While trust is not a new marketing concept, it does not get the attention it deserves in most SEO strategies.
This article will break down the overlooked importance of trust in SEO efforts and how to incorporate trust-building into your strategy.
Overlooking the value of trust is a missed SEO opportunity
Fellow Search Engine Land contributor Andrew Holland expressed dismay over his bad user experience with a UK-based retail brand. He felt they “didn’t show up” when he needed them as a customer, which in turn blemished his trust in the brand.
Instead of ranting (as I would have), he used the experience as an opportunity to educate, stressing the importance of trust and how it affects SEO.
When people do not trust you and your website, they won’t buy, come back and recommend your products and services.
The retail website Holland referred to has been his go-to for many years, so he might give it another chance.
But for most websites, losing a user’s trust once means losing them as a customer forever.
Google on the importance of trust
The original Google PageRank algorithm measures trust to some extent. Trust is also incorporated into Google algorithms with an increased focus on user experience (UX) and website security.
Trust is also a central component in how Google assesses content quality for search.
Time and again, Google has reiterated the importance of E-A-T on “Your money or your life” (YMYL) topics like health, safety and financial advice.
In December, Google’s revised quality rater guidelines (QRG) for search introduced the updated E-E-A-T concept while emphasizing that “trust” is at the center of the search and is the “most important member of the E-E-A-T family.”
As E-E-A-T signals are among the main elements that Google ranking systems determine, we can safely assume that trust impacts SEO in manifold ways.
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SEO tips for making a trustworthy website
Making your site more trustworthy for searchers and search engines benefits your brand.
Below are tips for improving the overall trust in your site that often affect Google rankings.
1. Name, brand and URL
Use an actual name or brand for your website URL (i.e., brand.com). Choose a trustworthy URL structure that is short, simple and conventional.
Also, consider the following:
- Top-level domain (TLD): Opt for “.com” is still the most trusted TLD (a recent Yandex code leak also supports this).
- Branding: Steer away from exact match domains with many hyphens (e.g., best-seo-company-usa.biz).
Make sure your website URL is readable. Compare this…
2. Clean and working UX
Holland’s example of misguided infinite scroll (plus his inability to catch the footer links) is a concrete example of annoying UX.
Think of the elements that affect the trust on-page. How can you make a good impression from the start?
Mega-menus and interactive menus showing numerous items on mouse over and completely hidden “hamburger menus” are not helpful. Straightforward site navigation is best.
Clean site structure
A clear information architecture follows when you have a clean and simple menu structure.
However, feature creep happens and ongoing additions can make a site confusing quickly.
When in doubt, implement breadcrumb navigation to show visitors where they are at any given moment.
Is your site cluttered and filled with widgets, related stories and ads all vying for the visitor’s attention?
You might be overwhelming users who just landed on your website. They won’t hesitate to leave.
Adding white space (negative space) makes your website readable.
On WordPress, you can install a broken links plugin that automatically checks whether your links work as intended. Some external links do not break but are redirected to parking or rogue sites.
Static sites need to use a website crawler like Screaming Frog occasionally to find out whether their links still work.
In the earlier example, Holland sought helpful content to make the right purchase decisions.
When users know your website offers valuable content, they are more likely to trust you with their money.
Giving something for free first (the content)
The law of reciprocity is one of human relations’ most important rules. People are willing to help when they have received something from the other party.
By delivering helpful content, you are making a good impression on people. As a result, they may even spread the word about you or make a purchase.
An empty site that claims you are the best SEO expert around won’t be persuasive. Trust is established by showing, not telling.
Can you say something to prove your expertise on a subject matter? Then do it.
Many people hold back to protect their “trade secrets” yet lose potential customers that way.
One of the best ways to help is to offer advice. Without sharing your insights, many potential customers must look elsewhere and trust somebody else.
In the good old days of brick-and-mortar stores, you had actual clerks offering advice. This type of free service is substituted by web content.
Why are ads harmful when it comes to trust? Having ads on your site is among the most important negative ranking factors, as the recent Yandex code leak shows.
It’s not just Yandex. With its page layout algorithm, Google has singled out ad-heavy sites as far back as January 2012. In 2014, they went after ad-heavy sites (above the fold) with the “top-heavy algorithm.”
Too many ads, especially animated and blinking ones, are ostracizing visitors. Display ads on your site in moderation. You are not trustworthy when your website is overloaded with ads.
Google takes this into account algorithmically. Likewise, marketers often advocate huge interstitials or overlays that hide the content. Those may grow your conversion rate by 2% but also annoy the other 98%.
How many of those will trust you enough to come back or recommend you?
Above the fold
The page layout algorithm takes care of websites that make it hard to find the actual content behind or below the myriads of ads that look like the content itself.
Use ads above the fold sparingly and clearly separate ads from unpaid content. Tricking people into clicking ads is not trustworthy.
When showing ads, make sure to label them. It must be clear that they are ads or sponsored.
You can do so by saying “ad,” “sponsored” or “advertorial” depending on what you are talking about. In the U.S., the FTC requires such disclosures. Google does, and people want to know in the first place.
