Time for another look at TrustRank concepts

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How well do you know your neighbours

There is a concept that folks don’t really seem to talk about as much as they once did and I think it is time we did. And that is; TrustRank. What is it? Well, essentially it is the concepts surrounding inter-linkage of different websites. If we take it to the simplest level it goes something like this;

Generally good websites link to other good websites and bad websites do the same

This was, in many ways, one way to gauge authority and combat spam. Theory goes that a quality website isn’t going to be linking to a spammy site and a spammer won’t share PageRank with sites they don’t own… and will generally link to their other spam sites (or mates).

One of the things we saw during the whole ‘sculpting’ hub-bub back in June of 09, was that Google has somehow lost face in terms of mixed messages and backwards compatibility. Everyone remembers the ‘Page scultping doesn’t work anymore‘ fiasco at SMX Advanced? It revolved around the use of nofollow to control the flow of PageRank. What was really freaky, to me at least, were some of the little nuggets the Googlers dropped relating to TR, specifically, linking out as a benefit.

Google TrustRank and outbound links

TrustRank and the nofollow tag

One of the main (original) purposes of the NF tag was for marking paid links to ensure you didn’t get smacked by Google. Let’s remember though, that the nofollow tag isn’t just about paid links, it is also for when one is unsure of the quality of the site they are linking out to, (including aspects such as blog comments).

From Matt’s post at the time;

Q: Okay, but doesn’t this encourage me to link out less? Should I turn off comments on my blog?

A: "I wouldn’t recommend closing comments in an attempt to “hoard” your PageRank. In the same way that Google trusts sites less when they link to spammy sites or bad neighbourhoods, parts of our system encourage links to good sites." – Matt Cutts

And later down in the comments;

“(…) there are also parts of our system that trust and encourage sites to link out well.” – Matt Cutts

I thought it was interesting that no one really caught that part. And by-and-large, people have all but forgotten about the value of linking out. We get so caught up in PageRank manipulation and hoarding that some get overly anal about external linking. This is a short sighted strategy.

Once more, Google actually ENCOURAGES linking out to quality sites.

Known by the company you keep

This is a very important distinction that SEOs really need to be aware of. You should bear in mind the TrusRank type concepts and;

  • Consider reasonable levels of outbound linking to trusted sites
  • Monitor external links to ensure said sites haven’t degraded
  • Ensure the nofollow is on any suspect links
  • Consider nofollow on comments or be vigilant in moderating
  • Be wary of other sites hosted on your server

Yes, that last one can be a bit contentious, but there are a few patents/papers on host level spam detection and it is worth noting. Do I personally get overly concerned? Not generally. But I will from time to time during audits at least have a look.

Also, for the record, TrustRank isn’t the only game in town. Yahoo actually followed (pun intended) that up with what they called HarmonicRank. This was just an extension of the original concepts. Even Microsoft uses a related approach. In short, all modern search engines have looked at this at one time. Points being that there has always been an interest in these types of concepts, although mostly for spam detection

Google TrustRank Patent

What’s it mean to you?

For me this all goes back to Matt’s comments last summer that one can actually be rewarded for responsible outbound linking. Does that mean there is a positive ranking weight for it? I am not entirely convinced of that. I tend to believe that the over-all TrustRank score of a site counts towards it’s authority. What is worth remembering from all of this is that not only shold you be careful with (and audit) the outbound links on your site for low quality entities, but also don’t be afraid to link to other authority sites in your niche/market.

Remember, he said, “parts of our system encourage links to good sites.” – which I take is the inverse; they penalize sites that don’t.

What is more important, or at least what I wanted to impart to you, is that you simply can’t just lockdown the site. You can’t hoard PageRank. Search engineers are people too. If you were building an index, would you trust a page that links out to other authoritative documents on the subject?

Think about it….


