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Authority and quality: Google definitions vs common sense
graeme_p




msg:4589881
 2:28 pm on Jul 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

I started thinking about this when I Googled for some statistics. It was a pure curiosity, non-business, not webmaster search that was triggered by reading a book.

The highest quality site to a human reader (presented the info well etc.) was a major academic publication in fourth place, a .edu site that was the next best was in seventh place, and the source most of the sites cited (an international organisation) was not on the first page. To be fair it was not properly indexable (because what was displayed depended on options in a form).

To a human reader it is also obvious that the most authoritative sites are the international organisation, the peer reviewed academic journal.

The Wikipedia page, being a generic wikipedia page, had a high page rank (although I cannot imagine why anyone would read it). None of the other sites did, so were the high quality authoritative sites not at the top of the SERPS?

My point is that what is authority to the Google algo, is not what is authoritative to a human, and what its measure of quality is not human either. It favours sites that are big and moderated and therefore safe from spam?

What exactly does quality and authority mean in Google terms?

 

goodroi




msg:4590022
 7:48 pm on Jul 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

When I talk about quality, I think more about a general concept. Having a mindset that looks at something and asks how can we do this better?

By providing a better experience, a website will increase the chances of more people coming to the website and staying longer. This will then lead to quality signals which tend to boost the Google rankings which often are no longer important because the site has already developed a strong following of loyal users going directly to the site.

If I bult webzites that loooked like garbage, and provided lil or no valued then it would just scared away users and making it near impossssible to attract people willing to link to it. - That is why spelling and proper grammar is very important to me. Once you cover those basics, then ask yourself what are you offering that isn't provided on 100 other websites. It is very hard to come up with a good reason to not provide a great user experience.

I do not think Google directly rewards sites with the highest quality or authority. The sites that provide the best user experience tend to generate certain signals that Google does directly reward.

Shepherd




msg:4590027
 7:58 pm on Jul 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

What exactly does quality and authority mean in Google terms?


In a perfect world (all conspiracy/it's just business theorys aside) I have to think that quality and authority to google are nothing more than factors used by an algo. The factors were like created by humans and then filtered/watered down to the lowest common measurable denominator.

EditorialGuy




msg:4590033
 8:07 pm on Jul 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

The important thing to remember is that an algorithm can't judge quality or authority. It can only perform actions based on signals of quality or authority--signals that, in turn, are based on parameters supplied by a human programmer or a black box.

We also need to remember that quality and authority are in the eye of the beholder. If a dozen of us tried to rank the best 10 search results from a set of 100 Google results for a popular keyphrase, we'd probably come up with a dozen different Top 10 lists.

In other words, it's unlikely that any of us will be completely satisfied with Google's search results for every query. The best we can hope for is to be more satisfied than dissatisfied.

martinibuster




msg:4590070
 9:25 pm on Jul 3, 2013 (gmt 0)

What's ranked at the top of Google may not be what Google thinks is authoritative but what Google thinks will answer the query. Many queries support multiple user intents, dependent on the person making the query.

That said, Google has a long way to go for satisfying user intent. Google routinely lets me down when I search for angling information. Too often, when I want information I get product pages. Searching for specific objects, like learning about the history and uses for certain fishing flies yields page after page of fly tying pages, no matter how longtail I fashion the query. I know there are several authoritative sites out there that are about the flies and their history, but Google doesn't rank them consistently, no matter how I fashion my query. I suspect it's because most people making the query are satisfied by sites showing recipes on how to tie the specific fishing fly patterns.

It's frustrating that the authoritative sites for my highly specific longtail queries get ranked behind sites that I don't want. My specific user intent is overriden by what Google's data understands satisfies the majority of searchers. In my opinion, Google's algorithmic attempt to understand user intent false short. It does not understand my intent, it is overlaying the user intent of the majority over my query and showing me the results appropriate for them but not me.

graeme_p




msg:4590183
 7:23 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Sheppard, exactly, but its easy to slip into thinking that the algo means what we mean, simple because of the words "authority" and "quality" bias our thinking.

@indyrank in the case of this search, I am pretty sure that the vast majority of people doing it would pick the same three as me.

@martinibuster, your own example is one where Google ought to get intent right. A deliberate long tail search should yield very different results to a short search. Surely your searches signal your intent perfectly clearly?

waynne




msg:4590192
 8:02 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm seeing the same thing as martinibuster. Google are delivering what will satisfy the majority of searchers and not the most accurate, practical or relevant information.

