In the brand new version of the Google Quality Rater’s Guidelines, they stress the importance of the rater’s judging the reputation of an author and a website. So it definitely raises the question of how Google might be looking at reputation on a larger scale and how they might be planning to incorporate parts of reputation into the algo.
Of course, it also raises the question about how badly reputation could be manipulated if Google does make it enough of the algo that SEOs could attempt to game it.
How are quality checkers checking reputation?
Google isn’t just about checking places like Better Business Bureau (BBB) and online review sites like Yelp. Instead they ask their raters to check a wide variety of sources, including (somewhat surprisingly) Wikipedia.
Reputation research is important when giving Highest ratings. Very positive reputation is often based on prestigious awards or recommendations from known experts or professional societies on the topic of the website. Wikipedia and other informational sources can be a good starting point for reputation research.
Some sites might not have Yelp reviews or be large enough for many people to be writing about how awesome (or not) they are. Google also has guidelines for smaller sites and how raters might consider reputation on those cases.
For some topics, such as humor or recipes, less formal expertise is OK. For these topics, popularity, user engagement, and user reviews can be considered evidence of reputation. For topics which need less formal expertise, websites can be considered to have a positive reputation if they are highly popular and well-loved for their topic or content type, and are focused on helping users.
Perks of a great reputation
Google is definitely putting emphasis on the importance of reputation. In fact, rater’s can bump up a Medium quality rating to High, just based on the site having a very positive reputation. This is very significant because it is quite a leap between a Medium and High rating, and reputation alone is enough to jump
What if you have no reputation?
There was concern that your site might not be eligible for a High rating if your site just doesn’t have a reputation at all. Perhaps you aren’t the type of website that people tend to leave reviews about. Perhaps you are still relatively new. Or maybe you recently rebranded, and your reputation hasn’t followed you yet.
Fortunately, a website without any reputation can be given a High rating. So there is no need to rush out and create a fake high reputation profile simply because there aren’t any positive reviews out there for your company (as long as their aren’t any negative ones either).
If your reputation is negative
Google states that a webpage cannot be given a High rating if the site has a negative reputation at all. They also focus on fraudulent and malicious reputations, and state websites with that bad reputation should always be given a Lowest rating.
Important: Negative reputation is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating. Evidence of truly malicious or fraudulent behavior warrants the Lowest rating.
When looking at negative reputation in malicious or fraudulent areas, it includes things such as financial fraud reports, overwhelmingly negative reviews, negative reviews from watchdog sites and negative news reports.
Translation into Rankings
Google likes to scale everything. So with this emphasis on reputation, it can be assumed that Google is trying to determine how to reliably tell if a site has a positive reputation or not. With quality rater’s input on reputation, they can try to determine how to algorithmically determine reputation and then apply it to the search algo.
But in order to do so, they need to overcome some significant spam issues first.
Reputation Spam via Schema
We are already seeing significant reputation spam in the Google search results right now with SEOs manipulating ratings markup. While there is an actual penalty that can be applied to sites for spammy markup, and which shows up in the Google Webmaster Tools console, the reality is that these sites could definitely influence quality raters.
If quality raters do a Google search for a company for the sole purpose of a reputation check before assigning a rating to a webpage, and they see directly in the search results that the site seems to have a great reputation with 4.5/5 stars with 100+ reviews – however, those quality checkers won’t realize it is simply spam markup and those ratings are actually non-existent.
Negative SEO – Reputation Style
If Google decides to include reputation heavily into their algo – which it seems as though they might be considering – it will open up the door to negative SEO targeting reputation.
Now, fake reviews are nothing new, although places like Yelp are getting much better at filtering out fake reviews – both positive and negative. But the majority of negative reviews have either been targeting local businesses or online stores, by other competitors, or attacking products or brands on larger sites, such as a competitor leaving negative reviews on a product on Amazon, in hopes the shopper will buy theirs instead.
But what about fake blogs being set up to try and skew a site’s reputations, ala “Company Sucks”. Or paying for blog posts that are nothing more than negative reviews – or positive reviews if they are trying to make themselves look good as opposed to making competitors look bad. There are many bloggers out there who will still accept payment to post reviews, and in these cases, links could be no followed since the goal wouldn’t be negative link juice for a target website, it would be to give a negative reputation to that target website instead.
This means that SEOs would need to do reputation management on a grander scale. While for links being done for negative SEO, webmasters eventually got a disavow tool (but look how many years that took). But if someone has been targeted by a negative reputation campaign, it will be a lot harder for a person or business to clean that up (outside of the EU Right to be Forgotten, but it wouldn’t apply in many of these cases), especially if it does start influencing the algo. After all, who is to say the nasty blog post really wasn’t from an unhappy customer, rather than from a competitor?
From Google’s perspective, it definitely wouldn’t be a smart move for Google to allow SEOs to discount certain reviews against them – otherwise it would completely negate using reputation at all in the algo if SEOs could just discount the bad reviews and leave the glowing ones. But still, there would be no easy way to determine what reviews are real and what are fake, especially if they are spread around the internet.
That said, Google could easily choose to only take reviews from certain places such as Yelp. And it could attempt to gleam information about fraudulent sites from reputable news sites to apply that to the algo. There are definitely problems with incorporating reputation as a strong point of the algo, at least with as much emphasis as Google seems to be placing on it in the quality rater’s guidelines.
Google’s Quality Rater’s Guidelines always have given some pretty good insight about what is important to Google in their search results, and the role of reputation is no exception. But how they chose to implement and use it remains to be seen, whether they only use a selection of reputation sources or only apply it to certain types of sites (the YMYL searchers), remains to be seen.
All SEOs should be making a point of checking their site’s reputation on a regular basis, even if their sites aren’t for a local business or aren’t for an online store. Google is asking rater’s to check the reputation on all sites, not just ones where reputation tends to be most important.
Those who offer reputation management just might get a boost from this as well, especially for those companies who just don’t have the knowledge of what to do to clean up bad reviews and enhance the positive ones.
While reputation has always been fairly important, it just got bumped up on the importance scale for SEOs of all types of websites, not just those with local and ecommerce sites.
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