Are You In The Circle Of Link Trust?

How do you define "link popularity?" I talk daily with SEO/SEM firms, content creators, interactive agencies, marketing firms, ad agencies, PR firms, and with other consultants. It’s amazing how varied people’s beliefs are with regards to link popularity, but as different as they are, all share a common purpose. Search ranking. I rarely have a conversation related to link building or online publicity where the topic of search rank does not come up.

Some very astute people think link popularity is purely an external numbers game: get all the links you can. The more astute know that "trust" is where it’s at. It’s all about trust. But finding consensus on a definition of "algorithmic trust" is a complicated thing. The way one site earns trust will be different than how another site must earn trust. And a site that has already earned some degree of trust often sees the residue of that trust benefit new pages on their existing site. 

Example? I rank first for the term link bait strategies, but that page is almost brand new. Without having one single link from other sites pointing to that page, that page ranks first for a very competitive term (1,010,000 matches). Why?

In the movie Meet The Parents, Robert DeNiro talked to Ben Stiller about the "circle of trust." You were either in or you weren’t. I’ll use this analogy with Google. Google trusts my site. It’s old, it’s naturally linked. It’s never played on the dark side of the street. In contrast, Search Engine Land is a new site. It’s still earning its way into the circle of trust, which means despite articles getting many links, they still might not rank, as Danny’s written recently.

The circle isn’t a physical place. You don’t get a membership card or access to the Google Jet. What you get is a sort of reputational benefit of the doubt that your new content will be as trustworthy as your existing content has proven to be. Your own content algorithmically vouches for your own new content. In this case, algorithmic trust had nothing to do with external inbound links. It had everything to do with previously earned on-site trust.

In the course of seeking new links and publicity for new content on an existing site, don’t ignore your already trustworthy content as a driver of reputation for the new content. If you are in the enviable position of already having high rankings, if you’re in the circle of link trust, leverage it. 

I see strong evidence that once you gain circle of trust status with any search engine, on-site factors like title tags and keyword anchors are also given more trust. Sometimes link popularity is right in front of you.

Eric Ward has been in the link building and content publicity game since 1994, providing services ranking from linking strategy to a monthly private newsletters on linking for subscribers, The Ward Report. The Link Week column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Building: General | Link Week Column


About The Author: has been creating linking strategies for clients since 1994. Eric publishes the strategic linking advice newsletter LinkMoses Private, and provides linking services, training and consulting via

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Eric Enge

    Well said, Eric. I have seen the “circle of trust” work for sites we work on too. It’s amazing how quickly you can gain rank for major terms once you are in the circle. You can rank for competitive terms in a week or two.

  • Mike McDonald

    I agree 100% with the circle of trust concept. I have no doubt we can find lots of examples – I’ve seen it work in our own network many times. However, the obvious question then becomes ‘how do you get in there?’

    As you suggested, trust is a relative term to a great extent. Google being Google and all they no doubt have some sort of scoring system to establish the parameters of the ‘circle’… so what are we looking at?

    I agree that age of domain is probably a factor… but what else? How does one objectively ‘score’ reputation? Type of links in? The ‘circle status’ of inbound link sites? The quality and number of sites you link to – and their ‘circle status’?

    All/some/none of the above algorithmically scored and sorted. On the one hand it leaves you marveling yet again at those clever Googlers. On the other hand it’s not hard to see where webmasters might be increasingly paranoid and worried about who they link and how they are linked…

  • Michael Martinez

    Domain age really doesn’t matter when it comes to achieving rankings success, but older domains are more likely to have earned many natural inbound links.

    However, trust begins at home. If you don’t trust your own content enough to link to it and show the search engines which pages you feel are most important, why should anyone else?

    I’ve been advising people to do this for years, and for years I’ve watched many sites do just fine by working first with their own links and content and not pursuing aggressive link building strategies.

  • Frank T

    I couldn’t agree with you more Danny. I’ve seen this hold true for the last few years. I guess it can be another word for the sandbox theory. I prefer to call it the “shinizil circle”. Any site not within the “shinizil circle”, isn’t worth a shinizil! :)

    Have fun in the great Pacific Northwest, it’s a lil chilly here!

  • Halfdeck

    I like the circle of trust reference, but I don’t see how the term “link bait strategies” is competitive. Sure, it returns over a million results. But how much traffic does it yield, and how many sites are aggressively targetting that term?

    “allintitle:link bait strategy” returns 20 results, while “allintitle:link bait strategies” returns 6 results. So just a handful of sites are aggressively targetting that phrase. Unique/month for both keywords are close to nil as well.

    So I don’t think you need a whole lot of “trust” to rank for that term. You got a link from the home page with the term in the anchor text, the word “linkbait” in the url and the term in the TITLE element. Other pages that come up for that term all mention you, so I also assume those pages link to your page. I think that’s all you need.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide