How Do Low-Quality Pages Affect Your Sitewide Rankings

Posted By on January 26th, 2020 in Search Engine Optimisation

There’s a widespread assumption that one or a few low-quality pages may affect your website’s overall ranking. But is that true? Can low-quality pages impact sitewide rankings?

In a Google Webmaster Hangout, someone had the same question as most of us do:

I’m curious if the content is judged on a page level per the keyword or the site as a whole. Only a sub-section of the site is buying guides, and they’re all under their specific URL structure. Would Google penalise everything under that URL holistically? Do a few bad apples drag down the average?

What’s the Difference between not Ranking and Penalisation?

How does Google evaluate, examine and rank web pages and websites? To address the impact of low-quality pages on a website, John Mueller started by highlighting the difference between the content’s ranking performance and website penalisation.

Many publishers believe that their content’s failure to perform well and rank on Google SERPs is a result of penalisation, which is not necessarily the case.

A page’s low ranking could be a result of either low-quality or irrelevant content, which doesn’t have to point to penalisation. Content cannibalisation and content duplication can both pertain to an inability to rank because of a content-specific issue and not a penalty. A penalty, on the other hand, is more of an apparent and outright violation of Google’s guidelines.

Back to Basics: What is a Penalty?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a penalty is a punishment imposed for breaking the law, rule, or contract. While Google’s John Mueller shares with us a more search-related definition:

“Usually, the word penalty is associated with manual actions. And if there were a manual action, like if someone manually looked at your website and said this is not a good website, then you would have a notification in Search console.”

Understanding Page-Level Quality

According to John Mueller, Google examines your website and try to determine which specific pages of the website are performing well and which are not. Depending on the web site’s structure and nature, this could sometimes be not possible. In that case, Google looks at everything overall. Which means that page ranking pertains to page quality and not the site’s overall quality. So, if a page is struggling with SERPs ranking this means that the content could be the reason behind it. By revisiting the page’s content, you can pinpoint why it is failing to rank. This could be due to poor quality content, content cannibalisation or duplicate content.

So, Can Websites with Low-Quality Pages still Rank?

With Google’s ongoing mission to improve user experience and provide quality content, many sites can’t get away with low-quality sections. Meanwhile, some websites with overall high-quality content still rank despite hosting some low-quality pages, which means that low-quality pages do not impact your website’s overall presence on the internet. They are not powerful enough to drag your site down, but they fail to perform well on their own.

Contrarily, if a site is mostly poor-quality pages with a few high-quality pages, the poor quality ones can hinder the performance of the high-quality pages, despite internal linking. So opposite to the first scenario, low PageRank is flowing through the entire site, leaving even the high-quality pages struggling to rank.

Density, then, is the distinguishing factor. If you have high-quality content on most of your pages, low-quality pages may not perform well, but still won’t impact your site’s overall performance. But a website with mostly low-quality content may affect the growth of even its high-quality pages due to the low-quality signals that Google can’t ignore. The answer, therefore, is that it all depends on the density of low-quality content on your website.