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SEO Website Audit

4 Google Trust Factors That Can Provide Negative Signals About Your Website

June 19, 2013

Image Credit: ElycefelizWhen Google first came out with their Panda algorithm, Amit Singhal (Google's Chief Engineer, who designed it) provided a list of potential factors that Google looks at to determine the trustworthiness of any website. This was more than two years ago, but many of the sites I review today still show signs of "untrustworthiness" in Google's eyes. To top it off, Google has clamped down even harder on its Panda and Penguin algorithms during the past 2 years.

This means that it's more important than ever to review your websites for the first 17 SEO killer attributes that I've previously written about, but also to look at that last one, #18 (trustworthiness), which we don't hear so much about.

While just about anything you do with your site that makes it seem spammy (such as keyword stuffing, for example) would also make it seem less trustworthy, Google now looks beyond just the obvious. Because many of them are somewhat redundant, I've distilled Mr. Singhal's trust questions down to 4 main factors:

1. Expertness
2. Comprehensiveness
3. Redundancy
4. Lack of Proofreading

Below is more information on each these factors as well as the questions Google wants you to ask yourself about your site, how your site might be sending a negative signal with respect to each factor, how you can fix your site, and some key information you can learn from each of them.

Google Trust Factor #1: Expertness

What Google asks: Is this content written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallower in nature? Similarly, is the site a recognized authority on its topic? In addition, does it contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: You'd be surprised how many websites I see with blogs that have no byline attached to their posts. They're usually posted by some default "admin" or maybe a first name only, with no bio at the beginning or end of the article, or any sort of link to a bio page.

The fix: Whether or not you write your own blog posts, you need to associate a name with them. If you're a small company, you'll often want to use the CEO, owner, or president's name. It's also fine to have multiple authors if you're a larger company. But you will need to establish the credibility of each of them. Of course, beyond just having a byline and bio, you should also mark up your code with the rel="author" markup.

Key takeaway: Anyone can write or say anything on the Internet, but that doesn't make it true. By having a name, face, and bio associated with your content, you're standing by it and its factualness (and vice versa). Therefore, it makes sense for Google to use this as part of their algorithm.

Google Trust Factor #2: Comprehensiveness

What Google asks: Is this the sort of page you'd want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend? Does the content provide complete or comprehensive description of the topic? Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?

How your site might be sending a negative signal:
It's not surprising that most of the blogs I saw that weren't associating any name with their posts were also not very comprehensive. In fact, they often didn't appear to be written for real people at all. They seemed to exist only because someone (probably some "SEO") told the site owner they needed a blog for SEO purposes. And of course most of the posts were useless drivel only there to link to other parts of the website via keyworded anchor text. Which of course misses the whole point of having a blog in the first place.

The fix: Remember why blogs exist. The idea of a blog (and content marketing in general) is to add value to your site. It enables you to go above and beyond talking about the products or services you offer. In short, it's a way to demonstrate your (or your company's) expertise. Write about what you know and know well.

Key takeaway: Forget about SEO when you're trying to decide what to put in your blog and instead think about hot topics in your industry -- not so you can rank for those keywords, but so you can provide your own unique perspective. This in turn will be exactly the sort of content Google is looking for -- that is, content that people bookmark and share.

Google Trust Factor #3: Redundancy for the Sake of Keywords

What Google asks: Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations? Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: This is such an old-school SEO technique that apparently worked for so long that some website owners are loath to give it up. I mean, why have one page on any given topic and be relevant for one or two keyword phrases when you can have 10 or more and corner the market on all the relevant phrases? At least that's how the thinking went. And to a certain extent it did work well in Google before Panda. But when you've lost a huge percentage of your organic traffic, you can't keep clinging to the spammy practices of yore.

The fix: Find all the pages of your website that focus on the same or very similar topics and combine them into just one. (If they're different enough you may be able to keep a few, but be completely honest with yourself here!) It's especially necessary to remove those pages that are basically just "madlib spam." After you've got them combined, be sure to 301-redirect all the old URLs to the one new and improved page's URL.

Key takeaway: The good news is that the newer Google algorithms understand synonyms and the overall meaning of words and phrases.

