Chapter 5: Trust, Authority, Identity & Search Rankings

If search engines can decide to trust links or social accounts, can they learn to trust websites? Absolutely. Many SEOs believe that site trust plays a big role in whether a site will succeed or fail from a search perspective.

Ta: Authority

Is your site an authority? Is it a widely recognized leader in its field, area, business or in some other way? That’s the goal.

No one knows exactly how search engines calculate authority and, in fact, there are probably multiple “authority” signals. The type of links your site receives (lots of quality or ‘neighborhood’ links?) or social references (from respected accounts?) and engagement metrics (long clicks?) may all play a role in site authority. Of course, negative sentiment and reviews may hurt site authority.

There’s little doubt that search engines try to assess authority. One only needs to look through the questions Google told publishers to ask themselves in building high-quality sites that should be immune to “Panda” updates. The words trust, authority and expertise are all frequently mentioned.

Te: Engagement

A quality site should produce meaningful interactions with users. Search engines may try to measure this interaction – engagement – in a variety of ways.

For example, how long do users stay on your page? Did they search, click through to your listing but then immediately “bounce” back to the results to try something else? That “pogosticking” behavior can be measured by search engines and could be a sign that your content isn’t engaging.

Conversely, are people sending a relatively long time reviewing your content, in relation to similar content on other sites? That “time on site” metric or “long click” is another type of engagement that search engines can measure and use to assess the relative value of content.

Social gestures such as comments, shares and “likes” represent another way that engagement might be measured. We’ll cover these in greater detail in the Social section of this guide.

Search engines are typically cagey about the use of engagement metrics, much less the specifics of those metrics. However, we do believe engagement is measured and used to inform search results.

More information about engagement is available in the following category:

Th: History

Since search engines are constantly visiting your website, they can get a sense of what’s “normal” or how you’ve behaved over time.

Are you suddenly linking out to what the search engines euphemistically call “bad neighborhoods”? Are you publishing content about a topic you haven’t typically covered? Such things might raise alarm bells.

Then again, sites do change just like people do, and often for the better. Changes aren’t taken in isolation. Other factors are also assessed to determine if something worrisome has happened.

Similarly, a site with a history of violating guidelines and receiving multiple penalties may find it more difficult to work their way back to search prominence. We increased the weight of this factor, in part because we’re seeing that Google doesn’t forget things like Penguin easily.

In the end, a good overall track record may help you. An older, established site may find it can keep cruising along with search success, while a new site may have to “pay its dues,” so to speak, for weeks, months or even longer to gain respect.

You can also read up on articles which look specifically at domain registration issues:

Ti: Identity

Search engines have explored various ways to help verify web sites as well as authors that are writing for them. Perhaps the most dramatic attempt was Google Authorship. While Google ended Google Authorship in 2014, the search engine still tries to assess authorship for use with Author Rank in other ways.

Identity and authorship systems will likely continue to evolve. At the moment, among the best ways to tap into identity signals involve Klout for Bing, verifying sites with Bing Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console plus linking your site to Google+.

Chapters: Home1: Factors2: Content3: Architecture4: HTML5: Trust6: Links7: Personalization8: Social9: Violations