If you haven’t heard, search algorithms are now all about trust. Most noticeably at Google, but where Google goes the other engines tend to follow. SEO today is about establishing confidence for your site with search engines. When a trusted site creates a new page that page will often rank well in a short amount of time. The key to the kingdom of search is to develop trust for your site.
Trust came into fashion when webmasters and SEOs discovered what they called the ‘sandbox’ or as Todd Malicoat aka Stundtdubl calls it the ‘trustbox.’ Whatever you want to call them the age filters that lead to the sandbox effect are all about the trust Google places in your site.
While many debate the merits of placing so much emphasis on trust (see the aforementioned Stundtdubl’s post The Trust Knob is WAY too High) I think it’s ultimately a good thing. The knob may be turned a little too high at the moment, but most things take a little time to perfect.
Speaking of time perfecting things, time has a great deal to do with trust as far as search engines are concerned. And it makes sense. Consider a person you meet for the first time. How much do you trust them immediately? If you’re like me you give them a certain amount of trust and take them at their word at first, but still hold a cautious eye toward them until you know them better. I can’t speak for you, but I’m not going to lend someone I met this morning $100 tonight. That initial trust only goes so far. In a few months, assuming that person has proved to deserve that initial respect I bestowed upon them I might lend them that c-note they asked for. But if I do it’s because of the trust they’ve earned over time.
When a search engine sees a new website what is there about that site they should trust right off the bat? Probably not much. Trust generally has to be earned which is why new sites often have trouble ranking well for certain keyphrases. They haven’t yet earned the trust it will take to achieve top ranking.
I do believe the focus on trust is a good thing, though I would like to see new sites start out with a good level of trust. Yes trust has to be earned, but an algorithm should be able to give a site more initial trust and then remove that trust for those sites that don’t deserve it. Given the relative difficulty for new sites to rank it would seem most sites start out with very little trust. Giving new sites a small boost might help smaller businesses initially to compete with larger corporations. Those that can maintain that initial level of trust will continue to compete, while those that can’t will just complain that search engines don’t like them. Whether or not you agree how it should all work you’d better start developing trust in your site if you want search traffic.
How To Build Search Engine Trust In Your Website
There are things you can do to help search engines trust your site more. I mentioned that trust develops over time and age is certainly a criteria in search algorithms. One place where age and time is important is how long you register your domain. The longer a domain is registered the more trust can be placed in that domain. When you register your domain for a year as most of us do you’re telling everyone you’re not sure you’ll be around after that year. If you’re not sure then neither will search engines. Why should they have confidence in you if you’ve indicated you may not be around. Shorter registrations may be seen as spamming domains in the sense that spammers aren’t likely to register a domain long term. It’s perhaps unfair since most of us with one year domains aren’t planning on spamming anyone, but still do yourself a favor and register your domain for multiple years. Registration is pretty cheap and for $100 you can have a domain for 10 years. That’s not much to pay to have a little trust thrown your way.
A while back I posted about TrustRank and in that post linked to a research paper from Stanford University. The PDF entitled Combating Web Spam with TrustRank notes that quality trusted sites tend to link out to other quality and trusted sites. You can make use of this by watching who you link to. Links out from your site show a lot about your site. Link to authority sites and your trust score no doubt goes up. Link to questionable sites and you may be seen as being questionable too. We are characterized somewhat by the company we keep.
Most of the time when you’re linking to a questionable site it’s because that site has promised a link back to you as well. In the past any link was considered good and the more links the better. Not anymore. Trust scores are the reason reciprocal linking has lost a lot of favor in the search community. Reciprocals can still have value, but you do need to be more careful who you trade links with. Please make them trusted sites. Relevancy won’t hurt with reciprocal linking either.
You should also be looking for trust in your inbound links. It’s not all about quantity anymore and before you say that the sites at the top of the results usually have a lot of them, you and I don’t know how much weight are put on those links. I will agree more links is better, assuming that those links are based on some kind of quality, relevance, or trust. A few links from well respected authority sites will carry much more weight than hundreds or even thousands of links from questionable sites. Think trust, relevance, and quality first when developing backlinks for your site.
As an example consider article submission as a way to develop links. There’s nothing wrong with submitting articles to directories and waiting for other sites to download those articles giving you some backlinks. However placing that same article on a single authority site in your industry will probably go further toward improving your site rank. Placing your article on those highly trusted sites isn’t necessarily easy though, so perhaps try the authority sites first and the articles that aren’t accepted feel free to submit to directories.
Don’t over optimize your pages. Stuffing keywords everywhere won’t inspire trust. Why should it? Yes, optimize your pages, but don’t overdo it. Does it really make sense to add one extra keyword to an alt attribute? How does it help someone browsing your site with a screen reader? Does your heading read better with one more mention of your keyword or did it read better without? Ask yourself these kind of questions from the perspective of a human being visiting your web page. One more keyword may make all the difference in turning off a visitor and given that it probably won’t earn you any more trust with search engines think twice before you add it. The new wave in Google optimization is less is more. Google has gone minimalist and is preferring web pages that appear not to be optimized so be careful how much you optimize your pages.
Trust also comes from consistency. Grow your site consistently over time and show the engines you’re planning on being around. Steady growth is good for a site in more ways than trust, but by building new pages you show search engines your site is alive and active. It’s not something that’s been abandoned.
Trust is the buzz with search engines right now. It may be true that Google in particlular is overplaying the trust card when deciding where your pages and site should rank, but trust is going to stay in some form and it really is a good idea to incorporate a certain amount of trust rank in the algorithms. If you haven’t already done so start thinking more proving to search engines that they should have confidence in you. Show them you plan to be around awhile with a longer domain registration and consistent growth and show them with both your incoming and outgoing links that you hang out in the right neighborhoods.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.