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June 24, 2013

4 Google Trust Factors That Can Provide Negative Signals About Your Website

When Google first came out with its Panda algorithm, Amit Singhal (Google’s chief engineer, who designed it) provided a list of potential factors that Google looks at to determine the trustworthiness of any website. This was more than two years ago, but many of the sites I review today still show signs of “untrustworthiness” in Google’s eyes. To top it off, Google has clamped down even harder on its Panda and Penguin algorithms during the past two years.

This means that it’s more important than ever to review your websites for the first 17 SEO killer attributes that I’ve previously written about, but also to look at that last one, No. 18 (trustworthiness), which we don’t hear so much about.

While just about anything you do with your site that makes it seem spammy (such as keyword stuffing, for example) would also make it seem less trustworthy, Google now looks beyond just the obvious. Because many of them are somewhat redundant, I’ve distilled Mr. Singhal’s trust questions down to four main factors:

  1. Expertness
  2. Comprehensiveness
  3. Redundancy
  4. Lack of Proofreading

Below is more information on each these factors as well as the questions Google wants you to ask yourself about your site, how your site might be sending a negative signal with respect to each factor, how you can fix your site, and some key information you can learn from each of them.

Google Trust Factor No. 1: Expertness

What Google asks: Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallower in nature? Similarly, is the site a recognized authority on its topic? In addition, does it contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: You’d be surprised how many websites I see with blogs that have no byline attached to their posts. They’re usually posted by some default “admin” or maybe a first name only, with no bio at the beginning or end of the article, or any sort of link to a bio page.

The fix: Whether or not you write your own blog posts, you need to associate a name with them. If you’re a small company, you’ll often want to use the CEO, owner, or president’s name. It’s also fine to have multiple authors if you’re a larger company. But you will need to establish the credibility of each of them. Of course, beyond just having a byline and bio, you should also mark up your code with the rel=”author” markup.

Key takeaway: Anyone can write or say anything on the Internet, but that doesn’t make it true. By having a name, face, and bio associated with your content, you’re standing by it and its factualness (and vice versa). Therefore, it makes sense for Google to use this as part of their algorithm.

Google Trust Factor No. 2: Comprehensiveness

What Google asks: Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Does the content provide complete or comprehensive description of the topic? Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: It’s not surprising that most of the blogs I saw that weren’t associating any name with their posts were also not very comprehensive. In fact, they often didn’t appear to be written for real people at all. They seemed to exist only because someone (probably some “SEO”) told the site owner they needed a blog for SEO purposes. And of course most of the posts were useless drivel only there to link to other parts of the website via keyworded anchor text. Which of course misses the whole point of having a blog in the first place.

The fix: Remember why blogs exist. The idea of a blog (and content marketing in general) is to add value to your site. It enables you to go above and beyond talking about the products or services you offer. In short, it’s a way to demonstrate your (or your company’s) expertise. Write about what you know and know well.

Key takeaway: Forget about SEO when you’re trying to decide what to put in your blog and instead think about hot topics in your industry — not so you can rank for those keywords, but so you can provide your own unique perspective. This in turn will be exactly the sort of content Google is looking for — that is, content that people bookmark and share.

Google Trust Factor No. 3: Redundancy for the Sake of Keywords

What Google asks: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: This is such an old-school SEO technique that apparently worked for so long that some website owners are loath to give it up. I mean, why have one page on any given topic and be relevant for one or two keyword phrases when you can have 10 or more and corner the market on all the relevant phrases? At least that’s how the thinking went. And to a certain extent it did work well in Google before Panda. But when you’ve lost a huge percentage of your organic traffic, you can’t keep clinging to the spammy practices of yore.

The fix: Find all the pages of your website hat focus on the same or very similar topics and combine them into just one. (If they’re different enough you may be able to keep a few, but be completely honest with yourself here!) It’s especially necessary to remove those pages that are basically just “madlib spam.” After you’ve got them combined, be sure to 301-redirect all the old URLs to the one new and improved page’s URL.

