How much emphasis do you place on reputation management in SEO? It must be noted that there have been a number of recent ‘Core’ algorithm updates over the past 12 months, and these have coincided with Google publishing their Quality Rating Guidelines. As Chris Silver Smith points out in SEL, all of these recent Google updates indicate that you can see improving SEO performance as managing the online ‘reputation’ of your website or brand as outlined in the Google Quality Rating Guidelines. Many SEOs have cited those ‘quality factors’ included in the Google Quality Rating Guidelines have become increasingly important in the SERPs in terms of their weighting. You should therefore consider the online reputation of your brand as your number one ranking factor, influenced by the performance of those ‘quality factors’ listed in Google’s QRG. Read on for a summary of how Google could be using ‘human quality raters’ in combination with analysis algorithm models to improve it’s main ‘Core’ quality algorithm. The ‘Core’ quality algorithm that is evaluating the Expertise, Authority & Trustworthiness (E-A-T), or in other words ‘reputation’ of your website and brand. Google SearchLiaison has reiterated to the search community on multiple occasions that they should “review our search quality rater guidelines“, as these are the instructions used for search quality raters to check if their search “recipes” seem to be working. It’s a focus on Google’s E-A-T signals: Expertise, Authority & Trust.

The question remains on how exactly is Google concluding on website quality using an algorithm?

As they are directing marketers to a set of guidelines for ‘human quality raters’, that are seemingly subjective concepts of trustworthiness, authoritativeness and trust. We might expect an algorithm to analyse a collection of signals such as user reviews, backlinks and user experience metrics; to then use these to assess quality based on link trust analysis and relevance via search query analysis. However, as Chris Silver Smith points out on SearchEngineLand, this seems far too limited. He believes that Google is taking into account further ranking factors beyond backlink & query analysis. Chris sites the Website Quality Signal Generation patent from 2013, which describes how humans could be used to rate the quality of a website; Google would then use an analysis algorithm to automatically identify the relationship between human rating values and quantified signals to develop models for determining Quality Score. The quality factors could include things such as (which are outlined in full later on):
  • A large amount of empty pages
  • Errors in grammar
  • Page layout
  • Number of advertisements
  • Website reviews
  • Backlinks / link trust
 Google can then use these signals from human quality raters when developing their relationship model; and this relationship model then enables an algorithm to evaluate unrated websites (those which have not been reviewed by human quality raters). This is a scaleable method of improving the algorithm’s ability to determine website Quality Score. It’s important to remember Google will almost certainly be computing Quality Score using machine learning to understand the relationship between human quality rating signals and website or web page characteristics. This will enable a more complex analysis of how relationships can affect Quality Score. The patent outlines this approach: 
“In some implementations, the model can be derived from the website signals and the website quality ratings using a machine learning subsystem that implements support vector regression.”
 Once the computed relationship models have been applied to the search results, human raters will once again evaluate the SERPs to incrementally improve the results, subsequently feeding into the relationship models once again. So, the reputation signals that could influence human raters and algorithms determining your Quality Score and therefore Expertise, Authority & Trust (E-A-T) include:
  • User Reviews Sentiment – Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines mentions a threshold of number of reviews, and it’s likely sentiment is a key factor; consider too that Google also has a number of patents on sentiment analysis.
  • PageRank – The evolved version of the classic PR is in operation and essentially focused on the quality and trustworthiness of backlinks.
  • Social Mentions Sentiment – Social media posts with positive sentiment could be analysed to evaluate quality, although we doubt Google’s algorithm is placing much if any emphasis on third party social data fire hoses.
  • Click-Through-Rate (CTR) – There is much debate over the impact of CTR on the organic search results. I think it’s a strong indicator used by Google to determine the quality of a web page to a search query, it’s coupled with bounce rate, time on site and pages per session.
  • Websites Missing Identification Information – If human quality raters are evaluating a website’s authority and trust, they will likely signal that having a complete and informative “About Us” or “Contact Us” page as an important indicator. This could be fed into the relationship model and used by the algorithm.
  • Website Speed – This is a critical ranking factor, and is something to focus on. Reputation will be tarnished if your website’s speed is slow.
  • ‘Fresh’ Content Signals – Regularly reviewed and updated content is mentioned in the Google Quality Rater Guidelines as a sign of E-A-T. Include a visible ‘Last Updated’ date on your article page template, and ensure you regularly review your content and make sure you keep it relevant to your target search queries.
  • No-content & Thin Content Pages – Google’s crawlers calculate the percentage of pages on your website that are thin content (low HTML) versus content rich. Ensure these are crawled using an SEO crawling software and keep your website lean.
 A number of the ranking signals listed above have been debated around their true impact on the SERPs based on various studies, and some might be difficult to see how some relate to ‘reputation’ at first. But it’s important to remember that your website or company’s entire digital footprint is representation of it’s ‘reputation’. This includes the likes of social media and your brand presence throughout. You should actively seek out professional forums and seek opportunities to build reputation by providing useful advice and expert content. Maintenance of website or brand’s online ‘reputation’, of which has many components listed above, will yield significant SEO gains. Where does your brand stand?