Blog: SEO
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Google “Penalties” Don’t Always Work How You Think

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

Why aren’t big brand websites hit with “duplicate content penalties” or other ranking demotions for technical faults?

There are several reasons negative factors in SEO negative aspects don’t work in the real world how you’ve been taught.

The biggest thing a website or an individual web page must do is let searcher accomplish their intended goal.

Whenever a person types in a keyword phrase, they are expecting to be able to attain a goal. That goal may be get some information, buy a product, research a purchase, make an appointment…you get the idea.

Large sites that are destinations for certain types of goals (Amazon or eBay for e-commerce) are shielded from many things you would expect to downgrade rankings in a normal website. Google knows from user signals that certain sites will almost always deliver people to their intended goal. This automatically makes them “good” search results.

That is the current smaller brands are constantly swimming against.

Big Brands Have an Advantage

Big brands rarely get algorithmic “penalties” from Google for their website rankings. People point at certain large sites that have many things “wrong” with them. Surely they should not rank so well? Is something wrong with the ranking algorithm?

The ranking algorithm is working exactly as intended.

Back in 2008, then-Google CEO Eric Schmidt told a conference of magazine publishers that “Brands are the solution, not the problem” to sorting out billions of web pages. Big brands go on one side of the equation, into a “trusted” pile, smaller brands go on the other side of the equation.

Becoming a site that people seek out, that is trusted by users, makes Google’s job a bit easier. People are happy because they get what they want, and they continue to trust Google’s search results.

Google “Penalties” Don’t Work How You’ve Been Taught

The way many people have been taught SEO is flat-out wrong.

Many people believe that SEO is about getting the most “SEO points” in the “correct” column, while avoiding getting “SEO demerits” in the “bad” column.

In theory, if you do everything “right”, you should be able to crush your competition. No wonder people are disappointed when they see sites ranking above them with minor things “wrong” like no SSL, no favicon, loads slightly slower than their site, or “duplicate content”.

The most important thing you need to understand about SEO in the 2020s is this. The absence of “bad” SEO factors doesn’t make your SEO “good”.

The most important thing your site can do is to be a reliable destination that lets people achieve a goal.

Becoming a trusted brand, whether it’s in a global or local market, takes time and effort.

Long-Term Patterns are in Play

The three things you must have to succeed at SEO: excellent content that matches search intent, a back link profile that looks like a big brand, and good user experience and design. These are the three legs of the table that make your SEO stand for a long time.

Websites that have a link profile with sites closest to “seed sites” will generally do better over time than a site with a random link profile. Seed sites are websites that have been around from near the beginning of the web until now, that Google trusts, that tend to have a lot of real-world respect and authority. These trusted seed sites tend to be more difficult to get a link from than an average site. These might be magazine or news sites, industry sites, or other sites where earning a link is less common.

Sites that have ranked well for a long time that truly get users to their intended goals tend to retain their rank. Links are important, track record counts for something, but user signals seem to be more important each quarter. It seems like sites that make it easy, pleasurable, and low-friction for site visitors to achieve a goal are doing well in organic search.

Your SEO Mindset Should Be Long-Term

The far-reaching goal for your site should be to create resources or functionality that is helpful to people who are trying to find a solution to a problem. Don’t worry or nitpick over little things your competitors are doing “wrong”. Obviously, if they are still ranking well, they are doing something right. Try to look for patterns in what top-ranking websites are doing well, and see if you can execute on those things better.

Google ignores a lot of what people in SEO forums and chat rooms think are “major SEO offenses”. What else that you currently believe about SEO might be false as well?

Avatar for John Locke

John Locke is a SEO consultant from Sacramento, CA. He helps manufacturing businesses rank higher through his web agency, Lockedown Design & SEO.

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