Chapter 5: Trust, Authority & Search Rankings
If search engines can decide to trust links or social accounts, can they learn to trust websites? Absolutely. There are several factors that go into establishing a site that both users and search engines will deem trustworthy. Here we dive into the Trust elements of the Periodic Table of SEO Factors.
“Just to frame what we consider to be trustworthy, imagine you have an e-commerce website, and there is a user coming to your website,” says Frédéric Dubut, senior program manager lead for Bing.
“The first question you need to ask yourself is the question they’re going to ask themselves: ‘Can I give my credit card number to that website and be confident that it’s going to be in good hands?’ You can see the extreme where there’s a very famous e-commerce website operating in Seattle [Amazon] and, obviously, everyone is going to give their credit card number to them; you know that your credit card number is in good hands.”
“And then, you get a bunch of websites that have blog articles that have clearly been rushed and they have a lot of typos and the links to TrustPilot, for example, are not working and there are a lot of these small signs that make you think, ‘Well, something is not right here. I don’t really feel comfortable giving my credit card number to this site.’ As a webmaster, as a site owner, you just need to think, where in this scale, are you? Are you closer to Amazon or are you closer to that website with a lot of typos and whose help links are not working?” asks Dubut.
Let’s dive in.
Being an authority typically means being a widely recognized leader in your field or business sector, and that’s very useful when the goal is to rank well organically.
Sites in your money, your life (YMYL) niches that offer financial or medical advice are particularly scrutinized. In 2019 Google confirmed that for YMYL queries, it will “give more weight in our ranking systems to factors like our understanding of the authoritativeness, expertise, or trustworthiness of the pages we present in response.”
“Google said, ‘Hey, if we’re going to recommend this content to people, we need to make sure it’s trustworthy, authoritative and an expert’s writing it,’” says Search Engine Land News Editor Barry Schwartz.
Google primarily assesses authority on a per-page basis; however, sitewide signals may also be used to supplement individual pages. The types of links your pages receive (particularly from reputable websites and other sites within your niche), the words used within and surrounding those backlinks, engagement metrics, how long your site has been operating and even reviews may be used as signals for search engines to measure authority.
Google also contracts human raters to evaluate the quality of pages that appear in the top results and the guidelines they follow reference expertise, authority and trust (or EAT). Raters do not directly affect rankings, but their feedback is used to improve Google’s search algorithms, so learning how they assess pages may help you create authoritative content that better serves users and search engines.
(Note that tools that attempt to evaluate “page authority” or “domain authority” are simply guesses by third-party companies based on how they think search engines are scoring things — those metrics aren’t actually used in search engine algorithms.)
High quality web pages should elicit meaningful interactions with users. Aspects of those interactions may be quantified through engagement metrics such as time on page, bounce rate, average session duration and so on.
Search engines are typically reluctant to divulge how, or even if, engagement metrics are used in their algorithms. And, just because a search engine has a patent on how engagement could be used to inform search rankings doesn’t necessarily mean it’s currently putting it to use.
Nevertheless, quality content and user experience are a big part of SEO, and prioritizing them should have a positive effect on your engagement and conversion rates.
You can encourage more engagement by keeping user intent in mind, introducing user-generated content and improving your internal linking, among other tactics. We believe engagement is measured and if search engines are factoring engagement metrics into their algorithms, your rankings will be better for it.
It can take time for publications to establish a reputation by adhering to rigorous standards for fact-checking and original reporting. That reputation carries a lot of weight in the minds of readers, and the same is true for search engines.
The exact signals the search engines use to evaluate reputation aren’t known, but think about the people, sites, institutions whose reputations you hold in high regard. They have probably established that reputation over time by providing reliable and steady information, are cited by others as experts in their field and spoken well of by their colleagues or customers.