Algorithmic credibility is a powerful search engine optimization strategy concept that, when well understood, can guide your business’s SEO strategy to success.
Novice and part-time SEO practitioners rely on checklists and basic boilerplate tactics to execute SEO campaigns. And that works… until it doesn’t.
One day, an oddball situation arises for which the lists of best practices and basics of SEO don’t get the job done. Then what?
A professional who understands Algorithmic Credibility SEO will apply that knowledge to the situation and build a custom SEO strategy that will drive substantial organic traffic.
Rather than a set of tactics or a step-by-step checklist of items to accomplish, Algorithmic Credibility SEO is a way to understand SEO and organic search. It’s a lens through which you can view and build your own successful SEO strategies, even in situations where the normal checklists fail.
The Explicit Goal of Google Search
This is an excellent way to simply and easily understand how search engines work.
The ultimate search engine
In a 2002 Entrepreneur magazine article, Google co-founder Larry Page is quoted saying, “The ultimate search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.”
This is an excellent way to simply and easily understand how search engines work. Today, the Google website expounds on that simple message on their How Google Search works content. The process is organized in the following steps:
Organizing the Content of the Web
Before Google can give us back exactly what we want, it has to know what is available.
It’s important to understand that there is little to no direct human interaction with the content as it’s being indexed. Google crawls billions of websites in order to collect what information is available on the web. The process that Google uses to decide which sites get crawled and how often is regulated by computer programs and depends on many factors. These include, but are not limited to:
Data from previous crawls, including the perceived quality of the pages
Links on websites, pointing the crawler to new pages and websites to crawl
Requests from website owners, made through a variety of technical tools and techniques. Remember this one because we’ll get back to it.
As websites are crawled, and Google’s computer programs attempt to understand the details of the content and other aspects of the website pages, the pages are added to the Google index. Websites and pages are indexed with what Google calls “key signals,” such as keywords that appear in the content and how new that the content appears to be.
The next part of the Google Search process are search algorithms. Much like the crawling and indexing process is automated by computer programs, so is the process that begins when a user types in a query (or, in some cases, verbally communicates a query to a device such as a smart assistant).
Meaning of your query
What information is the user trying to find? SEO professionals call this user intent.
In order to understand what the user is trying to find, the most important piece of data is the search query.
However, that’s not only the factor that Google uses to understand what the user is seeking. Implicit data such as what kind of device the user is using for the search and where the user is located (assuming that location services are enabled).
For example, when a user searches “McDonald’s” on their mobile device, while outside of their home, the Google algorithms assume that the user is looking for a McDonald’s restaurant near them. Consequently, the most prominent results are most likely going to come from Google Maps and will display nearby locations. With one more click, you can see the location address, phone number, business hours, and can even navigate to the location.
But, what happens if you make the same search from a laptop computer in your home? The Google Map pack still displays in the results but it is pushed down by a more prominent result, which is McDonald’s corporate website. In this case, Google assumes that you are less likely to want directions to the closest location, and you’re more likely to be looking for general information about the McDonald’s company.
Relevance of your webpages
The single most important ranking factor for a web page is how relevant is the content to the user’s query.
Google crawls and indexes trillions of webpages on the web. It uses advanced AI and machine learning to understand the content on these pages. It looks for clues by examining elements like:
The words and phrases in the text
How the webpage is structured with things like headers and lists
How the webpage fits within the larger site
It also uses interaction data to understand how relevant a webpage is for a particular web query.
In layman’s terms, Google conducts experiments by serving an untested webpage that it thinks might be relevant to a particular search query and then measuring what the user does after they click through.
If the user spends quite a bit of time on the resulting website, then Google assumes that the content is relevant and the webpage normally ranks higher. On the other hand, if the users tend to immediately click back to the search results and click on another result, then Google assumes that the content is not relevant and normally ranks lower.
Usability of pages
This is one of the most prevalent problems that I encounter when first working with a client business.
Your content can be on-point, perfectly optimized to answer queries that your potential clients are asking, but if your webpages are delivering a bad user experience, they won’t rank highly.
Have you ever clicked on a link and waited forever for the page to load? Or, maybe you’ve tried to read an article on your smartphone but something like an ad or a subscribe form keeps popping up in front of it? (This is called an interstitial). The issue that frustrates me the most right now is when I try to read an article and I can scroll past the first few paragraphs because the page keeps taking me back to top.
Common factors that make a bad user experience include slow page load times, hard to read content, lots of interstitial pop-ups, and navigation menus that obstruct the content.
User experience problems are especially important for mobile devices. With their smaller screens, slower processors, and often slower connections, websites need to be mobile-friendly in order to rank, especially since Google uses mobile-first indexing, using the mobile version of your website as the primary source when indexing your site.
Quality of content
Google makes determinations of the quality of content, in order to serve the highest quality relevant content for each query. Quality determinations are largely made on the well-known E.A.T. framework.
What is Google’s E-A-T?
Google makes determinations of the quality of content, in order to serve the highest quality relevant content for each query. Quality determinations are largely made on the well-known E.A.T. framework.
The overwhelming majority of ranking decisions are made automatically by Google algorithms.
However, there are rare occasions when a person (known as a quality rater) is involved in the process. Fortunately, Google makes their Quality Rater Guidelines document public. This presents SEO nerds, like me, the opportunity to take a peek behind the curtain and collect valuable information.
Quality Rater Guidelines
The Quality Rater Guidelines document outlines the three major factors that Google looks for in order to assess the quality of a webpage. They are:
Authority (or, Authoritativeness)
One common way that the E.A.T. framework plays it out, is that it assesses:
Does the content creator have expertise on the topic for which the content is about?
Is the website considered an authority on the topic for which the content is about?
Is the company or organization that owns the website trustworthy?
If the answer to all three of these questions is affirmative, then your site has high-quality content and is much more likely to surface on Google searches.
All three of these factors are part of a larger SEO concept, credibility:
Credibility of the author.
Credibility of the website
Credibility of the organization.
Why is credibility such a big deal?
The entire digital media industry is grappling with credibility. Social media sites are dealing with issues of so-called “fake news,” and since practically anyone can put up a website and start publishing, it’s increasingly difficult to know what sources to trust.
Remember that Google’s goal is to understand what users are searching for and give them exactly what they seek. Rarely are people searching for false information on crappy websites that are owned by untrustworthy organizations.
While you’re probably not in charge of a business as large as Facebook or Twitter, your company website is still, very much, impacted by how credible your content authors, websites, and company/organization are assessed to be by Google.
Real Life Credibility versus Algorithmic Credibility
Understanding Credibility: Just how credible is your business, how credible is your website, and how credible are your content creators?
Understanding your credibility
Right now, you might be thinking something like, “I’ve been in business for 20 years. My people are experts in our industry. We are the epitome of high credibility. But I still can’t get my website to the top of Google.”
And, I believe you. But I’m not who you have to convince. You have to convince the Google algorithm.
Google Search has one of the world’s most advanced artificial intelligence/machine-learning engines in existence. And, it’s constantly being improved and optimized. Despite that, it’s still just a machine. It has significant limitations.
If your business has been successfully serving happy customers in your industry for decades, then the people in your industry hold you and your business in high esteem and you are credible.
The problem is, Google can’t read the minds of those people. (At least not yet).
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take in order to make it easy for the algorithm to fully understand just how credible your business is, how credible your website is, and how credible your content creators are.
These steps help the Google algorithm properly understand and measure your business’s credibility.
How to Build Algorithmic Credibility:
Understanding Google’s algorithms and how to use them in your SEO strategy
It’s important to understand that Google’s algorithms see and note structure and links.
With structure, the goal is to:
Build the overall website in a way that is easily understood by a human and a machine, using a logical hierarchy
Structure individual pieces of content using HTML tags like headers and lists.
Links between web pages and websites communicate relationships to Google. In fact, quality links are one of the most important factors in maximizing algorithmic credibility.
There are three main parts of building algorithmic credibility:
Credibility of your content creators
Credibility of your website
Credibility of your organization/business
Credibility of Your Content Creators
Specify who is the author or creator of blog and video content.
You can no longer get by with a “written by staff” or “written by [website name]” writing credit. Every blog post and video should be credited to a specific creator or group of creators.
Make an Author Bio Page for Each Content Creator
An author bio page is the central page on your site from which to build algorithmic credibility for your content creators. Include an original photo or headshot if possible.
Most website content management systems (such as HubSpot or WordPress) will create this page automatically. However, it’s up to you to fill it to the brim with algorithmic credibility-building content and links.
Absolutely do not try to pawn off a stock photo as a headshot. Google knows.
Include the content creator’s qualifications in the author’s credit and on the author’s bio page.
Make sure that the author’s credentials and qualifications are included in the writing credit on the page and on their author’s bio page on the website. If the author is accredited by professional organizations or serves in some position of esteem within your industry, provide a link to the appropriate page on those organizations’ websites.
