A Google Search Off the Record podcast involving a member of Google’s search quality team addressed the question of what to do when competitors are seemingly ranking well because of spammy tactics.
Google’s John Mueller in conversation with Duy Nguyen of Google’s Search Quality team mentioned how he’s often asked about what to do when sites that obey Google’s webmaster guidelines are outranked by sites that violate those guidelines.
There is an element of unfairness that can cause a publisher to consider joining in the spammy tactics.
What to Do When Spammy Competitors Keep Winning
Google’s Duy Nguyen answered what’s really going on when spammy competitors seem to be doing well because of those low quality tactics.
[00:22:30] John Mueller:
“One question I always get, where maybe you have some insights or some tips as well, is what if a competitor of mine were doing something spammy or maybe they’re just keyword stuffing on their pages or they’re creating some a doorway page, and I know that this is spammy because I read the web master guidelines.
And my competitor is getting away with it. They’re ranking right above me.
What could I do there?
Is that something where I can report them to, I don’t know, the spam police and they’ll take care of it for me?
What are the options? Is it even something where I can do anything about it?”
[00:23:10] Duy Nguyen:
“Yeah, I would say that a lot of times, maybe the competitor is not necessarily ranking well because they do spam.
But there are so many factors when it comes to ranking. I’m sure Gary will touch on them. But if you’re really concerned about that, you can report them to us. We have a spam report that we review pretty frequently.
So yeah, please send us a spam report. You can also seek help in the Support Forum, the Web Master Help Forum. And then, yeah, we would also be able to take a look.”
Don’t Follow Competitor’s Spammy Tactics
Mueller expressed sympathy for publishers who see competitors seemingly benefiting from spammy tactics.
Duy Nguyen answers with a reminder that just because a competitor is doing something doesn’t mean that’s the reason they are ranking.
[00:23:42] John Mueller:
“…I don’t know, I always feel a bit sorry for people who’re seeing that kind of thing, where they’re almost stuck in a situation where they’re thinking, “Well, maybe I should be spamming as well so that I can rank above my competitor who is spamming.”
But that always feels like a bad idea. “
[00:24:03] Duy Nguyen:
“Yeah, if everyone was doing that, then where does that leave the users? Will they have good user experience and good content to consume?
I really don’t think that’s a solution. I think everyone should be focusing on doing what’s right and doing what’s best for, not just your website, but for your users.
If you focus too much on a single metric or something that you think that would, for some reason, propel your sites, most of the time it would lead to a pretty negative outcome.”
[00:24:35] John Mueller:
“I think it’s also, like you said, one of those things where you don’t even know if it will actually help your site.
And potentially, it’ll just harm your site and then you’re just digging a bigger hole for yourself rather than working on something positive for your website to improve things for the long run.”
Related: What Is a Competition Analysis?
Spam Not Likely the Reason for Competitor Rankings
A common mistake in competitor analysis is to assume that a competitor’s spammy tactics are the reason for their high rankings. It’s important to remember that Google’s algorithm is a closed box, which means we cannot accurately say why Google ranks any site.
Is a site ranking because of the links? There are some algorithms that re-rank the top ten search results and promote sites with low ranking factor scores to the top of the search results because the content is relevant.
In that kind of situation it’s the content and not the spammy tactics that are the reason.
The best a publisher can do is to report a spammy competitor to Google and evaluate what kinds of things can be done to better promote the website.