Related Reading;

Combating Web Spam with TrustRank – Stanford 2004

Host level spam detection patents converage – on the Trail

Harmonic Rank patent coverage – on the Trail

Propagating Trust and Distrust to Demote Web Spam – Lehigh University

Google TrustRank Patent – SEO by the Sea

Google comment spam penalties – SEO Gadget


David Harry
David Harry is an SEO and IR geek that runs Reliable SEO, blogs on the Fire Horse Trail and is the head geek at the... Read Full Bio
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  • Sheldon Campbell

    I was one that did notice that closing remark from Matt, but as is often the case, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I finally came to the same conclusion… it's far easier to believe that they might penalize a failure to link out, rather than reward it positively.

    Good article. I think blogs and sites that take TR into consideration, and carefully nurture both sides of it, have put down a solid foundation.

    • theGypsy

      Yes, there is always some double speak… hehe. But I did actually make a note of it at the time to look more into TrustRank stuff again (yup, took me more than a year, but I always get there lol). as interesting was that no one really caught that part at the time. Everyone was caught up in the evaporating PR bits.. oh well. I will likely dig more into this someday soon

    • Asefati

      Yes I agree. I have stopped paying too much of big deal to his comments. Some of his remarks are completely false. For example he said Google doesn't use analytic data for ranking but I have heard good insider information that Google does look at bounce rates. Also a couple months ago they announced they do consider page speed into a factor. To me that is another analytic data.

      • theGypsy

        And what exactly can they learn from bounce rates exactly? It has been shown many times to be a noisy signal. I suggest Googling; 'Bounce rates as a ranking signal'

        Last I checked my post on the subject was ranking #1 – read up. ;0)

      • Linusindigo

        They announced that they were testing speed as factor, and then they announced that they would not be using speed as a factor.

  • Tad Chef

    Hey David, I wrote a whole post about that revelation back then:
    So someone did notice it 😉
    Btw. I’m updating degraded links all the time.

    • theGypsy

      VERY cool Tad! Consider yourself one of the few then. It really did fly under the radar. I made notes of it at the time, which eventually became this post. Yes, it took me a while, but I got there lol. Now, the wording is important; 'encourages'. Does this mean they actually use them as scoring? Hard to say, that might also imply that 'responsible' linking out is not a dampener but poor use it… hard to say.

  • nazre

    I agree

  • Nazre

    I fully agree with Matt's saying. This article is usefull as the fiture is same as described in the article.

  • Nazrei

    I fully agree with Matt's sying. this article is usefull as the future is same as described in the article.

  • Vinicius B. Peixoto

    I completely agree. Just like there are orphan pages that can be 'traps' to crawlers, an orphan site can be a huge 'nightmare'.

    The lack of outbound links is at least unnatural. Nowadays it's simply impossible think about a 'virtual place' that takes you nowhere. Where it takes can tell you about its trustworthy.

    Great article! Altough people haven't fogotten about TR, it seems, just like you wrote, they do not discuss about it.

    • Vinicius B. Peixoto

      Ooops. I don't know why on earth I said “orphan pages”. Hehe. I meant “dead-end pages” and “dead-end sites”. :/

  • Seo Guru

    Google might really be weighing in your outbound link. I mean they check who you are linking with but not on the comment section though. Maybe on your sidebar they are actually checking the links.

  • Michael Martinez

    Google has signaled that linking out to good sites was helpful for years — that predates the whole PageRank Sculpting myth (it NEVER worked — it didn't “stop” working) by several years.

    • Vinicius B. Peixoto

      Hello, Michael,

      I couldn’t agree more with you.

      In my opinion, people should think about Page Sculpting differently than they actually do. Page Sculpting should be focused on linking to related content. It doesn’t matter if internal or external – no fear about outbound linking. That’s not only because Google says that outbound linking to good websites/related content is helpful; that’s because of USERS. If users find a page about a specific subject, why should them see resources about something entirely distinct? Bounces rate can be reduced if ONLY related links are available to users; conversions can be amazingly increased!

