Webmasterworld recently had a good thread about signs of low quality websites. The less a person knows about your topic the more likely they are to rely on general signs of quality (or lack of) when consider if they should link at your site or not.
Common Quality Questions:
Is the design clean? Is the content well organized? Do they have major misspellings on their homepage? Who is behind the site? Is it easy to contact them? Are they referenced by any other credible sources? How unique and useful is the content? How aggressively are ads blended into the content? etc. etc. etc.
Why Proxies for Quality Are Important:
Recently someone spread a God hates fags song website. Friends were instant messaging me about whether it was real or not. Some journalists guessed it wrong. People are getting better at creating fakes. The easier we make it for people to trust us in a snap judgement the more people will trust us (and link to our sites).
These proxies for trust are important, especially when you are new to an established industry, are in a new industry with a small community of support, are in a rapidly growing industry that the media is having a feeding frenzy over, or are the seedy arm of a larger industry.
Example of the Importance of Outside Perception:
If an industry is new, the early leaders of that industry might be determined by mainstream media perception (or other perception outside of that industry). Using blogs as an example, if the media did not constantly pump up the Weblogs Inc. story that company still might be unprofitable today. That media exposure lead to more media exposure, gave the sites the link juice to help them rank, and gave them brand exposure that brought in advertisements.
Relating This to the SEO Industry:
With SEO it is easier to be seen as a SEO expert if you are first seen as an expert on search. It is easier to be trusted as an expert on any topic if your site does not flag common signals of crap.
I just got a link from the WSJ to my keyword research tool, but if I would have scored lower on the proxies for value maybe they never would have linked. And when you get that type of link you can leverage it as an additional signal of trust that makes it easier for others to link at you.
With BlackHatSEO.com, I mentioned as seen in Clickz and Search Engine Watch, but what I didn't mention was that both mentions were brief and in the same syndicated article. When the London Times interviewed me about that site I quickly put up another as seen in at the top of the home page, which will make it easier to get more exposure. You want your press coverage to lead to more press coverage, because those are some of the most trusted links and links that money alone usually can't buy.
But I am Already Doing Well:
Many people who buy consultations are already doing far better than I would expect them to do giving some of the obvious flaws I see with their site structure and marketing methods. Some state that they are already doing well. The point of these sorts of signs of crap is not that you need to fill all the holes to do well, or that you can't do well if you do not fill them, but imagine how much better a site can do after it fixes obvious errors if it was already doing well when it had many errors that undermined its credibility and linkability.
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