Google: Small Sites Can Outrank Big Sites

By: Chris Crum - April 23, 2014

The latest Webmaster Help video from Google takes on a timeless subject: small sites being able to outrank big sites. It happens from time to time, but how can it be done? Do you have the resources to do it?

Some think it’s simply a lost cause, but in the end, it’s probably just going to depend on what particular area your business is in, and if there are real ways in which you can set yourself apart from your bigger competition.

Do you see small sites outranking big ones very often? Let us know in the comments.

This time, Matt Cutts specifically tackles the following question:

How can smaller sites with superior content ever rank over sites with superior traffic? It’s a vicious circle: A regional or national brick-and-mortar brand has higher traffic, leads to a higher rank, which leads to higher traffic, ad infinitum.

Google rephrased the question for the YouTube title as “How can small sites become popular?”

Cutts says, “Let me disagree a little bit with the premise of your question, which is just because you have some national brand, that automatically leads to higher traffic or higher rank. Over and over gain, we see the sites that are smart enough to be agile, and be dynamic, and respond quickly, and roll out new ideas much faster than these sort of lumbering, larger sites, can often rank higher in Google search results. And it’s not the case that the smaller site with superior content can’t outdo the larger sites. That’s how the smaller sites often become the larger sites, right? You think about something like MySpace, and then Facebook or Facebook, and then Instagram. And all these small sites have often become very big. Even Alta Vista and Google because they do a better job of focusing on the user experience. They return something that adds more value.”

“If it’s a research report organization, the reports are higher quality or they’re more insightful, or they look deeper into the issues,” he continues. “If it’s somebody that does analysis, their analysis is just more robust.”

Of course, sometimes they like the dumbed down version. But don’t worry, you don’t have to dumb down your content that much.

“Whatever area you’re in, if you’re doing it better than the other incumbents, then over time, you can expect to perform better, and better, and better,” Cutts says. “But you do have to also bear in mind, if you have a one-person website, taking on a 200 person website is going to be hard at first. So think about concentrating on a smaller topic area – one niche – and sort of say, on this subject area – on this particular area, make sure you cover it really, really well, and then you can sort of build out from that smaller area until you become larger, and larger, and larger.”

On that note, David O’Doherty left an interesting comment on the video, saying, “I can’t compete with Zillow, Trulia or Realtor on size so I try to focus on the smaller important details, neighborhoods, local events, stuff that matters to people. Focusing on a niche, creating trust with the visitors to your site, providing valuable original content is paramount to success. It’s not easy and takes time and I have a lot of help but it appears to be working.”

“If you look at the history of the web, over and over again, you see people competing on a level playing field, and because there’s very little friction in changing where you go, and which apps you use, and which websites you visit, the small guys absolutely can outperform the larger guys as long as they do a really good job at it,” he adds. “So good luck with that. I hope it works well for you. And don’t stop trying to produce superior content, because over time, that’s one of the best ways to rank higher on the web.”

Yes, apparently Google likes good content. Have you heard?

Do you think the big sites can be outranked by little sites with enough good content and elbow grease? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image via YouTube

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • wertwert

    OMG Matt… your examples of small sites are MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Altavista, and Google!!! You have got to be saying this crap on purpose.

  • http://webskitters.com/ Webskitters

    MySpace, Facebook, Instagram, Altavista and Google are small sites!!!!! Then which one is the big? Can anyone suggest?

  • David Hurley

    **Over and over gain, we see the sites that are smart enough to be agile,
    and be dynamic, and respond quickly, and roll out new ideas much faster
    than these sort of lumbering, larger sites, can often rank higher in
    Google search results.**

    OK, 1 site out of lets say 5 million…I suppose that can be construed as ‘often’…lol…and they may occasionally rank higher in long, and I mean lonnnggg tail key phrases, but the **best** traffic does and will go to the big guys…

  • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

    Guys, Matt isn’t saying those sites (Myspace, FB, Instagram, etc.) are small right now. He’s saying those sites were small at one point in time. He’s right – every site starts off small.