      (That’s the siloing “theory”!)

    • theGypsy

      Hiya Michael, as I said on the Trail post (re; Blog Search) GREAT to see you out and about again. Really do miss ya.

      Most certainly speaking the truth, sort of why I framed it as a 're-visit' and used the PR sculpting fiasco to slide into the bits that no-one had caught at the time that was ACTUALLY important. Strangely this post was partial in the drafts locally until recently. Thus I dusted it off.

      Good to C U MM!

  • Jarret

    David, I was previously unaware of the trust rank concept, but had a similar theory for the past six months. As such, whenever I start a new blog, I try to link out to reputable sites. To start with, I usually try to find an excuse to throw a link to Matt Cutts’ blog and Google itself, lol.

  • Tad Chef

    Hey David, it seems my comment disappeared in the queue.

    • theGypsy

      no idea Tad, just write here mate, don't run the place. That really SUCKS too given all the crap spammy comments so far ;0( – would have enjoyed something more serious

  • alanbleiweiss


    Great article – what I didn't see you mention is on one twist of the “WHY” factor. If I've got a site that I'm claiming offers value to site visitors, one way to show that is to say “hey – here's the information you were looking for. And oh – by the way – here's a link to even more information on this specific topic that will add value to this content for you..” And I also believe it's not unlike the notion of citation.

    • theGypsy

      lol yea Alan, but I was just talking some geeky smack and would hope that part is obvious. I am more worried about the inverse, people that DON'T offer their readers more information as they are scared to give away some juice (PageRank hoarding). As you know I am big on linking to other resources in my posts – always been my way. ;0)

      • alanbleiweiss

        Like the PPC guy at one of my agency clients. Told his content writer – put the URL there but don't make it a link. He thought it would kill that page's PR (not the TBPR but the actual PageRank). I was like – Dude – you need to link out – it's vital…

  • Jarret

    David, it looks like my last comment got flagged as spam unfortunately, though I'm not sure why. I personally get a little annoyed when people try to use Wikipedia as an example to support an SEO argument. One article that I read somewhere recently, used Wikipedia to support the value of internal linking.

    Obviously, in the case of Wikipedia, the enormous amount of content, inbound links, and other factors cloud the picture. However, with that proviso, Wikipedia seems to do just fine in SERPs while hording PageRank and adding the nofollow attribute to all of its external links.

  • Alexis


  • Alexis

    Asefati, are you sure that Google use analytic data for ranking?
    I don't think its true. Because if its true, what will happen for websites which are not using Google Analytic on them?

  • Deep Ripples Bill

    Finally, some validation. Have been arguing this point with someone at great length. It only makes sense that relevant outbound links (to trustworthy sites) would be part of a natural link profile, if not, simply, helpful. Thanks for backing my argument!

  • Fryzury

    Thx for good artictle

  • SEO Lebanon

    very good article david, need to show the benefits of linking out…. alot of webmasters are really being greedy by linking out.

    anyways thx

  • Paulo

    Very nice post!

  • Wilfried

    I am really learning a lot from your blog posts. Domain trust is really a factor in the rankings but I would say that it is not everything. Their are a lot of things that are going on with one single link such as pagerank, follow/nofollow attribute, positioning of the links and other link data that Google measures.

    I would like to see a test on contextual links based on its positioning with regards to the post panda update. Our website is still relatively so it’s going to take a while to gain ground in the eyes of Google. I have been implementing a lot of your SEO suggestions and it appears to be working. Each month we keep moving up in the rankings. Thanks again!

  • Bogdan

    As a matter of fact, all great bloggers in thei articles are giving – at the bottom or near to – to the readers somthing to follow, some more interesting content, subject related.
    The outbound links are connected to some good websites, with authorithy and representative to the niche.
    But the factor called Trust Rank is more than giving links to other sites.

  • Jerome

    I agree with the article. It gives me a good recap on the basic need of a smart seo!