While social media commentators have all been focused on Google+, something else has been happening at the Googleplex that may prove more significant. Google is changing how it rates and ranks web-pages towards a single, defining criteria: authority.
Firstly, in June, Google started to connect content that appears in search results with its author, by adding a Google Authorship Tag (a headshot photo and link, see above) to the right hand of the screen. This aims to provide another means of rating content, by enabling the searcher to pick content written by recognised authorities. Of course, to have your Authorship tag show up, you need to have a Google Account and link to your Google Profile from the content that you’ve published. There’s an explanation of how to do this here.
Secondly, as I’ve mentioned recently on this blog, Google have started to prioritise content that’s been Liked, re-Tweeted and +1’d over content that hasn’t been shared via social media. This democratisation of search is going to change the SEO industry dramatically over the next few years and, as Steve Rubel points out in his post on this topic, we should expect SEO budgets to shift towards social SEO in that time-frame too.
Lastly, Google News has launched a new programme of Authority Badges that rewards those people who read lots of new stories with badges that will appear on their Google+ Profile. This isn’t just a gaming feature (though I expect we’ll see lots of competition for badges), once we’ve been identified as authorities I don’t have any doubt that Google will use that information to rate or rank our contributions online.
This is fascinating stuff, but with my critical hat on, I would question Google’s concept of an “authority”. Is a person who gets 100 Likes on an article actually knowledgeable, or are they just appealing to the masses? (Perhaps adjustments in weighting of Likes/shares will account for this). Is a person who reads 100 articles on a topic any more knowledgeable than the guy who reads the 5 best articles on that topic? I guess Google will decide.