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A Trusted Link? There Is No Such Thing

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trust-colored-handsTrust.

What exactly does "trust" mean? Isn't it context specific?

In the context of relationships, trust is earned via a number of ways, among them being open and honest, candid and fair, or if your standards are lower, not being an a**hole.

Then again, in the context of sports it's completely acceptable to lie. There are fake signals designed to throw off the other team. There's flopping in basketball, which is basically a lie designed to fool a referee. And in any sport with an out of bounds line there are times when we know for a fact we went out of bounds but the referee missed it. Do we tell the ref? Nope. That's his job.

In business there are more lies than I'll ever understand, and that's just in the accounting department. As long as it's not a criminal act, lie as much as you want.

TV commercials are so full of lies that the whispered disclaimer at the end often contains more words than the actual commercial that preceded it (spoken so quickly we'd never comprehend it).

And our kids school behavior grades? The ones we don't share on our Facebook timelines because we are too busy bragging about them? That's technically a lie by omission, isn't it?

Trust?

Trust is difficult to define. When it comes to the web, when you discuss trust you almost always do so in the context of Google.

Putting aside whether you think it's fair or not, in many ways Google is the arbiter of trust on the web. Google isn't a person, it's a company, but its algorithm is created by people, and people ultimately determine what gets linked to, Liked, +1'd, tweeted, shared, reviewed, or rated. Even automated article blaster software has to be launched by a...human.

Specific to links, we often hear people discuss them as if they were alive. "We need more trusted links". "We don't have enough link trust". Trust, trust, trust. Gotta get more of it and right now now now.

Well, it's a myth. There is no such thing as a trusted link.

Links and likes and tweets originate from a person (or persons) who made the decision to put them there, and that source is where the trustworthiness resides. Even scraper sites and automated tweetbots had to be created, programmed, and launched by people.

The more you start thinking about the people and motives behind any piece of content on the web, the more likely you are to understand what it is Google is looking for. A link from a library website isn't trustworthy because it's on a library website. It's more trustworthy because that link was put there by a person who spent six years getting a college degree that is by it's very nature designed to identify good content.

You can't fool a librarian. And Google knows this, because those pages are linked to by other pages that are linked to by other pages and on and on and when you analyze a few billion of these linking patterns and relationships, a mathematical form of trustworthiness begins to appear. It can be measured.

Trust & Ranking Position

If you're after links because you want to rank higher at Google, then what you're really after is a relationship with a person. You're hoping to introduce that person to your content, because that person controls content you want to be a part of. The part you want is a link. Links are just a part of the machine.

I'm not sure if this is blatantly obvious or deeply profound or neither, I just know that as I prepare to enter my 19th year as a link builder, I continue to hear people talk about links as if they are objects. Entities unto themselves.

The comparison of links to gold is often used and proves this point. Gold is in object. A link is the HTML manifestation of a human being's decision. And their intent.

You can't "get" trust, nor manufacture it, though many try and succeed until a Panda eats them. Your content has to earn it.

On the web, links aren't currency like people say they are. To a search engine, links are proof of worthiness or unworthiness, as decided by people. Note also that the "worthiness" is subject specific (except, apparently, for Wikipedia but that's another story), meaning that the worthiness of your site is dependent upon what the searcher is looking for, plus your ability to create content that will earn links from people who are curating or gathering or writing about subject matter that's in some way related to your site. To bring it back to reality, this means if you sell the best steaks on the planet it wont help your rankings to have 150 links from vegetarian websites.

Sure there are loopholes, and probably always will be. Go ahead and pursue the "loophole as linking strategy" until the loophole is a noose. Or, take the time to learn what you need to do to compete and succeed long term.

Every website needs a unique strategy. Even the best linking strategist can't give you an A-Z list of what to do until they know what your site contains and is trying to accomplish, because a successful content linking strategy for a site that sells rail passes in Europe will be much different than for a site that sells peaches in Georgia.

The only thing they will have in common is trust.


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