Sorry, Folks. It’s Not Always About the SEO.

Response from Google video, “How would a non-optimized site outrank a site which has done SEO?”

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Yesterday, Matt Cutts, Supreme Master of Google Space, Time, and SEO, posted his latest video response to a question that I thought was just priceless.

If you don’t want to play the video, the question was, “When analyzing rankings for highly competitive keywords in our industry, we have found sites not as optimized as ours (on-page), and that have few links, and little content are still ahead of us. What gives? Why are ‘unoptimized’ sites ranking so well?”

Matt provides a perfect and accurate answer to the question, in a technical sense, which I’m not going to copy here, but basically he chalked it up to a variety of unseen factors, like the fact that you can’t see all the links to a competitor’s site using the “link:” variable, etc. etc.

Look, you can get as technical with this answer as you want, but the one thing he really didn’t say in the end (and this isn’t a dig at all) is that maybe that site is just more relevant than hers. Sure, Google uses its algorithm to mimic the way a human would see something as being more relevant than another, but it still comes back to one site being more relevant than another.

You can optimize the daylights out of a site… do everything right, get the content, set the architecture, get the inbound links and still this site is sitting on top of you, probably for a very good reason.

Now, there are a whole host of goofballs that comment on Matt’s posts on YouTube and they all talk about spam and “FAIL!” and all sorts of other crazy, kooky theories like Google was some sort of shadow government. But the truth is, Google doesn’t need to BS you with their answers… the real answers are more complicated than you can imagine.

This is why we always start our relationships with new clients with an SEO audit that looks at their site with best practices in mind for our big three target areas, content, site architecture, and inbound links. Because 99% of the time, you missed something that was pretty basic. Now you have a plan, a strategy for attacking the SEO issues that are right there on the surface, and there’s a great chance it will help you move up the ranks.

But still, we can’t promise anything… and especially that you’re going to overtake your competitor for that one term that really, really bugs you. Any agency that does, it selling you snake oil and you should run away from them with a quickness.

Just please don’t try and make it sound like Google is picking on you… it just sounds pitiful (but that’s for another post).

Originally published at fang digital marketing

Sorry, Folks. It’s Not Always About the SEO.
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  • Roe

    No, Google isn’t “picking on us,” Google is “sucking up to the big brands” at the expense of smaller businesses.

    • Stupidscript

      Can you give an example of a small business that should be more relevant than its big brand counterpart for an extremely generic search query, which most queries are?

      Because, frankly, Jeff’s summary is correct. Relevance is the key, and if someone is looking for “cheesecake”, then “The Cheesecake Factory” is probably going to be more relevant than “Ted’s Cheesecake Locker”.

      99,999 times out of 100,000, the biggest factor in what is returned is the search query. If someone searches for “cheesecake”, of course the national brands will top the list for such a broad search. Similarly, a search for “ted’s cheesecake” will rank “Ted’s Cheesecake Locker” higher than “The Cheesecake Factory”, because, this time, Ted’s is more relevant.

      No complaining. More work. Get to it.

  • http://www.cheap-ralph-lauren.com polo ralph lauren

    But I did try to search the ted’s cheesecake and found that it doesn’t show any great content site. You said the” a search for “ted’s cheesecake” will rank “Ted’s Cheesecake Locker” higher than “The Cheesecake Factory”, because, this time, Ted’s is more relevant.” But I think it is not the same way you describe. Why?

    Actually I donot think GOOGLE UPDATE makes all great and relevent sites rank at the top page. I belive everyone has cliecked some ” GREAT” or ” TOP” Sites and you find something new? Yes,I can list some sites rank well but without any good content,just like a map and list some great brand name on it.

    • http://www.marketingweb.com.au Marketing Web

      Clearly you have missed the point – this was a made up not a real example!

