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May 7, 2014

Google’s Matt Cutts: Small Sites Can Outrank Larger Sites

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Photo Credit: meneame comunicacions, sl via flickr

No matter how strong your content is, a large national brand will always have higher traffic that causes them to outrank you – right? Matt Cutts, Google’s head of search spam, recently exposed the truth about whether site size impacts search ranking.

Matt Cutts clearly disagrees with the notion that larger national brands will always have higher traffic and search rankings. Smaller sites might actually have more opportunities and capabilities due to their size, such as producing fresh content more quickly.

While it’s easy to feel like outranking your larger competitors is a hopeless investment, consider your area of business. If you can find real ways to stand out from your competition by focusing your efforts on a particular niche, Cutts and the rest of Google argue that your site can easily experience long-term benefits.

Debunking the Myth

The myth that larger web sites rank better in Google is apparent everywhere. In September of 2013, 400 people responded to a survey that asked if they believed the size of a site impacts Google rankings. 57% believed that larger sites rank better, while only 9% of respondents believed smaller sites could – and the remaining 34% believed that size doesn’t impact the rankings at all.

While many of us may be daunted by larger sites – and may be surprised by Cutts’ response – it’s clear that the quality of the site and what’s on the web pages will make a difference in search rankings.

Because Google ranks web pages instead of websites, the search engine is always looking to match the best, most relevant web page to a user’s search query. So it shouldn’t matter if your site is big or small – if you focus on quality, your diligence and creativity will pay off in the long run.

Become a Larger Site

Even though your site might be small compared to nationally-recognized competitors, you can end up becoming a larger site if you work harder and produce superior content. From Cutts’ angle, he argues that while your site may be smaller now, it can grow and transform if it gives users a better experience than your larger competitors.

You’ll be delivering more value in the long run, and Google rewards sites for it. Cutts uses Instagram as an example of a site that started out small but provided something of extreme value to its users. Because of the site’s focus on value, they were able to grow into a large, well-known platform.

However, make sure you consider your site and your staff. If you only have one person running the site, you may have to start small. This isn’t a negative, as it allows you to focus on a specific topic or niche. Then, if you can become the leading expert in that area, you’ll be able to expand into other areas with time. As you become more authoritative and reputable in different areas, you’ll help your site get larger and larger.

Focus on User Experience and Value

High quality content will be one of the ways you can give users what they want and deliver user experience and value – the two components Google considers heavily when ranking sites, according to Cutts.

Smaller sites may have the time and capabilities to produce more fresh content than larger brands. In Cutts’ latest video, he shares specific strategies that smaller sites should implement if they’re looking to outrank their larger competitors:

  • Be agile – remaining attentive to what your users want and how the Internet is changing is important to the success of your site. Your users’ needs will change over time, just like the Internet. Be agile and flexible to ensure your site is always ahead of the next change.
  • Be dynamic – if you’re energetic about your site and your goals, the experience you provide users will be a vibrant one. If you can create new ideas while giving users something unique and brimming with value, your rankings and the success of your site will increase immensely.
  • Respond quickly – by responding to users’ needs and inquiries quickly, you’ll position yourself as an industry leader who is laser focused on your customers’ happiness.
  • Target realistic areas – instead of trying to rank for “home repair,” target keywords that are longer and more specific to a certain niche or local area. Focus your efforts on becoming a leader in the long tail, and then move into targeting broader topics down the road.

Cutts makes it simple for us to understand: Deliver more quality, details and insights than the bigger brands. By simply making your site better than the competitors in your industry, you’ll naturally rise in the Google search results over time.

Be Better in the Long Run

With Cutts’ latest video and explanation, it should be evident that outranking larger sites is possible with diligence and smart strategies. As Cutts says, “the smaller guys absolutely can [outperform] the larger guys as long as they do a really good job at it.”

By focusing on a specific area, being creative with your ideas, and delivering user experience and value, you can transform your site into a larger presence. Be optimistic about your capabilities, and figure out what you can do that the bigger sites can’t.

Don’t give up trying to produce stellar content. If we have learned anything from Matt Cutts and Google’s recent updates, superior content is what will help your site rank better in the long run.


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Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like Memolink succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.

