How SEO, PR, and Social Media Build Vectors of Proof

I’ve been giving a talk recently about the importance of understanding Google E-A-T. In it, I have a slide that mentions vectors of proof.

To me, these are the holy grail of digital marketing. What do I mean by vectors of proof? First, what is a vector? Britannica defines vectors as…

a quantity that has both magnitude and direction. It is typically represented by an arrow whose direction is the same as that of the quantity and whose length is proportional to the quantity’s magnitude.

In my analogy, what I mean by “vector of proof” is a quantity of trust that has both magnitude and direction. In other words, for example, a popular and trusted “seed site” with a link to your website would be a valuable vector of proof with a certain magnitude of trust.

Seed Sites

SEO legend, Bill Slawski, in an SEO by the Sea post from 2010 (updated in 2019), wrote about seed sites and how search engines use them to start a web crawl. The quality of that seed site will relay some trust to the sites it links to.

He outlined how the…

importance of a seed site might be based upon a ‘host trust’ score or rating or other attribute associated with that host, which generally provides an indication of:

  • Popularity
  • Trustworthiness
  • Reliability
  • Quality
  • Other characteristics of a host

If you’ve never heard of Bill Slawski, do yourself a favor and go down that rabbit hole. Bill, unfortunately, has recently passed away. It was a huge loss for the SEO community. Bill was one of the very few people in the world who could devour a Google patent and then explain it to us mere mortals in a way that was practical and actionable. 

In a similar post explaining the concept of seed sites, SEO Tim Hill, says of seed sites…

“Some people claim, and I’m one of them, that search engines like Google keep a list of websites they believe are never going to do anything dodgy. They will never have links to poor quality websites, their content is well written and presented and they are popular at the posher end of the Internet – in other words, they have backlinks from other websites of similar status.

Examples might include Wikipedia, CNN, BBC, and so on. They are angels in Google’s eyes and the opposite end of the spectrum from the spammy or junk-filled sites that constantly try to rank using Black Hat SEO. If everyone had websites like these angels Google’s job would be a whole lot easier … but they don’t.”

It’s that last piece that I am talking about when I refer to “vectors of proof.” Google is constantly looking for signals, indicators, or directions as to what is valuable and what is garbage. These directions are telling Google how to find quality content.

Influencing Vectors of Proof

If I told you that I am an expert, you might believe me or you might think “this idiot has an overinflated opinion of himself.” It’s probably somewhere in the middle. I can’t tell you I am an expert and expect you to believe me. I must show you.

Google looks for verifiable evidence that someone is an expert and can be trusted. This happens through these vectors of proof.

You can influence the existence of these to your benefit but within reason. In other words, you need to earn them and not try to get them using black hat techniques like link farms or spammy CDNs.

Let’s look at some examples of this.

Exposure and Links on Trusted Industry Websites

Have you ever heard the saying that you are “judged by the company you keep?” Well, this is true of how you are judged online as well.

Your audience, and Google, need to see that your website content is trustworthy and that the creators of that content are trustworthy.

This takes a lot of hard work. It could be an agency working on your behalf, work you handle internally, or a combination of both. It looks like this…

  • Guest Posts on high-value, high-trust websites in your industry
  • Interviews on podcasts
  • Video interviews
  • Presentation video embedded on industry websites
  • Citations in industry blogs/articles
  • Round-up posts of experts on industry blogs
  • And more

Any opportunity where you can feature one of your company experts or get a mention on a high-value website is a vector of proof. It’s the combination of the great content, the link back to your website, and the trust coming from that high-value site that Google is looking for.

PR to Build Trust

I’m in the middle of reading Scott Baradell’s book, Trust Signals. Scott is a PR professional who is reimagining what PR is and what it can be. In the introduction, he offers a new definition of PR which I think is brilliant…

“PR is the art of securing trust at scale.” – Scott Baradell

PR used to be mainly about getting as much media coverage as possible. But Scott argues that media is losing its influence and I agree. There is so much content out there that the impact of mainstream news media has lessened considerably over the years.

So, the idea that getting a mention in the New York Times could be a huge win for your company is less of a reality these days. PR today is about building trust at scale, meaning not just getting brand attention but using that attention to build trust.

This happens when a subject matter expert from your organization is featured in an article or interview sharing helpful information and knowledge with your target audience. This helps to establish your brand as the one to trust in your industry.

It could be anything from a feature in a local newspaper to being interviewed on CNN (check out HARO, a great tool for finding interview opportunities). Ask your PR agency or consultant how their efforts will help you build trust at scale while developing high-value vectors of proof.

Remember, vanity metrics that do not support your goals are not worth what some might be telling you. The average customer today is not looking for popularity, they are looking for trustworthiness.

Social Media Value and Consistency

Yes, social media can build value. Social media has a reputation for being a vast wasteland of TikTok videos and political arguments on Facebook or Twitter. There is that, but there is still a viable business application here.

Social media is a qualifier. This is the most immediately accessible way for your target audience to see how you “exist in the wild.” They want to see that you are active and engaged.

Google has stated time and again that social media is not a ranking factor. But this is misleading. For example, in their Quality Raters Guideline, they talk about using social media to find examples of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness… E-A-T.

So, while the links on your social media profile may not influence your rankings in the SERPs, your overall presence on those channels can influence how Google sees you in the big picture. I could easily go down the social media rant rabbit hole but I will spare you that.

Instead, I simply encourage you to make sure of the following on your business’s and subject matter expert’s social profiles…

  • Include ALL your credentials and affiliations in your bio. Make it clear that you know what you’re talking about.
  • Build a solid following and follow well. It’s not about the numbers as much as it is about the quality of who follows you and whom you follow.
  • Post high E-A-T content and comments. Engage, inform, and focus on being a trusted resource in that channel.
  • Share helpful content from trusted resources. It’s not all about you, it’s all about your audience. Share anything that will help them be better at what they do.
  • Be consistent, helpful, and responsive. A profile with the most recent post being a self-promotional piece from two years ago… very bad!
  • Use branded visuals for all channels. Make it easy for people to know it’s you or your organization.

There’s certainly more advice I could give on how to effectively use social media. But, for this post, I will just ask you a question… is your target audience better off with you on social media?

Vectors of Proof Are a Long Game!

This all takes time but the effects are powerful and lasting. If you are looking for immediate digital marketing success, look to paid search and social.

But don’t ignore the long game. Content marketing, social media marketing, email marketing, SEO, etc. all take time. And, if done properly, will get you a cumulative build-up over time of vectors of proof.

You will earn the trust of your customers and future customers. You will gain positive brand recognition, and your vectors of proof will stand as a lasting fortification against your competition. Now, go build those vectors!

Jon-Mikel Bailey is the Chief Development and Marketing Officer for Wellspring Digital, a full-service digital marketing firm specializing in SEO, PPC, Marketing Automation, and Content Marketing. He has been published in MarketingProfs, Business2Community, SpinSucks, {Grow}, Social Media Today, and more. He has spoken at the Digital Summit Series, MarketingProfs, ITE, Grant Thornton, and others.