I've been in this game since 1997, so I like to think I know a good site from a not-so-good one…. and like many others have been saying in recent times, there seems to be more of the latter now appearing high in the SERP's…. pages that we find mystifying and cause us to think "how the $@&*% did that get there?" And if I'm correct, this more or less coincided with Google's emphasis on "authority" as being the objective we should all be striving for.
Well, back in the days when Google was claiming to "do no evil", one of their claims to excellence in search was that they indexed pages, and that their search capability allowed them to retrieve data from deep down in the pages of a site. The SERP's were essentially made up of a list of pages sorted according to their relevance to the search term. We were actively encouraged to optimise for all the pages throughout our sites.
I have just completed an (admittedly small) analysis of a series of pages that are ranking in the top 5 for competitive searches, that at face value, would be lucky to appear in the top 100. They are light on real content, spammy (keyword stuffing, multiple <h1's>, excessive bolding, alt and title attribute stuffing, absence of rel=nofollow" etc etc… your typical garden variety SEO abuse)
What seems to be happening is that the root domain for these pages is doing the heavy lifting. In nearly every case I looked at, the analysis showed an above average to very high domain authority (as reported by MajesticSEO and Open Site Explorer) for the root domain.
This got me to wondering if Google, in determining "authority", has gone back to reading the signals given off by the root domain as the primary indicator with the actual page signals as being of much lesser relevance. It would go some way to explaining why we see so many "wtf" results in the SERP's, why big brands (i.e…. very powerful root domains) are so dominant and why big brand pages top SERP's results when the page is not remotely close to being best in class.
So…. are we now living in a world where root domain authority is king?
Maybe its been that way for a long time and I just missed the roll-back!