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What’s the truth about your site?

It’s no wonder that your customers have learned to be a bit wary on the Web. Spam steals their attention. Scams still their money. Phishing steals their very identities. Some of your customers are relying on search engines to separate the wheat from the chaff. If your company shows up at the top of the search results, searchers assume that it’s because your company is reputable, but John Nagle thinks Google needs some help.


John is the founder of SiteTruth, which provides a real-world check on any commercial Web site. Search engines do a wonderful job of examining Web factors to deduce the importance of a site. Google’s PageRank examines the number and authority of links to any site—other search engines use similar techniques. But John says that spammers and scammers can sometimes infiltrate the search results, despite Google’s best efforts.
SiteTruth uses traditional off-line investigative techniques to check out the business behind the Web site, and it does it automatically. John demonstrated how SiteTruth works on a keyword such as “tampa hotel” as it scores Google’s regular results, and you can try it for yourself. (SiteTruth can work the same magic on search results from other search engines, too.)
How does it work? SiteTruth examines up to 20 pages on a Web site looking for a postal-style address for the business responsible for the Web site. SiteTruth validates a site’s SSL certificate to ensure that it is a “real” certificate, not just a so-called “domain control” certificate, which anyone can get. It uses the address and the URL to locate the business in the Yellow Pages database and in Open Directory. It also looks for a valid Better Business Bureau seal of approval. You could imagine that the service could one day look up business identities with Dun & Bradstreet or credit reporting agencies or a dozen other company reference files.
By looking at all these factors, SiteTruth makes a determination whether a commercial site is trustworthy, or whether some questions might be in order. “If a site is reasonably legitimate, we’ll come up with a business identity,” John confidently asserted.
I checked it out on several well-known Web sites—most came up green or at least yellow. Then I tried it on my own site: red.
“A lot of blogs have this problem,” John admitted. My site has no mailing address listed because I am an author, not a business. I saw no reason to list my home address on the Web. Because I don’t have an e-Commerce site, I have no SSL certificate and even though I’ve tried, my site has been on the waiting list for Open Directory for years. And, no business, so no Yellow Pages listing and no BBB seal.
But that’s OK. My site really isn’t a business, so it’s OK that I don’t pass muster as a trusted merchant.
I’d like to see SiteTruth go beyond search results to be used as a browser plug-in or a GreaseMonkey script. That way, I could refer to it whenever I browsed the Web. SiteTruth is still in alpha test, so I’m not sure how John will make money from this idea. Maybe he could sell spam fighters and identity theft services in ads on the detail pages for each company’s ratings. Or sell the service to one of the big search engines. Whatever he decides to do, I think SiteTruth is a good idea whose time has come. Why aren’t we using real world methods to test the legitimacy of Web sites?
So, go ahead. Check out what SiteTruth says about your Web site. If you’re red, maybe you should be doing something about that. You never know when one of the search engines might decide to use some of these factors in its ranking algorithm.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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