05 Jun 2014

5 Ways To Gauge Authority In The Search Results

Let’s pretend for a moment that NBC’s Today Show wants to do a story on politics in the Middle East. For some odd reason the producers can choose to have either me, or General Colin Powell on as a guest. Can you guess who they are likely to pick? Despite the fact that I have a degree in political science with a concentration in international politics, they will always pick Colin Powell over me. That’s a no brainer!

But now let’s pretend that the Today Show also wants to do a story on SEO. And like before they also can choose from me or Colin Powell. Can you guess who they will pick? They are likely still going to pick Colin Powell. I have done SEO consulting for the last 6 years, to some of the largest sites on the internet, but they will still likely go with Colin Powell. Why you ask? Because of one word:


No matter what the topic is, Collin Powell will always have way more authority than I, simply because he’s Collin Powell. This is how authority works: if you have enough of it, you can trump all of the other hurdles that are likely to get in your way.

The search engines understand this and thus have written their algorithms in a way that favors more authoritative domains over less authoritative ones. However, authority tends to be a bit harder to optimize for.

Authority and trust are two ambiguous ranking factors that every SEO should focus on. I say “ambiguous” because even though some have done a very good job at distilling these concepts down to an easy to understand metric, no one truly understands how Google applies these concepts to their algorithms.

The best we can do is look for a few clues in our data to see if a domain has authority. Here are five clues to focus on when judging how authoritative a domain is.


Sitelinks are links found below a search listing for the same domain that Google thinks may help the user further. When you run a query for the domain’s brand name, or exact match domain do site links appear? This has been my go to authority check for years. These links do not appear for all domains and its become increasingly clear that only authoritative domains with trust get them.

Rich Snippets

One myth I hear every now and then about rich snippets is that if you add Schema markup then they magically appear in the search results. This is not true. There are a lot of factors at play to get Google to start showing rich snippets. But the common sense factor is that the domain and the page has to have Schema markup and a certain level of authority. Google isn’t going to provide an extra boost to your CTR just because your’e cool. 😉


Yes as the name applies having verified authorship, means an inherent level of authority. Which means its a pretty fair assumption that if a site has authorship in the results, the domain has some vested authority. In fact authorship might be one of the best signals to build authority……but that’s for a different blog post!

Knowledge Graph

Google is now taking content from other sites and displaying it in the search results. In any other context this would be called site scrapping, but Google calls it “knowledge graph”. Despite what you might think about Knowledge Graph, it is clear that if Google is willing to take your content and display it on their site, it must have a certain amount of authority. So far Wikipedia is likely the one domain with the most knowledge graph integrations and its no mystery how well it ranks.

Rankings For Mid-Level Terms

Lets face it, anyone can get on page one for a non-competitive long tail query. However, it takes a little bit more work and authority to rank for mid level or highly competitive terms. If a domain can rank for a mid level term it means that it likely has a certain amount of authority. If its ranking for a highly competitive term then it absolutely has authority.



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