For example :- A page about why plastic widgets are better than metal widgets is now not showing and the results are all about metal widgets. Users looking for metal widgets need the information about how much better plastic ones are but they are no longer getting to see this. You could argue the results are more of a match but they are less relevant.

I'm also noticing I'm getting search traffic on low quality popular viral pages which mention a topic but the actual article on my site that was researched to provide information on the topic is nowhere to be found.

In giving users what they want are Google dumbing down search results?

I do applaud Gooogle's efforts to remove spam, there is a lot of low quality content out there but it seems if dumb people need dumb content the site will survive!

In my opinion Google are moving from internet guide to curator.

Martin Ice Web




msg:4590200
 9:18 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@martinibuster +1, i see the same. Rewrite a query will Shows the same sites in a slight different order. Keywords get ignored or replaced by unrelated synonyms.

@waynne, yes indeed poeple don´t think anymore. Since google added the search suggestions into the query box, the user don´t even needs to think about the querie anymore. I catched myself several times by using this suggestions and was fatal misleaded. This is the easiest way for Google to shovel the Lemmings into one direction.

I'm seeing the same thing as martinibuster. Google are delivering what will satisfy the majority of searchers and not the most accurate, practical or relevant Information


Wrong! Google said since Panda/penguin the daily search amount did rise. This is an indicator that poeple don´t find what they wont! But have to search a second or third time. Remember there is not more need to search as before Panda/penguin!


Waht is authority? MC said that they are very good in Clearing out who´s a authority in certain niches and this will get a boost ( no matter if they are relevant or not ). He said they get positive singnals from them.
What are positive signals:
-high click volume
-direct search for brands name
-many incoming links
-high adwords spender

For me this are the only points that are relieable and that could direct gathered from serps/spidering.

gadget26




msg:4590205
 9:23 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

In my opinion Google are moving from internet guide to curator.


^^^ +1

Just look at how webmasters everywhere are removing links, just in case google might not like them.

Google use to say that they were out to "organize the internet".

Now they just want to control it.

Back on topic: What exactly does quality and authority mean in Google terms?

My answer: Moot point. I believe Google is ranking based on maximizing revenue. What's the overall "goal" of all this machine learning? Revenue maximization, what else? Quality doesn't have a thing to do with it. It's just one of many buzzwords they spout to maximize FUD.

lucy24




msg:4590222
 9:42 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

It's just a spin on last week's "looking for a merchant" question isn't it? The search engine may or may not come up with the best site; they're clueless about who's got the best deals.

best place to buy != most attractive website != most reliable information

This may not be a bad thing. I think I'd kinda prefer a search engine that didn't pretend to know who is the world's leading authority on Croatian letter-openers. Let them stick with picking out attractive www sites.

Martin Ice Web




msg:4590234
 10:09 am on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@lucy24, but this is contra all panda Statements?!

aristotle




msg:4590251
 12:02 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

It really doesn't matter whether Google can measure quality or not, because it's only a very minor factor in their current ranking system. They had to de-emphasize it because it was preventing them from getting big brands and big organizations to the top of their search results.

aakk9999




msg:4590253
 12:17 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@aristotle
It really doesn't matter whether Google can measure quality or not, because it's only a very minor factor in their current ranking system. They had to de-emphasize it because it was preventing them from getting big brands and big organizations to the top of their search results.


You say the above as a very definite statement - but I think this may be just your opinion rather than stating the fact?

graeme_p




msg:4590254
 12:25 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

The need to dumb down also explains why content farms like Demand Media's have done fine through Panda and Penguin.

I think most of here think of them as low quality sites as they consist mostly of simple (and simplistic) rewriting of stuff from other web sites.

From Google's point of view they are spam free, and most people think they are good enough.

aristotle




msg:4590259
 1:02 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@ aakk9999
@aristotle
It really doesn't matter whether Google can measure quality or not, because it's only a very minor factor in their current ranking system. They had to de-emphasize it because it was preventing them from getting big brands and big organizations to the top of their search results.

You say the above as a very definite statement - but I think this may be just your opinion rather than stating the fact?

Well it seems like an obvious conclusion to me. Do you have a better explanation for why Google's search results have deteriorated so badly over the past few years?

aakk9999




msg:4590273
 1:47 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Well it seems like an obvious conclusion to me. Do you have a better explanation for why Google's search results have deteriorated so badly over the past few years?

No, I don't, sorry. I just wondered whether there was a study or something that I missed reading.

