Why Some Weak Sites Rank High in Google SERPS

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Have you ever noticed a page being ranked “too high” – a page in the top 10 search results which seems to be too “weak” in terms of backlink power and on-page optimization?

Well, WebmasterWorld thread has a good theory explaining this: this is another type of “blended” search. Top SERPs blend listings from various “clusters” of meanings trying to give the surfer a wider range of various result types.

This blending might involve:

  • Forcing fresh result to top SERPs;
  • Mixing navigational pages with informational ones;
  • Mixing pages describing different meanings of one of the same word (e.g. abbreviations); etc

…Google sometimes forces a result onto page 1 that is taken from some more diverse user intention cluster – even though that url would not normally rank so high…

As a side track, there was a somewhat revealing bug a few years ago, when Google was evolving the technology to force certain results into certain positions (see the Position #6 ‘Penalty’)

This theory is based on Google patent Automatic taxonomy generation in search results using phrases which seems to describe the following algorithm:

  • search results can be blended to include representatives from different clusters;
  • a search phrase is associated with several clusters of web pages. Each one of those clusters is a group that includes some other phrase, in addition to the requested keyword phrase. This assumes that the phrases that create a cluster are groups of words that offer what the patent calls “information gain”.

A good example of this happening is personal name search. When the name is held by a celebrity “normally” all the top ten would be for the famous person. But a page about the less-famous person who happens to have the same name now sometimes shows up, too – even though backlinks, anchor text, PR and so on would not normally see that page ranking well.

Have you ever noticed this type of blended search results? Please share your opinion (and examples).

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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  • Does this explain why Lander’s Pest Control ranks #1 on Google for “Pest Control Ft Worth”? Domain age is around 1998 and it appears that the site has not been touched since then! Even horrible meta! lol

    Mike Stewart
    follow me: twitter.com/dallasseoguru

  • I think Google gives new content a chance to attract some links. A fair number of SEOs have commented on that apparent behavior through the years. It would be nice if a Googler confirmed that or shot it down.

    Also, in my own Webmaster Tools and Analytics reports I often see referral traffic for keywords where I don’t normally have significant rankings. I have never tried to identify a pattern for these kinds of oddball referrals but there are certainly times where the indices appear to be upside down. I would say that might be due to load balancing or changing out data centers when Google rolls out a significant update.

    Episodic rankings gains can be useful for keyword research, in that they may provide insight into terms we should be optimizing for that we have overlooked.

    Interesting topic.

  • @Mike I checked their backlink profile and it even brought out more confusion as to why they’re ranking..lol. You got your work cut out for you it seems 😀

    • Ryan @ LinkBuildr,

      Not a clue. I was working with a client http://www.saviortpc.com and he asked me what was going on. I am completely stumped!

      If anyone knows …. please educated me.

      10 years in Local Search and SEO and I have never been so perplexed!


      p.s. maybe this is a perfect example of weak sites ranking.

  • I have noticed this! It happens in the local 10-pack results as well. At first it gave me a bit of a start as I didn’t know what was going on, but eventually I noticed that it eventually sorts itself out.

    It can also burn you the other way, if you think you’re results are greater than they actually are 😉


  • We see this happening in the space I work, where the top 5 ranking spots are as you would expect for the no1 keyword, positions 6-10 are wildly inconsistent from day to day. There doesn’t seem to be any logic, other than a randomized diversification algorithm at play (pure conjecture).

    • Seriocomic,

      RE: my particular example……

      Been like that for a long while!

      Mike Stewart

  • I’m seeking a boost to several listings that I have achieved, some seem to stay around for a day on the first page of Google and then drop down, some of them are staying in place for a lot longer.

  • yeah I sruglled a lot once to ring my website in top which was aqquired by and unknown website with no backlink and no content at all, it takes me 5-6 month to get rid of that page and made in to top 10. I had posted a thread in Dp also about that which is still the most famous thread I ever have, everyone was clueless why that happend

  • I have seen some truly awful sites at the top. I have attributed this to them having grabbed the best domain name long ago.

    The random feature of Google’s algorithm forcing results is very interesting. If only we knew more….

  • I would say that Google’s efforts to build an algorithm that no one can predict has been a massive success. Congratulations, Google–I’ve all but given up trying to figure out how I can legitimately structure my sites to fit with what you, yourself, specify.

  • May be those weak pages are in the eyes of the beholders. Every SEO experts think that the pages they have worked on so hard to make it SEO friendly are stronger than the higher ranking pages in the SERP.

  • Thanks for the tips! Very interesting!

  • In the Atlanta Real Estate keyword arena, there are 2-3 sites that enjoy page one that are absolutely horrible. But, they are 10 years old and basically, nobody has simply out ranked them yet.

    I’m working on it!


  • another “pretty” example. Searching for “animales actores” (spanish translation for “animal actors”) we found
    http://www.daktarianimalfilms.com.ar/ ranking 4th top SERP´s.
    Poor SEO optimization, poor backlinks, “terrific” design… any element to deserve their fourth place. (apologies to designers). Maybe a domain registered for 6 years.

    In 5th we found Zooko Productions website, animal actors rental agency (http://www.zookoproducciones.com)
    More than 6 years registered, and a plan to go up into SERP´s actually run.

    After read Ann´s article, it seems Google doesn´t take care of our efforts developing optimal sites for users.

  • I have noticed that new pages, particularly blog pages, seem to float to the top quickly for long-tail searches, then drift into oblivion over time. I wonder if this is a result of the process you are speaking of, or if it’s just Google giving new pages a bit of a shot. Anyway, there are so many variables!

  • We redesigned utahmountainbiking.com – now utahmoutainbiking2.com and they have ridiculously good rankings (#1 for mountain biking, etc.) and their whole site is in tables and frames. They only thing I can think of is their site is 10 yrs old and everyone with a website links to them. Let me know if there is anything that could drive their crazy results w/ out any link structure for any of the pages or page titles even. Bizarre.

  • Yes, I actually get this, I am the only most well SEO Professional on the internet with the name “Daniel Lew” and there has always been 1 site just on top of me, I cannot do anything to get above it. An .edu site with the title “The Lew Lab”

  • Very very interesting!… Yes it’s and I’m going to test a site with different words with same meaning. thanks