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The Trust Knob is WAY too High – Google Trustbox

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 312 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Firstly, it’s a Trustbox, not a Sandbox. “Trust filters” seem to be a large portion of what has most SEO’s in a frenzy over search engine’s currently. There are pros and cons to the trustbox for folks on both sides of the fence, and the best thing you can do no matter which side of the game you are on is understand what the filters mean and the reprocussions that they will create in the future.

So what is search engine trust?

For the purpose of keeping things simple, I would identify a site’s trust by 3 different simple criteria:

  • Website Age – (most importantly the first time it was indexed)
  • Total # of backlinks and the overall age of those links
  • Total “trustscore” of other backlinks (How many .edu’s, .gov’s, high ACTUAL PR links, etc.)

Aaron just released an amazing SEO extension for firefox that gives some great insights to these areas.
Most trust criteria revolve around some dependence on age, which is actually a pretty good signal of quality. From things folks at Google have said in the past, the trustbox (or sandbox if you must) was the unintentional effect of some other filters that were implemented. Realizing that age was a great signal all the way around to defend against the overdependency on links, they’ve went buckwild with age variables ever since.

I’m sure there are plenty of other things that effect trust, but these are most likely tops on the list. Think age related to just about any of the search ranking factors and it could (or probably is) being used.

Just how important is being trusted right now?

I figured it was about time for a rant on the trust of domains (mainly in Google), and when I spent some time on a recent roadtrip listening to some excellent Strikepoint podcasts, I really knew it was time. DaveN has some fantastic commentary on just how important trust is in ranking in google these days. I’m not sure exactly which episode it was (I listened to three or four and they were all very insightful), but Dave, Mikkel, or JasonD talk about 85% of search rankings these days being attributed to trust, and about 15% being onpage, and it is painfully true. With a few links to a highly trusted domain, and some body copy a site can rank for just about anything whether it is topically related or not.

There are examples everywhere on the web of just how critical trust is right now to top rankings. Don’t get me wrong…trust is a very good thing, and a great signal of quality, but depending almost solely on it is not the solution, as depending nearly solely on links was not the best solution.

Two or three years ago:
SEO = Content + high PR links

Created: a micro-economy of link buying solely for google rankings Now
SEO = Crusty trusted domain + content

Will create: use your imagination.

Why the Overdependence on Trust Will Again Change the Web

The search engines are probably the most important aspect of the web. There are BILLIONS of pages of information available, but if you can’t find any of them, it makes instant access a WHOLE lot more difficult. The internet without search would be the equivalent of a library that was just a big pile of books that sometimes had a few similar books near each other.

“…the meaning of a link has been transformed from a reference to a vote.”Bill Slawski, from his interview with Aaron.

“A link is a vote” has transformed the face of the web both for good and bad. It’s easy for SE’s to place all the blame on “spammers”, but to assume that there will be no manipulation with monetary stakes so high is somewhat naive as well. As long as the rewards are high, and the barrier to entry is low, there will be search engine spam. In addition to spam, there will always be folks who have a higher risk thresh hold for the potential of higher rewards. As everyone realized the value of a link more and more, it changed how every webmaster thought about the world wide web. The more motivated people were by money, the more extensive lengths they were willing to go for obtaining links that have their own inherent monetary value.

The over dependency on trust is the very same thing. It is going to cause trust to be abused in the very same way links were. We are already seeing the proliferation of subdomain spam, and after that is remedied there will still be the issue of hosting advertising space on a website.

One of the extremely big problems with trust filters is that they don’t seem to be retroactive…meaning that sites that were around and trusted BEFORE a particular filter was established can basically get away with murder (and they do).

The Trust Knob is Way too High…Please Turn it Back

One of the really great things about the web is that it has evened up the playing field for the little guys. The barrier to entry is constantly being raised, but for this unique window of opportunity, everyone has been given the opportunity to potentially start a successful online business if they are ambitious enough and spend time doing the right things.

Hey Google, remember when YOU were the little guy starting up in a garage ten years or so ago. Why not make the window of opportunity for little guys last just a little bit longer, and dial the trust thing back a bit eh? The trust knob has restored the balance of power right back into the hands of the big guys who can now do whatever they want with their “trusted domains” and be back in the index in days or never get removed at all. Why not give Joe’s ultra amazing toothpaste (the company with very little marketing budget because they spend their money making an amazing product) a chance to rank high for “toothpaste” for just a little bit longer instead of HELPING companies who’ve been spending millions of dollars on their “brand” instead of their product for the last decade or more?

Setting the barrier to entry so high just begs for abuse of the system. If SEO’s know that they can’t rank a new site for two years…why the hell would they bother to register a new domain…or take on a client with a brand new site? They are going to look for workarounds…and we all know what the workarounds are. The variations of these workarounds mutate and evolve to cause a whole new host of problems.