    But, where I disagree with Matt is that the Internet is different now than it was when Myspace and FB got started. There is a lot more competition now. There are new startups launching everyday. Back then, you’d have a few innovative sites launching every year. Plus, it was a lot easier to promote your site back then. Remember link directories, article directories, PR, and guest blogging?? These techniques used to work, and small guys could compete. The small sites today do not have the same options and resources that were available to them 5 to 10 years ago. Furthermore, as the Internet matures, it becomes more and more difficult to start something “new” and “innovative” because there is so much startup capital being pumped into the Internet.

    Sorry Matt, it is not even close to an even playing field. How do you really expect a small business owner to spend days on creating content when he has to run a business?? Do you think a small business owner can afford to shell out a few hundred dollars per content piece like some of the big corporations?

    You guys really need to think a little more in-depth about what is going on in search.

    • richard

      Publishing online content is now a loss making endeavour for most small web businesses. The cost of producing good, quality content far exceeds any return that you can get back from web traffic. Even if you haven’t been hit by Google algo changes, the amount of organic traffic these days has drastically shrunk due to ads filling up half of the search page and Google’s aggressive self promotion of its own products at the expense of everyone else.

      This raises the question, why even bother to publish content on the web anymore? The only one to benefit from your effort will be Google.

      I think we’ll be seeing more and more content being locked behind pay-walls out of reach of Google in the future. If you have good content, why not publish on platforms such as Kindle or similar? At least there you have more of an even playing field, and retain some control.

    • Steve Gardner

      excellent points, the small guy is screwed,

      “Sorry Matt, it is not even close to an even playing field. How do you really expect a small business owner to spend days on creating content when he has to run a business?? Do you think a small business owner can afford to shell out a few hundred dollars per content piece like some of the big corporations?

      You guys really need to think a little more in-depth about what is going on in search.”

    • http://ripetechnologies.com/ RiPE Technologies

      I don’t know, Steve. We work with tons of small businesses specifically so that they *don’t* have to spend all day in-house trying to create and distribute content. We have clients that only spend $1K per month and some that spend $100K per month, and we get great results for both. Our job is to turn the small guy into the big guy. What I can tell you is that the only way a small business can compete is to hire a marketing company – it’s not possible to successfully DIY online marketing if you are competing against businesses that deploy a professional team like us. And it’s better that way, because like you said, businesses need to focus on their core products and services, not spend all their time trying to be marketing experts. So to reiterate, hiring a marketing agency is not expensive if you hire a good one who will get you ROI.

      • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

        @ripetechnologies:disqus
        Some businesses are better funded than others. Most small businesses cannot afford $100K, or sometimes even $1K.

        And, there are a lot of gray areas in SEO. For example, a small biz serving a local market will have a much easier time ranking for local keywords, vs a small biz trying to rank for national or global keywords.

      • UFeedMe

        This is not entirely true. You can absolutely compete with the big guys if you know how to integrate social technology and produce high quality content in house. If you are an excellent marketer and have in house staff to help you that is. I (and the various companies I created) have made many millions online since 2002 all the way through today and never hired any marketing company. In fact any time we did we took several steps back. Hiring someone to do everything for you leaves you in the dark. Break the cord and you are dead in the water. Same as relying on Google. I see these firms selling things like FB page creation or offering to create them for free (that takes all of 3 minutes) and then post on them for you and bring fans (ie: 4 posts per month and $5 in ads) for $100/mo on the super low end to much more. Take 1 day to learn it and you can do the same in 2 mins. These companies capitalize on your lack of knowledge. Any good marketer can get a page fans, only the best can create REAL, fanatic customer engagement. @RiPE You have customers paying you $100K monthly but your own Facebook page has 500 fans. That is always the dead giveaway. Just one of mine has 70k fans, so you tell me who is better fit to advise on this matter. 99% of marketing companies are not qualified to take your money for the services they provide and the good ones cost big money. That is a fact. Good luck out there, it certainly isn’t getting any easier but there is plenty of money on the table. Don’t worry about Google, the total amount of raw organic traffic even available is not even worth going for. Concentrate everywhere else and your Google ranking will fall into place. There will come a point where your Google rank doesn’t matter and I for one will be there waiting to capitalize on it.

