Matt Cutts Describes How Content Is Ranked Without Many Inbound Links

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Matt Cutts Describes How Content Is Ranked Without Many Inbound Links

Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, answers a question about inbound links in his latest Webmaster Help video where a user writes in to ask:

How does Google determine quality content if there aren’t a lot of links to a post?

In general, in a situation like this Matt says you would have to consider the way search engines worked before they started using links as a ranking signal.

In a case like this, content would be judged based on the text on the page. Matt gives a simplified situation of how that would work:

  • The first word that’s seen on a page would be counted more compared to the other words on the page.
  • The second time a word is seen it would be counted “a little more, but not a ton more.”
  • Additional instances of the word would lead Google to believe the page is about that topic.

However, with that being said, it doesn’t help to keep repeating a keyword over and over. After a while that would be viewed as keyword stuffing and could negatively impact the ranking of that page.

Another way Google would judge the quality of a page without an abundance of inbound links is whether or not that page is sitting on a reputable domain.

Without links pointing to a page, Matt says there is still a good chance of that page being returned in the search results if it satisfies a somewhat obscure query. If you have one of the only pieces of content on the web with a rare phrase someone is searching for, Google will return that page because it’s relevant to what the user is looking for.

To hear Matt’s full response in his own words, see the video below:

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Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
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  • Chris

    Include related keywords on your page – great advice! You’ll have SEOs scrambling to update their websites based on this profound new insight.

    • Sam Thomas (@seoonsite)


    • Todd Herman

      Profound new insight this is not. Back in the mid to late 90’s we didn’t have back links to raise rankings we had keyword density , which was a standard at an unbelievable 5 to 7 % density to hit the top 5 spots. Compared to the 2 to 2.5 % density we have now, in reality what Matt Cutts is saying is, “if its not a money keyword, it will rank high on its own. (because there are no competitors) lol.

  • Swayam Das

    So we are down to adding Keywords now.. I wonder if Google still secretly allows the influence of Keyword Tag ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Todd Herman

      Google has not used the “keywords” meta tag in its web search ranking since September 2009.

  • chiragsuri27Chirag

    Absolutely correct. Content still rules the search but we off course cannot ignore links. So quality links and content will go hand in hand…don’t try to overdo one or the other.

  • Sanjay Singh

    Rare phrases?? For what good are rare phrases if only a few people are searching for them. How much traffic the “rare phrases” can drive to a website?

    • Szilard Butta

      I think by rare phrases he meant long tail keywords. And in that case it’s common sense, especially for small-to-medium websites with small-to-medium advertising budgets. It’s just like in business. You would have to be out of your mind to launch a new washing powder brand that is just like any other product. On the other hand, you could launch a product called “washing powder for motor oil stains”. Less competition in real world, less competition in Google. Or instead of aiming for “wedding photography”, you should aim for “surreal wedding photography”.

      • Catie Hughes

        Agree there Szilard. Adjectives or extensions (before and after) of your seed keywords can work a treat. E-commerce sites definitely benefit if they add loads of information per product – e.g “shoes with red soles” – is a search that has decent-ish search volume – not heaps but enough to get people to your store. “shoes with read soles that oprah wears’ comes up in predictive search results too – funny – so in a product description you can add loads of relevant terms your competitors may miss. The more relevant details about a product the better – low volume or not – just so long as there’s someone out there looking for something you’ve got. One visitor looking for less searched for things can turn into many purchases long term.

    • Dennis Lastochkin

      Rare keywords can bring a lot of traffic. Especially if people are shopping for products serial numbers or looking for a product replacement and searching for something very specific that manufacturers don’t mention in the descriptions. Google also is looking at keyword proximity. So it helps to have long tail keywords be in the same DIV or space on page.

  • Satish

    I hope this piece of information is known to us ages ago! Why don’t Mr.Cutts tell us something which we don’t know? -_-

  • Mark F. Simchock

    Obviously, Matt Cutts is the authority. That said, the rule of thumb (that I lean on) is pretty simple: The Google – yes, I meant to say The Google ๐Ÿ™‚ – wants to be human, but a highly efficient and automated human. So if you ask yourself, “What would I (i.e., a human) do?” some of the answers become more obvious.

    For example, once The Google identifies the subject matter, I would presume it compares newly indexed content to established / ranked content on the same and/or similar subject matter.

    I would also presume it starts with the site that the new content is on. For example, the new content is about The World Cup. The Google also finds another page on your site also about The World Cup. It seems pretty reasonable that old page helps The Google analyze and weight / rank the new page’s content.

    Since its signals are somewhat limited, The Google has to make the best use of what it does know – just as you or I would under a similar circumstance.

    Makes sense, yes?

  • Prasad

    In short, Matt Cutt is saying that we should incorporate important and targeted keywords within text of webpage to get ranked.

  • Arun

    Very true. Content is the king. No doubt it needs to be optimized for your targeted keywords. But the question is what the the limit of reparation??

    Is still Google count 3-6% is fine?

  • Philip

    wow, this video is absolutely useless and is not an accurate answer at all. There are other factors that he does not talk about at all

  • Kaluri Shankar


    According to me “Todd Herman” is absolutely right, Keyword density is decreased to 4% to around 2 to 3%…..

  • Suprabhat Kumar

    Happy to know that back-links still is a ranking not only about content.

  • James Yorke

    It sounds like they do not have any other methods to determine quality apart from inbound links. The on-site stuff is generally common sense and should take care of itself if someone writes half decently.

  • Maximillian Heth

    Makes sense if the competition doesn’t really have strong page or domain authority to begin with…then again, it’s not hard to beat if you have a similarly written page with strong backlinks, contextually placed LSI terms, a video, and some rich snippets to top it all off.