SEO – PageRank versus TrustRank

One year I visited a county fair, it wasn’t one of your fly-by-night county fairs but a big festival, roller coasters, ghost trains, show bags; The works! It easily cleared a million people per day and was a great opportunity for the local businesses to come out and show their stuff. One of the local finance businesses had a really nice stall, white and blue plastic canvas over a caravan like frame, it had a clear plastic window, and smartly-dressed staff taking details of potential customers outside. After each person signed their name they would take them in the large enclosed pavilion tent to a nice little leather couch with air conditioning, serving tea and coffee, as they waited for a consultation. I think most of the parents were there just to rest their feet while their kids were in the play room. It was very professional. I stood outside looking at it wondering if I should go in and enjoy that sweet sweet air conditioning, even if I didn’t need any accountancy work at the time, maybe I could make something up, after all everyone inside looked so relaxed. But that isn’t why I remembered this moment.

The reason why I remember this time is because right next door was another company, a gaudy accountancy agency stall, bright yellow, with wacky waving tube men, girls in tiny shorts and tight tops handing out frisbees and at one point a guy in underwear and a cape came out yelling about how they can make free money if they sign up with them. People were taking pictures out the front of this one but no one was actually going in.

I didn’t go into either that day but it did stick with me as an example of polar opposites of advertising, one selling professionalism and trust and the other selling spectacle. Which got my attention and which got my trust?

What is PageRank?

When Google first started as a search engine (originally called ‘Backrub’) it was based on one algorithm, how many links does a page have leading to it? It was theorised if you trust a site, you’d link to it as a source. Makes sense. It gave a score out of ten, with the higher the score, the higher you are in the Google Search rankings. This is what is known as PageRank. Strangely enough, the term PageRank has nothing to do with webpages, but is actually named after one of the Google founders Larry Page. Now you know and knowing is half the battle.

But like that gaudy yellow accountancy stall at the county fair, it became abundantly clear attention does not equal trust. Many ‘Link Farms’ grew out of this concept allowing you to buy links to raise your search ranking for particular keywords. If this continued it would be sure to be the end of Google as a trusted search engine. This is why Google demoted the use of PageRank as just one of the many factors in an ever growing, and secret, algorithm to establish it’s search ranking.

Welcome the TrustRank.

Remember that professional looking stall at the county fair, it sure looked nice, but honestly they weren’t going to get a lot of high paying clients from it. They pampered them, they spoke with them about their goals but amongst it all they started the relationship of trust. Only the start. Over many years of giving out good advice and good service, with a bit of luck, they would of grown a client base and a reputation, leading to more clients and eventually working with established corporations. This is the principle of TrustRank. Trust starts out small and grows over time. It requires constant effort and relies heavily on netting those big fish at the end to give you a big thumbs up.

TrustRank, much like PageRank, also is a link tracking algorithm developed by Yahoo! and Standford Engineers and adopted by Google that not only takes into account how many sites link to a web page but also by their quality, or reputation, of those web pages with backlinks to you. Trusted authorities with high trust rankings are usually large government websites, universities, research centres and corporations, but also other sites that have built up their trust rank over time by providing quality and consistent content, that relates to the keywords users search for. The ongoing goal of building TrustRank is to get linked to by one or more of these highly trusted sites and move up the Google search rankings.

How do you know the trust rank of a site?

Short answer, you don’t. Long answer, You don’t, no one does, it’s a secret. Google and other search engines have to keep this information secret to prevent the repeat of rising shady (black hat) marketing practices. But there are some ways of guessing;

  • Does the site look professional?
  • Do they have a lot of ads (the more ads the less trustworthy it may be)?
  • Do they have a reliable Top Level Domain (TLD), such as .gov, .edu or .org?
  • Do they score high on organic (non-paid) search rankings for competitive keywords?
  • Do they have a good reputation outside of the Internet?
  • Are they linked to other known trusted sites? (you can figure this out with some advanced search engine tools or general research).
It takes time and commitment to grow trust.

One of the biggest problems that many companies fail to understand about rising to page one of the google search ranking is that it takes time, and commitment. Not days, not weeks, but months if not years! It’s understandable for the impatience, they want return on investment, and the quicker the better. However, it is impossible to rise to the top of a Google search rank organically on your first day of going live. Trust needs to be earned not bought. This is where you should ask where your company wants to be in five or ten years? Do you want to be the place where people turn to when searching for advice, or do you want to be yelling out front of a tent in your underwear and a cape?