A web publisher asked why an older site is outranking a newer and “fresher” site. The basic SEO answer in a nutshell is that the older page as accumulated trust. Age plays a role here. John Mueller from Google explained a contradicting theory. The reason why some old sites rank better than newer ones is more nuanced than a case of age and trust.
John Mueller shared his ideas as to why he thinks the site still ranks with outdated content, content that in his opinion is thin, all on HTTP.
“So I’ve got a couple of theories about it. Part of it is, I think, maybe it’s been in the index so long it… kind of has a trust factor built up with them.
I also think that age might be part of the problem of trying to provide that newer fresher content. …in most cases what we have done over the last year is a lot more thorough that what was written say ten or twelve years ago.”
In Mueller’s opinion, sites that use HTTP tend to have not been updated in at least a few years. Basically, he regards site that uses HTTP “like they’ve almost been abandoned.” HTTP is seen as a signal of a lack of freshness.
John Mueller answered that HTTPS is relatively not an important ranking factor:
“HTTPS is a ranking factor for us. But it’s really kind of a soft ranking factor. A really small ranking factor.”
He followed up on the web developers underlying contention that his content should rank higher than the older site since it is newer and more fresh.
“…freshness is always an interesting one because it’s something that we don’t always use. Because sometimes it makes sense to show people content that has been established.
If they’re looking at… long term research, then some of this stuff just hasn’t changed for ten, twenty years.”
In this situation, Mueller is saying that there is content that is considered evergreen. Evergreen content is defined as content that doesn’t really change that much over time.
John Mueller also offered this:
“It can really be the case that sometimes we just have content that looks to use like it remains to be relevant. And sometimes this content is relevant for a longer time.
I think it’s tricky when things have actually moved on, and these pages just have built up so much kind of trust and links and all of the kind of other signals over the years where like well it seems like a good reference page.
But we don’t realize that… other pages have kind of moved on and become kind of more relevant.
So I think long term we would probably pick that up. But it might take a while.”
Even trust was brought up by Mueller, which is a bit surprising because Googlers have always pushed that Google doesn’t utilized trust as a metric.
When a Googler references trust, they are usually referring to a wide range of signals. But, when a Googler uses the word “trust,” they don’t litteraly mean there is a metric called trust.
The web developer noticed Mueller’s use of the word, responding that he felt that the outdated site’s ranking success had something to do with a long term trust.
John Mueller answered, “I don’t know that we’d call it trust or anything crazy like that.“
John Mueller went on to say:
“It feels more like we just have so many signals associated with these pages. And it’s not that, like if they were to change, they would disappear from rankings.
It’s more well, they’ve been around, they’re not doing things clearly wrong for as long a time. And maybe people are still referring to them, still linking to them. And maybe they’re kind of misled in linking to them because they don’t realize that actually the web has moved on.”
Popularity is not always a signal of relevance. Google’s John Mueller pretty much acknowledges that in his answer.
“I think it’s always tricky because we do try to find a balance between… showing evergreen content that’s been around and… being seen more as reference content and… the fresher content. Especially when we can tell when people are looking for the fresher content, we’ll try to shift that as well.”