I know you’ve seen it before.
You go to check where your website ranks and you see someone ranking above you. But it’s not Yelp or Homeadvisor or some national brand with a professional website. It’s ‘joespestcompany.net’. This must be that guy you met once that has been running a local business for 20 years...and he still runs it like he did 20 years ago. You’re surprised he even has a website. How is he outranking you??
You click on it, and it’s worse than you thought. The site looks terrible. It looks like Joe’s cousin built him a website in a few hours in exchange for a termite inspection.
(By the way, all references to other websites in this article are done in good fun--and if you want to take our advice, call us!)
One example of such a website. (PSST: If you still have a ‘hit counter’, you may want to update your website.)
“WHO IS THIS JOE? HE DOES NOT DESERVE THIS.”, you may say!
Well, as hard a pill as this may be to swallow, he may actually deserve to outrank you.
Just because a site doesn’t have parallax scrolling and a solid conversion funnel doesn’t mean Google won’t rank it well.
In order to understand why a site ranks better than yours, you have to stop thinking like a normal person - one that values viral content and Instagram pictures - and start thinking like a search engine. If you were Google, what would you want in a website?
What does Google like about their site? Let’s go through a few things that Google might like about them--whether they are doing these things on purpose or not.
1) The age of their domain
A large part of how Google decides what should rank vs what shouldn’t is based on Google’s desire to combat spam.
Because of the immense power of ranking in Google’s search results (Google handles over 3 billion searches every day), there are entire industries dedicated to ‘gaming’ Google in order to get their website to rank.
So, how does Google fight these industries? They bake into their algorithm what’s called a ‘sandbox’. When a new site shows up, Google puts it in the sandbox, and does not allow it to rank at first (typically from 1-6 months). This way, fly-by-night companies cannot spin up new websites overnight and suddenly start to rank. If the site sticks around and doesn’t show signs of spammy behavior, Google will take the site out of the sandbox and allow it to rank like normal.
So, if the competitors that are outranking you really do have old websites, this may be to their advantage. Google knows that they’re not spam. And this may give them a leg up against sites that are newer--like yours.
This company has been around for 100 YEARS. Unsurprisingly, their website hasn't changed in 15.
What can we do about it?
There are two main things you can do to stay in Google’s good graces:
Pick a good domain and stick with it for as long as possible. Use a descriptive URL (a mix of your brand name and the services you provide is usually the best call) and go for a .com address, as those are considered the most authoritative.
Choose your business name and address wisely, because the longer you keep those the same, the better your standing will be. Over time, these details will be listed on countless business directories (Yellow Pages, Yelp, BBB, etc.) When the information on these sites is consistent, it signals to Google that you’re legit. When it’s inconsistent due to moves or other changes, your ranking power will be diluted.
2) Naturally high quality content
Every company has information that they’re privy to that would be valuable to a potential customer. Maybe it’s information they’ve collected from their customers about the most common lawn diseases throughout the year and how those diseases flucutate based on the weather. Maybe it’s research they’ve performed in the interest of better serving their customers, like which combinations of products work best for flushing/killing/exclusion for a specific pest in their area. Do you have information like this? Is it on your website?
Often, when fancy new websites get developed, the same types of pages get created every time. There’s a page for your services, there’s a page that shows where you’re located, there’s a basic ‘About Us’ page. These are industry best practice pages, and they work really well, but they can be boring and, even worse, similar to every other website trying to outrank you.
If you're not thinking creatively with your website, you may forget to go with your gut, and your gut probably tells you to include cool content on your website. Content that is unique and valuable. That’s the kind of content that Google will reward.
Joe’s website probably has a few pages like this. Pages like a comprehensive list of pricing for different services--something that many sites leave out for fear of driving away customers. Or an extremely detailed list of the services they offer--content that may seem too boring or jargon-filled for the normal customer, but is unique and fits the need for customers who are looking to buy.
Two examples of natural, high quality content: Termite facts and a termite "hot spots" map!
What can we do about it?
When developing content for your website, don’t overthink it. Include the staple pages on your services and service area--but don’t stop there. Make a point of adding pages that focus on what is different about your company. Here's a good test: take a sentence or two from a few of the pages you're going to publish and search that sentence in Google. Do 1,000 pages show up with very similar content? That's a problem.