This means it is no longer necessary to have all the keywords you'd like to be found for on the page itself. Sure, you want to use lots of variations within the page content, but don't worry if you miss some. If you have a great site that others like to recommend to their audiences, your pages will show up in the search results when relevant.

Google Trust Factor #4: Lack of Proofreading

What Google asks: Does this article have spelling, grammar, stylistic, or factual errors? How much quality control is done on content? Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?

How your site might be sending a negative signal: This trust factor goes beyond merely having typos on your website. While it should be an obvious bad signal, you'd be surprised how many sites I've reviewed have content that doesn't even make sense! It's as if the people writing the content were only concerned with using keywords, rather than making sense. (What a shocker!) I've also seen content that has been pasted onto sites from elsewhere that didn't even have proper formatting such as paragraph spacing, or had weird characters that show up in the process.

The fix: Pay attention, for goodness' sake! Don't use automated programs to pull content from elsewhere unless you're prepared to carefully review it and fix all errors. Write for your target audience, not the search engines. (Where have you heard that before?) And treat your website like a precious child. Love it, nurture it, pay attention to it, and take care of it in all aspects!

Key takeaway: If even you can't read your content to make sure that it looks okay and makes some semblance of sense, why would anyone else? And consequently, why would Google want to showcase it?

While Google certainly  looks at other trust factors, these 4 are the main troublemakers for most of the websites I've reviewed. (Along with the usual technical issues and spammy link building techniques, of course.) What others have you seen with your own sites or those of your clients? Let me know in the comments!


Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of Jill Whalen High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Carl Potts said:
Perfect thanks Jill, I've had clients who believe they could just copy/paste articles from elsewhere to include on their site(s)this might convince them its a no-no
 Greg Kavonius said:
Thanks for providing great Trust Factor examples. I too have seen numerous articles written that exclude citing credentials, thus reducing credibility. I really enjoyed your article!
 John Tully said:
What do you think the lack of an address on a site? If I don't see an address I get suspicious - do you think Google does the same?
 Jill Whalen said:
@john Probably. And also a lack of an about us page I would think might be a bad signal.
 Anonymous said:
Thanks for your suggestion you have approached to us. These basic things are very imp that I missed many times during seo. Many expert reviews and suggestion I have read so far and must say, out of them, almost 90% are same suggestion.

 Robyn Bradley said:
Great article, as always, Jill. I'm wondering what your take is on including date/time stamps for blog posts. Do you recommend it or not, and why? :) I was talking to a marketing colleague about this today, and she said the problem with dates is that they often show up in Google searches, and people might not click on content that's older (despite the fact the content might still be great and relevant). Thoughts?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Robyn, it's a tricky one because of what you mentioned. But I think it's important to do anyway. You have to be honest about the dates. And yes, I think it's certainly possible that that's a trust signal as well.

What I've done in the past and probably will continue to do is to update an article, and then put the new date on it. That way people are getting the most up to date content that they should be getting, plus you get the benefit of a new date without lying about it! You may want to mention at the beginning of the article that it was updated, but that's really a preference and it depends on the article itself.
 Robyn Bradley said:
Thanks! That's a good idea about updating the content and the date. Love your newsletter!
 Ray Watson said:
It's especially necessary to remove those pages that are basically just "madlib spam." After you've got them combined, be sure to 301-redirect all the old URLs to the one new and improved page's URL.

Jill, why not just delete the spammy pages? Why do you need to 301 them? Wouldn't Google eventually pick up that those pages are gone?
 Jill Whalen said:
I always prefer 301 redirects to preserve any link popularity and PageRank.
 Matthew Allen said:
What about using authorship for outsourced content? I am hesitant to attach my own rel?=author tag to content that I didn't actually write (for some of my niche sites) - but the SEO benefits are seemingly to great to ignore. Thoughts?
 Jill Whalen said:
Matthew, I would ask the people who are publishing it if they will allow you to add it. If they're smart and savvy, they should have not problem with it.
 Heath Huffman said:
Good article Jill for novice website owners about Google's Panda and Penguin SEO changes. We have had many of our clients complain about drops in traffic over the last year. This post might help explain to them why that is happening, and to stop using their old, out dated SEO tactics.
 Miss Neha said:
Really it will help many webmaster! by the way thanks for the information