  • http://www.specialsedu.com specialsedu

    i have a question here how much daily traffic is necessory for adsense earing

  • http://www.europeandomaincentre.com Christopher All Domains

    If you want Ted’s cheesecake site to be seen as more relevant then build great content and hook up with FB users and The Twitter mob. Seo 101 Will not do it anymore

  • http://kkltd.co.uk/ vybixa

    I totally agree with Google here. The permutations involved in ranking / comparing sites, are impossible to keep a tab of. In a way, the “algorithm” is the master of google there, which is a good thing to an extent. When the apply the “moral” tweeks and cost optimized sites ORGANIC traffic is when the bad taste sticks. But then again, organic traffic to google does NOT necessarily pay their bills, its only a prop for adwords, and THAT is what Matt Cutts can not say.

    • http://www.fireups.com FireUps Local Online Makreting

      but you can’t maintain adwords customers without maintaining quality in organic, so i would disagree. I think that is why we are seeing some of the changes we are with the organic results. Cleaning out poor quality sites links etc.

    • http://midrand.oink.co.za Craig Nuttley

      I reckon there are many things that cannot be said, but most become obvious after a while. Many examples are made of keywords, outbound and inbound links, quality content and this and that. Relevance in the organic search market is key when combined with location, but let’s take a real example. I’m a little big directory :-) in Sunny South Africa.

      I have numerous top 10 results on global searches like “Bulk Meat Suppliers” or “Propshaft Dealers” where I feature in the top 3, yet I have only 1 genuine bulk meat supplier on the directory who operates within South Africa and not globally. Now, in terms of a global search, how did my site come to have more relevance to Google than sites packed with bulk meat supply information? Could it be that the phrase is not one that is used often? Or vica versa? Would “Bulk Meat wholesalers” be a a better or more common phrase, because I still appear in the top 5.

      So, I can’t agree that Google is sucking up to Big Brands as elsewhere commented, but one thing mentioned here can be taken for fact. Organic search is definitely the prop for Adwords and other income generating search related products for Google

  • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

    I see the point being made but what if there was no SEO involved. I believe my page on “How to make Yorkshire Puddings” is highly relevant and has unique content. I also acknowledge there will be better pages than mine or from bigger sites than mine (mine is 11years old and has 4,900+ pages). So . . .

    How come when you search for “How to make Yorkshire Puddings” does this page http://www.accessentertainment.co.uk/Eatingin/Recipes/Yorkshirepudding.htm come up at 6th in the Google results (UK Google) whereas my page http://www.hub-uk.com/tallyrecip03/recipe0124.htm comes 22nd?

    The site that is ahead of me is nothing to do with cooking and recipes, its home page promotes “UK Theme Parks & Attractions”. There is a small recipe section hidden away on the site which includes the page I have referred to.

    If I search Google.com I get a different result but this weird site is still listed 7th to my 8th.

    • http://learnaboutpawnshops.com/ LTD Investments


      Even before going to your site one thing stands out – your url is not SEO friendly (ie what about Yorkshire Pudding not recipe0124) that’s one factor. The other is length of registration (looks like you are renewing yearly and they are not).
      After visiting –
      number of ads (you have three plus your newsletter banner in the header)
      links without “rel=nofollow”

      • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

        I realise the URLs are not user friendly. That is the way the site was created (in the case of this page in 2003) but what happened to “content is everything”. To change now would probably lose me what position my page has now, and before Panda it was top 7 result.

        I am curious as to your observation about the renewal period. I have never heard of this having any bearing on search results. It is just the way my host company does things. Seems bizarre if it should affect results as it has no relevance with regard to quality of content.

        The problem with ads is “no ads” = “no income” and Google actively encourage their ads to be at the top of pages.

        Not sure about links with follow as most of the links within the page are internal except where they are paid adverts.

        I accept what you say as valid criticisms (although difficult to change now) but I still don’t see how a site deliberately using a recipe to promote something totally different is getting up Google over a lot more worthy sites (if you take mine out of the equation). Really does not fit with “content is everything”.

        And the fact my site is not SEO friendly is exactly the point that Google is making or isn’t it?

        • http://www.absolutewebworks.com/ Jesse

          Google reminds me of the old yellow page days here in the United States. Back then utility companies owned the publications. They did not have any competition. If you were unhappy with them, there was nothing you could do about it. Back then is was take it or leave it. It’s all about big budgets.