To solve this, switch up your tone of voice. Make it fun. Write something you'd never think a company like yours would put on their website. What if you added a live tracker of where all your trucks are next to a short summary of how the day is going and have your lead CSR update it every day?
It doesn't have to be extensive--in fact, as we'll see in the next section, too much content is also bad--just make it memorable. Google will remember it as well.
3) The website is short and sweet
Another advantage of an old-school website is that it is probably pretty lean. Before you could build a site overnight with WordPress and SquareSpace, it was a time-intensive process to add new content to a page or new pages to your website. So you know what? You didn’t!
Modern websites stress the importance of blogs and fresh content, which is important for Google to see you as a current and active company. But it has its disadvantages. After years of publishing new blog posts and adding more content to existing pages, your site is probably pretty bloated.
(This may seem contradictory to the previous point, but the focus should be to add naturally high quality content and nothing else instead of high quality content and a bunch of filler pages--or only filler pages!)
If you hadn’t been adding all this content, your site may load faster and Google might not have to strain to find and index all of your pages. This may help them look more favorably on you and your rankings. This may be what is happening with your competitors that outrank you.
Doctor Fume doesn't need 100 pages to tell you that they only do fumigation, and they do it well.
In fact, they only need six.
What can we do about it?
Cut the fat! Run a crawl of your site (with a tool like Screaming Frog) and get an idea of just how many pages you’ve created. Compare the list to your most popular pages from Google Analytics--how many of these pages have gotten 0 visits from Google searchers in the past year? If Google can crawl them but no one is visiting, Google may deem these pages as low value. You can probably remove them.
If you want an even deeper dive, tools like SEOmator can give you a full SEO site audit and tell you the quality of your site from a content perspective. You can check for things like thin pages (when the pages don't have enough content on them to be valuable) and duplicate pages (when two pages have very similar content, also known to be an issue with Google) and fix those before they become an issue.
Another part of the site you can audit is the page load speed, something you can view in the ‘site speed’ reports in Google Analytics. Check out the pages you’ve been adding more and more content to--are they taking more than 2 seconds to load? Google may ding you for that, so optimize the page for a faster load and you may rank better.
4) The best kind of links in the world
Now that everyone can get a website built rather quickly, the focus of marketing has also moved online. That has meant that some old-school tactics, like participating in your local community or making partnerships with reputable vendors, doesn't happen as often as it used to.
But there's a hidden - and incredibly valuable - reason to keep those traditional outreach methods going. Say you sponsor your local Little League team, and they sport your logo on their jerseys. The payoff locally is that you've earned the good will of your community. The payoff digitally is that local news, blogs, and other online outlets will likely write about - and link to - your business.
Those links are the best kind in the world: natural, relevant, and earned. They're the hardest to get because they take actual extra-curricular effort, but they're pure ranking gold.
So before you scoff at Joe and his seemingly outdated methods, consider if he's actually benefitting from the power of organic links.
What can we do about it?
There’s a term that was coined years ago by Wil Reynolds: “RCS” or “Real Company S***”. If you want to outrank your competitors, you need to do what real companies do: create organic buzz about your company based on the cool things you do. This will get you press and links that are different and better than your competitors.
Now, this means you need to do things that are different and better than them. Do you already? If not, what can you start doing?
Does your ‘About Us’ page show the values and causes you support? Like Yellow Lead Hammocks?
Do you have incredible customer support that will go above and beyond to wow your customers--to the point that they will talk/blog/tweet about it? Like Sainsbury's renaming their bread after a three-year-old requested it?
Have you ever given away a product or service to a delighted customer or are you afraid about missing out on $50 of monthly revenue? Like a number of companies do on National Donut Day?
Do you stand up for anything as a company that might be unexpected or in the minority in your industry or region?
If you’re not doing anything unique yet, don’t worry. Sit down with your decision makers for marketing and online channels and start the discussion. It’s never too late.
But this sounds difficult!
It is. And that’s the point.
If it was easy, anyone with a website could rank #1. Luckily, Google only rewards websites that demonstrate authority in their industry--something not everyone is able to do. Hopefully by reading this post you now understand why old, out-dated sites can outrank you--and also what you can do to take them out. Once that's handled, it's time to focus on the other half of the story: design and conversion (and we can help!). If you take care of these two tasks, you'll leave any competitor--whether they have a Geocities website or are using the latest tech--in the dust.