Encourage credible third-party websites, where info about the content creator might appear, to link to his or her author page on your site.
If your author’s name is listed on credible websites for other organizations for which he or she is associated, ask those organizations to put a link to on their website that points to the author page on your website.
On the author page on your site, link out to credible third-party websites which include mentions of the author. If he or she has been mentioned in a news outlet or industry publication, include those links on the author page.
When your author appears in the news media or industry publications, include a link to that coverage in the author/bio page.
Take advantage of guest blogging opportunities on credible websites in your industry
If you have a particularly effective writer on your team, offer to have them write content for your industry partners, such as vendors, referral partners, and customers. Make sure that the author’s credit points back to the author’s bio page on your site and to your company’s main website page.
Credibility of Your Website
Tell Google What Your Website is About
You can tell Google what your website is about. This is done with website elements called meta tags. While the information in these tags don’t usually appear as content to the user on your website they are helpful in communicating what topics your website covers.
Here are some tags that you should pay attention to:
Title tags define the title of the webpage. This is what usually appears in your browser at the top of the tab.
It’s also what usually appears as the headline in Google search results and in social media links.
Here are best practices regarding title tags:
They should be no longer than 50 to 60 characters.
They should contain the keyword or phrase for which you’d like the page to rank at the beginning.
They should entice the user to click-through when appearing on search engine results
Every page on your site should have a unique title tag
They should be relevant to the page content
Meta description tag
This tag provides a brief summary of the contents of the webpage. While Google has stated that meta tags aren’t a direct ranking factor, they are still important because they normally appear under the title on search engine results pages. When more users click on your links in the SERP, the more likely that content will rise in the rankings.
Here some best practices for meta description tags:
Write them in a way that entices the user to click.
Make unique meta descriptions for each page on your site.
Use only alphanumeric characters. Specifically, avoid quotation marks (for a technical reason related to how Google displays meta descriptions).
Image alt tags
Your website should have images and graphics. Without image alt tags, users who are visually impaired or can’t load images due to slow technology, can’t access the content in the images or graphics.
Image alt tags, when used correctly, help fix that. Images on your site should contain an alt tag, which describes, in plain language, the content of the photos or graphics.
Using these tags improve website credibility because they demonstrate attention to a visually impaired subset of users who otherwise would not be able to access the content that images and graphics convey. They also help Google understand the full meaning of the page on which the images appear.
Here are best practices for image alt tags:
All graphics and images should have an image alt tag.
The description in the image alt tag should be as detailed as possible, keeping in mind that…
...most browsers cut off image alt tag descriptions at 125 characters.
Resist the urge to use image alt tags to simply repeat the keyword or phrase for which you’re trying to rank. That’s bad and stupid advice which will probably cause problems.
Avoid using graphics to just display fancy text. Use actual text and deploy CSS to style it.
Links and anchor text tags
Anchor text is the visible part of a link. Make sure that they are descriptive and accurate of the content to which the link takes the user.
Canonical tags communicate to Google and other search engines that a specific URL is the “canonical” or master version of that content. Sometimes, because of the way that author pages, tag pages, topic pages, and other web pages are automatically generated, the site ends up with duplicate or near-duplicate copies of blog posts and other content.
Duplicate content confuses Google because it’s not clear which version of the content is THE version. This confusion damages algorithmic credibility.
Canonical tags help Google eliminate the confusion and subsequent damage to algorithmic credibility.
Each piece of unique content should contain a canonical tag that designates itself as the canonical version.
In the past, there was a time when using header tags correctly was an important direct ranking factor. In fact, Google’s John Mueller, in a Google Webmaster Office Hours, stated that, for example, having multiple H1 tags, or no H1 tags, is not a “critical issue” but they can impact usability and he would “use them in a proper way on the page,” so that the user (and search engines) understand the structure of the page. This brings us to our next point, which is...
Make it easy for Google (and users) to understand your website.
Structure and links are the two primary tools to make it easy for Google to understand your site.
We want to pay attention to the structure of content on the page, as well as structure of the individual pages within the website as a whole.
Structure your site in a way that is logical.
The sitemap should look like a hierarchical tree with a fewest levels possible. We normally don’t want to bury content that we're trying to push to the top of Google search results, more than one or two levels down from the main index page.
Here is a sample website structure that makes sense:
Structure the individual content so that it’s easy to understand how it’s organized.
Header tags are used to establish an hierarchical structure. They communicate main points, subpoints, and sub-sub-points, etc.
Each header tag is like an entry in an outline of the content.
The title of the page should be in the main header tags, known as H1 tags.