        • http://onlinetrafficwizard.com Bluestar

          David Jenkins, It is not hard to change. Honestly. And it is defiantly better if your domain is not renewed yearly. Rather, go with 3 years or even 5 years. Google deems this as “stability”. Meaning the domain is not a “here today gone tomorrow” Site. You will rank higher.

        • Jnunka

          The best way to see how google sees your site is to use a plain text browser and see what it returns. You can even use the fetch as google bot in your webmaster tools to see how they view it. This helps in seeing what they return first and getting your content above the fold to increase it’s relevancy. When you tell google immediately what the site is about in the right places then you gain credibility.

          Seo friendly urls are essential and it isn’t too late. I your case you could simply rename that directory You could do something like this:
          Instead of;

          By changing that directory from tallyrecip03 to how-to-make and then name all your pages in that directory the actual recipe you are making. you have now told google from the very start of their crawl that page should be a hot to on recipes. It will take a little work to change the names but if you are serious then it isn’t difficult to change the links

          On domain registrations, yearly renewals give the impression of instability. The longer the domain is registered for, the more “legitimate” it is because they plan on being in business for 5-10 years. As far as your hosting dong things that way, then change hosting companies and registrars that will allow you to register longer. It isn’t that difficult to copy your entire site and export your database and upload it to a new server if that option is available for you.

        • http://www.blissseo.com.au Mark

          Maybe that site has more inbound links with ‘how to make yorkshire puddings’ in them…

        • Beamer

          “I am curious as to your observation about the renewal period. I have never heard of this having any bearing on search results.”

          I wasn’t aware of this either. I wonder what will be next. Not enough “Rs” or maybe “Google” isn’t mentioned enough in the content.

          It’s no wonder I use Bing more and more. I just want relevancy and could care less about how often a domain renews. That not part of the consideration when I am searching for information.

          When will relevance make a comeback?

  • http://www.fireups.com FireUps Local Online Makreting

    Adsense is not based on traffic. its based on conversations and click quality. I have a couple sites that have over 2000 visits a month that make $50 bucks a month and some that make $10 its about whether the user clicks and the quality of that click.. if the click quality is poor then your earnings will be adjusted.

    Matt’s Video- this points directly to quality and not quantity from a link perspective. a couple .edu links or .gov links goes a lot further than 100’s of links.

  • http://www.tallulahward.com Alec Ward

    I thought that Matt’s answer is very encouraging to all of us who are not ‘professionals’ but try very hard to understand SEO and what makes a web site rank well. The site that I made and continually try to upgrade for my daughter is (well was yesterday !!) No 1 for the search term Interior Designer Norwich. It took me along time, I subscribed to sites like this one and I continually tweak it and change it and try to improve it with photo alt tags, SEO, and links etc, but when I read what the experts say I realise that as yet I know nothing.

    • http://onlinetrafficwizard.com Bluestar

      The day you’ll THINK you know everything about SEO is the day you site will rank below page 10. SEO is an ON-GOING ever changing cycle. At least in some aspects…

  • http://www.sahelmarketing.com SEO Expert SF Bay Area

    No matter how many updates are made to Google ranking algorithm, relevance has always been the key factor. Instead of complaining about why your competitor’s web site outranks your well-optimized site, how about making sure you provide relevant information that meets your visitors queries and provide a better user experience.

    • http://www.hub-uk.com David Jenkins

      I agree but where do you go if you believe you are already providing more relevant information?

    • http://www.webdesign-in-devon.co.uk/seo-devon/ SEO Devon

      I agree with you. Content is the King. More relevant contents in your pages makes a successful on-page optimization. You don’t need to get more backlinks if you optimize your on-site pages very well.

  • http://socialmedia-marketingconsultant.com.au/ Rob

    It is as it should be, it all comes back to quality content.

  • http://ogdenian.com ogden

    The seo’d site might have used techniques or code that is not friendly in the eyes of the search spiders. A lot of SEO firms get you with their adbvertising and not their quality of service. An answer to this question is a guess without the two urls to base the answers on.

