I've been reading a bit about the new concept of Google's "Agent Rank" and their patent application while pondering how it might impact search. The basic idea here is that Google may be working on a way to tie content on the web to an individual and that Google might also establish a way to judge the reputation of the individual, and by extension, their content. Sounds interesting, right?

Bill Slawski put together a great post on this topic last week over at Search Engine Land. If you're not yet familiar with it, it might be a good idea to read his article on Google's Agent Rank Patent Application so that you can follow the rest of this post.

In a nutshell...

Imagine a system that instead of ranking content on a page level, breaks those pages down and looks at smaller content items on those pages, which it associates with digital signatures. Content creators could be given reputation scores, which could influence the rankings of pages where their content appears, or which they own, edit, or endorse.

I've got to admit, when I first read about it, I was pretty intrigued. We all know that with some work, it's not impossible to game the current system. People have been exploiting algorithms for ages. Doing so with the current system which heavily favors incoming links and the "authority" of the sites those links are earned from is more difficult, but still doable. It also tends to make people focus more on getting links than it does on producing good content. (Which is ironic, since good content tends to lead to good links...)

The idea that Google and other engines could build a database that tracked the reputation of the individual posting the content is interesting. From what I gather, Google would have people build a sort of digital signature that they would attach to any content they write. Google would then examine this digital signature as a way to determine the value of the written content.

Think of it as the computer's way of making the human judgement that Danny Sullivan probably knows more about search marketing than Jason Calacanis, therefore, the things that Danny writes about search marketing should likely be given more weight in the engines.

It goes back to the Pinocchio effect that I often mention...the idea that search engines are working toward being able to replicate human judgement in order to create better search results. A movement toward the ability to judge the human source of the data rather than simply the code surrounding it is interesting to me.

Initially, I was totally on board.

After all, who wouldn't love it if they could know who (in terms of people, not web sites) to trust for advice. It sure would save some headaches for the small business market when it came to trying to learn about SEM. It sure would save some headache for the consumer in reading product reviews.

Now my first question was how this would work in terms of people that blog on multiple topics. For example, my brother-in-law is a newspaper editor. He knows quite a bit about journalism, copy editing and so on. I'd certainly qualify him as some level of authority on the subject. At the same time, he's a total roller coaster buff. We're talking about the guy that stands behind you in line spewing stats and facts about every coaster ever built when you're simply thinking about making it down the first hill without blacking out.

So how does Google separate those two personas? Or do they wrap it all up in one and simply count him as an authority on both. What about someone like me? Sure, I'm fairly well known as someone that's an authority on online marketing for small business owners, but there are areas that I know more about than others. I'm great for viral marketing, link building, and organic optimization but I don't know near as much about analytics, usability or even paid search advertising. And hey...I'm also pretty well known as a "lactivist." I know more about milk banking and breastfeeding than most people...so how does that fit in with my online marketing persona?

Thus, I was starting to have some questions about how all this would work.

As I continued to give the idea some thought, I stumbled across Lisa Barone's take on the idea over at the Bruce Clay blog. Her post alone was enough to plant some serious seeds of doubt in my mind. Take for example these points:

...now you're telling me Google is going to rank my pages based on my own personal authority and worth? How much longer until my Web site gets buried solely because Google doesn't like me. They studied my search history, decided I'm ultimately a big jerk who searches for inconsequential things (which isn't entirely untrue), and then banned me from their index for blatant stupidity.

Second, can authority or reputation even be broken down into a quantifiable scale? What factors are going to be used to determine my worth as a blogger? And reputation according to whom? Google? The search engine optimization industry? Other bloggers? Are you telling me that every post Rebecca Kelley writes will automatically rank higher than mine simply because she’s the more popular one?

Hmm...those are some good points there Lisa. How exactly DOES Google decide who knows what they're talking about and who doesn't. Perhaps by seeing what other authority sites link to their content? Oh wait...they already do that.

I'm not sure how this is going to end up in the grand scheme of things. I do have my reservations, but I remain intrigued at the possibilities. Of course there's also the chance that the patent has been filed and nothing will ever come of it. It wouldn't be the first time.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

February 14, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > What if Your Reputation Determined Your Rankings?