Key takeaway: The good news is that the newer Google algorithms understand synonyms and the overall meaning of words and phrases.

This means it is no longer necessary to have all the keywords you’d like to be found for on the page itself. Sure, you want to use lots of variations within the page content, but don’t worry if you miss some. If you have a great site that others like to recommend to their audiences, your pages will show up in the search results when relevant.

Google Trust Factor No. 4: Lack of Proofreading

What Google asks: Does this article have spelling, grammar, stylistic, or factual errors? How much quality control is done on content? Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: This trust factor goes beyond merely having typos on your website. While it should be an obvious bad signal, you’d be surprised how many sites I’ve reviewed have content that doesn’t even make sense! It’s as if the people writing the content were only concerned with using keywords, rather than making sense. (What a shocker!) I’ve also seen content that has been pasted onto sites from elsewhere that didn’t even have proper formatting such as paragraph spacing, or had weird characters that show up in the process.

The fix: Pay attention, for goodness’ sake! Don’t use automated programs to pull content from elsewhere unless you’re prepared to carefully review it and fix all errors. Write for your target audience, not the search engines. (Where have you heard that before?) And treat your website like a precious child. Love it, nurture it, pay attention to it, and take care of it in all aspects.

Key takeaway: If even you can’t read your content to make sure that it looks okay and makes some semblance of sense, why would anyone else? And consequently, why would Google want to showcase it?

While Google certainly looks at other trust factors, these four are the main troublemakers for most of the websites I’ve reviewed. (Along with the usual technical issues and spammy link building techniques, of course.) What others have you seen with your own sites or those of your clients? Let me know in the comments!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!

30 Responses to “4 Google Trust Factors That Can Provide Negative Signals About Your Website

    I totally agree with your points Google has really modified the way it predicts the websites and is focusing more on quality content with top notch images that could make your site stand out in the crowd. Also posting the same content again and again may turn out to be a point of negativity for you.

    Hey Jill really very nice article on trust factors and how we are showing negative signals to Google. I personally like your point about expertness and still we are also using the same technique of not showing the author name on our blog. But now onward we will change our practice and show author name and bio in our blog section. Thanks for sharing!!

    Stephen

    Hi Jill, It’s really a very informative post. I am totally agree with you that, these factors are highly important during content optimization. I always give importance to content by avoiding stuffing/ duplicate content and care about proofreading but expertness is new thing to me.

    This is an excellent coverage of Google’s trust factors. I agree with all the points mentioned above, especially with Point #3 (keyword thingy). That is so true. Stuffing keywords is the best way to get your website filtered through the search listing, so don’t ever do it.

    I didn’t know about the expertness factor with the bio and name. I thought I knew a lot about SEO but this is something new and something I will begin practicing. Thank you for the information.

    avatar David Morris says:

    The spelling and grammar comments worry me. To start with I worry that Google may not recognise regional spelling. Or should that be recognized?

    And grammar is incredibly subjective. (Technically that sentence is grammatically incorrect). When I correct my kids on the difference between me and I they just look skyward and say “Dad, get over it. That’s the way it is now.”

    But, a great article.

    avatar Johan says:

    Great article but are you sure you checked the grammar yourself?

    Find all the pages of your website hat focus on the same or very similar topics and combine

    avatar Mel Calvert says:

    Johan: You caught a typo – good catch, but there’s not a thing wrong with Jill’s grammar

    avatar Sam says:

    How can you make a local site without using similar content with different place names ?

    Hullo,
    I have recently created two localized copies of the afore-mentioned website by using the ‘header’ directive. Of course links to that, including the powerful ones from Apple and Wikipedia link to the home-page in order to redirect the traffic to the language of the user but I am afraid the ranking does not pass to the localized home-pages and ends up instead being lost on the meaningless redirecting home page. How may I fix it?

    avatar Mel Calvert says:

    Excellent comments and observations, Jill. There are a few minor changes we will make but it is indeed heartening to see that we have had some very good advice in constructing our site as measured by your standards.

