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|Quality and Authority: Relevance Alone Is Not Enough|
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.
|MSNDude: It strikes me that you are defining these terms differently than most thread participants...Your proffered definition has a strong customer focus... |
And right he is. A business is to serve customers. Ideology is for penguins. And web forums.
Perhaps the key then...
Make the search bot better and more active than Google bot, slurp bot etc and collect as much site page data as possible from sites. You will at least then have the data available in your index to be able to display the most relevent site page on the net in relation to the search string.
Now that would make msn search the most relevent!.
There's a difference between the definition of authority and being authoritative. With an authority site being one that's linked to from many quality hubs (the classic definition), that doesn't necessarily mean that the page returned is authoritative for the user.
How about if the top results consisted of authority sites like Bizrate, MSN Shopping, Yahoo directory, Google directory category, DMOZ category, MSN directory categories, Ebay, Spamazon, etc.? How happy would people be then?
Sorry, but IMHO the webmasters who complain about lack of "authority" sites being returned in results are people who think their own sites are "authority" sites and aren't getting the rankings they'd like to be getting.
From a buying consumer's point of view, shoppers are not necessarily interested in "authority sites" or "authoritative" articles on the stuff they're looking for, not at the point of buying in the shopping cycle. At point they want their STUFF. To them, a page on a non-authority site that has exactly the stuff they're looking for, that they can pull out the plastic and buy (because that's their goal), is what's authoritative as far as their needs are concerned.
The long tail that converts to cash revenue and authority aren't necessarily synonymous.
|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. |
Maybe we should start by defining what it doesn't mean.
I'll go first...
Very few quality and/or authoritative sites exist on blogspot.com. And for the few that do, the numbers aren't nearly high enough for any search engine to decide that 20 out of the top 30 results should be blogspot blogs.
I do believe that's a definition we can ALL agree on!
It came up for a completely different topic, but here's martinibuster's definition of authority sites:
|Many people think they have to build new sites to rank for different but related widgets. For instance, when you do a search for a single term word that is meaningful (and I stress that it has to be meaningful), you will see authority sites pop up. By authority, I mean sites that cover different genres and does reviews and features links to different sites etc. They cover widgets from red to blue to aquamarine and beyond. That's authority. |
That's implying being topically authoritative, and isn't making mention of IBLs at all. But I've seen a site rank in the top 5 for terms that have absolutely nothing to do with what's on the site and nothing more than a page title and some content on one single page (out of hundreds of thousands on the site), with the factor apparently being that the ranking site has well over a million relevant and top quality inbound links. That's at two different search engines for two distinctly different keyphrases. There are probably more out there.
|Very few quality and/or authoritative sites exist on blogspot.com. And for the few that do, the numbers aren't nearly high enough for any search engine to decide that 20 out of the top 30 results should be blogspot blogs. |
Is it just blogspot blogs that are filling the index with useless swill, or are equivalent blogs hosted on individual sites' domains also making their way in the same way?
Are blogspot blogs earning extra points because of the parent host domain being an "authority" by virtue of the aggregate of IBLs and associations, as in the case of the first site mentioned above?
I have seen forum sites jumping into a top position for a popular term , let's say dark blue widgets, where the only content is someone asking if someone else knows anything about dark blue widgets!
Because they are a huge site that doesn't mean they are an authority at all if that can happen.
Looking at the other top results for dark blue widgets on all the majors it was quite clear why someone had gone to a 'forum' to try and find an answer.
|One might then think of authority as being earned by being quality over a period of time. |
In so far as "evergreen" subject matters go. For current/recent events related searches, over reliance on age/time related signals of quality would make those SERPs only good for trip back to the memory lane.
|For example, show the authority for "hypersonic widgits" even though the query was for "hypersonic widgit cleaners." |
That would be a cop-out, dude! :) If one were to let this zooming-out-of-focus go on up a few more notches, it could leave you with mostly vague/useless results.
