How Do Sites That Break the Rules Still Rank Well?

How Do Sites That Break the Rules Still Rank Well?

This is something we hear all too often, “Why am I ranking below sites that break the rules?” “Why doesn’t Google penalize my keyword-stuffing, backlink-buying competitors and rank my website higher?” As frustrating as this may be to some, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the way Google ranks websites. So, how do sites that break the rules rank well on Google? Let’s find out!

Websites Don’t Need to Be Perfect to Rank Well

First of all, there’s no such thing as a site that’s “perfectly” optimized to rank on Google. Google’s ranking algorithms are constantly changing, and all we can rely on are best practices based on what works at any given time. Google’s ranking algorithms focus on so many different factors that having a perfect site is virtually impossible. Some sites do certain things really well, other OK, and others really badly. Because of this, Google tends to focus on an overall evaluation of a site. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a site to “break” a few rules and still rank well.

In reality, if Google were to remove every single page that did something bad, there would be very few sites left on search results! So, while it may seem that Google is rewarding your rule-breaking competitors, what’s actually happening is that they’re ranking higher based on Google’s overall evaluation of their site, which we’ll get to shortly. For now, you can at least rest assured that Google doesn’t intentionally rank sites that break the rules, it just ignores the bad things in favor of all the good things they have going on.

It’s Not All Technical

Many who complain or are curious about why rule-breaking sites rank well tend to look at things from a purely technical perspective. This includes things like HTML markup, scores from one of the thousands of website testing tools out there, and perceived visual appeal. While a site’s technical elements were an extremely important ranking factor in the past, Google’s ranking algorithms have evolved to the point where they now focus primarily on the value and experience a site provides.

This means that it’s not uncommon for barebones HTML sites loaded with valuable content to outrank ultra-slick, custom-coded technical masterpieces. In other words, just because some expensive tools or an expert developer say your site is better, it doesn’t mean that Google agrees. Overall, while you shouldn’t completely ditch your technical efforts, you shouldn’t be giving so much weight to technical tools and scores. You’re better off focusing on improving your site’s user experience and keeping up with the latest digital marketing trends, instead of simply comparing technical statistics.

Focus on the Bigger Picture

Continuing from the last section, instead of wasting time trying to find problems in your competitors’ sites, divert that effort into improving your site’s overall value to users. How you do this depends on what kind of site you have. In general, improving your web copy, adding blog posts, tips, tutorials, and videos is always a good idea. You built your site to promote your expertise – so let it shine.

Look at your site from a user’s perspective instead of through a tool. What can you improve? What’s missing? If you’re having trouble evaluating your site objectively and can’t understand why you’re being outranked, just ask! User studies and surveys are incredibly powerful tools you can use to your advantage. The aim here is to identify common user frustrations, pain points, and areas where they feel your site could do better.

There’s no need to get too fancy, just send out a simple survey to your newsletter subscribers asking them what they liked about your site and where they felt you could improve. If you haven’t got a newsletter, add a link to your homepage or an exit popup asking users to take your survey. Once you’ve gathered 10-20 responses, spend some time analyzing them and look for common areas that need improvement.


At The Three Marketers, we’ve helped hundreds of sites achieve their marketing goals in Calgary and beyond. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help your business grow online.

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