  • http://www.habifortaleza.com Nuno Cravo

    I would like to add, another issue here, NO MORE ARE AVAILABLE THE KEYWORD DATA FROM GOOGLE, so you can point out wich keyword will target more volume, you can use google trends for it, but its a very poor tool now, at least for me that im working in real estate, in brasil, i have a small site that outranked very well after a year of hard work and now i can see a BIG SITE, http://www.vivareal.com, getting the first 3 positions on ranking all the way for the bigger search engine terms, and no matter what i do i cant rank for the bigger and broader terms, and getting a little or small piece of the leads cake that is all delivered to those sites with the first 3 non payd positions on the organic search, any ideas on how to get free keyword tool that helps and provides real volume data?

    • http://www.freeworldwebsites.com Freeworld Websites

      Check out http://www.keywordeye.com – it goes some way as an alternative to the google keywords tool. Small monthly subscription but worth it!

  • http://www.habifortaleza.com Nuno Cravo

    Now, other issue, when we type in the search query on google, it automatically gives us the results leads, not making us to write all the words we want but grouping in the search terms in broader terms presented by google, now wich one should we target? the suggested keywords provided by google when we start typing on google search query, or use the google trends and try to check the broader terms? wich one? because google analytics no longer provide the broader terms, they are hidden from the regular (non paid user).

    • UFeedMe

      None. Stop trying to rank on Google. That is what is holding you back.

  • http://seo-company-bristol.com/ SEO Bristol UK

    Actually it is very easy to rank well for local traffic against ‘national brands’ – we do it with pretty much every website we create for clients.

    Structure the site correctly – add content that is written by YOU (not scraped or copied)

    Add social media – and in a few weeks – 1st page of Google!

    • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

      The more localized and less competition, the easier, so I do agree. However, my point above was speaking of publishers that compete on a global or national level.

      • UFeedMe

        It is not hard to compete nationally, you just need to ignore Google. The goal needs to get big and push the brand, it cannot be simply “to rank”. Rankings fluctuate anyway, it is not like your job is done if you get a ranking you wanted. One of my sites gets $18K worth of direct traffic per month, and this is a nationally competing website. On this same site $0 is spent on advertising and no Google services are used for promotion except +. At that point, you can see that there is a much bigger picture beyond Google when it comes to internet marketing. Break the “we must rank on Google or we will fail” paradigm.

    • UFeedMe

      “add content that is written by YOU (not scraped or copied)” This is the problem most marketers have. They can’t write worth a s***, and they aren’t willing to spend more than $5 for an article. Then they wonder why their sites are tanking! Look, if you are cheap, or like taking shortcuts, or want something guaranteed you are in the wrong business. If you can’t understand that a $15 article is going to bring you in 3 times (at min) the traffic and sales vs a $5 grabled post that will never rank then you should probably not be in business period, let alone trying to make it online.

  • http://www.bizwaremagic.com/ Titus Hoskins

    Rank where? Maybe in the land of OZ but certainly not in Google… small sites don’t stand a chance now since G nuked guest blogging, article marketing, press releases and/or linking of any kind on the web. If you link now – it is considered spam in the eyes of Google – regardless of the quality of the content/site/link. The web is dead – let’s start a new religion.

  • John

    For over 10 years I struggled to get my small commercial web site from
    PR1 to PR5 it stayed there for two years. My sales dropped and I had my
    site professionally redesigned to be more this decade than last decade,
    and to be better for mobile devices. overnight it dropped to PR 3. I am
    devastated, and now have no idea what to do to regain lost ground.

  • Steve Gardner

    what a crock of crap

  • Bob

    This article is a load of BS.

  • Guest

    More from the president of the liar’s club . . . We all did well when just a couple of years ago in ranking and SERPS. Google sold out to the big boys….Search for any product sold at the retail level and you will see this as fact.

    • Tim

      I’ve got the only website in the world that specializes in my product. I used to rank number 1 for most of my keywords. Now hardly any rank. It’s sites like Home Depot that get the keywords and they don’t even have my product on their site! Google search is crap now. Just because a website is popular doesn’t mean it is an authority on something.

  • Dolce Vita

    I don’t believe Matt Cutts had the nerve to say that. He is clearly delusional.

  • Mark

    Matt’s comments are correct if made about the decent search engines (Bing, Yahoo, etc.). But he’s speaking of Google. And on Google, where a decent search experience is apparently anethema, Matt’s comments are blatant lies (no news there).

    Arguing against what he said is so very easy, because it doesn’t even pass the smell test.

    Consider what happens when some small competitor attacks a small Website with a negative SEO campaign. If you’ve got, say, 200 domains linking to your site and your competitor does a few toxic blog postings then you will disappear from Google. You won’t be affected on a decent search engine, but we all know Google dominates search right now (that needs to change, and we need to make that change happen).

    The same competitor trying this out on say, Amazon, would have to hugely scale up his efforts to have any effect. So large sites have a natural immunity. The negative SEO business is going strong, and yet Google denies it exists. Google spawned it, so I suppose the denials and other lies are to be expected. It would not be like Google to actually accept responsibility for its own bad behavior.

    Since we know that Google plays fast and loose with ethics (carefully rationalizing misconduct later to claim innocence), what about yet another complicating factor? I suspect that Google “knows” Amazon doesn’t violate link rules so totally would give them a free pass. By contrast, Google assumes that small Websites are guilty even if proven innocent. I’m not dissing Amazon here at all, so don’t get that message. Amazon is, in fact, part of the antidote to the poison known as “Google.”

    Once you are marked as a “Google criminal,” Google says it’s no problem. Just clean up those links. But even if you do clean up those links, Google still shows those pages as linking to your site even two years later. And it gets worse; one of my sites has dozens of long-dead domains linking to it, according to Google.

    Google uses Penguin to “filter” based on link data, but the data are extremely faulty. The only purpose of Penguin can possibly have, since Google knows this, is to deliberately provide poor results. And it’s doing that quite well as we can all see.

    If an ethical person somehow took over at Google and decided the company should have a decent search engine, that person’s first action would probably be to kill Penguin. Since that’s not likely to happen, the next best choice is to kill Google (that’s something we can help bring about).

    Google’s evil goes beyond just the dead link lying problem. For example, what about the new link removal industry that Google spawned and does almost nothing about? All you have to do is create a spammy site and start linking to other sites. Then charge them $5 to get each link removed. Matt Cutts, spewing his normal stream of lies and excuses, said Google would take action against such sites. I’ve reported a few of these over 100X each since 2012 and Google has done nothing. Those sites are still in my profile and still charging for link removal–big “LINK REMOVAL $5″ button that you can’t possibly miss.

    This problem heavily affects small sites, but has no effect on large sites (for the scale reason mentioned earlier).

    Ah, but Google has a disavow tool. Sure. That’s about as effective as spitting into the wind. It does not protect your link profile, contrary to what the zombie class talking heads keep repeating. Even if you populate it with all the diigo spam that Google refuses to remove, all the blogspot spam that Google refuses to remove, and a huge number of links that weren’t in Webmaster Tools but that you paid a few hundred dollars to find–it doesn’t help you.

    Yes, I’d like to see Google some day provide a good user experience and even a decent search engine. My sites would rank very well, if Google ever rose to the challenge of providing a decent search engine. I know this because on the decent search engines, which, unlike Google, value good content, my sites rank quite well. But not on Google, because Google wants to serve up big sites and only the lamest of smaller sites to reduce the competition to the big sites. Occasionally, some small site’s good content will slip through the cracks at Google and actually rank well. But that’s abnormal, and I’m sure it must set off alarm bells all over at Google. It’s why we keep getting new algorithm releases–good content got through, we must fix that problem!

