Google’s PageRank is an all-important metric, based on both authority and popularity, which controls where a website falls on a search engine results page — relevancy notwithstanding. The catch: No one knows what “authority” actually is. While we can gauge the popularity of a website through traffic, we really have no way of directly measuring or controlling authority. This is a well-known fact within the industry itself, but may not be very intuitive to those new to digital marketing.
The Importance of Authority and PageRank
Authority — and PageRank — are both important to marketers because it pushes all the results of a domain to the top, even if the content itself is new. There is a reason why you are more likely to find a new article from CNN.com on the front page of your search engine results rather than SuperCoolNewsSite.biz. Building authority thus helps promote all of the website’s content more than search engine optimization of any single page could.
The Fallacy of Knowing: Theories Repeated as Facts
It isn’t malicious. It’s easy to discuss your theories and techniques as though they are definitely true, especially when you’ve been using them for a while. But there’s one thing that you must know: we don’t know anything. We can make educated guesses and reasonable observations. That is all. Many marketers tell you that they can boost authority. That may be true. But they can’t tell you what, specifically, does it. They only know that they can achieve it. The “special sauce” of Google PageRank is a closely guarded secret and, moreover, it changes so often and is likely so complex that even leaked information probably wouldn’t be useful to anyone.
What is “authority”? Some people assume that authority is just a generalized metric concerning reputation and trust. Many online marketers suggest that being linked to by a variety of other sites within your industry or space will build your authority. What has actually been said about the topic is as follows:
We are doing a better job of detecting when someone is sort of an authority in a specific space. It could be medical, it could be travel… if you are some sort of authority or a site that according to the algorithms we think might be a little more appropriate for users.
Of important note is his reference to a specific space. This makes it clear that authority is intended to be niche. Arbitrarily gaining links, even from other high authority sites might not help. A website about digital cameras likely needs to build its authority among photography sites, rather than entrepreneurial magazines. It’s this focus that has been lost to many people in pursuit of authority.
Google is not messing around when it comes to their algorithms. They have a vested interest in remaining relevant. To that end, they constantly fine tune their algorithms. Every six to eight months we see an upheaval in search engine results; some websites absolutely tank while others are promoted to the top. But what we do see is that these algorithm changes consistently tend to promote websites that have a better quality of content, sometimes regardless of popularity. We saw this when Panda 4.0 wiped out eBay mid last year. eBay is an established, popular site — but that doesn’t mean their content didn’t suck.
Put simply: Google’s goals must become your goals. If you want to establish authority, you need to offer what Google is looking for — because Google is going to be changing the way in which it looks for that content on a regular basis. eBay experienced a catastrophic loss in ranking because it had based its strategy around thin content and gateways. Google never wanted this type of content, it just wasn’t looking for it previously. Now it is. Every new way of “tricking” Google will simply cause problems later on.
We know when a website is performing well. We also know what we’ve done to achieve this goal. But we really don’t know how much any one strategy worked or which strategies were totally pointless. These layers of obfuscation are fully intentional and prevent us from gaming the system. It’s easy to buy into voodoo marketing tactics: increase your website’s authority based on these 2,948 simple tricks! In reality, though, the best strategy may just be the most straightforward one: just make it good.