13 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

"Authority" is such a scewed, judgemental term.

Take kw "news". Would CNN or WSJ be "authority" on news? In a human sence - certainly hope not, as their news view is totally biased. But in the weird SE world, where you need to range news sites - would probably want them in top 20. They would be "quality" sites though, because they have editorial processes in place before they release info, and therefore are less likely to publish material of questionable quality.

Take "travel". Would any of the big reservations site be considered authority on this? HIGHLY doubtful. Maybe for "travel reservations" or similar. Who CAN possibly be an authority on travel? A hard-core world traveller with a large site, or travel-related bulletin board may be of a much higher "authority".

For commercial products that has single manufacturer, that manufacturer would be an authority. But for a generic product (think "digital camera"), who can possibly be an "authority"? There will be plenty of "quality" sites though.

bose




msg:1533921
 5:25 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Quality and Authority scores -in this context at least -are not stickers that can be (persistently) super-glued to a site to denote its usefulness or lack thereof. Given that searches are transient events (blips), and the corpus of documents within a given topic area (sub-graph) is almost always (depending on your crawling/indexing frequency) in flux, any such quality/authority scores ought to be treated like single-use tokens that must be discarded/recomputed afresh -for every search.

Quality -as I see it -is not as volatile as relevance and authoritative are. Quality could be a score that collectively represents various on-site parameters -including how well it has been structured, organization, easy of use, accessibility, usability, etc. These things do not change often.

Authority, on the other hand, could be a score that denotes how well (both horizontally, and vertically) a site (or more accurately a sub-set of its documents?) covers the subject matter -within that search-space, at that moment. I would think that an authority site would not only have in-depth information (i.e. complete details, not just snippets from other sites) on what I may be searching for, but also on other things (horizontal coverage) related to that subject matter.

MSNDude, don't get me started on links from Edu, Gov and so called authority sites! :)

Link popularity based search algorithms have led to a cottage industry that has spawned so much of Linkitis (link inflammation caused by SE induced one way, two way, n-way linking schemes) that putting a lot of emphasis on citations alone -as a primary indicator of "being authority" -is futile. It has now been for years that EDU sites, GOV sites, TV stations, and newspaper sites have been handing out link love to all kinds of sites including thin AFF sites.

One of the areas where I find most SEs are failing miserably is in granting authority/quality scores that are relevant to specific (niche) sub-graphs or search spaces. I see so called "authority sites" ranking for completely unrelated subject areas just because one of the search terms was included on a obscure (unrelated) page on their site. For example, just because there is a news article on an EDU site about a bunch of kids found hallucinating after sniffing glue in the dughouse, it does not make that EDU site an authority on hallucinations, carcinogens, fast acting adhesives, or heavy equipment for excavation. The way it is right now, once a site has been stamped to be authority, it is an authority on whatever (unrelated) terms they may include on their pages.

Authority/Quality scores should not be so coarse -let alone a binary flag. They ought to be fine-grained (i.e. specific to search subspaces or topical sub-graphs) and be only good for that search query blip/moment.

CainIV




msg:1533922
 6:12 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Does quality include the appearance of a site, or only the content? How about the organization of a site?

The organization of a website should not impact whether it is or is not deemed authority. An authority website is one that provides the best quality information about the subject matter at hand, on an ongoing basis.

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational, or from a big corporation?

Absolutely. In fact many authority websites on their subject are not these types of websites at all. The Mom and Pop massage company that has been around for three years could be an authority website on their subject matter.

Is it possible for an authority to not be quality?

Not insofar as it provides very high quality information about it's own subject matter. Therefore it depends on what you classify quality as.

Some observations I have had about authority websites.

Generally link to websites who offer quality information or products.

Generally are well touted by the community (social bookmarks, linked to often etc.

Offer quality information on their subject matter, and most times have a way of liaising with the community about their subject matter for feedback (forum, ask an expert)

Usually highly praised by visitors at the website.

Bookmarked often.

Todd

trinorthlighting




msg:1533923
 6:30 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

Interesting conversation.

My perspective for most ecommerce sites are if you sell the product, you are an authority on the product, after all you sell it and have full manufacturer support if you are a distributor. Most ecommerce sites that sell products typically can answer questions about any one of its products it sells or it will point you in the right direction.

I find some manufacturers have very little information on their sites yet the distributors have more.

Its kind of a toss up depending on the sector. MSN has always been very good about picking up a sites theme and matching the proper keywords.

PaulPA




msg:1533924
 6:58 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

My site is probably a leading authority site for its field and I believe determining what fits this classification may come down to a few questions:

1. Is there a name(s) behind the site who offer some evidence of being an authority? If so, what does this person(s) bring to the table to suggest she/he/they is/are an authority?

