No, this is not breaking news. No search engine-induced twins to see here. However, there are two very important concepts that helped Mother Google become who she is today. These two concepts are Relevancy and Authority – fondly considered proper nouns hence forth. Their importance cannot be understated when it comes to how search engines work. To fully understand these twins and how they relate to Mother Google, we should go through a quick history lesson.
Two nerds enter Stanford and become friends. Neither liked the current options for searching the web. So, they decided to geek out. What do you get?
Those nerds are Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. The geek-out session these two initially had was centered around finding a quick and easy way to judge the quality of an academic paper by seeing how many times other academic papers have cited it. This theory was fairly easy to replicate on the web because the original purpose of the Internet was to share academic papers and resources between colleges and universities. Once digitized online, these citations morphed into hyperlinks (links for short). Larry Page created an algorithm that could calculate these values on a broad scale. This algorithm became known as PageRank – PR ranks on a scale of 1 – 10. This was how these two nerds discovered the wonderfully-powerful use of links and how a natural link profile can be used as a metric for identifying legitimately popular web pages.
Enter Relevancy and Authority
There are hundreds of factors that search engines use to figure out just how to rank a page. Generally speaking, these factors can be divided into two camps – Relevance and Authority. In their own unique way, most of the major search engines rank pages by a combination of these lil’ buggers. Going forward, you’ll need to kindly ignore relevancy from your brain so I can illustrate the following.
Twin Number 2 – Authority
Twin number 2 (Authority) can be broken down into two parts – domain authority and page authority. These are measurements of link profiles and in order to to rank high for a specific search query you need to have a high amount of authority on the Internet – continue to keep in mind we are excluding relevancy for now.
Have you heard of Wikipedia? Of course you have. That’s partly because you see Wikepedia results in the SERPs (search engine results page), for all kinds of search queries. That website is everywhere! This is partly due to the fact that Wikipedia has an absurd amount of domain popularity (authority). You see, they gain an enormous amount of authority in the eyes of the search engines due to the popularity of their domain. However, domain authority is only half of the equation. Individual page authority plays a big role as well. By page authority, I mean a page, blog post, pdf or any other document that has a single URL. For example, this particular blog post has a certain amount of page rank, while the domain – growmeo.com – has its own specific amount of domain rank.
So what does this all mean? Well, Authority is based on a combination of both domain rank and page rank. Higher rankings are partly based upon the total amount of authority. For example, let’s say you have a niche website that covers juggling. Your domain has a domain rank of 4. You also have a widely popular blog post on the history of juggling that has a page rank of 7. When someone performs a search query for ‘history of juggling’, your blog post ranks number one. Wikipedia has a domain rank of 8 and they just so happen to have a page on the history of juggling, but that page appears on the second page of the SERPs – you’ve outranked Wikipedia for this search term!
Now, how is this possible if Wikipedia is such a behemoth of a website and their domain outranks yours?
Again, Authority is a combination of domain authority and page authority. In this situation, the fact that you rank first could be because your page on juggling has a higher total amount of authority.
It is this fact in combination with relevancy (which I am about to explain) that are the foundation of Search Engine Optimization.
Twin Number 1 – Relevancy
You can’t have one without the other. Anyone thinking of ‘Married with Children’ or Frank Sinatra after reading that?
Now, just because a domain or page has a ton of authority (as judged by links), that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to rank high for every search under the sun. To a certain extent they do (think Wikipedia), but the reason they don’t dominate the competition for every search is that Google and its cute lil’ competitors put a great deal of emphasis on Relevancy. Why would a page on Wikipedia about juggling outrank a niche blog about the Oregon Ducks football team for the search query, Oregon Ducks football? It wouldn’t and that’s where Relevancy comes into play.
Link relevancy is one of the major components search engines use to determine rankings. The main difference between link relevancy and link popularity is that link relevancy does not take into account the power or strength of the link. Instead, it is a natural occurrence whereby people link out to other content. You see, people have a tendency to link to content using anchor text that is relevant to that piece of content.
What is anchor text? This… WordPress setup service… is anchor text. The words used in the actual link. But I digress.
If I write a blog post about the history of WordPress and I want to link to an article that further explains this, I have the ability to choose the anchor text that will be used for the link to the article. I can choose text like “more info” or “click here” but more often than not, I’ll use anchor text that describes the article. Go ahead and test this theory. Do a search for something you’r interested in and scan the articles that show up in the results. Take a look at the links within the articles and you will find, more often than not, the links within the article are descriptive of where they are linking to. By using anchor text in these articles, the destination pages’ relevancy is further reinforced by these links. This organically-driven information is essential to today’s search engines and provides the bulk share of relevancy indicators.
So, what the heck did I just write about relevancy?
Let’s use our History of Juggling page as an example. Your page about the history of juggling is so awesome that people who read it, want to link to it. When they link to it, they will more than likely use descriptive anchor text to do so. If you have several links on other sites that link to this page using anchor text such as; history of juggling, juggling history, the origins of juggling, etc; you organically reinforce the relevancy of your page. Search engines track these links and begin to give you credit for being highly relevant for the history of juggling.
In summary, Relevancy and Authority are the twin concepts that provide the foundation for Search Engine Optimization theory. The level of importance and their relationship will get tweaked with time, but search engines will continue to use them as the basis for the search results we see when we perform a search query.
Takaways: Take the time to earn links. Much like a rising tide raises all ships, a highly popular (authoritative) domain raises all of its pages. Conversely, authoritative pages raise their domain’s authority. No matter what niche or industry you are in, you must be relevant. To dominate your niche, you must become popular (authoritative).