EditorialGuy




msg:4590294
 2:48 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

Do you have a better explanation for why Google's search results have deteriorated so badly over the past few years?


I can think of two possible reasons:

1) After spending years on trying to get their algorithm right, they introduced Panda, which knocked them back a dozen spaces on the game board. (Google were willing to accept that as the price of having a more robust algorithm in the long term.)

2) There are a lot more pages to be crawled, sifted, and sorted than there were a few years ago. In an era when anyone can churn out sites with huge numbers of autogenerated, keyword-driven pages, it's a wonder that the search results aren't even worse than they are.

The search engine may or may not come up with the best site; they're clueless about who's got the best deals.


Or the best selection, or the best customer service, or the lowest shipping costs. Why is Google "clueless" about such things? Because Google Search is (and always has been) about Web content, not about the businesses or people who create the Web content. If you want your online store to be visible in Google Search, you have two choices: (a) Buy advertising, or (b) Invest money in creating content that's of intrinsic value to the user.

Google are delivering what will satisfy the majority of searchers and not the most accurate, practical or relevant information.


If that were true, why would Martinibuster be flooded with sell pages when he's doing longtail searches on fishing topics? (For what it's worth, I've had the same experience with many queries: Google defaults to e-commerce results for many informational searches, and i doubt if, say, the average person searching for information about a cruise ship or a digital camera is interested in seeing a slew of boilerplate sell pages on the first page of the search results. IMHO, Google could save itself and users a lot of frustration by turning the dial down on commerce and up on information. After all, isn't Google's mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible"?)

This notion that Google is trying to satisfy a "majority" of searchers brings up a point that needs mentioning: There is no "majority" of searchers. Some people like to look things up, while other people like to ask questions. Some people like to read in-depth information and analysis, while others prefer Cliff's Notes and Top 10 lists. Some people buy a car because a friend recommended it, and others choose a car after reading reviews in Car & Driver or Consumer Reports. Google will never be able to satisfy a "majority" of searchers by targeting a minority or even a plurality of searchers, which means that Google needs to do a better job of personalization (e.g., by determining that John Doe prefers the type of content in The New York Times while his cousin Bill prefers the type of content in an L.L. Bean catalog) or by letting users set defaults for search (e.g., an emphasis on informational or transactional, in-depth text vs. quick-read text, and so on).

diberry




msg:4590299
 3:07 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

I see precisely what martinibuster is talking about, and it's why I started using other search engines a year or so ago. A good example:

One product review niche I enjoy is dominated by a handful of really good sites that are trusted by readers, nicely designed, everything you want. There's a broad consensus that these are THE sites for reviews. Rather than go to each site individually and search for a particular item, I would love to go to a search engine, search for the item, and have all those sites come up with their pages on it. But it's no good. Google takes the top site from this handful and tries to come up with several related pages from it... which is the same result as if I'd gone to the site and used their internal search (which is, ironically, Google powered). What I get is this:

--Mainsite.com/review-of-thing
--Mainsite.com/review-of-last-year's-thing
--Mainsite.com/review-of-other-brand's-thing

When what I want is this:

--Mainsite.com/review-of-thing
--Othergoodsite.com/review-of-thing
--Yetanothersite.com/review-of-thing

I personally don't think Google's intent is to squeeze the little guys out. In the niche I'm talking about, there are several big commercial brands that allow customer reviews (a la Amazon) which do NOT show up on the first page, even. Surely they would if Google was just out to rank sites like that highly.

*I* think Google's just got some kind of domain-wide factor dialed way too high in the algo. Call it "authority" or "trust"... but even in a small niche with small, non-brand sites, they are preferring one site to the exclusion of others for reasons I can't understand as a human searcher. I mean, it's a fantastic site, but if I want a review of thing-widget-stuff, IMO Google should give me multiple reviews of that specific thing, NOT reviews of related things from the same site.

I think if Google sat with a focus group, I would not be the only one saying this. The problem is, people just keep going back and refining their search strings because they don't really grasp that there are other engines. And in many cases, the other engines aren't really much better.

These days, I'm relying mainly on social for finding new sites, and then searching internally at the sites. I don't search with engines NEARLY as much as I used to. I was a big fan of search when it first came along, so I really never saw myself going this direction.