49 Responses to “Google’s Matt Cutts: Small Sites Can Outrank Larger Sites

    avatar Dave says:

    Yeah yeah Cutt’s, heard it all before! You are full of it. Just about every search has eBay or Amazon on the top results (along with all their ADS!!!!!). Prior to all of your so called quality updates we ranked much better. Now eBay & Amazon sellers that have STOLEN our pictures & content rank above us!! Maybe the new softer Panda you talked about will change this??… then again that’s probably more smoke & mirrors. It has NOTHING to do with quality content & EVERYTHING to do with making Google more money. You have ruined what was an area where the little guy could actually compete. It’s the high street all over again.

    Maybe you should start an online business & let us know how you get on eh? It all started with MayDay and has been going downhill ever since.

    The fan boys will be along soon with the same old lines….

    “Google can do what they want”
    “You don’t have to use Google”
    “Black hats deserve what they get” (most have never used “blackhat”)

    Disavow tool, Panda, Penguin, what a mess!

    & yes I’m angry, for years we jumped through your hoops & reaped the rewards. Then the greed got to you & now it’s just an ad driven sell out. The saddest part is there is a search engine that works like old Google but no one uses it. BING.

    avatar jeff says:

    I guess Mr. Cutts dont know whats up, the real problem is their algo which is simply wrong, why? I continuously see sites / pages listet at their first page which have nothing to do with the subject I key in for search. They are part of a big company which is in a similar business field so the “bigness” overshadow any other stuff. I think their basic mistake was to drop keywords. How do Google know what the people wanted to create when they made the page? when Google throws away definitions?
    Typical example, Expedia, Lonely Planet, Huffington Post etc. Especially this “Huff” is a straight joke since about 90% of their content is copied from elsewhere why Google dont punish them for duplicate content? as they do with other? Ok > its cronyism etc. in all this is a lot of mental corruption.

    By results they haven’t improved much over altavist from about 10 years ago, they only try guessing around by using their algo so most of their results became useless because they think they know it better than the author. How to do that much better? Look at Bing and Yahoo they know how to do that.

    avatar jeff says:

    Just to to make it foolproof I keyed in Thailand night market

    and this is what I got:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/night-market-west-hollywood

    Is google totally insane? What has west hollywood to do with Thailand?? Oho, its Yelp how much they paid? But this is nothing new, some time ago when I searched for Cambodia I got Gorilla Safaris in Uganda because Google has Cambodia in the Africa section. I wonder if the people at Google ever went to school? or where they taken over from the primary school as freelancer so that Mr. Page must not pay salary? This is like a madhouse for lunatics.

    avatar jeff says:

    The thing is Google doesn’t know how to program contemporary computers, they just do it in the same way like altavista 13 years ago. Even IBM had relational databases which could handle such stuff already around 40 years ago. It is obvious that Google didn’t even hear about in 2014 all this is really strange but totally TRUE.

    avatar Geezer Geek says:

    Suspicious choice of the word “MYTH.” I point that out because the perception of that word usually invokes thoughts of prevarication (lying) or falsehoods. But the actual definition of “myth” also means “A REAL or fictional story, recurring theme, or character type…of a people…giving it expression…” (The American Heritage Dictionary – Second College Edition).

    I have had a niche website that has been #1 on page 1 for over 14 years. Not just on Google’s
    SERPs, but on Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Lycos, AOL, BING and the many other predecessors to Google. My website, http://www.mountain-lodging.com, lists vacation cabin rentals for owners of cabins. Somewhere around last October (2013), my position in Googles SERPs was displaced by the “big boys” of this cabin
    rental marketing service. Those other guys, specifically, vrbo.com, vacationhomerentals.com,
    homeaway.com, FindVacationRentals.com, vacationrentals.com etc., since October have not only enjoyed top rankings on the 1st 3 pages of Google’s SERPs, but also (depending on the search term used), those websites will appear 3, 4 or even 5 times on page one, two and more!!

    Those of us little guys (mountain-lodging.com, cabins.com, allstarlodging.com, brooksidecabins.com and many others) who have been around as long or longer, are now pushed
    off the top search results. WHY? It is clearly and intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, of the predominance of the “big boy’s” websites in the PAID results, and of the corralation to their organic SERP positions (connect the dots). It’s no stretch of the imagination to conclude that those who pay the most for Google Adwords receive the higher organic search result positions as well, especially since October of 2013!

    avatar Ditto McGhee says:

    What a great way to get your domains online. I’ll add cabinsusa.com to that list as well.

    avatar Ditto McGhee says:

    Wait, I forget to put http://www.cabinsusa.com in there just to make sure it links. God the hoops Google makes us jump through to drive keyword relevance back to our sites.

    avatar Jordan says:

