Trust, Subject Authority, and Reputation: 3 essentials to a successful online marketing strategy

by Ray Larson
  |  March 31, 2015  |  
March 31, 2015

by Ray Larson

Remember the old sales adage that you sell yourself first, your company second, the product last? Why? We’ve traded/bartered/and bought from trusted sources for thousands of years. It’s most important to establish a relationship and build trust with your prospect first.

As a business owner how do you insure your hearty handshake and steady eye contact establish that same bond of trust with your website visitors and future buyers?

Just as in the offline world you do so by clearly communicating to your prospects you possess sufficient trust, subject authority and reputation. You do so by delivering an incredible product, keeping your word, and establishing your reputation as a subject matter expert that delivers on the promise created by your marketing.

Online you have an added challenge. You must not only convince the prospect/website visitor, but the search engines as well that you can be trusted, you know what you’re talking about (subject authority) and possess integrity (reputation) for delivering what you promise. Would you give your business to a firm lacking anyone of these three? I don’t think so.

Search engines act as virtual proxies for judging your company online. Just as a consumer/prospect evaluates you and your firm offline, search engines make the same decisions regarding your firm’s trust, reputation and subject authority. The instantaneous judgments their algorithm makes are rendered in the search engine results pages (SERPs). A high ranking in the SERPs for a user query reflects the judgment the search engine algorithm made regarding the query. Remember, for Google (and all the search engines) to stay in business it must retain your trust in the results it produces. The higher the ranking, the more confidence Google has that the answers it returned possess sufficient trust, subject authority, and reputation to satisfy your query.

The point above cannot be overstated. The SERPs rank the results of a user query based upon their algorithmic determination of trust, subject authority, and reputation. Remember Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc. are in the business of returning the best possible results. If they return answers that require constant use of the back button, i.e., unsatisfactory, you will find another search engine (Duck Duck Go, for example). It’s in the Google’s best interest to return accurate and trustworthy answers.

Thus as a business owner with an online presence, you possess two target audiences that you must convince of your relevance and trust: humans and the search engines.

In order to show up in the SERPs, you need to convince the search engines first.

So how does this affect your firm’s online marketing efforts? How do you assure your future buyers that you can be trusted with their order, cash, credit card and business? How do you convey online that you can deliver what you promise? How does a potential client, without the benefit of the hearty handshake and look in the eye, “measure you up?” How do I convince Google, Bing, Yahoo, et al of the same?

Ultimately your website’s job, as your 24/7 salesperson, is to communicate that your firm can be trusted, that you are subject matter experts in your chosen field, and that your reputation reflects this. Let’s break this down by each core attribute, what each means in the online environment, and how to grow each.


Waaaay back last century we relied on trusted brands and stores to deliver the goods we needed (actually we drove to the mall to pick them up). Brands acted as quality intermediaries for consumers. You had a reasonable expectation of the quality of a product or service based upon the brand’s reputation. Fast forward to the present day: not so much anymore. Why? Moore’s Law has given consumers access to voluminous information and the search engines have leveraged this. With consumer reviews, forums, and social media, discovery of better priced, higher quality offerings are only a few keystrokes away. Search engines easily verify the identity of an online presence and make an algorithmic judgment of this entity’s trust and determine whether it should rank in response to a query.

Search Engines and Social Platforms act as trust agents

Furthermore, until 2 years ago web trust was constructed off of a currency of links. The more inbound links to your website, the more trust the search engines deemed your website possessed. Unscrupulous web marketers spoiled this system by creating a whole economy based upon higher rankings for paid links. This changed dramatically with the implementation of a new search engine by Google in the fall of 2013. This algorithm change, named Hummingbird, allowed Google to better understand the context of queries and made it cost prohibitive to game the system. Companies can no longer rank high for industry important queries without convincing the search engines of their trust ability.

In fact, search engines, and social networks to a certain extent, act as virtual trust agents for users. The high ranking they return for a query acts as a de facto “seal of approval.” This facilitates an exchange with a user, making them more prone to part with their credit card information or personal information.

