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Ask the Pit Crew: Why Do Crappy Sites Outrank Me?

Ask the Pole Position Marketing Pit CrewIn our new Ask the Pit Crew series, members of the Pole Position Marketing pit crew and a guest industry expert answer your web marketing questions from their unique perspectives. Have a question you’d like answered? Email it to us!

This Week’s Question: Why Do Crappy Sites Outrank Me?

Stoney deGeyter’s Answer from an SEO Perspective: 

As crappy as that site outranking you is, Google doesn’t know it’s crappy. In fact, Google thinks it’s a pretty good site. Of course, Google is not necessarily seeing the same things you are. You’re looking at how the site looks, maybe how poorly it reads. You might even be looking at some of the typical “optimization” factors that probably are not great either. But Google is looking at a lot of other things, and that “crappy” site is doing those things right.

They have built authority into their site with links, probably have a pretty decent architectural structure on the site, too. How are you doing on links? How search engine friendly is your site? Are you engaging with your audience on social media? These things matter. Your site might not be “crappy,” but it’s lacking some crucial elements that the search engines find valuable. Keep making your site better, but also look at your architectural optimization, on-page optimization, and off-page link and social efforts. These all play a role in getting your “better” site a better position in the rankings.

Debbie Briggs’ Answer from a Content Marketing Perspective:

Why do crappy sites outrank yours? Well, it’s not because they have great content. If anything, they’ve probably stuffed their pages full of keywords in an attempt to achieve better rankings. But, it’s only a matter of time before the all-seeing eye of Google catches them in the act.

In the meantime, take the time to carefully craft your website content, being mindful of buyer personas. Knowing your ideal customer and crafting content to meet their specific needs will benefit you in the end—and by end I mean conversion to paying customer—long after those crappy sites have gone by the wayside.

Kathy Gray’s Answer from a Social Media Perspective:

This happens in social media all the time. You visit a business’ page within your niche and they have 10 times as many followers, but they’re obviously not putting in as much thought and effort as you. Most likely, they’re buying fans, and if you look closely they probably have very little engagement. Is it better to have 30% of 2,000 fans engaged or 5% of 10,000?

The same thing goes for search rankings. Sure, they may place higher than you, but when a visitor hits their site and sees the same mess you do, most likely they’re going to bounce right off and go back to the search results. Think of what your conversion rates could be if you put more time into optimizing your killer website for search and ranked higher.

Annalisa Hilliard’s Answer from a Link Building and Local SEO Perspective:

Why is the sky blue? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? OK, maybe the previous questions prove harder to answer. My point is, the answer to why crappy sites outrank you can only be answered fully by the search engines. Unfortunately, if you ask them, you likely won’t get an answer. The reason, you ask? Rankings are determined by complicated mathematical algorithms (i.e., not a person sitting behind a computer screen hand picking results when a term is typed into search). We know some of the over 200 factors that engines like Google take into consideration. Things like site and page quality, freshness of content, location of searcher, web history of searcher, etc. Check out this infographic by Google for more on How Search Works.

In order to combat ranking manipulation, some factors are kept secret. Therefore, you can’t just look at one factor and pinpoint why a site might be outranking you. It’s important to remember, algorithms aren’t perfect and inferior sites may out-perform your site for a period of time. As search engines continue to improve the algorithm, lousy sites are at higher risk of falling out of the rankings.

What can you do when a shoddy site outranks you? Create valuable content; build a quality, diverse, yet relevant link profile; connect with influencers and your audience on social media channels; improve your on-page optimization; review and set goals with your analytics. It’s important to track your efforts and results; otherwise, you’re less likely to be able to pinpoint cause/effect.

Mike Fleming’s Answer from a PPC Advertising and Analytics Perspective:

Admit it. You’re biased. You and your competitor could have the exact same site, and you would think yours was better. That’s OK. We all do it. But realize that how you see the comparison of the sites is different than how the world (and the search engines) see it. You might think the design, usability and other factors are poor on your competitor’s site, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are. After all, you don’t know their data. You could think their site is way worse, but their conversion rate could be double what yours is.

Also, you’re probably just looking at the look and feel of the site. Search engines might “look,” but not the same way you do. They also don’t feel (at least not yet). You’re forgetting that they also look at the nuts and bolts of the site. Things that you, and likely your developer, are unaware of that are working against you with the search engines (like architecture, broken links, etc.).

Sure, that site might be crappier than yours, but it might only be crappier from your perspective.

Bonus Lap:

Our friend from across the pond, Sean Revell, @S_rvll, with Evoke SEO, adds his thoughts to the conversation.

I suppose one of the first things you’d have to think about is your definition of crappy. Are they crappy because they have poor content, design, links, etc., or are they crappy because they outrank you? 🙂 Let’s have a quick look into why website visibility/rankings change in the SERPs…

  1. Something happened to your website – New link(s) were created and/or webpage(s) were added.
  2. Something happened to your competitor’s website – New link(s) were created and/or webpage(s) were added.
  3. The search engine changed how they evaluate websites.

There are obviously thousands of different variables that can affect each part of these three areas, from link metrics such as anchor text, “authority” passed, or penalized links, or on-page such as the “quality” of your content, keyword usage and synonyms, internal linking, etc. This is all before Google decides what weight to give each metric and then varies it per market.

However, here are a few of my favorite reasons why a crappy site might rank above my own or one of my clients:

  1. On-Page – More keywords/related terms within the content despite the poor level of content or design.
  2. Customers – The customers/users for the niche are idiots and actually like the competitor’s content. Although it isn’t written about that often, there are a large number of usability metrics that Google have access to and may use.
  3. Authority – They actually have “good links” for some reason, probably unnatural, likely to be built or purchased. Don’t worry, Google will get them, one day…
  4. Penalization – You’re penalized because you (or a previous SEO supplier, obviously) has been building links in a particular way even though Google has said otherwise.
  5. Personalized results – Does what it says on the tin. Perhaps you spent a lot of time on the site, laughing at its design and thus Google has nudged it up.
  6. Query Deserves Diversity (QDD) – Maybe the crappy competitor makes crappy content but makes it in a larger variety? For example, the result above you could be a video.
  7. Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) – Maybe they update their crappy content more often, and Google thinks this is a sign of quality?
  8. Google – Google being Google, Google’s gonna Goog…you get the idea. There are some weird goings on in the SERPs and perhaps yours is one of them that has been “fixed.”
  9. Au Naturale – Your competitor hasn’t considered design, content marketing, CRO, SEO or online marketing. All that has concerned them is creating a quick and easy site because they felt they had to.
  10. Internal Strength/Authority – They have other pages/sub-domains on the site that are actually of high value, and link weight is being passed to the “crappy page” internally.
  11. Comparison – Although their content is crappy, your content is merely OK?
  12. Technical – The site/crappy page is technically clean, whereas yours is littered with errors.
  13. Spam – Short-termism built on a foundation of spam links, cheap lies and crocodile tears.
  14. SPAM – It’s just SPAM, OK?! (Definition: Sites Positioned Above Mine)

I’m sure that there are billions of other reasons but these are a few that have popped into my head. What others can you guys think of?

*Added 6/28/2013: We came across a post from Tadeusz Szewczyk, Quality Sites Are the New Links And Santa Existsin which Tad addresses Google’s recent claim that, “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

Their claim used to read, “In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

It seems Google has changed their stance on links, or have they. Read what Tad has to say, we think he may be on to something.

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