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September 9, 2015

Topical Trust Flow Replacing PageRank & Why It Matters


Once upon a time a site’s PageRank was the telling factor in its importance. A higher PageRank equated to more traffic. High ranking pages usually tended to do better than their lesser ranking competitors. As a result, more and more companies decided to buy into the mindset that a high PageRank score equated to a successful website.

Recent research has discovered something that a lot of people have suspected for some time: PageRank is no longer as important as it used to be.

Today’s Internet marketing paradigm has shifted away from this focus—and it’s a big deal.

No longer is PageRank considered the be-all and end-all of success measurements. Now a new measure of success of a page has emerged, and it’s hardly surprising. For those of us who have noted the trend in Google’s algorithmic updates over the past few years, it’s no surprise that PageRank has taken a hit. Google’s updates make it seem, as though it wants to deliver value to their search customers over quantity.

That’s the reason why good content has become more of a selling point in high-performing sites recently.

This new ranking system is known as Topical Trust Flow, and it’s something that should concern you, if you intend to remain relevant. Let’s dive in.

What is Topical Trust Flow?

Topical Trust Flow is a metric that was introduced by Majestic SEO in order to determine the topical relevance of a site based on its links with other sites that remain on topic. Although Majestic SEO was the first to release Topical Trust Flow, recent research by Moz has shown exactly how useful this metric is. Google’s evaluation of a site is no longer limited to a handful of variables. Very few webmasters consider keywords a viable marketing strategy and with good reason. Google’s new updates have moved away from a keyword-based system and have centered on the idea of value, something encapsulated by the Topical Trust Flow metric.

Engagement and Relevance

Moz’s study sought to determine what sort of correlation existed between certain data points and the traffic they generated. They set about this research by including more data points than any of their previous studies. The study demonstrated that the higher traffic a site had, the better it ranked. Although this could be considered the other way around (i.e. the PageRank value influenced the incoming traffic), it was more likely that the PageRank score was a result of good branding and having a trusted name. What was more surprising was the engagement value compared to the PageRank result.

Moz measured the bounce rate of sites in this study as well, taking a prompt from SimilarWeb’s Global Ranking system. A lower bounce rate meant a higher engagement with the user. It meant that the site was more relevant to the user’s needs. Lo and behold, the lower the bounce rate on the site, the better the site ranked. Because this is an isolated study, you should take the results with a grain of salt. It is easy to link correlation with causation, but a lot harder to prove that that is the case. Based on what we know from Google’s algorithm’s trends however, this might seem the way their search processing is going: delivering relevant sites to users which then drives up the site’s PageRank on a certain topic due to its Topical Trust Flow score.

4 Recent Trends in SEO that Point to a Value-Based Search System

How do we know that this value-based search system is what Google is aiming to create? All we have to do is look at the recent trends in SEO that Google has helped bring about with its algorithm changes. Starting with Panda and Penguin, Google has slowly been bringing the Internet back to users by offering them search results based on relevance. Human beings appreciate this because their thinking is topic-based most of the time. Because of Google’s updates we have noticed certain trends in SEO recently such as:

1. How Important Content has Become: The statement ‘Content is King’ is so overused these days that in the marketing world it can probably be relegated to a cliché. Producing content regularly is high on Google’s list of demands, but creating relevant and topical content is more important than simply putting out any old piece of content you have lying around to attract users. The statistics show that the higher ranked pages on searches tend to have more words, meaning that long-form content is still a viable marketing strategy.

This is important to you because it gives you a roadmap on how to increase your traffic. Remember, traffic is linked to PageRank, but it is very possible that your Topical Trust Flow is linked to how many people you attract. Creating content that targets your niche, is on topic and relevant to the needs of your audience is what you should be doing here. The result is that you will end up with more relevant users visiting your site and increasing your authority score for that particular topic.

2. User Experience and Interactivity: People enjoy visiting a well-designed site. Some people have preferred sites because of their design elements over their content. Websites that have better traffic tend to be those that are better structured and offer a more user-friendly environment. Catering to your users is important in keeping them coming back. Your content is important, no doubt, but so is how you present your website.

Again, a site designed around good user experience should be based around a theme. Topical relevance is, therefore, just as important to your design as it is to your content. Thematic elements should make it easy to locate information or subsections on the site. This increases the user interaction and decreases the bounce rate: a major factor in determining your overall Topical Trust Flow score.

3. Optimized Pages: Websites at the top of the PageRank queue tend to have their details properly optimized. This includes proper use of Meta tags for titles and descriptions. Let’s be honest here, no user is going to click into a site that has no description or a “no title” for the homepage. This isn’t 1998 anymore and users have more expectations from a site than simply information on a page. Additionally, these sites were designed to load fast in order to deal with the shorter attention span of modern users.

What this means is that your page should utilize your description tags and your title tags to build your topical relevance. You want to make it easy for Google to rank you well in a topic-specific search because that equates to a better PageRank score for that topic. Remember: relevance is the most important value here. The more relevant you are in a particular field, the better your Topical Trust Flow.

4. Keywords Fading in Relevance: We all know about the dark time in the Internet’s history where keyword stuffing was the order of the day. Google has since made the overuse of keywords a thing of the past for top-ranked pages. However, it has still been a relevant factor in search ranking. At least until now. Google’s algorithms, as we have noted before, are slowly moving away from keyword-based rankings and more into topical rankings since it appeals to the value-based search system that Google is promoting on the modern Internet.

This might mean breaking with your dearly held values about keyword density and usage. You’re still likely to be penalized for keyword overuse of course, but you’re less likely to see results if you lean on a 2% to 5% keyword density as the major SEO practice on your page. Creating content that is relevant and topical is more likely to result in an increase in traffic than trying to fit keywords under the critical limit. The Internet has moved on from 2004 SEO practices and if you haven’t kept up with it, now would be a great time to start.

What This Means for the Future of Search

What Google is working on accomplishing for web search is innovative and insightful.

Here’s a crazy thought, though: if Google had proposed this about ten years ago, people would probably have laughed.

To produce a page of search results where the top ten results get you the information you need? The thought was preposterous.

Now however, it could be a reality before we even know it. By leaning on Topical Trust Flow as a ranking metric in delivering results, Google has moved away from building results that are helpful to a robot and created a search engine that gives results helpful to a human being. Google’s “human-based” results have resulted in huge changes in how we see SEO and as time goes by these changes will become permanent. Relevant content is more important now than it ever has been. SEO has changed under our very noses and many of us weren’t even paying attention when it did.


Julia McCoy is a serial content marketer, entrepreneur, and bestselling author. She founded a multi-million dollar content agency, Express Writers, with nothing more than $75 at 19 years old. Today, her team has nearly 100 expert content creators on staff, and serves thousands of clients around the world. She's earned her way to the top 30 worldwide content marketers, and has a passion for sharing what she knows in her books and in her online course, The Content Strategy & Marketing Course. Julia also hosts The Write Podcast on iTunes.