Martin Ice Web




msg:4590318
 4:22 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

@diberry, google should go back and list the subpages under the first page like we see it on forum site entries. This behaviour was lost with panda and we got domain cluster instead.
(And i realy can´t see anything good with domainm cluster )

Saffron




msg:4590393
 10:14 pm on Jul 4, 2013 (gmt 0)

*I* think Google's just got some kind of domain-wide factor dialed way too high in the algo. Call it "authority" or "trust"... but even in a small niche with small, non-brand sites, they are preferring one site to the exclusion of others for reasons I can't understand as a human searcher. I mean, it's a fantastic site, but if I want a review of thing-widget-stuff, IMO Google should give me multiple reviews of that specific thing, NOT reviews of related things from the same site.


This is driving me absolutely crazy about Google's current search results. They focus on one or two sites only. If I am looking for information on "diabetes", I don't want to read the same topic, slightly changed, on the same domain. I want to read 5-10 articles from non related websites to get an overall picture of the topic. But Google seem to have decided they will have a "flavour of the month", and link to their articles regardless of the quality.

I search and search all the time hoping this will change, and Google will figure out this is annoying, and the same 3-4 websites dominate the search results. It's why I no longer use Google for my own searching, and only use it for testing purposes only.

Lapizuli




msg:4590407
 12:59 am on Jul 5, 2013 (gmt 0)

After that list of quality tips they published post-first Panda, I got the impression quality MEANT authority, and that authority boiled down to: "A Place We Reckon You Won't Sue Us for Showing You." It appeared they redefined quality from "Colorful Saloon" to "High-Security Courthouse." I think this is because their first search market was perceived as a posse of intrepid pioneers, and the expanded market as a mob of greenhorns.

I use Google still...the only one left in my household who does. Not their regular search. I use the "Verbatim" feature 99 searches out of 100. My home page is set to a one-letter search in verbatim so I can go there quickly, backspace over the default letter, and type. I use quotes in almost all my searches, to boot.

I recall dimly the era when the first couple of pages of regular (non-Verbatim) search results were great, and if I clicked too far into the SERPs, I'd get only spam. This made me confident Google had shown me all the index had for me. I looked forward to the index expanding.

What came, instead, were boring and predictable results on the first few pages. Sometimes I have to admit I want that - I've been "trained up" to thinking of Google as just another way to navigate to big brand sites. But often I don't - in fact, whenever I don't want the big brands, which is, oh, let's be honest, 80% of the time.

So the other day as I was searching using Verbatim, which, though better than regular search, is still like pulling teeth, it gave me a surreal moment when, by clicking in desperation past page 10 (I was out of the habit, assuming I'd still find just spam) I suddenly got a flood of interesting results - like an underground railroad of small mom-'n-pop sites. The kinds of sites I'd been looking for with my search. I don't know where they came from - they weren't there a year ago. So I was happy for a while, back in search-for-discovery mode, before it occurred to me that it was a very small step forward. I still had to use obscure terms in quotes in Verbatim...it's just that now I was able to reach in deeper and pull something up. And I'm not sure those sites will stay visible, even at page 10, 15, 20. So it's "save page" for me, just in case...

Which, back to topic, says to me that, although I concede it's possible Google deliberately gave me what I want, if, oddly, deeper in the SERPs, I do think it was pure luck. I have minimal confidence today in Google's AI ability to read my mind as to what websites I trust or find valuable. To me, they've become, instead, the Keeper of the Index, and they're being stingy with it right now...from both of my perspectives: a hungry searcher and a hungry content creator.

yaimapitu




msg:4595035
 1:32 pm on Jul 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

Hi everybody, new reader/poster here (and my first post ever in a webmaster forum, although I've been setting up and managing websites and done plenty of other 'net stuff for 20 years already).

This thread from 2 weeks ago is a goldmine. I came here with a specific question concerning what I think is some rather odd behaviour on Google's part, and although it seems nobody can answer my question, at least I know that I am not making things up, that there is, indeed, something odd going on... ;-)

Here's my story:

I very recently set up a set of related websites (related, since they offer the same service in different languages) and have been watching closely how various search engines take up the information (my method: daily log file checks and regular trial runs of look-ups on various search engines, using a close to unique keyword that all of the websites carry and emptying browser and DNS caches in between trial runs).

