No, this post isn’t about Match.com or eHarmony.com (Although, their servers would crash if I signed up).
Human beings are inherently affected by the relationships we have with those around us. Whether these are with friends, family, or significant others, relationships play a vital role in our lives. The same can be said about a business and its online audience. The ability of a company to foster and maintain relationships online directly impacts their end result: where it will end up in the search results. How a company chooses to brand their product and promote themselves online is directly correlated with how it builds these relationships.
In order for a website to rank well in the most dominant search engine, Google, it must adhere to the algorithm developed by Larry Page, aptly referred to now as PageRank. PageRank measures the importance of a website, and determines this ‘importance’ by counting the number and quality of links to a page, among other factors. This is to say, it takes into account both quantity and quality, and sites with the best backlink profiles will strike a great balance here. A strong backlink profile will show a brand that is being featured in conversations in numerous realms throughout the web. Ideally, there will be a wide-ranging quantity of sites linking to the site.
The same way trust is of the utmost importance in real life relationships, it is also key between sites. Your real life reputation is, in many ways, intrinsically similar to how a website’s online reputation looks. Eliot Spitzer may have been wildly popular at one time, but his association with less-than-reputable figures quickly destroyed his reputation and any rapport he had built with his constituents. (Also of note: If you are paying others to have relationships with them, it’s not going to look good for your reputation publically; Google has the same opinion with paid links.)
When it comes to building these relationships online and gaining “friends,” you don’t want to have a voracious appetite toward sites low in authority, as search engines will recognize the low level of sites tied to you. Authority is the measure in which Google trusts these sites. For your brand to improve, it is important to receive links from sites with inherent trust. Building relationships with these high authority pages drastically improves your backlink profile, and in turn your ranking in the SERPs. Think of the difference between something trending on Twitter versus being featured on The Huffington Post; the large amount of discussion surrounding your brand can help it improve, but this discussion is similar to a “15 minutes of fame.” Meanwhile, the lasting presence and trust associated with Huffington Post will provide long-term value for your brand. Further, information coming from a high-authority site is far more trustworthy than something you read on a social platform, or a site low in authority.
So what are the characteristics that make a site trustworthy? While the exact science of the search engines is unknown, there are likely a multitude of factors that determine authority. As stated above, the different types of links you are receiving (i.e. a diverse backlink profile) is important. An analogy often used in SEO is the good/bad neighborhood; think of websites like the houses in a neighborhood, and the links between sites like the streets. If all the houses in the neighborhood are well kept, with white picket fences and perfectly trimmed grass to boot, the property value of all the houses will rise. But once a few of the houses are in need of maintenance and the paint is peeling off the fences, all the houses in the neighborhood start to lose value.
A key component of maintaining this “good neighborhood?” Well-written content. This term is used incessantly in SEO today, but not without merit. A site that is continually updating itself with information to supply the demand from the user, while providing a clean, navigated experience for site visitors is going to have increased authority.
In the online world, history is extremely important as well. Has a site behaved well in the past? Did it violate guidelines or receive penalties for bad practices? Has it looked more like Dennis Rodman, or Prince William with its relationship history? Past behavior is a key indicator in determining whether or not a source is trustworthy. We trust sites like CNN and The New York Times because we know what to expect from them; when a new player emerges in the field, it is going to take some time for this trust to build.
Authorship and identity are growing increasingly difficult to determine when encountering online sources. While we can see people in real life, we are only seeing what is presented to us when we view anything online (just ask Manti Te’o). For this reason, .gov’s and .edu’s carry strong voices online. News syndications carry a similar level of reliability, because they are corroborated voices that the search engines, like you and I, recognize. When the public is cognizant of a brand, it is obviously going to carry more weight.
Keeping these points of authorship, history, and content in mind helps determine the strength of a website. The diversity of sites linking to a business will help its ranking in the SERPs improve, and bridging the gap between quantity and quality is something all companies should be working towards.