The head of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s Webspam team Matt Cutts made an offhand comment in a recent video blog suggesting that we may be getting a new update to the search algorithm that better identifies niche authorities instead of assuming that well-known sites are the best authority on all kinds of topics.

Google

Asked how Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) separates popularity from authority, Cutts explained that the Page Rank algorithm has never been that concerned with popularity.

“If you’re to look at sites that are popular, for example porn sites are very popular, but people tend not to link to porn sites. On the other hand, if you take something like the Wisconsin real estate board, probably not a ton of people go there, but quite a few people do link to government websites,” said Cutts (h/t Jennifer Slegg at Search Engine Watch).

Google searching for thematic authority

People who are already steeped in search engine operation (SEO) already know this, but the change is that Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) is now looking to identify thematic authority. So if a website has a lot of incoming links related to Greek myth it would be considered to be an authority on that topic, but if the same site randomly posted an article on something unrelated Google wouldn’t classify it as being authoritative on the new topic without thematically appropriate links.

This is especially important for niche sites that won’t have the same bulk number of incoming links as their more famous competitors, but could have more when only their specialty is considered. What’s really exciting is that the changes might be just around the corner.

“We actually have some algorithmic changes that try to figure out ‘hey, this site is the better match for something like a medical query’,” said Cutts. “I’m looking forward to those rolling out.”

Rollout may not be noticeable

When there is a major update to Google Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) search algorithm we usually hear about it after the fact (though not nearly in as much detail as SEO experts would like), but for a tweak like this the rollout could be more subtle. Cutts also recently explained that he likes to test out new ideas first by seeing how they would affect a set of pre-ranked URLs to check sites with higher average rankings move up, but he also does like experiments by interleaving two different algorithms. If people consistently pick results from one algorithm over the other, then it’s considered to be the better method.