    I think bigger or smaller is not the concern must focus on quality because quality means uniqueness and always think and research that what the user wants.

    avatar Ian Smith says:

    Experience of SERPS over 2 years suggests this is simply not true – for the average Small Business.

    avatar jason kilks says:

    This matt guy is autistic! Out of reality. Google made a mistake of hiring you and your team big time!

    avatar robert says:

    Google just mean what his small “credit card reviews” and “buy hotel or airtickets” websites can outrank normal sites with lot of links.

    avatar francis h says:

    This was true seven years ago. Today I do not know what to do anymore with google. With their lousy algo changes many small business suffered.

    avatar Bill Hanson says:

    The game is not easy for small websites but if you build good links and have some visitors that come back and also tell others about your site, you can bring your site up to something, there are many big boys out there there will try to destroy it for you if you start to come near the top or they will offer you to buy your site or try to hack it and destroy you work, I have tried this with a dating site. Take care and work hard

    avatar Mujtaba says:

    After all these years of zoo animals such as panda, penguin and hummingbird, I can surely say that spam sites are still ranking in Google without any issue while other small businesses are suffering.

    Though a few years ago I would have never agree with Matt’s quotes, now it has never been so true.

    If you’re struggling to rank against the big boys it’s your fault not Google’s, it is entirely possible to outrank anyone.

    Their goal is to give the user the best result, they will not compromise their own ethics just to see a competitors site outrank you in whatever tiny niche you’re operating in.

    Most big websites that rank for big terms do so because of their back-link profiles, links from long established media sites, directories etc. Google loves that, but you know what it loves more? Freshness, virility and uniqueness.

    Get with the times guys.

    True….if you have good content and smart strategies you can bit the larger sites

    avatar Misha says:

    I don’t think Matt Cutts is out of reality. He is acting like a politician, telling people lies so many times that they will eventually become ‘the true’ one day. Whatever I try to search for, it will always give me results of big sites and not related content. If search engine (google) find one word on big site it will come in results even if this word is out of context. They are not fighting for a better results, they are fighting for their business.

    I would agree with “Geezer Geek” above. The Big Boys can still outsmart “Mat Cutts” and rank higher than the small guy ! I am fighting a constant battle with the big guys in my niche who have extremely diverse content related to my niche yet they (The Big Boys) constantly outrank me even when I do occasionally manage to get ahead them for short periods of time because I produce “specific Niche content”.

    avatar Ferry says:

    large site was formerly and first starting small. As long as they have good SEO and good content is also of course a website will be a great website and get high traffic

    avatar Dieter says:

    .. I would like to agree, and hope for the best for my own web-site, but I can’t, searches are not showing good results at all, a lot of small web-sites with good content are totally gone, and large web-sites show up, dominating the search results.
    Why do we see a web-site showing up more than 3 times from a search, with pages that often have no real content at all, esp, pages who ask, is this your listing, claim it now.
    I don’t get it … :-)

    Thank you for sharing these results, I had a similar experience when I stopped focusing on seo and focused on blogging twice a day for a month.

    I will be refocusing my efforts now also.

    avatar Ron says:

    I market within one of the most competitive industries in the world (addiction treatment and mental health recovery) and am constantly faced with competing against an endless flurry of large sites. I have actually seen about a 20 to 30 percent increase in viewership of the past few months, much of which I attribute to quality content and steady site growth on my part. I give much credence to Cutt’s message…

    avatar ammonet says:

    As one of the other posters mentions, at least in the tourist accommodation sector, the big sites overwhelmingly predominate, sometimes have 5-6 links on page one of the Google results. It is absolutely not based page by page since the home pages often totally lack content related to the query. And these big sites have almost no original content – the property listings are simply copy and paste from the property owners’ websites. The algo might not specify that large sites should rank higher and “win” when it’s a question of duplicate content, but in effect that’s what the algo does and has done ever since Wikipedia became a fixture in the number one position for everything.

    avatar Cedar Rapids says:

    ‘It is absolutely not based page by page since the home pages often totally lack content related to the query.’

    Totally agree. We run numerous sites and have seen Sears, Walmart, Ebay, Amazon, et al. spring up to the top of searches that we used to rank number 1 for, and most of those big site pages are themselves site search pages that dont show the product that the original google search was for. Apparently a Walmart search page, that doesnt even have the product, ranks higher than our site that has nothing but the product on it.

    avatar Anon says:

    I see the Google propaganda machine is back in full swing.

    This is, quite frankly, a lie.