    Excellent piece. The “authorship” part especially seems to be getting more important.

    avatar saurabh says:

    The only thing google or any other search engine sees is Traffic. Take the example of twitter. Earlier when twitter came into existence it looked like it was made by a child. That time also it climbed the top of google. There are 100 of websites which do not deserve to be on top.

    But yes i agree that the site should be based around content.

    avatar Thiruvel says:

    I accept everything except the last one. Because I found some websites which tool content from Wikipedia and their English has so many mistakes but still ranks well at position #1 to #3. Maybe Google will look at grammar and English for very high competition keywords.

    avatar Ian Dixon says:

    I find myself frequently questioning the ‘byline’ approach because I think it is bad business practice. It is, after all, the cult of the personality. Sure google like to see a name and a face on posts. Google, in my opinion, are completely wrong to take that view.
    The problem is that you have both a personal reputation and a business reputation. You can sell the business on and part of the sale price will be determined by the reputation that the business has. The persona part remains with you though and can never be sold.
    So it would be my view that google should pay less attention to the name of the individual and give more weight to the business. After all, you would never go looking for Larry Page or Sergey Brin if you wanted information about Google. Yet the Google approach would have anything about their own company attributed it’s co-founders

    Some great points made in this article. Repeated and duplicate content seem to be an increasing factor in rankings along with the over quality of a website. Its also worth mentioning that website layout is also a factor with google placing a ratio on code to content – too much code and not enough content will cause issues so it’s worth removing things like inline styles and aggregating into a single style sheet and p[lacing javascript libraries into a single include file.

    avatar Steve Essex says:

    This is all obvious and basic stuff, but we have been brainwashed for years about keyword density, scraped articles, backlinks, backlinks and more backlinks, that it is good to get reminded of what we as webmasters should be doing.

    Thanks for the info!!!

    PD: I agree specially with point 1

    avatar Josh Brancek says:

    Wow Jill, thanks for these tips!!! Will implement them ASAP.

    Good points! website owners need to treat their sites as precious “child” because they invested much into it

    avatar Shenzhen Lead Opto-Technology Co. Ltd says:

    Google Indexed Pages principle is such that there is nothing new things repeated, would not like to see people. Our website is a must to do these four points.

    I really like Google! Unfortunately, Google out of the Chinese market, foreign trade promotion, Google to bring traffic is really powerful!

    Good tips. I really like the point of taking care of your website like it was your child. If a website owner is truly concerned about their customers and submitting information to help them become more aware of the products or service I would think all this would fall into place naturally. However, it is always nice to be reminded of the things we need to do to meet googles requirements because google does keep changing the rules and it can be confusing at times.

    avatar Hadi Nugraha says:

    Excellent read. I’m focusing now on building the authority. Even I change google’s name profile, for the sake of authority.

    avatar Bloggerwan says:

    Many times I notice that people are saying,”Don’t write for search engine but for human”. But people find the article from search engine didn’t they?

    Great article. Sent me home with a bit of homework as I have not written bios as I felt self conscious. I write a lot and felt wordy but now I feel like more of an authority. Thanks for the great information.

    avatar Bill Wynne says:

    Loved the organized way of presenting the valuable information. This has made me rethink the use of a spinner to get other blogs going with some ready made content.

    It seems when you take shortcuts or try to play a game you will lose long term.

    avatar WorldAffiliates says:

    Thank you for your always qualified articles, we have great pleasure in the knowledge you provide..
    Best Regards
    Sonny
    WorldAffiliates Team

    avatar SEO servis says:

    Great tips, showing continuous effort of Google showing relevant content. Unfortunately it works good for me only when I am searching for an answer to my question. Not so good, when I want to purchase something. That time I am not interested in Wikipedia…
    So I am forced to use different SE in such cases.

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