Googler John Mueller explains why websites with bad SEO practices still rank well

Google’s John Mueller answered questions during a Google Search Central Office Hours hangout on January 8th, 2021. One attendee asked “How can a bad SEO practice rank first and a good practice website rank second and third when the implementation of the new Google updates hits big sites or it’s never going to happen?”

John starts by saying this is a question that often comes up but quickly moves on to say he does not think this is a useful thing to focus on for site owners. He says that people are paying attention to what is wrong with someone else’s website rather than improving their own website.

I have to agree with John’s point. While it is frustrating to see sites that are seemingly ignoring Google’s guidelines and implementing lousy SEO practices, you cannot control that competing site. The only website that you truly have complete influence over is your own. It would be best to make your website as good as it can be for your customers and your business.

John then says that Google’s algorithm has so many different ranking factors that it is very common that a website is not doing “everything perfectly”. He continues saying that a website will often do some things well, other things okay, and some things poorly. John says that it is not the case that Google will remove all websites that do something wrong. If Google did, the search results would be pretty empty.

John continues to say that rather than focusing on a few things a website does badly, Google will instead look at the website’s overall profile and take the average of how good the site is. He says that essentially Google would prefer to ignore the bad things a website is doing and instead focus on the good qualities.

John then says that often these complaints arise from technical issues with websites or scores obtained from various SEO tools. Instead, he says, focus on improving your website’s overall quality and the value it provides. Identify the areas where you can surpass your competitors, but most importantly, focus on how you can give something to users that is significantly better than competing websites.

John finished up answering the question by recommending site owners to carry out a user study. He says to use the survey to identify what you can improve for users on your website.

John’s answer to this is something I have been thinking for many years. Suppose Google did not ignore many of the bad SEO practices. In that case, other people could negatively impact their competitors’ rankings with low-quality links. SEO would devolve into purchasing bad links for competing websites. Useful websites could also end up disappearing from search results simply because their content was too optimised for keywords. Both situations would be ridiculous as they could and probably would negatively impact users’ experience.

You can watch John Mueller’s answer here at 37m 42s:

The key takeaways from John’s answer to this question about competitors and bad SEO practices are:

  • Stop focusing on what your competitors are doing badly
  • Focus on your website and how you can surpass your competitors by providing more value to your target audience
  • Do not focus on technical details and metrics from SEO tools at the expense of user experience

Wrapping up

I think John’s answer is useful for business owners and marketers to understand – focus on improving your website, not criticising your competitors’ sites.

If you would like to speak with our team about our SEO service and how we can improve your website for users, email us hello@strategyst.co.uk.

Daniel Lee

I am a digital marketing strategist with more than eleven years' experience. I have worked in digital marketing agencies, as well as client-side. My clients include small businesses all the way up to organisations with revenue in the billions. I provide marketing consultancy both in the UK and the US. I hold a Master of Science degree in International Marketing, and I am a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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