User Experience

SEO: How Google Decides If Consumers Can Trust You

Consumers base purchase decisions in part on trust. Google is working on ways to algorithmically determine trust, in an attempt to send searchers to the best sites.

Think about how you make a large purchase decision. Maybe you research specifications and read reviews. Maybe you ask friends what they think about a brand, a site, or a product. Maybe you want the expert opinion of a salesperson or the confidence that examining the physical product provides. Maybe you compare prices and policies, like shipping and returns.

However you make a purchase decision, you have your own set of criteria that need to be met before you feel confident — confident in the product and confident it the store from which you’re making the purchase.

However you make a purchase decision, you have your own set of criteria that need to be met before you feel confident — confident in the product and confident it the store from which you’re making the purchase.

Google is developing algorithms that detect online behavior that mimics those confidence builders. Presumably other engines like Bing are, as well, but Google’s plans are the most widely known.

Friendship Signals

Friends trust friends. Google has long been working on understanding relationships between people and the information they share. The Google+ platform and Google’s recently resurrected deal with Twitter point a continued interest in relationships and the things that people find important enough to share.

Google has also been working to show those signals in its search results. Searchers logged in to Google can see the pictures of their friends who have shared something relevant to their search. Data shows that those pictures of people they know draw the searcher’s eye down past the top results to the one that was shared.

At this point, the pictures are exclusive to pages shared in Google+, but with the Twitter relationship, it’s possible that the use of friend images could expand.

Reputation Signals

Within those sharable moments, Google could also determine sentiment. People are mentioning a brand, but are those mentions positive or negative? Sentiment analysis is remarkably difficult. But Google has solved many difficult challenges in the past. With a large enough body of text — say the entire Internet and access to data from one large (Twitter) and another smaller (Google+) social network — the number of clearly positive or negative mentions may be large enough to apply, to impact search results at some point.

In addition to boiling the ocean of the Internet, reputation can be more quickly distilled from the many reviews sites, and from the mass of reviews on businesses’ own ecommerce sites.

The most recent set of Quality Rating Guidelines prepared by Google’s human quality rating team, leaked last year, do mention that a small business should not be penalized for having no reputation information associated with it.

The guidelines only apply to the decisions that the quality rating team makes when they’re manually reviewing sites to determine if they should be penalized. But it’s a safe bet that Google is working to algorithmically determine these signals as well.

Authority Signals

The quality guidelines also stressed the importance of EAT in determining a site’s quality — Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. It’s likely that if Google has a human team working on assessing EAT, it is also attempting to solve the problem algorithmically.

The authorship program that displayed the mug shot of article authors next to the search result is one example of a program designed to understand authority. Google incentivized authors to sign up for this program with the reward of displaying their picture in the search results. After three years the program was dismantled, however.

Regardless, Google’s continued work on surfacing long-form content by expert authors, as well as the EAT guidelines, point to a continued interest in establishing personal expertise as a ranking signal.

Legitimacy Signals

In its quest to provide searchers with the most relevant search results and the most positive search experience, Google is also working on legitimacy signals for ecommerce sites. This is another area exposed in its Quality Rating Guidelines.

Legitimate sites that inspire trust contain some basic components: contact forms with phone numbers and addresses, shipping information, and exchange and return policies. Sites lacking these may not be considered legitimate ecommerce businesses and are likely to be demoted by the quality raters.

Google is likely working on algorithmic methods of determining business legitimacy. This is presumably easier for Google to achieve, based on its access to massive quantities of business data in its Google Maps databases.

Trust and Ecommerce

My SEO recommendation here is to be trustworthy. As with many search engine optimization recommendations, it’s easier said than done.

Friendship and authority signals require content that’s engaging and valuable to your customers, and worthy of being shared.

Reputation has a lot to do with business practices, and sometimes luck. Turning around a poor reputation is a discipline all to itself.
Legitimacy is perhaps the easiest perception to change. Make sure to include contact information and policies on how you plan to do business. If you’re not willing to do that, you’ll probably be facing other issues with your SEO performance.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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