SEO Signals: Google Wants You to Buy Trust

Written on
Sep 16, 2011  Author
Byrne Hobart  |

SEO Signals: Google Wants You to Buy Trust

DIGITAL DUE DILIGENCE – We’ve already documented that Google hates scalable SEO strategies for economically sound reasons: their utopia is a world in which a CMO who doubles his digital spending has to do so through AdWords or DoubleClick—nothing else scales the same way. That explains a lot about Google: not just why they don’t like paid links, but also why they don’t like low-cost, low-quality content.

Of course, Google knows that the web is a slightly better place if there’s a result crafted for every significant long-tail query. But they don’t want it to be easy to arbitrage their traffic that way.

Let’s look at some other signals search engines consider positive:

  • Having a unique physical location listed on your site.
  • Registering a domain for five or ten years, rather than one or two.
  • Having a local phone number.
  • Having the kind of brand name mentions and searches that indicate lots of brand advertising.

What do these actions have in common?

  1. They’re great indicators of site quality: any time you find out that a site is doing one of these things, it’s a good sign that they expect to stick around (and stand to lose a lot if they don’t).
  2. They cost money.

Search engines are in an interesting situation, here. They like to make sure that the marginal dollar spent on search traffic goes to them, not to, say, someone selling links (or even someone building links the old-fashioned way, by pestering people). And yet, these signals are too valuable to give up.

One way to look at this is to argue that search egines essentially earn a royalty on the value of the Internet as a whole, and these activities wildly increase the value of the Internet, to the point that Google profits more from this than it does from an extra few dollars in AdWords revenue. Or search engines might (correctly) assume that what they’re subsidizing is putting your address on the web, not getting an office. (They are technically subsidizing both equally, but the former is far cheaper.)

But what happens when more of the economy goes virtual? Does anyone refuse to buy from Amazon because their office’s address and phone number aren’t prominently displayed on the site? Hardly.

In the short term, search engines can use these branding signals. But in the longer term, they have a strategic interest in ignoring the signals that correspond to a physical location, and promoting the ones that imply a stronger virtual presence (e.g. brand queries, expensive web infrastructure, long-term web registrations).

Because all-virtual businesses are more beholden to search engines. A company like Target would certainly miss Google if Google stopped delivering traffic to their site—but an all-online business would probably have to come up with a completely new business model, or face liquidation.

Google in particular is willing to take the long view: the few sacrifices they make to user experience involve making it hard to have an online and offline experience when you could have one solely online. And Bing is an expression of the long view: Microsoft is willing to lose a whole lot of money to make sure search is still competitive.

In the future, don’t be surprised if search engines look for all-digital signals that a non-physical business is in it for the long haul. Imagine a world where raising a VC round rockets your site up in the search results because there’s suddenly a lot more money at stake if you do something short-sighted. That’s not necessarily where we’re headed, but we’ll be getting close.

Reprinted from the Digital Due Diligence newsletter.

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