How do you convince the search engines and your target audience that your firm can be trusted?

  • Deliver what you promise. Make sure your product matches its hype. If it doesn’t the world will know via negative comments left on forums, social networks and reviews.
  • Create incredible content that reputable websites will want to link to. Remember; no longer do the quantity of websites linking to you mean anything. It’s the quality of those websites that link to you that counts. It’s better to have far fewer links from trusted websites than it is from thousands of links from questionable sites. Domain authority is the most effective way to measure a website’s quality.
  • Make sure your website answers the question, “why would I do business with you?” Is it because you have the lowest price (unsustainable)? Or because for 10 years you/your firm have exceeded the expectations of your clients? If the latter, then make sure you sprinkle your website with the testimonials of your many happy customers.
  • Insure you have a Google + page as well as a Google My Business page. View the Google Plus platform for what it is: an identity verification platform. It’s here that Google begins to establish its judgment of your firm’s trustworthiness. Establishing a Google My Business page allows the search engine to rank you for local results.
  • For every blog post, every social media post, tweet, or pin, ask yourself these questions: does this align with our brand values? Will this content increase or diminish our brand equity?

Subject Authority

Content is the new “currency” of this century’s web. Quality content is that which is useful, relevant to your target audience, and attracts visitors who become leads and ultimately customers. This is not a top-down approach, however. In the post-Hummingbird web, the search engines look for signs that the content resonated with its audience. How? Search engines look for clues in social signals. These are the likes, shares, 1+s, retweets and comments the content generated. It also includes links, citations (mentions), sentiment, and how fresh the content is.

  • Create user based content. This means scour your most frequently asked questions (FAQs). Create content based upon the needs/concerns of these clients.
  • Show off your professional credentials. Is your firm a member of an industry-related association, won awards, gained hard to achieve certifications? Show them off! Place these badges of authority at the footer of every badge or at least prominently on your home page.
  • Designate an in-house subject authority. If you’re a small firm make this the business owner. Take the byline of every piece of content produced. If you’re a bigger firm with multiple members responsible for subject matter content, then make sure there’s an author biography (a Wordpress plug in) highlighting their/your professional credentials.
  • Display your passion. Demonstrate your business passion through blogs, video, and social media. Let your target audience know how excited you are about your profession and industry. Transfer that passion to buying from you!


You are who the web perceives you to be. Google and the search community can now much more easily connect the dots between what you say you do and what you actually deliver. If you’re a well-established business with a sterling reputation for “walking the walk” your offline reputation will easily follow. If you’re a startup, inculcate the commentary above regarding trust. It’s a great place to start.


  • Collect digital reviews. I strongly suggest that Google Plus be your review platform of choice. Why? Because it’s Google, the number one search engine in the world. Don’t be afraid to publish negative reviews. They add authenticity to your brand. Negative reviews also give you a chance to right a wrong, for the whole world to see.
  • Control the messaging of your digital assets. This means you need to insure consistency in tone, voice and messaging across all digital platforms of not only your firm, but your own, and any employees digitally connected to your company.
  • Leverage your hard earned reputation to explore other opportunities. If customers trust you to produce and deliver “X”, why wouldn’t they do the same if you decided to enter tangential business? Use your hard earned well deserved reputation to extend your services into other areas.

Want to learn more about the concepts of trust, authority and reputation? Lucky for us Google search expert David Amerland outlined everything you need to know in his bestselling treatise on this subject, Semantic Search. I am a devotee of his ideas and concepts.

As online marketers, our mission at Vende Digital is to connect customers with our clients. Ultimately, our job is the same regardless of the client, or in what industry they compete in. We design each client’s strategy to increase the trust they have with their target audience, establish them as subject matter authorities, and make sure both the search engines and that target audience are well aware of their reputation. Success follows if you’ve convinced both your target audience and the search engines that you possess all three attributes.






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