Oddly enough, the internet is actually quite old school when it comes to relationships. Trust is given on first impressions. It’s essentially all a handshake deal.

How Google Works

A PageRank results from a mathematical algorithm based on the webgraph, created by all World Wide Web pages as nodes and hyperlinks as edges, taking into consideration authority hubs such as cnn.com or usa.gov. The rank value indicates an importance of a particular page. A hyperlink to a page counts as a vote of support. The PageRank of a page is defined recursively and depends on the number and PageRank metric of all pages that link to it (“incoming links”). A page that is linked to by many pages with high PageRank receives a high rank itself. If there are no links to a web page, then there is no support for that page. – From Wikipedia

Google issued PageRank on a 1-10 scale. A 1 being your average law firm website and 10 being Google or Microsoft. 8 to 9 is usually reserved for major media outlets, corporations, governments, etc. 7 is the best you can possibly expect for purely online media (For example: www.mixedmartialarts.com is a 7). The most a blogger could hope for was a 5 or a 6. Most blogs languished somewhere in 1 to 3.

Why does this all matter? If a blog has a PageRank of a 5 or a 6, their posts will likely appear on the first page of Google Search results. Which is as deep as most people go on search.

What Does This Mean for Bloggers?

When a blog is “highly trusted” by Google (a red or blue smiley face) the links have value. They have authority and weight behind them. To the point that marketeers and scammers were willing to pay for hyperlinks on site with a high enough PageRank. It still happens. I get emails on a regular basis from scammers wanting to buy links on Associate’s Mind.

All because Associate’s Mind had a Pagerank between 5 and 6 – depending on the month, how the winds blow, and whatever tweaks & adjustments Google made to the “Almighty Algorithm.” How did Associate’s Mind receive such a rank? What was the alchemical formula that propels one up the charts? As far as I can tell:

  1. Develop trust
  2. Be transparent
  3. Create high quality, original content
  4. Have a semi-presentable webpage

What does that mean? Largely, it means that SEO is often overrated.

Case Example: Consultant’s Mind

As an example, I’m going to use my brother-in-law’s blog, Consultant’s Mind (yes, he stole my masthead. But he’s family, what are you going to do?). He started Consultant’s Mind in 2012. He had no history, no connections, no presence online. Consultant’s Mind was a minuscule Green smiley face. He had nothing to help promote his site or propel it to the attention of others. The thought to ask for me to link to his site never even  came up. He’s not that kind of guy.

So my brother-in-law fixes up a basic WordPress page, gets it respectable looking, and starts cranking out blog posts – toiling in obscurity. No social media, no SEO. Just churning out post after post. Like every blogger, it started off rough. But he kept grinding. It got better and more in-depth and interesting. Well, interesting for an economist’s blog. 😉

All the while, he was interacting with Red and Blue faces. Linking to them from his blog. Commenting on their site with legitimate, valuable insights. Giving, putting forward his thoughts and opinions on their work. Slowly, over time, his traffic increased. Bit by bit, interested parties would come over and see what his blog was about. And some of them subscribed, or commented on a post. He kept on.

Then nine months after he started his blog, the Über-popular economist blog Freakonomics linked to Consultant’s Mind, regarding some comments he made regarding Management Consulting. Freakonomics has a PageRank of 7 – they are a big Red smiley face. When they link to someone they are putting a stamp, a seal-of-approval on whatever website they link to.

But how do they choose who to link to? How do they decide that a blog is legitimate and not?

The Special Sauce

If a blog is established, or a relationship already exists between two bloggers, it’s easy to link to them without pause or consideration (like my link to Popehat.com above).

But when a blogger links to a new, unknown website they must quickly make this decision:

  • Is the website/blog legitimate or is it a scam?

They’re not going to spend hours agonizing over the decision. They’re going to fall back on “thin-slicing” as popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink:

Thin-slicing refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.

The unconscious works by sifting through the situation in front of you, parsing out irrelevant data and homing in on what really matters.

This is the type of thought process people rely on when they decide to link to a new, unknown blog.

Back to the example of Consultant’s Mind and Freakonomics, Dubner (the author at Freakonomics) likely went through the following thought process when deciding to highlight and link to Consultant’s Mind:

  1. Make podcast
  2. Review comments on podcast
  3. Find insightful response to podcast
  4. See that comment is from a blogger with an unknown website (Consultant’s Mind)
  5. Go to website
  6. Review posts and information there briefly
  7. Make gut-call that blogger is legitimate
  8. Make a post about it on Freakonomics and link to Consultant’s Mind

Steps 1 & 2 above likely took a considerable amount of time. I’d wager that steps 3-8 perhaps took five minutes. In that five minutes, Dubner (or any blogger), had to decide whether or not he could trust Consultant’s Mind.

A Microtransaction of Trust

It is not a high degree of trust – it’s not  a million dollar handshake deal or giving offering your daughter’s hand in marriage. But every hyperlink from an established website or blog to a new one is a microtransaction of trust.

Big Blog: Little website, you’ve done something for me. Made a good comment on my blog. Provided insightful analysis. Highlighted some unknown data. Created information. In return, I will connect you to my audience.

It’s in these exchanges that smaller websites and blogs begin to grow and garner attention. This trust is why no legitimate blogger will ever accept paid post or links. It also highlights the meritocracy of the web. Wherein a single individual can, with time, capture the attention of tens of thousands of readers without the backing of media corporations.

It all starts with trust. 

As a matter of complete disclosure, the phrase “a microtransaction of trust” was coined by my brother-in-law during a conversation we had a couple night ago. I just stole it from him and used it first (with his blessing).

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