For example, if the query was "hard hitting soft ball players," diluting the focus could possibly return listings for "hard balls," "soft balls," "hitting balls", "hitting players," "soft players," or just "balls." If a searcher provides you with a focused query, why not use it? Zooming out of it would leave you with having to discern user-intent -once again- using (less-than-perfect) Algo that would never be as precise in determining user-intent as that user could be.
I can imagine returning results that are more or less in the (general) vicinity of what a searcher may be looking for may be easier than returning results that are right on the money; but then it would be like a doctor telling a patient: Sir, you have a cancerous tumor somewhere in your upper body, so we are going to radiate all of your upperbody. I would say: Run, Forrest, Run!
You'll win this race by providing results that are right on the money, not a list of documents that are more or less in the "ball" park -or should we say "balls" park? ;) sorry, couldn't resist.
|With an authority site being one that's linked to from many quality hubs (the classic definition), that doesn't necessarily mean that the page returned is authoritative for the user. |
You're right on the money, Marcia. Link popularity centric authority/quality awards are sooooo last century. I am sure there are countless highly knowledgeable (real) experts out there who could not be bothered to go around begging for links. One would think their pages would gain IBLs over time, but they don't. With all that PR (page rank) hoarding paranoia out there, people just do not link out as routinely/easily or naturally as they used to pre-Google-Toolbar-PR era. Citation based accreditation used to make sense a few years ago, not anymore.
Thanks, MSNDude, for listening.
I think we need to be careful to distinguish between an authority site as users and experts in the field (humans) would judge the site, and what a particular search engine might produce in its efforts to identify those sites.
We often think about "authority sites" as being ones that are linked to from many quality hubs because that is how Google tends to pinpoint these sites (or at least, how it originally did). But, when the IBL data fails (e.g. subdomains on blogspot) no one thinks the site is an authority merely because of the IBLs.
So, I think it is preferable to define the concept without reference to IBLs, especially since users and experts in a particular field are unlikely to know the exact number of IBLs, and they certainly don't use that data to decide whether the site deserves to be considered an "authority" on that topic, or only deserves to be considered an "authority" on other topics.
I don't know if it is true that the only people who have noticed, and complained about, the lack of "authority" sites are webmasters who think their own sites are "authority" sites that aren't getting the rankings they'd like.
Regardless of what caused them to notice the problem, (and I'm NOT one of them) I think they have offered sufficient evidence to prove that this is a weakness in some of the MSN results, at least in certain specific sectors.
Also, keep in mind that the criticism isn't that MSN is failing to display enough broad authority sites, like the bbc or wikipedia. The criticism has generally been that MSN is often failing to find "niche authority" sites. These are generally sites with a narrow focus, specializing in a particular field.
Where the problem is most severe, these missing niche authority sites offer a large amount of high quality content about a specific topic, but they aren't visible in MSN's SERPs for that topic, perhaps because they don't have enough IBLs. If so, MSN needs to figure out a more sophisticated approach than simply counting links, because the lack of IBLs is inherent in their niche focus. More people are aware of, and link to, broad sites like Wikipedia than narrow sites that are focused on a specific niche.
Happy to see a major search engine rep. actually liaising with the webmasters...
Tx for asking msndude.
I know you refined your question to focus on customer search specific answers to your question on "Quality", and said that it was more page / result specific than site specific.
imho to ignore the site specific factors that make up quality would be filtering out much value that a real breathing (complaining?) customer is paying attention to.
First off, take a look at what Stanford's 3 year research report [credibility.stanford.edu] had to say about "Credibility".
Here's my own personal list for 'site quality' - which is largely not search specific:
(Was created in a mindmap graphic, so sticky me if you want to see it in easy to read/digest form)
1 Professional Design?
1.2 Navigation bar
1.3.1 high res
1.3.4 well chosen / appropriate
1.4 Low or no use of stock photos
1.5 Matches purpose & audience
2 Page Layout
2.1 Easy to find what you're looking for?
2.2 No Gimmicky Sales Action Requests / Offers
2.2.1 Buy Now!
2.2.2 Click Here!
2.2.3 Act Now!
2.2.4 Pop Up Screens
2.2.5 e.g: Bright Red & Flashing
2.4.1 Large enough
2.4.2 Type of font
2.5.1 Appropriate use of
2.5.3 Known advertisers
2.6 page loads & shows correctly
3 Link Structure & Navigation Structure
3.1 Search Facility
3.1.1 does it work?
