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Google on How to Improve Sites that Don’t Rank

Google’s John Mueller discussed what would make a search engineer want to include a different site into the search results.  In a webmaster hangout, John Mueller discussed how a site could be just as good as the sites in the top ten. He then noted that just as good isn’t necessarily good enough.

Site is Just as Good But Still Doesn’t Rank

John Mueller commented that one of the things he noticed when reviewing escalations of web publisher ranking issues is that some of the sites were just as good as other sites, but didn’t really offer anything better.

“…for a large part it comes across as your site being kind of as good as a lot of the others out there. …I think that’s a good step.

But on the other hand at the same time because it’s kind of as good as all the others, from a user point of view, why do we especially need to have your site in there as well?

If we go to the search engineering teams and say, well the ten search results we’re showing now are pretty good but here is this other one that is just as good. They don’t really have any incentive to say okay we’ll swap out those search results and use this one because it’s just as good as the other one.

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller discussing how to improve a site that doesn't rank well.Google’s John Mueller sharing that being as good as the sites already in the top ten isn’t always good enough. He suggests that a way to rank better in Google is to explore ways to be better than what’s already top ranked in Google.

How to Rank Better than Other Sites

Competitor Research to Identify the Positives

When planning a site or revising  a site strategy, I find it’s a good exercise to review your competitors. The method I created for my own projects over fifteen years ago is to make a list of all the good qualities and features that make a competitor site popular and useful.

Additionally, focus on User Experience features like download speed, ease of navigation, amount of ads and so on.

Then do a crawl of the competitor sites (use Xenu Link Sleuth or Screaming Frog) and review how they use title tags, what kinds of sites they link out to. This will give you an idea of the competitor’s editorial focus. It can also give you an idea of how focused on SEO they are.

When reviewing the editorial focus, try to understand what problems they are trying to solve for their site visitors. Do the choices in topics and titles indicate they are blindly focusing on keywords? Or does it indicate they know what their site visitors want?

I try to understand where their heads are at in terms of SEO and content planning. Are they practicing rote SEO without vision? Or does their SEO indicate sophistication?

Competitor Research to Identify the Negatives

Then repeat the same exercise but in reverse. Document all the negative aspects about the site.

Competitor strengths represent battles you will have to fight or choose to walk away from. Competitor weaknesses represent your opportunities to stand out.

Non-Competitor Competitor Reviews

Now here is, in my opinion, an important variation on competition research. I find that there is value in researching non-competitors that have a similar business model. Sometimes there are practical insights hidden in the practices of successful non-competitor sites.

For example, if your site reviews movies, you might learn some new tricks by analyzing what the best Music review sites are doing. This research practice helps get your mind outside of what is common in a niche and possibly discover the uncommon, which can become your angle.

Ok, so that’s my tip on how to find a unique angle to help distinguish your site.

Now here is John Mueller talking about the importance of a unique angle.

John Mueller Discusses Unique Angles

So the more you can really kind of take a step back and try to find an angle that significantly sets your site apart from all of the others so that when we go to the engineering team we can say well these ten results are pretty good but this one is the one that should definitely be number one for this kind of query.

Then that’s something they can take into account and say, Oh, yeah you’re right, this is really clearly the best out there and we need to make sure that it’s on top.

We’ll take some time to figure out what is actually happening here in our algorithms to treat this site, this content that it’s producing appropriately.

And those are things of course when you’re in a niche like this that is very competitive, that that’s very hard to do but it’s not impossible.

So I really recommend trying to take a step back and thinking about what you can do to significantly take your site to the next level.

Which might be new content that you produce, new angles that you kind of look into. Maybe less content that’s already out on other sites… all of these things to really kind of make sure that your site is really unique and not just similar to the other ones.

Be the Only One

The New York Times interviewed celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern who offered a relevant insight into how to be successful. While Andrew Zimmern isn’t an SEO, he does know something about cultivating success.

Here is Andrew Zimmern’s observation about success:

“I always say I don’t want to be the best. I want to be the only,” he said…

“You want to bust your ass and make the perfect hot sauce and market yourself against 300 other brands of incredible hot sauce? You’re a schmuck.

You actually want to go out and make something different. Be the only.”

As an example of being the only, his new venture is a Chinese restaurant that focuses on food he likes and the kind he grew up eating. The restaurant will also serve tiki drinks, which adds a social element to going out to eat.

How to Rank Better in Google

According to John Mueller, it might not be enough to be as good as the sites already in the search results. It may be helpful to develop a strategy to go beyond good enough.

Watch Google Webmaster Hangout Here

More Resources

Screenshots by Author, Modified by Author

Category News SEO
SEJ STAFF Roger Montti Owner - at

I have 25 years hands-on experience in SEO and have kept on  top of the evolution of search every step ...

Google on How to Improve Sites that Don’t Rank

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