Authority vs. Popularity in Search Engine Rankings

Short answer: whichever one happens to be given more weight by the major search engines. Long answer: they’re both the same thing, so you should act accordingly.

Social media is basically a popularity contest. A Facebook “Like” is an explicit vote for popularity; and of course you can’t get into a social circle without being accepted, which is effectively a digital way of saying that you are cool enough to join the gang. The only reason the social media stream isn’t accused of behaving discriminatorily is because there are so many social circles for so many different things that everyone is seen as cool by someone.

Popularity Is Authority

So what do I mean when I say that popularity is authority? I mean that Google gives more credence to sources that it determines to be authoritative – and it gets some of that credence from the social media, which (as noted above) is the ultimate exercise in populist behaviour.

In other words: individual followers and groups vote for your authority by “Liking” you, by following you, by joining your conversations and retweeting things you say. And they do that because they like you. They do it because you are popular.

You become popular by doing two things: getting involved in a benevolent and proactive fashion; and by becoming trusted as a source of information. So your genuine authority on your subject matter makes you popular with others in your social sphere.

And when you become extremely popular, Google notes you as an authority in your field.

It’s All About the Numbers

The more people who retweet you, or follow you, or regularly link to your blog, the more Google likes you. For SEO purposes the more groundwork you do in engaging with your community, the greater quantity of links and Likes you will see back in the long run.

Finding Real Authority in a Pool of Popular People

Of course one of the side effects of the general love-in that is social media SEO is that everyone becomes extremely popular. So the search engines need a way of divining genuine authority from massive popularity.

The social information that an author or content owner provides when he or she signs up for a social network can be useful here. Though as anyone can put anything in their social media profiles, any information gleaned by examining a social graph has to be cross referenced with the apparent behaviour of your friends and followers: if they are regularly visiting your pages and linking to them and your social graph notes you as a qualified person in the field, chances are you’re a genuine expert.

Your industry is an obvious signifier of potential authority. If you’ve got a LinkedIn profile listing your job title and sector, are in groups that revolve around a specific industry and participate in conversations where key words or tags also match up to that industry, you have a pretty good set of authorial qualifications.

Other forms of authority signal may include degrees and qualifications that you are on record as holding (and the establishment from whence they came, Oxbridge beats Durham I’m afraid); citations of your name in other documents; a number of publications bearing your name as author; quantity of links to content about you as well as by you; and of course the aggregate mood of the social media sphere regarding your posts and content.

Is Any of It Useful?

You have to remember of course that Google and the other search engines are always trying to make the best of a bad job – that is they’re beset on all sides by the tyrannies of people who just want to jump up the queue. Trying to combine your popularity in the social sphere with an apparent trail of citations, qualifications and publications is one way to get an accurate idea of your authority. But it ignores the spirit at the heart of the social media stream, which is that anyone can rise to prominence provided they create interesting and engaging content. The real question we’re asking here is: is there a difference between authoritative and interesting – and if there is, should we care?

About the Author:

Working closely with different communities, Roxanne P, a social media expert as well as an expert in internet communications and technologies. She has an all round expertise in internet services with an intense knowledge of the latest developments in the fields of search engine optimization as well.

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