Please Google…turn the knob back before you make the problems even worse. The solution may be good in the short term, but you were great once because you helped the little guys that were hungry and cared about their customers. Focus on HELPING those people again and you will create great SERPS for your users and have to worry less about fighting spammers. Trust is a great signal of quality, but by moving so heavily to this model you are going to created the same problems that you did with the over dependency on link popularity.
Obligatory required reading on the Trustbox

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • Mr SEO

    Great post! Very informative. I doubt though Google will turn that “trust knob” down. I think they feel if they do, Spam site will take over in the SERPs. You can see they still have a hard time catching it. They should be spotting them sooner.

    Trustrank is a good idea, for now. Until people find ways to fake it. If they aren’t already.

  • Martin

    Nice post and worth to discuss it!

    You wrote: “Setting the barrier to entry so high just begs for abuse of the system.” but what would lowering the barriers do? I guess exactly the same thing on a much higher level. The barriers weren’t raised for nothing…

    Getting back to you example about Joe’s ultra amazing toothpaste: Google is intended to always show the most relevant websites and searching for toothpaste I guess most people are interested in general information about it, or some big brands.

  • Tom Anthony

    Todd – An excellent point about why would SEOs bother with new domains.

    This exact point has been driving me (an aspiring SEO) nuts recently.

  • Drew

    Good article, it got me thinking about the topic. I can’t help but feel you have a slightly biased view though. In your line of work your clients want instant results when they are paying big bucks. The trust factor makes it nearly impossible for a new domain to achieve the coveted high ranking in Google. It therefore must be frustrating for you as a consultant to not produce those instant results for your clients.

    I think google is more concerned right now with combating spam then they are with helping the little guy or helping make your job easier. Right now the “trust filter” is the only way they can effectively prevent spam from taking over their search engine. I am sure they are looking for an alternative, but for the time being the “trust filter” works well enough.

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    >Trustrank is a good idea, for now. Until people find ways to fake it.

    People definitely are already, and it’s creating a mess that will continue to get worse.

    >Google is intended to always show the most relevant websites

    True, but the problem is that if they rank for “toothpaste” with trust so high on that term no one else has a hope of beating them for ‘best new toothpaste’ or other variations etc.

    >why would SEOs bother with new domains.

    I still *DO* but certainly not for clients – it’s part of the game now to register and wait…there’s just generally a much higher barrier to entry for starting a successful site.

    >I can’t help but feel you have a slightly biased view though.

    You’re absolutely correct. I definitely have a biased point of view and it WOULD make my life easier without a trustbox. I don’t imagine G is going to take my advice very often, and certainly don’t expect that they would. Bias, or not, however, the overdependency is a weakness in the algo that WILL get exploited. They’re probably well aware of this, but it’s somethin’ I felt like gettin’ on my soapbox about;)

    >more concerned right now with combating spam

    I agree…and a lot of times combating spam and improving relevancy is not one in the same. I think if the focus was on relevancy they would be better off…but as you mentioned (and I agree) I am somewhat biased.

    I think fighting spam creates unnecessary collateral damage..and that there are ways they could improve relevancy without always assuming all SEO’s are spammers – but then again I might just be an idealist too:)

  • Michael Martinez

    This is old news. I’ve been able to get Xenite.Org to rank for all sorts of expressions for years. The recent changes at Google don’t reflect nearly as much shift in emphasis toward content or trusted domains as it represents a shift toward new crawling priorities.

    It’s never been all about links with Google. The Backrub paper stipulated that on-page factors were used to determine relevance in conjunction with link anchor text.

    But the SEO community blew it way out of proportion, ignored the available information on the importance of copy, and simply misdirected itself. These huge adjustments in strategy that people are having to make are not due to Google’s changes so much as they are due to having wallowed in self-imposed ignorance for so long.

  • Stuart

    Your points are very well-made and definitely valid.

    Unfortunately I see a level of arrogance creeping into what Google does and I doubt that anyone at Google now believes that people outside the Plex are worth listening to when it comes to search related matters.

  • Adam Lasnik


    I’ve been on the Search Quality Team here at Google for about four months, and it’s become clear to me that my colleagues DO care and DO listen to communities outside of the Plex.

    That’s why we don’t just put out press releases or speak at conferences and go home, we go to chat with Webmasters and CEOs and ad folks and SEO people and so on. And read tons of blogs and industry news and editorial items ;-)

    We can’t please everyone. As some have suggested, there are indeed at times interests and forces which are not complementary. But at the end of the day, I truly believe that we make our decisions based upon an enormous amount of internal consensus, outside information, and a desire to provide useful information to people around the world.

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    Hey Adam,

    Thanks for stopping by. I know that the guys definitely DO listen, and that’s why I always try to criticize the algo and not AT ALL the people behind it (and also why I bother to write some of this stuff at all). It’s REAL easy to play monday morning quarterback when I’m not the one with millions of people watching my every move;)

    >We can’t please everyone.

