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February 7, 2013

Will Google Trust Your Website?

In the last year, search engine giant Google has been stamping on websites they do not consider trustworthy. And it has brought its foot down hard. In trying to improve its service to end users, Google is identifying websites it can “trust” to deliver quality content and is dishing out penalties to web owners who have tried to cheat the SEO system.

Search engines judge sites based on quality content, but despite the intuitiveness of crawlers there is no way for them to determine whether the content is of any use to the end user. To measure quality content, Google introduced a system known as link building which classified inbound links as a token of trust. This idea fell apart when webmasters started to create link farms and spam forums and blogs with page links.

Google took action. The Panda algorithm that launched in April 2012 was designed to hunt down websites that provided poor user experience through keyword stuffing and cloaking. Google followed up with the lethal Penguin four months later, which was designed to hunt down “webspam” posing as inbound links. Subsequently, many websites were deemed untrustworthy and severely penalized. Online businesses that had been ranking well suddenly dropped into obscurity overnight.

Trustworthy content

Web content now holds the Google mantle of identifying quality content. Blog articles, web copy, videos, photographs and infographs all demonstrate the website is being well maintained and offers end users something worthwhile. This will get you kudos from search engines but, like most relationships, trust has to be earned — and that can take time.

For SEO service providers and website owners alike, this poses something of a problem. Online business owners want to see their website performing in a month and some even threaten they will only pay on a results basis. During the first couple of months, when their website is fluctuating like the FTSE, they become frustrated and lose confidence in the SEO Company. They take their business elsewhere and encounter the same problems.

For providers of SEO services it is difficult to understand why there is an ebb and flow of movement on their client’s website. The only plausible answer is the Google’s algorithms are still trying to determine which sites are trustworthy. Another factor could be higher ranking sites being penalized and dropped down the rankings or vice versa.

Can webmasters trust Google?

SEO companies and webmasters also face another problem. What are Google’s actual intentions and is the company going to change the rules in the future. The answer to this has to be: yes they will. They have cut out bad practices in the past so we should expect them to move the goal posts again.

When Google released Penguin, Matt Cutts, the Google spokesman whose job it is to explain changes to the rules stated: “We are starting to look at the people who sort of abuse it (SEO), whether they put too many keywords on the page or whether they exchange way too many links or whatever they’re doing to sort of go beyond what a person would expect in a particular area.”

According to Google’s penguin guidelines, SEO practices that fall outside their interpretation of trust — or “black hat” operations — are:

• Text hidden in drop down boxes
• Hidden links
• Cloaking
• Pages with irrelevant keywords
• Pages with too many keywords
• Duplicate content
• Links in exchange for products

Most of the above conditions have been well documented and to save going over old ground, I will focus on the last point only here. Also it’s the most recent condition Google has added and could catch o lot of people out  — “links in exchange for products.” What does that actually mean in ways that Google can measure?

The use of the term “product” presumably means articles. Paid links and unreliable links have already been banned. SEO companies now employ a link-building strategy that involves writing to third party sites and asking them if they could submit an article in return for a link back to their client’s site. Effectively the client is still paying for the link, thus it is regarded as a product. Don’t be surprised to find this practice is penalized when the algorithm is next updated and the net is cast once more.

What makes a website trustworthy?

Google give kudos to websites that add regular blog content with correct keyword use together with images and videos. You also need to be active on social media sites to clock up your number of ‘likes’ and hope your followers will post your website pages in their social media account.

You will also be rewarded by search engines if you have a Google Author Rank, or at least a writer contributing to your site that has one. Author Rank is effectively a symbol of trust — or a badge of honour if you like. Again, it takes time for the writer to build up a degree of trust from search engines before they are recognized as a trusted author.  The final option is to publish articles in established online magazines with an inbound link back to your site.

The aim of the game then is to get search engines to trust your website by adding regular content that is engaging for readers. Content should be original and lend something to the reader whether it is important information or a funny story to tell their friends etc. In essence, is the content on your website something Internet users will share either online or offline?

Richard Oldale is a freelance writer and SEO expert. With a vision for the future of online marketing he founded johnaudreyjones_productions to provide SMEs with proven SEO and social marketing strategies that will improve their online reputation in the short-term and retain it in the long-term. To find out more visit his website.