    Having worked in this business for more than five years, and spending those years “obeying” the diktats of the almighty Google, I know for a fact that all the data I have seen shows the following…

    1. Google has consistently changed their presentation of results to blackmail small businesses into advertising with them.

    2. You cannot compete in advertising with the larger companies who seem to have bottomless wallets and will pay $3 for a click while you can afford only $1

    3. The organic results consistently present the largest companies in the world when searching internationally, and the largest companies nationally.

    4. It makes NO DIFFERENCE how hard you work to create new and relevant content, Google will ALWAYS give those bigger companies the top spot.

    5. Every time I see a large company being given the top spot for a search term, with their page being weak, they are (shock!) also advertising with Google. Coincidence?

    Matt, you’re a liar.

    avatar Dave says:

    Spot on Anon. They say the little guys can compete, err, yes they COULD Matt. Prior to all of your updates there were plenty of smaller sites on page 1. Now it’s just Amazon & eBay. If you love them so much why not be done with it & have the option to search Amazon/eBay rather than default them to the top spots multiple times?? So on your home page we’d have “Google Search”, “I’m feeling lucky”, “I want ebay” & “I want Amazon”.

    avatar Dave says:

    And finally, you all talk about content. Lets say you are an ecom that sells screws. Yep, screws. How much darn content do you want on something so simple? A blog on screws? How exciting! Sometimes things are simple & that’s it. It’s all smoke & mirrors anyway, Google wants you to pay £1 a click to sell a 1p screw.

    avatar Matt says:

    This may be true, except for something like products, where google has placed their sponsored products on top – in which case the company willing to pay the most will be shown first.

    avatar AME says:

    Well, since Google starting charging for product listing ads, it’s rather a moot point: the big national companies are dumping tons of money into this area and smaller companies can no longer compete on same footing with Google Shopping. Nor can they pay their way out of bad link limbo.

    In my experience it is somewhat stretching the truth that small sites can outrank the big sites. Google favor the sites on which they make money, so if the small sites shell out more money they will rank higher. Quality is not an issue, in my experience, unless you count Google ads as quality.

    avatar Ejaz Alam says:

    Very rightly said, I have seen much smaller blogs but they are showing high on SERPs. One of my small website with just 45 pages indexed is on no. 4 on first page of Google. All that matters is good content and more of it aged content, that what I experienced. Good luck

    avatar Buka Info says:

    conclusion when the magic happens on a small site to compete? as we know even if we desperately optimization in reality a great site remains a top priority google, because large sites will pay

    avatar Ron says:

    If you want to buy a hot rod.
    For years hot rods for sale was in #1 spot if you typed in hot rods for sale. Now you get musicians, hot dogs and hamburgers and all bull crap. HotrodsForSale.com doesn’t exist anymore in Google land. Bing and Yahoo, it is still #1. I have taken Google out of my personal search engine box because I can never find what I want. I just get pages for other search engines.

    avatar Nate says:

    I came to the conclusion a long time ago that Google doesn’t really want to “make the net better” or whatever Kool Aid they want us to drink. It’s about the bottom line! What they want is to make our lives as difficult as possible. haha hear me out for a second. What they want is for us to buy up clicks and bid on as many words as possible and drive up the price. It’s all about Adwords. So they’ll constantly change algorithms and keep us on our toes until finally some of us give in and buy some Adwords. It’s brilliant actually. One of the reasons I own Google stock.

    avatar Bishan says:

    Is it Really so? I really do not agree on this.
    I noticed several times in the Google search that result does not show based on the quality. It is based on some other criteria which are really unknown most of the people. Why search engine is always hiding these criteria? Is it because of that people will follow those and then do the seo based on those will get better exposure in the search engine. If so then only quality can not be the reason for the most priority of the search engine.
    My website ibook21 is competing with big social networking websites for a long time but we noticed google search engine is not behaving properly from search engine point of view.

    avatar Ritesh Reet says:

    Yes that’s right, small sites can beat larger sites. Some times we can get better stuff from small stores rather than going to the big brands showrooms.