    I’ll admit to being overly critical, and that I certainly AM biased, but I don’t just write stuff for my own benefit either. Every engineer I’ve ever talked to has admitted their biases as well, and it’s made for some really great conversations that I think benefitted both parties involved with a better understanding of search and how to improve for either users or clients.

    I’ve been a google fan since the days of startup mode, and THAT is why I’m so tough on ‘em;)

    Thanks again for stoppin’ by to comment.

  • Mixxel

    Interesting point of view. But I think TrustRank makes lots of sense for the SE end users. Without a doubt webmasters will find new ways to get quick traffic from Google, but this time it will be a lot harder than before, on the era of reciprocal link exchange and cheap directory link buying.
    For me it is clear that in order to gain quality links, now you have to have mostly quality content, so, referring to your example, Joe, who spend more time making a good toothpaste than company X, which spent lots of time and money on marketing, will have more chances to get links from serious websites. And on the other way, company X will spend lots of money on marketing only because their product is crap and does not receive natural popularity.
    In the new Google scenario I would advice Joe to make some efforts on good SE marketing (asking for reviews, links on trusted sources, etc.) after releasing his tooth-paste site. Company X should then take some money unnecesarily spent in the promotion of a crap product, and make it really better.
    Finally, the searcher will win, Google will win, and we, pour webmasters, after gallons of sweat and sleepless nights – will have some honestly deserved traffic.

  • ken_b

    Nice article Todd.

    Lots of good thought there to ponder.

    But I wonder, is the toothpaste guys having a poor business plan Googles fault. Is it Googles place to worry about providing an easy way for the toothpaste guys to compensate for thier earlier poor planning.

  • Stuart

    Adam thanks for responding to my comments.

    You guys might care a great deal about what we ordinary webmasters think but if you do then you have an image problem to overcome.

    Many of us don’t have the opportunity to meet and talk with you at various gatherings so our perceptions are often quite different to those who do get to meet you.

    Perhaps overcoming those perceptions is something that somebody in Google should look at because some of Google’s actions in the past have spoken far louder than your words.

  • Adam Lasnik

    Stuart, point taken.


    I had written:
    > >We can’t please everyone.

    And you replied:
    > I’ll admit to being overly
    > critical, and that I
    > certainly AM biased, but
    > I don’t just write stuff for
    > my own benefit either.

    I respect that, and I hope no one took my “we can’t please everyone” to suggest that we dislike or disregard sharp constructive feedback.

    Speaking of constructive feedback, how ’bout making this blog column (especially the comment entry part) less narrow! Or are you just trying to get us to use smaller / fewer words? :D

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    Had that one on the list of to do’s…thanks for the reminder…My CSS skills leave a lot to be desired, but I think it’s sorted:)

  • graywolf


    Straight up dude the ‘authority knob’ is set way too high. My blog for example ranks for all sorts of stuff it has no reason to rank for, some phrases are even commercial terms.

  • Al Toman


    As a small, small Joe myself, and representative of many Joes, after ALL this discussion, what is the resolve?

    To expand your comment column??? Is this the BEST that Google can come up with?

    There are 24,000,000 plus Joes alone in the USA, not to mention those Joes worldwide. They are not yet Google Groopies.

    How does the search engine organization (community) intend to accomodate Joe relative to Crest and Colgate?

    Kind regards,
    Al Toman

  • Anonymous

    Want to rank for something today, start a blog, you will not get immediate results but because you earned it with useful content 2 years down the road you start showing up for your niche. “Little guys” are creeping up on those who have inflated their worth with old outdated serp manipulation. Frustrating if you got clients yes but serp manipulation proof, agree?

  • Aaron Pratt

    For those who have “clients” it might be smart to sell services as an educational package, think Lee Odden and Blog Marketing.

    BUT to say that Google is not looking out for the little guy is incorrect, the “little guy” has all the time in the world to create a niche and do very well in it, those with “clients” don’t.

    If I was an SEO I would be looking for other work or as Lee has done, simply work within the current parameters set.

    Yes? No?

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    >shift toward new crawling priorities.
    That could be the case as well…but the priority is the highly trusted domains, which ultimately is an overdependence on trust.

    >It’s never been all about links with Google.

    Man…and I was just starting to listen to what you had to say now too Michael…Can you honestly say there wasn’t a time when G wasn’t all about the links (with anchor text being an important aspect to that)?? Where were you in ’03 – ’04 exactly?

    >toothpaste guys having a poor business plan Googles fault.

    I hate to sound too much like I’m a bleeding heart for small businesses. Certainly they don’t deserve a whole lot of special favoritism…but when PPC already favors the big guy, and they barrier to entry will continue to consantly rise…why not just curb the acceleration where possible to encourage innovation?

