Search engines are as important as they are frequently misunderstood. Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t necessarily the larger or more highly trafficked websites that get the higher rankings. Instead, search engines have a number of criteria they use to make that determination: criteria that, in effect, help to level the playing field to let the little guys compete a little more effectively.
One of the most important of those factors is trust. The reasoning behind it goes something like this: while the popularity of a site is definitely important, search engines are also concerned with providing their users with a quality experience. Sites that are more trustworthy, then, are favored over those that are not.
Of course, it’s not all altruistic. Search engines that deliver quality sites are more likely to be used again in the future.
So what kind of signals are used to determine the trustworthiness of a site? For most sites that already employ good Search Engine Optimization practices, many of these will take care of themselves. Even so, let’s get into the details a little more.
Maintain Your Site’s Reliability
One of the most important signals of your site’s credibility is its reliability. This can come in many forms, but at its core it represents your site’s ability to remain in operation consistently, as well as offer stable performance.
We’ve all seen our share of “Page Not Found” messages, so we know how frustrating it can be. To help keep your own visitors from getting frustrated with your site, note that there are some useful tools out there to help you identify pages on your website that might result in a 404 message.
Another important aspect of reliability is your site’s speed. Your average Internet user is exceptionally impatient, which means that even the slightest delay in the loading of your site is going to push them to go elsewhere. We’re literally talking about a couple of seconds here. Since your site’s bounce rate will also count against you in the rankings, you might want to get some help with this one. Google has a useful site speed test that can help you get to the bottom of any speed issues you’re running into.
The final component of reliability is downtime. Some of this is going to be out of your control, or even the control of your host, but not all of it. Just as you want your visitors to trust you, you want to be able to trust your host service. If you think it’s time to look for a new hosting service, there are plenty of resources available to help you make an informed decision.
Improve Your Credibility
Let’s move on to credibility. When it comes to people, there are some fairly straightforward ways to appraise their credibility. Maybe they have an assortment of diplomas hanging on their wall, or they insist that you introduce them as “Doctor” or “High Admiral.” For websites, addressing credibility is a little less straightforward.
One of the most important factors to keep in mind are the quality of the sites that link to yours. If you run a health-themed blog, you’re going to be taken a little more seriously if WebMD links to your site than if some guy on Yahoo Answers does. Of course, the high-profile sites linking to yours should also be relevant to your site’s field of inquiry as often as possible.
Your website’s credibility will also be a direct result of your success or failure at establishing yourself as a destination for authoritative and helpful information. If you cater first and foremost to your users, and resolve to provide them with high quality content, then links to your site will happen naturally, without you having to push quite so much.
Testimonials are also a big thing to keep in mind. Search engine rankings don’t necessarily know how to factor user reviews into their rankings, but they’re still important for earning the trust of your visitors. How many times have you purchased a product without reading a single review about it? It probably doesn’t happen often, so don’t expect your visitors to make a total leap of faith either.
You’re Honest. Make Sure They Know It.
Finally, let’s take a look at ways that websites frequently misuse SEO practices, and how you can set yourself apart from them. Let’s get something straight: the purpose of SEO isn’t solely to be a blunt instrument in bolstering your site’s rankings. Your SEO campaign, at its core, should have the user’s experience in mind.
For example, stuffing keywords and getting neurotic about exact-match keyword anchor links may once have helped search engines with their rankings, but they’re getting better and better at penalizing websites that use deceptive SEO techniques such as these.
Again, SEO should first and foremost offer up a quality user experience, and making visitors wade through clumsy SEO-oriented language before they find the content they’re looking for is a betrayal of their trust.
As we said, Google and other search engines are pretty good at identifying deceptive SEO practices. Even so, there’s a chance your site might fall through the cracks. That said, just remember this: Google might not notice, but your users will.
At the end of the day, all of these signals work together to indicate just one thing: quality content. That is, and always should be, the mandate by which we operate.