    There is a way to get Google to abandon its “do more evil” way of managing what it dishonestly claims to be a search engine (it’s an ad server, modeling itself after the browser redirect “search helpers”). We just have to convince people to stop using it. To get searchers using Bing or Yahoo, we don’t need to do anything more than just get them to compare. Google hugely loses in any sort of quality contest. Let the bad results speak for themselves.

    All of us need to join that effort. Recently, a member of Congress publicly used the term “google search,” and that kind of behavior is something we should jump on. Members of Congress do enough damage already without giving Google free ads on the taxpayer’s dime.

    We can, and should, topple Google. I think Google is daring us to do that. But that dare is based more on hubris than anything else. Google is like any other malevolent dictator. It rules by permission of the governed. We need to take that permission away. Don’t ask how to play nice with Google, but how to do to Google what it did to thousands of good sites that are no longer with us.

    • UFeedMe

      You said it dude.

  • Rudy Brinkman

    One of my webshops outperforms many other “big” store-sites whome have spend lots of money on SEO and design as far as ranking is concerned. Simply because.. it’s design is so freaking simple and indexed very well because of that, so it seems.

    The SEO is far from perfect, they keywords are far from perfect (less than 30% score on some test-websites) and still it’s ranking extremely well, generating lots of traffic and doing very well as far as sales is concerned. Don’t know if it sells more than others do, but I’m very pleased with it.

    There goes another SEO myth down the drain?

  • Gemma Bellamy

    It seems unlikely that small sites can ever rank better than the brands, but from time to time, my tiny little baby gifts website http://www.lullaby-babies.co.uk actually beats ebay Amazon etsy and notonthehighstreet for the phrase engraved music box! A very small victory for the one man band.

  • michael

    http://tinyurl.com/ks5qwq3 tell me what you think of these new project designs email: important_ideas@burntmail.com

  • michael

    http://tinyurl.com/ks5qwq3 forgot to mention in your conversation in the googles site scrole down to see the design pictures if you don,t see one you like i can get it for you for thoes who have faith ok

  • FrankLuska

    Another Cutts, take this with a grain of salt, commentary.

  • Sam

    Really, so is ‘Hope & Change’, of course small sites rank higher than large sites, only in your la la land.

  • MK007

    I want to know why: If I own say ZZZ.com anyone then using ZZZ can out position me, because they are “bigger”. (Better at beating Google or more ZZZ content…)
    But I cannot call myself Coca Cola and be placed above them…
    What is the point of inventing a New Name/business, then protecting the name by registering the domain –
    if Google does not recognise the domain as the rightful (registered) owner?

  • JHammer

    I hate it when a national chain store with PR 5 outranks me on a specific product when the page that is linked does not even have the product or mention the search phrase. (It does mention supplies for that product, but again does not mention the exact search term)

    • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

      Yes, this is typical scenario. The big brands outranking the small guys even when the small guy has better content.

      I guess Google expects you to write a novel for each product, so you can have a shot in the dark.

      • http://www.portugal-cars.com Aj Portugal

        Yes, it happens all the time. It is enough that a big brand site just mention one word even if it is not related with the site to have a better serp than a small site which theme is that word.

  • http://www.cismadeeasy.co.uk Michaela @CIS Made Easy

    We are only a small site (not as slick to look at as others) but we are managing to rank as well (Page 1 on Google) or if not better than the big long established players in our business sector. Almost certainly because we have lots of good quality content that we update frequently & we spend a lot of time on Twitter hours promoting that content. Takes a lot of time but it seems to work.

  • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

    In principles small sites can outrank the big guys, but I don’t know how practicable it will be, because I wonder how many small businesses have the resources the big guys have to be able to take on the big guys.

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