    Google was a little guy too once…if the barrier to entry of cheap hardware and bandwidth was still high, Larry and Sergei might have pursued an entirely different calling.

    I’m not saying this is G’s responsibility by any means…only that it is something to consider when making algo decisions that can have a significan economic impact.

    >after ALL this discussion

    It’s a process Al, and you can’t get frustrated with the people who ARE listening…they ARE around to help, and it’s good that someone’s takin’ the time. We don’t have all the pieces of the puzzles that influence their decisions, so it’s sometimes hard to think outside our own biases.

    >How does the search engine organization (community) intend to accomodate Joe relative to Crest

    They don’t plan to either…the REALLY good Joes LEARN SEO, and some have even turned from their regular businesses to being full time SEO’s as their business. The SMART joes right now are finding good SEO’s that will help to ease their learning curve and understand search marketing as quickly as possible because they already understand that the ROI is potentially so high.

    What bothers me most is when the big guys DON’T “get it” and they still manage to trample the little guys that DO just because they have deeper pockets and in this case more “trust” from being around a bit longer.

  • Michael Martinez

    > >It’s never been all about links with Google.
    > Man…and I was just starting to listen to what you had to say
    > now too Michael…Can you honestly say there wasn’t a time
    > when G wasn’t all about the links

    Google has never been all about links. That’s just a myth — basically a load of horse shit that the SEO community unnecessarily sold itself on.

    > (with anchor text being an important aspect to that)?? Where
    > were you in ‘03 – ‘04 exactly?

    Ranking highly with Xenite.Org and other domains for well over 100 competitive expressions (many of them commercial in nature). Never had a problem with the various updates that all the link-chasers whined about.

    But then, when I first read the Backrub paper, I paid attention to the parts that weren’t talking about PageRank and links.

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  • shor

    Chiming in late, but a good summary on the ‘Trustbox’ Todd.

    When you’re in a network of websites that are not only ancient but also seen as authoritative, you tend to dominate the Google landscape (competitive queries) for miles around (queries barely related to your site).

    That’s good for corporate websites that got into the web game pre-2000 (like us) but not so good for new entrants. I’ve seen many players with serious backing completely fall down in online search, regardless of the money they spend with Australian ‘SEO’ firms and offline marketing.

    More than ever, on-page SEO is simply ensuring that your site has implemented the fundamentals that allow for SEs to find and index you. Only at the deep end of the long tail does on-page SEO become a overtly significant factor in ranking.

    The best way for newbies to beat the old crusties is simply the old-fashioned PR way of generating link-bait material, be it through traditional or online marketing, getting dugg or (shock horror) useful content.

    Gaming SEs is the same as any other exploitable industry. SEs are constantly updating the ‘protection’ on their algo in the same way that software is patched against exploits or DVD/CD copy protection is updated against pirate groups. A good case of turning the knob too far is the StarForce copy protection technique It is so effective that often causes legitimate users issues with using the disc. This has led to some well known software companies actually proclaiming that they will not be using StarForce in a bid to appear consumer-friendly.

    It is little wonder that many SEOs looking for a quick win now turn to MSN (and Yahoo) for the easy rank :)

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    I agree with your observations and would like to add that the trust relationship are a good idea from the search engines prospective but people has started taking advantage of it like selling big companies have started renting and selling links on their websites.

  • Barry

    Nice info here. New sites with good content should NOT be discriminated against by search engines. And new sites built soly for making money at AdSense without real content or with copied content should be removed out of AdWord listing and organic ranking.

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  • Andrew Thomas

    I’m definitely in favour of what Google are doing. Let’s get rid of the junky spam sites. I run five websites but (don’t take this the wrong way) I don’t do any SEO at all and I don’t like the idea. I purely concentrate on writing the best content for my sites and I trust Google to get my the ranking I feel I deserve. I get fed up when I see low-quality sites getting high ranking because they’ve done SEO or chased link exchanges. I just think if you’re expending effort with SEO then you’re not working on improving your site content.

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  • Darren Earney

    Google seems to like us…

    We are really pleased to see our new website currently number 24 out of 780 millions entries in for the term ‘website design’ and to be honest we are unsure how we got so far up so fast. I have been working on the marketing and HTML side for around 6 months and am amazed at the results. Can anyone let me know how has done so well so quickly? Any comments would be kindly appreciated.

    Best wishes,

    Darren Earney

  • Jake

    I agree that its a little too high but not bad and its very hard for new sites. Most internet sites only last 2 weeks and I believe that the trustnob should be tuned down just a little bit. I think links should be a bigger part then trust though.

  • Jake

    I don’t think its WAY too high, I think they should tone it down a bit and focus more on links and content. It’s very hard for a new company to get off the ground, the average internet company lasts 2 weeks!