2. Does a personal (human) evaluation of the site suggest the site may be an authority site? This is often gleaned through evidence of quality (e.g., relevant information, original information, helpful information).

3. Does someone in the field believe this site gives the appearance of being an authority site? If people in the field do not think the site has value than that should be a red flag.

4. How consistent is the content of the site? Does the site stay within the area in which it seems to be most knowledgeable or does the site spread itself too thin in an attempt to appeal to many? This is not necessarily bad as long as the site shows evidence of being supported by multiple authorities (see #1 above).

5. Is the site linked across a variety of sites in different areas? An authority site should have appeal beyond the obvious field it covers. For example, a site may be about how to sell widget but if it is good the information on selling widgets could apply to selling other product or services in other industries.

6. Is the site maintained given the field it covers? Not all sites need to be updated frequently in order to be an authority site, but there should be some evidence that the site is being maintained (e.g., updating copyright date). Obviously, for many fields a site is only an authority if it is continually updated as the field it covers is continually evolving.

Ben5082




msg:1533925
 7:42 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

For me, the quickest way to tell authority of an informational site is to look at the ads. Authority sites are much more likely to have their own advertising program to do CPM ads. They are also more likely to have ads from big name brands in the industry.

Bentler




msg:1533926
 8:30 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm actually looking for how humans interpret these words -- not an algorithm for implementing them.

IMO authorities may shift around over time but are generally those the experts on a subject look to, refer to, and learn from. So authority work is often republished in some way-- maybe with citations and references in published collections, though not necessarily. A high quality site might synthesize the work of multiple authorities.

An authority needn't be high quality though-- for example, an authority publication may communicate poorly, may have such a narrow focus as to be unmeaningful to many, or may convey low credibility because of an ineffective or ugly presentation. I think a high quality site is richly communicative for many ways of thinking & perceiving, comprehensive on a subject, is well maintained and has a high level of credibility.

ken_b




msg:1533927
 9:15 pm on Jun 19, 2006 (gmt 0)

I'm actually looking for how humans interpret these words

That's fine, but you are asking webmasters the questions, and while webmasters may be human, they are not likely to give you the same answers as people from the general surfing population.

Take this question in particular:
Does quality include the appearance of a site, or only the content?

Has human nature been suspended on the web? Of course appearances count! We might like to kid ourselves and deny it, but all we'd be proving is how narrow minded and easily (self?) deluded we are.

The next one is a little trickier.
How about the organization of a site?

Who here really believes that people don't take "organization" into account when thinking in terms of "quality" of a site? They may use a different term, like "it's so easy to find stuff" on (their favorite site)!

It's my opinion that ease of use and appearance can outweigh actual "quality" for most surfers, most of the time. Fortunately quality, ease of use, and great looks are frequently, but nowhere near often enough, found on the same site.

msndude




msg:1533928
 12:55 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Okay, I'm interested in what human webmasters mean when they say "you are missing the authority sites" or "you are missing the quality sites." :-)

I'm still interested in how one would make the distinction between a "niche authority" for a query vs. a "quality" result for a query. That seems to be the largest area of disagreement between the various responses.

By the way, it's great to see all these responses from so many different people!

steveb




msg:1533929
 2:47 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

I don't see the distinction between niche authority versus quality thing.

As for this one:
"I'm interested in what human webmasters mean when they say "you are missing the authority sites" or "you are missing the quality sites." :-)"

That's really a softball, since one minute ago I looked. MSN is pathetic in how it misses authority sites if only from one obvious perspective:
the utterly nonsensical geolocation of searches. I just searched for the main one word keyword of my niche. Not one result is the same on co.uk as it is on .com, despite there being exactly zero geolocation relevance to the query, AND there being exactly zero geo-relevance to the sites returned! None of any kind whatsoever. The results are not good, but for example co.uk does return one of the very long established authority sites for the niche, but it is nowhere in the top 100 on .com merely because its servers are in Europe (which makes no difference at all to the company). Same in revrese, the one authority returned on .com is nowehere on co.uk because its servers are in Texas.

You will forever miss half or more of the authority sites for any query, regardless of searching from com or co.uk or wherever as long as MSN has this nearly lunatic policy of not ranking based on quality but rather on the neighborhood of the servers. 95% of internet queries do not give one crap about location and 99.9999% don't give a crap about where a server is located.

PaulPA




msg:1533930
 2:59 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

A site with "quality results" meets the requirements of the user’s search string (and other SE critieria), but it doesn’t necessarily indicate that the site listed has a history of offering credible information.

A "niche authority" has evidence of credibility but may not necessarily offer quality results (e.g., covers some but not all of the issues in a search query).