Bing, Yahoo, Duck, Startpage, Naver, Yandex - they all have been showing me relevant results within a few links from the top as soon as they had indexed the pages in question. And they still show relevant results today, a few weeks later. Google showed me initially similarly good results, as well, and then it started to become very unpredictable before it stabilized again on some level - for the last few days I get the following results:

Using Google Germany, the results shown are for the (somewhat similar sounding) term "apoyado" but am also shown a link to "search instead for [keyword]", while using Google UK, the results shown are for the (also similar sounding) term "ainoya", fortunately again followed by a link that lets me "search instead for [keyword]". In both cases, if I then ask for results on [keyword], I am shown a list of websites that offer metadata about the domain name of the websites in question (data those sites apparently put together by using WHOIS, NSLOOKUP, etc.). Using Google Japan, Google Taiwan or Google.com, I am right away shown such a page of links to domain name metadata. Luckily, for the last few days a real result has tended to show up in position 9 or 10, i.e., still on the first page of the results...

This case seems even weirder than other cases of irrelevant search results that Google has thrown at me, since the domain name whose metadata is shown does not even contain the [keyword] as it is spelled in the text of the websites I set up: the domain name has a hyphen inserted in two places whereas the [keyword] is one unhyphenated word...

So what is the problem? If I wasn't consistently told that in the particular markets (language areas) that the sites I constructed are aiming at, 80-90% of the users use Google as their first or only search engine, I could just shrug this anomaly off, but as it stands I am more than just faintly worried that things could get worse.

Whether my story is of use to anybody I don't know, but since what I read here makes me think that nobody knows enough yet about what is going on with (or inside of) Google, I am hoping that it may provide additional data points.

PS: If anybody needs the [keyword] to do some experiments on their own, please just PM me.

Thanks for listening :-)

EditorialGuy




msg:4595054
 3:26 pm on Jul 21, 2013 (gmt 0)

Re Google's idea of "authority":

AuthorRank is a step in the right direction (at least for informational content). If and when it's implemented, it will assign signals of reputation, expertise, etc. to individual authors (and, by extension, individual pages) and not just to publishers or domains.

Matt Cutts touched on this on May 13, when he commented on authority in a Webmaster video about search changes that were in the works:

We’re doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space, could be medical or could be travel or whatever, and trying to make sure that those rank a little more highly if you’re some sort of authority or a site that according to the algorithms we think might be a little more appropriate for users.


For what it's worth, this was the same video where he predicted a "softening" of the Panda algorithm (since redefined as a "more finely targeted" version of the Panda algorithm), which rolled out almost exactly two months after he made that video.

The specifics of how Google might define "authority" or "reputation" for an author are open to question (and debate), but some wouldn't be too hard to guess: If someone has "M.D." after his name and has written for the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and The Lancet, it would make sense to give his bylined articles more "authority juice" than articles by no-name permatemps at medicine-by-laymen dot com. Similarly, if John Doe has been writing Web articles about canine choreography since 1997, the odds are pretty good that he knows a fair amount about the world of doggie dance.

coachm




msg:4595359
 2:13 pm on Jul 22, 2013 (gmt 0)

This whole think of real world authority vs. Google authority is driving me nuts. You'd think that having sold several hundred thousand books around the world would be worth something. But it's not.

I posted a question about trying to "claim" third party sites via rel tags, so for example, I'd love to claim my amazon author profile. But guess what? Doesn't appear to be any way to tell Google: Hey, the guy who wrote all those books is the same guy that runs this or that website.

Amazon doesn't allow links in its author pages, and Goog doesn't offer a way to validate the rel=author tag ownership thing.

bumpski




msg:4640282
 10:13 am on Jan 26, 2014 (gmt 0)

This was an interesting old thread, BUT, I never saw mention of whether each searcher was:
Signed In
Signed Out
And in each case what their personalization setting was.
NOTE: the last sentence in the first quote is important. Typically I would be: signed out, personalizations off.
(Out/Off) or (Out/PeOff) Hmm....
It could be Google is depending heavily on personalized results for authority and quality criteria. Frankly I've never done a test for each of the four possibilities.

Important links:
[support.google.com...]
[google.com...]

To save time (however to fully understand this post please do follow these Google links):

[support.google.com...]
Google sometimes personalizes your search results based on your past search activity on Google.
(...)
Note: If you've disabled signed-out search history personalization, you'll need to disable it again after clearing your browser cookies. Clearing your Google cookie clears your search settings, thereby turning history-based customizations back on.


[google.com...]
Google Web History

Customization based on signed-out search activity is disabled.
Enable customizations based on search activity.
Sign in or create a Google account to get more personalized search and ad results using your signed-in Web History.

[edited by: aakk9999 at 3:13 pm (utc) on Jan 26, 2014]

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