    Yeah you really have to just read between the line when Matt Cutts is telling us about SEO. He wants us to conduct our SEO in a certain way, which is fine, but we are still designing our campaigns to speak to humans and Search Engines aren’t we!?! the size of the site is not all that relevant, at least a site with lots of content may rank for more search terms as it will have more text, it doesn’t mean it will rank higher than the guy you are competing with who may only have 1/10th of the content!

    avatar Danny Cheng says:

    I think Mr. Cutts forgot to mention that producing superior and fresh content alone doesn’t cut it- (as far as outranking a larger site is concerned)

    Although I do believe him when he says that it’s possible to outrank a larger site but it’s got nothing to do with just producing great content. It’s more like how many quality relevant back links your website gets.

    avatar mr.right says:

    I think matt cutts tell us only half of truth (like usual). They was few small sites was at the top of organic serp in demo purposes. However most of real top ranking need to be reserved for google partners and google own properties. That is really happens now. His “anti-spam” war now is anti-normal-webmaster war. They miss point in that battle and fighting now only for more money.

    Baed on what I’ve seen over the years, nope, definitely bigger companies usually win if they put any effort in. I used to rank #3 for a certain couple of keywords for a while. Then bigger companies like Walmart started selling products with the same keywords. Down I went. My main larger corporate competition has an enormous budget- anywhere I could possible pay any $ to get a link back or listing or ad, they are already there. They rank highly. I hear that paid links aren’t supposed to be a good idea, but it apparently definitely works.

    avatar Brian says:

    I am afraid I have to join the chorus here, it seems that the most important factor to getting returned in a reasonable position on the search results page is the number of links to your site, not the quality of your content.

    That is why most small business sites will never be able to compete with the big sites like Amazon, eBay and so on. You only have to look at the search results to see that and they don’t just get returned once it is nearly always multiple times for the big domains before the little guys get a mention.

    avatar Cleave says:

    Myself, my wife and I have a review site that has commentary, DVD reviews and casual game revues. http://musings.elisair.com/

    We USED to get 800-900 visits a day and after all the algo changes it went to 150-250 a day, IF we are lucky. We never used slick tactics to get traffic, just straight content. We created all the content, made all the screen shots and wrote about our own experiences, never from other peoples or sites experience. It was really bad when the pic search changed and we had to block full size pic viewing from other sites. Traffic went from 800 to 100 but our traffic on pics went from about 100 to 600, but they were never shown on our own pages, just google’s pic search.

    3 years of hard work just shot so that google could make an extra buck at the expense of us all.

    avatar Ally Lennon says:

    Word on the grapevine is if you send the google team a nice box of chocolates with a hand written note (on nice note paper) explaining how diligently you’ve been following their guidelines you will be rewarded in rankings.
    I happen to know this is true because I read it on the internet

    avatar Health Tips says:

    I have seen few sites which is small in size and does not have more pages when compared to the competitors but ranks for the highly competitive keywords very easily. They dont build any backlinks at all. But they rank above the competitors. How this happens? There is also no regular update on the site. Even though it get ranks for the past 6 months.

    What algorithm does Google uses to rank the keywords.? Does Off page is fully vanished?

    avatar Timothy says:

    This is such b.s. that I don’t know how he says it with a straight face. Almost any high-competition keyword phrase you can think of in travel is going to give you TripAdvisor, Expedia, LuxuryLink, etc.—plus all the biggest tour company brands. And what’s on the page is basically a sales pitch. Meanwhile the resource sites and well-researched blogs that could actually help you plan your trip are now buried on page 3 or 4. As a journalist, I’ve given up on using Google to find real information on a destination because all I’m getting on the first page is big brand sites. Useless for what I was searching for. Thankfully Bing still seems to put content over brand name.

    avatar Samantha says:

    Sure backlinks do matter however I have a competitor when going to the backlinks….. there is no mention whatsoever of the site. I assume a bit of cheating is involved. And compared to my competitor my site is way faster and cleaner. So apparently that doesn’t matter anymore.

    avatar lina says:

    i also doubt in what matt says, with all respect to him though. what he says sounds only human and thereof sensible. does google algorithm work that way? believe not. the latest update is still miserable….focused on language. internet does not belong to us english only and crafted hands do not always maintain grammar strictly. how will they deal with this?

    avatar Kelly Ann says:

    At first I was excited after reading this article. I thought well maybe my little website http://www.pencilbocrecipes.com stands a chance. After reading the comments I now believe the opposite. I too have noticed that my search results return big money websites. It’s almost like the little guy doesn’t exist. I’m wondering if the best way around this problem is to turn my marketing efforts away from Pay Per Click and focus on using social media to get the word out about my site. Just a thought.

    A highly reassuring article! It is nice to learn that even small businesses and sites can outrank big sites with more emphasis and keeping focus on niche building by adding value for their users. I will say thanks to Google for the fair play.

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