You may get fewer clicks but also more returning visitors who will trust you.
Full disclosure of conflicts of interests
Hidden ads are not as easily spotted as you might think.
Often, business people write content on behalf of their employers. It’s editorial content but still an ad or advertorial.
Sometimes it’s even harder to tell because it’s merely a mention inside a post.
Make sure to disclose affiliations when in doubt. You might look biased but also more trustworthy.
Affiliations are often simply links to Amazon or other partner sites.
Over the years, many bloggers linked to Amazon without telling readers they get a commission from the number one ecommerce site.
Thus I stopped reading most blogs that pushed books without telling me they earn money that way. Instead, I trusted those that didn’t.
5. Real humans behind the site
In the era of all-pervading AI and redundant content, showing that real people are behind a business is more important than ever.
Real people who are “trustworthy” are often still the decisive factor in whether someone wants to do business with you.
Some people trust written words, while others want to see you and literally look you in the eyes.
About us page
Your About page should tell them why they should trust you. So you show them your team.
It’s not about whether they look good, but whether real humans are behind your company.
Ideally, you also list reasons why they should trust you. Think of credentials, industry backgrounds, and awards.
Unless you have only a single author on your blog or website, you might want to add author bios to each published article. The more “real” you look, the better.
Even single-author blogs can benefit from them. Personally, I’m not particularly eager to post images online. I also use an illustration based on a photo as my avatar on social media, but I published a recent photo in Search Engine Land.
Real team photos (no stock photography)
Many website owners go the cheap and easy way of showing stock photos suggesting that the people pictured are part of the team.
A professional photographer might help and the investment will pay off in future sales.
In local search results, stock photos are already banned. Google can identify such images and probably also discounts them in general search, too.
Unique, subjective take
Many businesses tend to publish completely impersonal press release type of content full of buzzwords. Numerous departments had approved such noisy content before barely any signal was left in it.
Real human mistakes or biases might be more trustworthy than aloof meaninglessness. As Google aims to reward “first-hand experience,” consider sharing a subjective opinion rather than just an amorphous mix that makes everyone happy.
6. Security and safety measures
Safety and security are often the first things people look at when deciding whether to trust a website or business.
Does the site look sketchy? Then they don’t even bother.
Google has long ago introduced corresponding ranking signals and made them more critical over the years.
HTTPS websites are by now standard for ecommerce. Google uses encryption as “minor ranking factor” officially
Given their extensive documentation on the subject, we can deduce it’s more important than that.
Even informational websites use SSL or other encryption, especially when sending potentially private data through contact forms.
You get a rather small boost from Google, but visitors will be glad to see they are on a secure site.
Trust symbols (badges, reviews, testimonials)
Most SEO agencies display their “Google Partner” badges on their websites. While it works to establish trust for some people, experts know that you get that badge for buying ads.
So you might want to add other relevant badges and trust symbols like verifiable reviews and testimonials with real names on your homepage.
In the U.S., the Better Business Bureau has a seal of approval. It’s not a direct ranking factor, but the QRGs mention it often.
When all your on-page reviews are five stars and enthusiastic, I won’t trust them at all.
Sure, most people don’t read privacy policies, especially those in legalese.
They have to exist, though. Work on making them findable and readable on the website.
Once I realized how invasive trackers and cookies were, I removed all of them from my site.
Then I used third-party tools to locate hidden third-party trackers from Google, Facebook and other web giants.
Tracking your visitors might be off-putting depending on your business whereabouts and what you offer.
Most websites want you to agree to numerous trackers and cookies upon entry, making it difficult to opt-out. You can gain trust immediately by not having any trackers on your site.
In action: Optimizing for search and displaying trust
Back to Holland’s suggestion: I was surprised to find content and advice among the most important ways of establishing trust. Usually, most of the other options I listed above get highlighted first.
He even created a chart showing the impact trust can have on sales:
He goes beyond what usually is meant by trust in the SEO sense by focusing on content creation for informational purposes. He concludes:
- “… a lack of content and rankings has certainly lost my trust. Are they losing the trust of others?”
This is the type of SEO I have practiced myself successfully for years.
I was usually over-sharing my expertise on blogs and social media to establish trust and thus often got opportunities that way.
Many people in SEO work for well-known brands or “Fortune 500” companies behind closed doors after signing NDAs and simply share their credentials by mentioning some brand names they worked for.
Yet we have no way of verifying their expertise. What exactly have they done? Did it push the brand forward?
This is also the kind of trust-building Holland means to some extent. Trustworthy brands can gain additional revenue by offering advice to potential customers, as demonstrated in his example.
Establishing trust: A core competency for SEO practitioners
Who is responsible for establishing trust on a website?
- The design alias UX department to some extent.
- The content team as well.
- The dev team has to implement some technologies like SSL.
Yet the SEO is the ideal person to coordinate those efforts, especially looking for potential issues others overlooked.
I bet the UX team loved the infinite scroll. It may bring some earnings, but at the expense of a broken website and annoyed visitors. You know it isn’t worth it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.