Robert_Charlton - 8:31 am on Mar 10, 2012 (gmt 0)
Great discussion. Just some random musings on this. I'm thinking they haven't substantially discounted anchor text....
...so anchor text says merely "this page" or (shudder) "click here"
I did a sloppy test of the anchor text theory by searching for [click here], and I see that the Adobe Reader Download page is still in the #1 spot, with another Adobe pdf reader page as #2. I'd attribute this ranking to anchor text influence, as it's hard to find another reason why the page would rank on the term. I can invent a more complex description, but it ultimately gets reduced to "anchor text".
The Adobe onpage text, btw, is "clicking"... a stem. Several other major download pages rank high up on page one as well, arguably for anchor text influence as well. Again, this is a very sloppy test.
I also feel that removing anchor text influence completely at this stage in the algo would be too disruptive. Google is more into evolutionary kinds of changes. Overly repetitive, untrusted anchor text is something else, but I assume that's been gone for a while.
I could see that Google might have reduced the effect for certain anchor text source-and-target-page patterns. Eg, some years back, we had Google bombing of GW Bush's bio for [failure] and [miserable failure] removed... but the White House bio reappeared for a short time for the query, as I remember, when the word "failure" crept into the bio text.
Now we're seeing [santorum] results changing, but fading in and out. I can't currently reproduce the results that Danny Sullivan reports [searchengineland.com...] ...and I suspect that there's ongoing battle with some filter thresholds. Conceivably, whatever Google had done to affect these results, at least temporarily, could have been the factor described in Google's top 40.
I was intrigued by the 301 possibility, particularly if the 301s were combined with something resembling Google bombing. Definitely something that Google would want to get rid of, if it could separate those from legit 301s of redirected sites.
I'm just coming off a site redesign project in which all pages were 301ed, and I've got to say that legit 301s, at least, seem to be alive and well, with the new site appearing for old rankings in about 4 days.
I also don't remember ever hearing about or noticing that 301s were depreciated. Matt Cutts had said that there was some loss of PageRank in 301s [webmasterworld.com...] ...but I never saw this loss as a depreciation. It seemed more like a loss inherent in the redirection process... or the math of the process... somewhat analogous to friction.
I should note that some, not all, 301ed domains, have been showing up in the serps if you search for them... since about June 2011. It's not actually necessary for Google to keep track of these old domains for 301s to work. Theoretically, the redirection is all done by the server and browser/user-agent. So, if Google were dropping credit for (some) 301s to streamline the system, one might wonder about Google's displaying these artifacts in the index. Here's the discussion....
Domain name replaced in SERPS with alias domain name
Thinking out loud here, the "title tag" might be a possibility, since Google is almost rewriting these at will, based on internal content and inbound links... but deep in my gut, when I look at rankings for certain pages, I know that they're strongly influenced by the title element phrasing.
Possibly, the brand name and its associations out on the web are carrying some of the information that used to be carried by keywords in inbound anchor text, but this, I'm guessing, would be a turning on of new factors rather than a turning off of old ones. The behavior of the title itself in these cases doesn't seem to be changing.