One problem with the backlink approach [of SEO] is that it confuses popularity with authority. Read this post about backlinks to see what they are. If the goal of search engines was to find the most popular sites, page ranking works excellently. If the goal is to find the most authoritive, page ranking does not work well.

Obviously, the truth, that is, what backlinks and search engines actually do, is somewhere in between. I suspect it’s closer to measuring popularity than it is at measuring content.

There are several problems. First, the high page rank sites can often turn into an old boys network only linking to each other. Second, and related, many sites do link exchanges without regard for their respective content. Third, there is things like SEO optimization which is trying to game the system. This is similar to how some people are trying to game their credit scores—they find a backdoor to get something they don’t really deserve.

The existence of an entire industry of junk sites that spend effort on driving traffic to their sites using any kind of method other than content indicates that search engines are far from perfection.

I’m looking forward to the day that search engines will use some rudimentary intelligence to gauge authority rather than relying on popularity or cheap tricks.

Originally posted 2010-07-19 13:29:39.