    Never surrender, never give up.

  • Jostyn

    I have a beauty – I have a supplier who has a 1 page contact type page, that’s it, nothing more and they rank #4 – makes no sense – no content, very bad meta tags – go figure and they’re a small biz as well

  • http://www.onlinembaguides.com onlinembaguides.com

    Classic. The video has been removed? The conspiracy continues. LOL

  • http://howtogetridofacnespots.com How to getr rid of acne spots

    I have a site and the index page has only nine lines of text and some adsense. It has been sitting on the first page of google search since it’s inception and is still there the first on the first page of google with 6,7 million search results.

    I had done no SEO no marketing nothing. Been like this for almost 2 years now.

    I have another site, and that is also the first on the first page with no SEO or marketing whatsoever. And another one site on the third page and climbing, without any SEO or marketing. Very little text, very little content.

    All these sites has additional pages, but the home page has just a few lines of content.

  • Virtual office

    Frankly, reading the above confuses things for all newbies. Bottom line is very simple. Content & authority links. All else helps but is not essential. That’s true for competative terms. If the search term is unique you can get any page ranked for it. The best example is “read more”. Search it on google and you’ll see adobe site comes up. The site is certainly not optimized for the keyword. ‘Nuff said!

    • http://onlinetrafficwizard.com Bluestar

      Virtual office, You’re wrong. Look at “big picture”.

  • http://www.electric-reviews.org Mark Demers

    I agree with the statement that “Google doesn’t need to BS you with their answers… the real answers are more complicated than you can imagine”.
    Site optimization only works so far – relevance is more important. The thing you need to do is get yourself into a higher plain of relevance in accordance with your chosen keywords and website content.
    I`ve been working on that very thing (content) lately trying to be more relevant and informative too. Work, work, work is what it takes.

    Have a great day !

  • http://www.gam-legalalliance.com wey

    Is really hard to do SEO if google is always changing everything.

    • http://www.propertylander.com Sanjeev Jha

      That really made me laugh! So true. But the culprit is not Google here – its the black hat SEO experts who apply every trick to defeat google – and then Google has to take measures to correct it.

      Secondly – its not just relevance; the top rank is for those who really have both, Relevant content and SEO friendly structure with Authority.

  • http://www.simplyclicks.com Simply Clicks

    I hear this sort of SEO rankings story all the time. Generally I can spot why one site outranks fairly quickly. One central problem is that many people believe their website has been optimised have bought into a quick fix rather than a thorough SEO based overhaul.

  • http://www.metanym.com/milton-keynes MarkFL

    Would be great to see some real time examples of sites that ‘should’ rank higher than their competitors.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/seo-consulting.htm Nick Stamoulis

    SEO audits are a must! You’re right that a lot of sites miss a basic element of SEO, and that’s why they aren’t performing like they thought they would. Google isn’t on the hunt for anyone (except maybe content farms). They want to produce the best results for their users. Your site has to do that.

  • http://prasetya.ub.ac.id rico

    SEO friendly it’s not the only thing, that’s right. To many variable that we can’t see or count, SEO algorithm is used to build method to improve our website quality but without qualified content it’s no use.

  • http://www.seo-first-page.com/seo-analysis.html seo analysis

    Matt provides a perfect and accurate answer to the question, thanks for sharing Jeff, it will be very helpful..

  • http://www.webhostingrvw.com/ umar butt

    i think site age is a major factor. I think yahoo site explorer will rarely miss a high quality link.

  • http://www.onlineblindsukltd.com/blog/ Lisa

    How do u compete ur competitors, when what they do and u do both are the same? How would google try to differentiate ? Is it about only links or relationships with the USERS?

    Yes it all comes to basics of SEO. Its like if the base is strong then u can really succeed.

  • http://www.webdesign-in-devon.co.uk SEO Devon

    This is frankly true. I even scan a website that is ranking 3rd in Google UK with no backlinks at all. Some are even doing pyramid links to get their rankings pushed.

    Now, how about Google Listings? How many traffic or backlinks do I exactly need to make on on Page 1?

    Thanks :)

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