3.1.2 return rt result?
3.2.1 Understandable Main & Sub nav bars
3.3 Navigation & Links useful to visitor only
3.3.1 Not for SEO
3.4 Links work
3.4.1 no 404's
3.5 URL No-Nos
220.127.116.11 denotes a space
3.6 Links / Resources page
3.6.3 some authority sites
3.7 Consistent navigation structure
3.8 Long page load times
3.9 directory structure similar to menu structure
4.1 No Link Exch
4.2 No Adsense
5.1 Not in Frames
5.1.1 Test1: URL doesn't change
5.1.2 Test2: Source code has lots of "Frame" references
5.1.3 Test3: Source code has little or no content
5.2 Whole page not in Flash
5.2.1 Test: Right click
6.1 Street Address
6.1.1 not PO Box
6.2 Phone number(s)
6.3 E-mail / Easy to use Form
6.4 photo of office building
7.2 Personal Profiles
8.1 Quality content
8.2 Free from spelling & Grammar errors
8.3.1 Mostly > 500 words
8.3.2 Quote sources
8.3.3 Relevant links in content
8.3.4 Attribute credit to author
8.3.5 relevant illustrations & graphs
18.104.22.168.1 © Copyright 200?
22.214.171.124 courses / seminars
8.5.1 useful for audience
8.6.3 to the point
8.7.1 Active Forums
8.7.2 Visitor Activity
8.8.1 You need to be an authority to judge
8.10 Comprehensive and or Very in-depth
All that is excellent for some sites coburn, but yet there are sites that can have an excellent conversion rate and up to a 21% bookmark rate with none of that. And I mean - none of it.
A site can be a consistently good perfomer going out the gate with nothing more than MSN listings (white hat organic search, without being a linkwhore), with every single site in the top 20 right on target for what consumers are looking for and not one authority site in the lot. But they've got the stuff people are looking for, and apparently it's pick and choose among them based on other factors, both objective and subjective. In the eyes of the target demographic, such a site is a quality site, and is authoritative for their purposes - and that's who counts, the consumer who's out to buy.
If the searchers are happy, the search results are good and the search engine has done their job. The proof is in pulling out the plastic.
MSN Search and Conversion [webmasterworld.com]
Sorry, duplicate post.
[edited by: buckworks at 1:50 am (utc) on June 24, 2006]
|that's who counts, the consumer who's out to buy |
Ahem ... not every search is a shopping search.
Also, being "adequate for the present need" can be quite different from either "quality" or "authority".
Marcia: conversion and bookmarks do not a "Quality" site make! :)
You know those spammy emarketing books that tell you to make text bold, big and red and flashy, and to write loooong pages that convert the pleb braindead consumer riiight at the end? (or after a number of clicks) These imho are not quality sites, but yes they do get bookmarked (cos few can read them all then and there) and convert (cos there's one born every min - the same idiots who keep spam email cos in the dough).
I'm in professional services - so staying away from scammy/spammy consumer targetted sites and focussing on quality B2B professional services sites is key.
|I am sure there are countless highly knowledgeable (real) experts out there who could not be bothered to go around begging for links. One would think their pages would gain IBLs over time, but they don't. With all that PR (page rank) hoarding paranoia out there, people just do not link out as routinely/easily or naturally as they used to pre-Google-Toolbar-PR era. Citation based accreditation used to make sense a few years ago, not anymore. |
searching around hard enough, can find sites by experts in their fields who perhaps don't even realise value of inbound links (for search engine results), let alone bother to beg for them. Sites set up with SEO as a goal may well outrank them, even for lousy pages.
An end to the PR hoarding paranoia would be good (GG, if you stop by this thread, please note).
Hey now! It's one thing to talk ABOUT the competition here, but it's another thing entirely to talk TO them! :-)
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