The subtopics titles of the page should be in H2 tags.
Any additional sub-subtopics would be in H3 tags.
For illustration, purposes. Here is the outline of this blog post, showing the H tags.
Links are important for communicating the relationships between web pages, websites and the associated organizations. There are three basic kinds of links that we’re concerned with:
Links on our website which point to other parts of the site (internal links)
Links on our website which point to content on other websites (external links)
Links on other websites to our website (backlinks)
An important feature of establishing algorithmic credibility is making relationships clear. For example, if your business is accredited by an industry organization, make sure that your website reflects that information and include a link to the accrediting organization’s website, preferably a page which features your business (such as a profile page).
Even better, if possible, get that organization to include a link to your website, too. This kind of activity, facilitating links to your website, is known as link building and off-page SEO.
Some other examples of links which you should pursue include:
Nonprofits which your business supports.
Chambers of commerce to which you might belong.
Alumni associations to which you or your organizations might belong. Sometimes they publish online directories.
Any place online where you or your business is mentioned (in a positive light). If you were featured in a news article or industry publication, ask them to put a link to your site.
If Google can’t crawl your website and accurately understand it, your algorithmic credibility is at risk.
Technical SEO practices will ensure that there are no impediments in the way for search engine crawlers and users to understand your website. Some examples of technical SEO issues include:
Slow loading pages
Missing, duplicate or misleading title tags
Missing or misused H tags
Missing or ineffective meta descriptions
Missing or ineffective image tags
Robots.txt that is blocking crawlers from valuable content
Duplicate content on multiple pages
Duplicate title tags on multiple pages
Duplicate or missing meta descriptions
Customer reviews are a ranking factor. In fact, a 2018 study by Moz found that reviews are the third most important ranking signal for appearance in the so-called local pack/finder.
I’m not saying that an occasional crummy customer review is going to tank your organic search rankings. However, if your business experiences an outbreak of negative reviews, SEO performance can be impacted.
For certain kinds of service businesses, reputation management processes and products are a great way to maximize positive reviews and catch unhappy customers before they leave negative reviews.
Who is Responsible for the Website: The About Us Page
A website with high algorithmic credibility needs to have an About Us page. The job of the About Us page is to provide transparent information about the company. There should be no doubt about the identity of the company and the company’s leaders
Original images or are they stock images
When at all possible, use original images on your website, instead of stock images. Google (and people) know when you’re using stock images.
When users are on your website, it should be a good experience for them.
Make sure that your content is easy to consume. Written copy should be well formatted with short paragraphs, plenty of headers, graphics, infographics, and videos.
Credibility of Your Organization
Publish content that is:
The single most important Google ranking factor is how relevant a piece of content is to the query.
Running a close second is how comprehensive the content is. Does the content fully answer the user’s query?
Excellent content marketing starts with keyword research to understand what search queries that your potential customers make that indicate that they might be in the market for your product or service.
Once your keyword research yields results, then make comprehensive content around the subject. Completely answer the question that the user query asks. Sometimes, you might hear SEO professionals call these queries for which they are trying to rank, targeted keywords and phrases.
To fully optimize a website for search success, build content using a content cluster or content hub model.
A content cluster is a group of blog posts or content pieces that treat various aspects of a topic. Normally, there is one piece of content that covers a broad topic and is longer than the others. This page is called the pillar page.
The rest of the content pieces deal with more narrow topics related to the main topic and they are shorter than the pillar page. These pieces of content, called cluster content, link to the pillar page and the pillar page links back to the cluster content.
These linked groups of high-value comprehensive content build algorithmic credibility and are critical to SEO success.
Make sure your Google My Business, Bing Places, and other NAP citations are consistent and accurate.
Google My Business is one direct way to let Google know about your business and establish algorithmic credibility. It also benefits your business by allowing you to manage how your company information may appear in Google.
If you haven’t already claimed your business’s Google My Business listings, then you should do that. Here is how you do it.
Make regular status updates to your GMB.
While Google dominates the internet search business, it’s worth spending some time claiming and managing your business listings on other platforms.
Bing’s version of Google My Business is called Bing Places and you can learn more about that here.
For many of the other websites where your business might be listed, we recommend using a platform such as Yext to make sure that all of your listings, known as NAP citations (for name, address, phone) are accurate and consistent.
Credibility is critical to business success. Businesses that are credible thrive.
However, until Google and other search engines can read human minds, smart businesses take the actions necessary to make their credibility clear to the search algorithms, such as Google, that are critical to connecting with customers.