Have you ever wondered why some sites rank high on Google when they aren’t optimized for search engines? Or even worse, when they barely have any backlinks?
I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last few months, so I thought I would write a blog post explaining why that happens.
Here’s why some sites rank high when they aren’t optimized:
Reason #1: Click-Through Rate
Part of Google’s algorithm looks at a click-through rate. It calculates it as a percentage, reflecting the number of clicks you receive from the total number of people searching for the particular phrase you rank for.
The higher the percentage, the more appealing your listing is compared to the competition. And if your click-through rate is higher than everyone else’s, Google will slowly start moving you up the search engine results page, as this algorithm factor tells Google that searchers prefer your listing.
Looking at the click-through rate isn’t enough, however, as people could create deceptive title tags and meta descriptions to increase their results. So, Google also looks at your bounce rate.
It assesses the number of people who leave your page by hitting the back button to return to the search listing page. If Google sends 1,000 people to one of your web pages and each of those 1,000 people hit the back button within a few seconds, it tells Google your web page isn’t relevant.
A lot of the websites ranking well on Google that don’t seem to be optimized have a high click-through rate and a low bounce rate. And that helps maintain their rankings.
For example, if you look at this guide, you’ll see it ranks really high for the term “online marketing,” and the ranking very rarely fluctuates, as my click-through rate according to Webmaster Tools is 31%.
Here’s another example. This post ranks well for “best times to post on social media”. It would be hard to outrank this listing as my click-through rate is currently 52%.
If you want to see your click-through rates, log into Webmaster Tools, and click on your site profile. If you don’t have a site profile, that means you need to add your site to Webmaster Tools and wait a few days.
Once you are viewing your site in Webmaster Tools, click on the navigational option “search traffic,” and then click on “search queries.”
If you need help increasing your click-through rates, read this post as I walk you through the steps you need to take.
Reason #2: Age
One of the big factors that cause some sites to rank well is their age. Most of the sites that rank high are at least a few years old.
Sure, most of these older sites have more backlinks and content as they have been around for longer, but not all of them.
What I’ve noticed is that if you take a brand new website, build tons of relevant links, and add high quality content, you still won’t get as much search traffic as older sites will.
There is not much you can do here other than just give it time. The older your site gets, the more search traffic you will generally receive, assuming you are continually trying to improve it.
Reason #3: Backlinks
Google doesn’t just look at the sheer number of backlinks a site has—it also looks at relevancy and authority.
Many of these non-optimized sites that are ranking well have a few high quality backlinks pointing to the right internal pages. For example, if you have only few links—but they come from .edu and .gov extensions—your site will rank extremely well.
In addition to having the right backlinks, those sites also have a spot-on anchor text for these links. Most SEOs think you need rich anchor text links to rank well, but the reality is you don’t.
Google is able to look at the web page that is linking to you and analyze the text around the link as well as the text on the page. It helps Google determine if the link is relevant to your site and what you should potentially rank for.
Reason #4: Cross-Linking
Even if you don’t have the best on-page SEO and a ton of backlinks, you can rank well from an overall site perspective if you cross-link your pages.
And it’s important not just from a navigational or breadcrumb perspective, but from an in-content perspective. If you can add in-content links throughout your site and cross-link your pages, you’ll find that they all will increase in rankings.
On the flip side, if you aren’t cross-linking your pages within your content, you’ll find that some of your web pages will rank extremely well, while others won’t. It’s because you are not distributing link juice and authority throughout your whole site.
Reason #5: Content Quality
Since its Panda update, Google has been able to determine content quality of websites. For example, it can determine whether a site is too thin or has duplicate content, allowing for a much better analysis of content quality than before.
A lot of these well-ranking older sites have extremely high quality content. You may not think so, but Google does.
Because Google doesn’t just look at the content on a site – looks at the content on one website and compares it to others within that space. So if you have higher quality content than all of your competitors, you are much more likely to outrank them in the long run.
Reason #6: Competition
The beautiful part about ranking for certain keywords is that they are low in competition. And some of these low competitive terms don’t get searched often.
From what I’ve seen, the results pages for these low competition key phrases aren’t updated by Google as often as some of the more competitive terms are. Why? Because more people are viewing the competitive terms.
If you were Google, wouldn’t you focus your resources on ensuring that popular terms and results pages are updated more frequently than phrases that aren’t searched for very often?
Reason #7: Growth Rate
What should you do if you want to rank really high for a keyword? Build a ton of relevant backlinks and write a lot of high quality content, right?
Although that’s true, what happens is a lot of webmasters grow their link count a bit too fast…so fast that it seems unnatural. And chances are it is.
Google is smart enough to know this as it has data on a lot of sites within your space. For this reason, you see a lot of older sites ranking well as they are growing at a “natural” pace versus one that seems manufactured.
There are a lot of reasons why sites that don’t seem well-optimized rank well. The seven I listed above are the main reasons I’ve seen over the years.
So the next time you are trying to figure out why a certain site ranks well when it shouldn’t, chances are it’s because of one or more reasons on the list.
As a website owner, you shouldn’t focus too much on your competition; instead, you should focus on improving your website. In the long run, the company with the best product or service tends to win.
Why else do you think non-optimized sites rank well on Google?
This post originally appeared on Quick Sprout, and is re-published with permission.