You Can’t Optimize Cardboard

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There has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding the concept of trust these days. More specifically, how TrustRank is likely to have a strong correlation with search engine rankings. This is not a surprise to most SEO’s, as trust-building activities such as link development have long been commonplace for just that reason.

What seems to get lost in translation however is that the practice of search engine optimization is different from building a trusted website.

Take for example a brick and mortar store. You sell a great product, maybe even have a decent location, and all the words on your signs have been carefully selected and strategically placed. The problem? The store is made of cardboard. It sounds too far fetched right? Wrong, this happens (online) all the time.

Not only will potential customers not trust your cardboard store, but Google won’t either. The foundation is flimsy and there are no obvious ways to determine whether or not your products are credible or of quality. What I’m trying to say is that SEO is well worth the effort, but it can only go so far without a solid foundation that proves authority and credibility.

While optimization is a science to be executed by professionals appropriately leveraging content and ensuring technical elements are not a hindrance to search engines’ ability to rank content, building trust is time consuming and labor intensive. Anyone involved in the process of optimization for a site will need to make the distinction between SEO and trust building activities.

A Few Trust-Building Tips

  • Manage Expectations: make it known that the easy website optimization tasks usually have the least amount of impact. While these may provide some “quick wins” that will garner internal support, it’s not enough for long term success. Champion the foundational needs such as site architecture, content and link acquisition for true progress.
  • Link Development: Google’s entire premise is built around the idea that inbound links are an indicator of quality, relevance and authority. Ignoring the painstaking task of acquiring links from topically relevant and authoritative sites is nearly a guaranteed fail if rankings are what you’re after.
  • Authoritative Content: now I don’t mean slap some keyword-loaded articles on your site and call it a day. Meaningful content that is truly useful to your target audience is what will help to separate the good from the best. Comprehensive guides, how-to’s, comparison charts, whatever will add value to the customer experience. This is one reason why sites like Mashable, CNET and the NY Times do so well organically – they have clearly proven them as the authority in their respective fields.
  • Prove It: show your visitors how awesome you are. And if you aren’t awesome, SEO isn’t your main problem. Post testimonials, credible 3rd party reviews, blog buzz, and any other accolades that support your claim of awesomeness.

2010 is the year of trust. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get cracking because the competition is only getting stiffer. Remember that building trust requires a different set of skills and tactics that will make optimization efforts and organic visibility a cinch. It might be harder, but like all things in life the payoff will be much greater.

Rachel Andersen works for the Portland based SEM agency Anvil Media, Inc. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO for large sites. Andersen has been responsible for the development and execution of dozens of search and social marketing campaigns over her time spent with Anvil.

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman

Rachel Freeman works for the Jive Software, the pioneer and leading provider of social business solutions. She has expertise in all aspects of search engine marketing and specializes in SEO and paid search for the B2B sector. Freeman has been responsible for the development and execution of countless search and social marketing campaigns over her years in the search marketing industry.
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  • Ted Rex

    Rachel, I am coming at this not from the SEO aspect (because I don’t know about the technical nuts and bolts related to it), but more of a marketing angle and I think you are right on the money with your “trust” theme. Today’s consumer is not looking for somebody to interact with whether its to buy something or learn something, but rather they want to build a relationship–a relationship that needs to be based upon trust. Quickly the marketing questions are moving from “How do we get them to buy this thing” to “How do we get people to come to us for help, and then how do we earn their loyalty?” Those are profoundly different questions, the later one being almost too overwhelming for many.

    Excellent work, Ted

  • Hesham @ FamousBloggers

    There is tones of great meaning and tips in your post, and you are right 2010 is the year of trust, it’s going to be so very hard to do biz with out having the trust on this year!

    Personally I am running a multi-authors blog, and I am looking and searching for the best way to gain trust of our readers as I want to push this blog to the next level, and I can see now that building trust is time consuming!

  • Patricia Skinner

    Nice article Rachel. Indeed, we all have to work to build trust in 2010.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    I wonder if any of my agency clients would appreciate me using this the next time they say – “hey we need this site optimized” when in fact they’re pointing to a 4 page site with a flash home page, 3 paragraphs of content on the whole site, and no allowance for me to change any of that…

    Hey Alan – we need this site optimized…”

    “Uh, yeah – about that… I can’t optimize cardboard”

    LOL I HAVE to try that now. 🙂

  • Melissa Mackey

    Great stuff, so true! This is an issue with both PPC and SEO – clients want optimization, but their site continues to convert at less than 1%, yet they don’t want to change their site. I’m definitely using the “you can’t optimize cardboard” analogy! It all goes hand in hand, you need all the pieces working together to make big improvements.

  • Keith Errington

    I really like the idea of your post Rachel – reminds of me of the old joke where the tourist asks: “How do I get to the city?” – and the local replies: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”.

    And trust is definitely one of the most important factors when deciding whether to do business across the Internet. The way to leverage and promote that trust factor is through branding. So if branding was important before – it’s double so now. Here’s my thoughts on the links between trust and branding –

    I think your post title is one of the best I’ve read in a while! Thanks.

  • Relevant Trafik

    I agree: 2010 is more about trust and its only going to get more intense as the competition stiffens. For those that have been ethical all along, good for you! That means we are all way ahead in this.

  • Rachel Andersen

    Appreciate all the great feedback and support. Good stuff!

  • Steven van Vessum

    This post made me laugh. But you’re right. You need a decent website to do any kind of optimization for SE’s.

  • Arrow SEO

    This is so true! Great post, thanks!