A "quality authoritative" site gives good results for a search query AND shows evidence of credibility.

docbird




msg:1533931
 3:15 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Quality: yes, factors inc appearance, organization. Overall, well crafted, including care with the information.
Ideally, you visit for the info you're looking for, then maybe look around some, like the site, and bookmark.
Looks like the folk behind the site are in charge of it; not, for instance, a slew of outdated pages, orphaned pages, nightmarish navigation. (The site has gotten out of control.)

Authority: yes, strong info, and recognised by others who should know what good info on the topic(s) looks like.
Also, gives strong impression that the site author(s) know plenty more than is on the pages about the subjects; indeed, may seem they live and breathe the subjects. So if you email a query, get to talk to them, will have plenty more to tell you. (In some cases, forums etc help reveal knowledge).

I see govt site here that is an authority in various areas.
Yet, not great quality, inc woeful search, and some horrendous URLs, with badly executed switches to new sets of URLs.

Testimonials? I'd thought these too easily spoofed. Have a v few, but wonder if visitors cynical about them.

Swanson




msg:1533932
 3:43 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

msndude, I think what you are seeing in asking for views on this subject is the huge subjectiveness of what you are asking.

Quality, Authority = subjective opinion based upon those webmasters experience.

The fact of human nature is that they only step to the fold when opinion = criticism. That is a huge generalisation, but on the whole the average happy searcher does not want to give a critique of how good the search reaults were - hence I expect why you are seeking feedback right now.

In basic terms an authority is a website that has more info than the rest and so the other sites link to them to further the user to it - in human terms this is near impossible to detect as, for example a designers website based totally in flash may be the guru and all others recognise it but there is no real content to speak of.

A quality site is totally subjective - and that is why you are seeing the responses.

Quality is really what is closest to your heart - the "I like what I like". So people giving feedback on quality is difficult - asking webmasters is even more difficult still as they do like what they like and are familiar with the serps in their industry - they are not familiar necessary with a) how users interact with the search engine b) how users behave in their industry c) what it is like to be a user and not a webmaster - everyone was a user but they aren't now.

Quality results are results that when a keyphrase is typed into the engine the sites listed give the answer or links to the answer. (And by answer I mean the actual answer or an informative discussion about the question)

Authority goes hand in hand - these types of site go beyond a simple site, they should provide a detailed resource or should be more comprehensive on the keyphrase subject than a simple site. That, though is still subjective.

There isnt a michelin star for websites but the thoery is the same - if you feel that the website is Gordon Ramsey rather than Joe Bloggs on the subject of cooking (UK chef example) then it is so - but that may be a combination of website look, feel, info.

So all I can say therefore, is that quality and authority is keyword based - totally.

After all, a keyword paints a thousand pictures!

Swanson




msg:1533933
 3:51 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

An important addition - I don't believe content needs to be unique to have quality or authority.

In my opinion the content needs to be accessible, relevant to the search, orientate me as a user (links to source material if necessary) - it just needs to do the job for me as a user.

All the crap about duplicate content is just that - crap. There is a difference between stolen or copied content versus duplicate content - and I think the ridiculous angle Google has taken should be MSN's challenge to create something better that answers users questions without the crap - and I think it can. I think it has to in order to take search forward from the 5 years backwards that Google has taken, from which it can not recover - certainly not anytime soon.

This is the World Cup - you need to attack to win, not defend. Sure, tackle spam - but don't cripple your whole chances of winning by being defensive. Attack, rank sites based on a happy medium of keywords, links, age etc. but work on an "innocent until proven guilty" - index the sites first and then re-rank them as necessary.

You have to be in it to win it!

obono




msg:1533934
 5:30 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Since everyone has an opinion, here is mine too...

Authority seems to be both user-dependent and query-dependent, in my humble view.

The concept of authority appears to be subjective, granted by a user in terms of how well a particular search satisfied a particular query.
The concept of quality, instead, could be objectively measured by setting certain parameters.

For example, one can say that a site that has been designed with a good navigational structure, clarity of content and contains most elements that represent quality for a site online (contact information, copyright information, sitemaps, information organized by subjects, good internal linking, proper fonts and use of real estate space, good syntax/semantics, clean code, perhaps hosting and many more...) can be thought of as a 'quality site'.

Quality also seems to be related to a fixed time set, almost like a still frame. Whereas whatever could be considered as 'authority' suffers an evolution in time, it becomes an authority by virtue of others recognizing it as such. Authority is more of a process.

Being query-dependent is something search engines could (or can) handle. But this changes when considering user-dependency, in which case it will be almost impossible to determine any degree of authority without knowing anything about the person performing the search.

msndude




msg:1533935
 5:58 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

We are aware of the geolocation problem, which is particularly bad in the UK. Fixing it is a priority, although (consistent with my rules), I won't give a date more precise than "we're working on it over the summer."

CanadianLove




msg:1533936
 7:26 am on Jun 20, 2006 (gmt 0)

Quality is WalMart.
Authority is Oprah.

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