co Authority Or Popularity: What's The Difference? |

For several years now the search engines have been obsessed with ranking web pages based on popularity. They use link popularity and other measures to determine whether a web page is relevant and useful to a search query. Bill Slawski, who writes about search patents on his blog SEO By The Sea, recently wrote about a Microsoft patent that is based on measuring authority. How is this different?

I think it’s a good question because popularity and authority are not the same. For instance, Lady Gaga is one of the most popular performers in the U.S. and much of the world. But that doesn’t make her an authority on anything. She may know quite a bit about music, but simply being popular doesn’t make her an authority.

So what would make her an authority? According to Bill, any combination of several factors including

  • Educational degrees held by the source
  • Where those degrees were obtained
  • Citations of the source in scholarly or technical works
  • Number of publications associated with a source
  • Number of social network connections and/or followers
  • Whether or not the source is employed by and/or graduated from a well respected and/or highly cited institution
  • Social networking information such as a number of posts relating to the source and/or a particular topic addressed by the source
  • Number of patents held by the source
  • Number of links to content associated with the source
  • Number of articles citing work associated with the source
  • Ratings and Reviews associated with the source

Measuring popularity is a lot easier than measuring authority. All you have to do is see how many people like something. But authority is a bit murkier. One website can be authority on a particular subject yet own a deficit on another subject closely related. Such is the nature of authority.

It’s nice being popular, but I think you’ll get more long-term mileage out of being an authority. Not only is that important for the future of search, but it’s vital for the future of online marketing.