Matt Cutts Explains How Small Sites Can Compete With More Popular Sites

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Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, recently answered a question about improving search rankings in his latest Webmaster Help video where a user writes in to ask:

How can smaller sites with superior content ever rank over sites with superior traffic? It’s a vicious circle: A regional or national brick-and-mortar brand has higher traffic, leads to a higher rank, which leads to higher traffic, ad infinitum.

Matt starts off by disagreeing with the assumption that having a national brand automatically leads to higher traffic and a better search ranking. That doesn’t always hold true, as smaller sites are usually able to roll out fresh content more quickly than lumbering, larger sites. The ability to do that often means being able to rank higher in search results.

Matt goes on to say that smaller sites with superior content are the ones that end up becoming the larger sites. Matt points to Facebook, Instagram, and even Google as examples of once small sites that ended up becoming large because they did a better job of focusing on user experience and delivering more value.

Whatever area you’re in, Matt says if you’re providing a better experience than your incumbents then over time you can expect to perform better. You also have to bear in mind that taking on a website with a full team will be difficult if you’re just one person.

Concentrate your efforts on covering one niche really well. As you grow you will be able to expand into covering other areas of that niche and then grow even more. Matt refers to this as the ‘Katamari philosophy.’

If you step back and look at the history of the web you can see many examples of small sites outperforming larger sites by working harder and doing a better job. Matt suggests to keep producing superior content, because over time that’s one of the best ways to rank higher.

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

Matt Southern

Matt Southern

Lead News Writer
Matt Southern is the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing flows through in the expert industry coverage he provides.
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  • Kishor Parmar

    well, after penguin 2.1 i had been of opine that competing already established site will be hell.

    really wanted to know about how to crack cycle of good ranking-traffic-backlinks.


  • Kevin Caldwell

    I agree with the notion of superior content, however it doesn’t end there – the content must be promoted or nobody will ever know it’s there.

  • Alex M

    I think he’s right, based on the experiences I’ve had. Steadily working away and being good at what you do can see you shooting up the rankings. It really is all niche based – don’t go venturing off into bizarre avenues with any marketing campaigns etc.

    Anyway, more interesting than this is the continuing array of vivid t-shirts Matt Cutts wears in each video. Wonder what it’ll be next time?

  • Steven Hughes

    They have little or no chance….#truth

    • Idrees Khan

      IF you are ranking your website, then only content is not the only factor. There are a lot of things matters a lot.

    • Mirko Lednicki

      Steven, +1 . Big company = higher budget = better position #truth
      But, is worth to try beat them 🙂

    • Brandon Breshears

      Seriously, he mentioned facebook beating out myspace as an example! Facebook’s and instagram’s growth had nothing to do with search engine ranking.

    • Brent Carnduff

      Agreed Steve – bigger budgets, more staff = more content, more traffic, more backlinks. Have to really go niche, not only in product/service, but location. Only going to get tougher as more businesses/industries figure out that they need a stronger web presence.

  • Vaibhav

    Superior content is the king for expecting higher rankings and traffic. However, we know that “expecting” is not the reality, we need to build, promote the content at various web spaces will lead your content to get captured and likely to lead you rank for the same. It’s all about how well we can think about content promotion on the web.

  • Fredy

    Matt is a real guru and i’ve been seeing him on blogs and we must learn something from him. This is nice and it is true a small site can outran bigger and popular sites. You just need the tactics.

  • Navneet arora

    Well said Matt , however i would disagree with Matt. Though quality content would help a smaller blog/site to rank good but at some point even though you have a very good content but actually with no social sharing that content would never outrank any site. There are many factors to decide the search engine ranking, Nowadays content is not a only king 😉

  • Syed Mohammad Anwer

    Matt Southern I am agree with that ,Niche high quality links with high quality content is the key of success.

  • sehat sangat

    I love matt statement “smaller site with superior content are the ones who eventually become larger sites”.

    Let us imagine how small websites with the same niche in step early will give up if there is no chance to beat a great site.

  • Grant

    I like that he says niche, not nitch 🙂 I will add, I ranked (randomly) for a term that gets 27k global (#2) and 3k UK (#1) among 100+ other keywords #1-20 on content a lone. The site has some authority, but not much compared to the brands it outranks (and in fact, their individual page authority). Looking through the top 20 results, I can only see 1 result that compares and that sits #10-12 depending on what you search and where from. As my post took 3-4 months to start gaining traction, I’d assume it’s new and on its way up. I can’t say that for all posts, but maybe my combination of KW targeting & content servicing intent has been off. This one is definitely spot on though. So that’s the route I’m taking with my new site.

  • Fabio

    Google Hummingbird is putting more emphasis on natural, conversational search queries. This can help smaller businesses by appearing more personable and answering a question that the searcher is looking for.

  • Mirko

    “If you step back and look at the history of the web you can see many examples of small sites outperforming larger sites by working harder and doing a better job”
    That was before internet becomes leading “media” for advertising. I read somewhere, that, some of previous months, internet advertising had a greater benefit for the investment than television. Internet become replacement for television; more money = more benefits .
    But, it is my opinion

  • Ashutosh Rai

    Great tips! Might shed light on some aspects about from where to start according to a expert… (Y) But we will still add some links to it in my opinion in such a scenario or a new era might be in waiting where Google is going to rank sites with great content than any links(will get ignored to some extent). Content quality will get first preference in a more lethal manner.

  • Dale Loflin

    I’m a perfect example. I can assure you Matt’s right.

  • TheIToons

    That wasn’t specific answer. Or at least satisfied one. ‘Superior Content’ is just a synonym of ‘Quality Content’ which we have been hearing lots of times lately. I think answer should be a bit more logical. 🙂

  • Sohil Memon

    Thanks man! I really wanted to know.

    But, I have question, why Matt is wearing “Mozilla Firefox” t-shirt, while it’s working for Google?

  • Julian Watenya

    Am one of the small guys…getting a higher ranking is a big process since the big guys get more and more backlinks daily due to better visibility

  • Shae Baxter

    In my experience, many smaller websites are producing superior content but it doesn’t always lead to higher rankings. It’s promoting the content that matters too. We all know that there are many variables when it comes to SEO.

  • Sarita Patel

    I am not 100% agree as when its concern to SEO then apart from good content matter. Even, i saw many small websites with one small paragraph leading in top ten, on another site website with average length of content with fully optimization not coming in rank.