Why Do “Bad” Sites Rank Well?

This is a common question that web site owners and developers often ask. It can be hard to digest whilte trying to figure out why a competitor’s site is outranking yours. Especially when said site appears to be of lower quality than your own. As Matt Cutts offers some thoughts in this video, it’s important to remember:

1) You can’t see 100% of a competitor’s backlinks – Whether you’re using SEOmoz, Ahrefs, Screaming Frog, Majestic SEO, or the latest links report from Webmaster Tools, it’s important to remember that different reports pull up different links from different sources. As Matt explains, your report might have pulled up “spammy” backlinks from a low-quality site but missed some more relevant links from authoritative sites. Looking at one report won’t tell you the whole picture and you always have to remember that there is an element of the unknown.

2) An incomplete competitor analysis – While backlinks may not tell a complete story, there are other forms of marketing that you can’t account for because they’re not immediately available. For example, how would you know how much a competitor is investing into a paid search campaign? Are they using TV ads or aggressive e-mail blasts or traditional mailing ads?

If this teaches you something, nowadays, it’s important to diversify your marketing campaigns and integrate different types when possible so that you aren’t overly reliant in one area, if it suddenly fails.

3) Google’s algorithm and updates aren’t perfect and are a continuous work in progress – Even Matt has to admit and agree that there are some things that Google’s algorithm can’t account for. For example, a hacked site that is using illicit tactics in order to gain rankings isn’t something that a single update targets. But consistent updates may help clear up SERPs of sites who clearly manipulated their backlinks. It may take awhile for Google to catch up when it comes to that particular industry.

4) Risky tactics can’t and don’t achieve rewards that last forever – Do high rewards for high risks sound like a good strategy for your business? Think again. In some industries (such as online pharmaceuticals, car insurance and online gambling) the market is inundated with players who rely on these tactics in order to maximize their profits in a short amount of time. The site might rank well, but in the long-run it cannot last. How long will you see these people in the top spots? A few weeks? A few days? This is not a business model you want to take after.

5) The mystery of how Google works – With over 200 updates last year, it’s almost impossible to predict what Google’s next move is. Your best bet is to practice white hat SEO tactics and review Google’s quality guidelines as they apply to your website.

When Should You Use a 301 Redirect?

This Google video recently came out and confirmed what many people have always believed to be true – using a 301 redirect doesn’t dilute any link juice. The myth of lost link power has been dispelled by Matt Cutts himself. In his exact words, “The amount of PageRank that dissipates through a 301 is currently identical to the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a link.

This makes sense, as using a 301 redirect is permanent, compared to the temporary 302 direct. Make sure to notify Google when making a change of address. Here are some other common reasons to utilize a 301 redirect on your site:

Change URL for vanity or business purposes – Did you changed your business name or pick something more memorable? A 301 redirect will help direct customers to the right place and ensure that you don’t lose any traffic during this transition.

Getting rid of mispelled or non SEO-friendly URLs
– In the past, some marketing companies (or DIYers) got stuck with using CMS that didn’t allow for custom SEO-friendly URLs. Having a string of alphanumeric characters for a page that should be named, for example, dog-toys.html would be more helpful and a 301 redirect can help you achieve exactly that.

Use only one version of your website address
– For example, directing “website.com” or “website.com/index.html” to “www.website.com”. People can get into the bad habit of using different versions of their URL. Using a 301 redirect can help you clean up this mess.

Merging 1 or more websites
– Back when search engines didn’t notice when website owners had multiple properties, it was fine to have as many different sites as you wanted. Nowadays, this is something to stay away from… which could mean merging pages from your smaller, less visited sites into your main site. Using a 301 redirect would help you retain the backlinks from those mini-sites and strengthen your main site.

Cleaning up content pages
– More content can’t take the place of quality content and some website owners are paying the price for that now. Having pages full of thin or spammy content dilutes the quality pages that are on your site. To clean up these muddy waters, you might want to have 1 (or a very select few pages) that focus on a particular topic.

Read more best practices on SEOmoz and HubSpot. Have any other questions on 301 redirects or using htaccess? Comment and let us know below.

Experiencing Google Turbulence?

As usual, this past week has had SEOs on edge as there was speculation of some turbulent search engine results. With Mozcast forecasting stormy weather and some webmasters reporting an increase in rankings, it was hard to tell if an official update had indeed rolled out. But as Matt Cutts revealed, this wasn’t actually a Google Panda update.

This slight update was meant to return diversity of domains in search result. Previously for example, some users complained as they searched for a term like “vacation in England”, search results returned contained links that were nearly all from the same domain. Check out an example here.

To be fair to users and businesses, it makes sense that this diversity update has rolled out. But it’s a shame that it couldn’t have happened sooner. Reported upticks in traffic or search queries could be explained as more sites are showing up on the first page of results that were previously dominated by major players. Bigger brands were more likely to receive these favorable search results, not to mention that it helped them when Google is/was experimenting with displaying 7 results per page instead of 10. On the other hand, businesses who were benefiting from less-diversified results could not be suffering from more competition.

It’s been 145 days and counting since Penguin first rolled out and the second update is definitely welcomed by some, who have been working fervently to regain their rankings. However, the next update is sure to be feared by most. We’ll just have to wait and see!

Porn Sites, PageRank & Popularity

Porn sites debunking SEO myths. Say what? Today, we take a look at a video by Matt Cutts explaining just that:

Is PageRank determined by popularity? Yes and no. Your site’s popularity is a factor in your PageRank but it’s not the only one. Among many other things, PageRank also includes reputation. Matt explains how even though porn sites are highly popular, they are often not linked by reputable sources like CNN and The New York Times. This explains why .gov and .edu sites (other reputable sources that aren’t as popular) have a higher PageRank than lower quality sites that aren’t reputable (porn sites).

Are porn sites (and other low quality sites) penalized by Google? The video shows that the porn industry isn’t necessary targeted as a whole to be penalized but there might be some other explanations. The question also brings up a good point, since porn sites often feature many link exchanges, ads and affiliate links to other low quality sites. As a whole, Google frowns on this.

What does Google consider trustworthy?Reputation, trust, and authority are all words in Google’s vocabulary in ranking high quality sites. Google trust includes PageRank although Matt claims that it’s not really an algorithm, but more of a way how Google determines the usefulness and relevancy of a page. In other words, Google looks at pages in the eyes of an average visitor and judges the page on whether it’s delivering what it’s promising and in what manner.

What do you think and does this video help clear up the often misconceived notion that PageRank is solely based on popularity?

Matt Cutts SEO Tips On Blogging

Well if you’re reading this chances are you’ve heard of Matt Cutts but if you haven’t, he’s a rockstar in the search marketing space. He’s also know as the spam czar at Google. He heads the spam team at Google and speaks often about SEO and “whitehat” techniques. Whitehat is a term in the search marketing space that refers to tactics that are permitted by the search engines and blackhat refers to ways people try and trick the search engines. This video goes into ways you can do SEO through your blog with whitehat techniques. I’d recommend staying on top of Matt Cutts blog.

I’d love to hear some feedback on this video. Please feel free to comment.