Why Do Search Engines Favor Informational Sites Over Commercial Sites?

SEO Question: I have noticed many more content heavy websites in Google's search results over the last year or two. Why does it seem it is getting harder for commercial sites to rank?

SEO Answer: Within the commercial realm there are more and more competing sites. Building content, at one time primarily a hobby only project, has become far more lucrative in recent years. Not only have content management systems like Movable Type and Wordpress became cheaply or freely available, but AdSense and affiliate marketing have vastly increased the number of real and fake content sites on the market over the last couple years.

Duplicate content filters have improved, and many shell product catalogs have been filtered out of Google's search results. It seems like some older sites are getting away with some rather shoddy stuff in Google, but as they get more user data and more people create quality content you can look for the search engine to shift away from that loophole.

Search algorithms prefer informational websites over commercial ones for many reasons:

  • they want commercial sites to buy their ads

  • the search ads provide commercial results. they prefer to have some informational results to help balance out the search results.
  • in competitive marketplaces there tends to be many more commercial sites than informational sites
  • if multiple merchants have similar product databases it does not drastically improve the user experience to show hollow shell pages over and over again from a wide variety of merchants
  • many quality informational sites link to related resources that lead searchers to more abstract answers that search engines are not yet advanced enough to answer
  • many informational sites are monetized using contextual ads provided by search engines. those give engines a second chance at revenue after the search

Also keep in mind that most merchant sites focus on the same small core group of keywords. Anything involved with big business can take weeks or months to do...or longer if the company is big or the content management system is highly complex.

For a content based website it takes no time at all to do keyword research using some of the keyword research tools on the market, and then quickly create pages around common customer questions, concerns and buying points. If few sites cover those topics with specific pages then it is low hanging fruit waiting to be claimed. I think it was Peter D who said the key to making money on search was to dig where other people were not digging.

Yahoo! currently offers a paid inclusion program (sidenote: which I generally recommend avoiding) which ensures sites are indexed in Yahoo!. Yahoo! charges those sites a flat rate per click for traffic Yahoo! delivers. That per click fee means that for many search queries it may make sense for them to allow many commercial sites to rank in the search results.

As the largest content site, Yahoo!'s search results also offers quick links to many of their internal content channels, which lessens their need for content from other sources. Make no mistake though, Yahoo! has the ability to try to determine how commercial a website is. See their Yahoo! Mindset tool for an example of how results can be weighted toward either commercial or informational resources.

If you look at the Mindset dial and use it to compare the default search results from Yahoo! and Google think of Google as being turned much further toward research. If Yahoo! drops their paid inclusion program you can bet that they will dial their results more toward the research angle, just like Google is.

Some commercial websites, like Amazon, offer rich interactive features that make them easy to reference (both from a webmaster perspective and a search engine perspective), but generally most commercial sites are not highly interactive and most webmasters would typically be far more inclined to link to quality content sites than overtly commercial sites.

If you are in a competitive field it may make sense to look at Librarians' Internet Index or read this newsletter to see what sort of content sites librarians prefer and trust.

The average person on the web may not be as information savvy as librarians are, so it may also help to look at ideas that go viral by looking at sites like Digg, Memeorandum, or Del.icio.us.

You can also learn a lot content ideas by looking at some of the top ranked content sites in your vertical and related verticals which you are interested in and knowledgeable.

Even commercial sites can still be highly linkable if they are feature rich or offer quality answers to relevant topical questions that competing sites typically ignore.

Published: February 25, 2006 by Aaron Wall in Q & A


February 25, 2006 - 2:22pm

One more reason for the search engines to prefer informational websites are price search engines like Froogle. There is no need for Google to show the searcher 10 onlineshop result of the same product on the search result pages. If he is searching for onlineshops he should use their price search engine.

March 1, 2006 - 12:09am

Thank you for comparing content rich sites to commercial sites in relation to rearch engines.

This just emphasizes my strategy of building a content rich site to attract customers.

Best regards,

March 3, 2006 - 4:18am

Thank you Aaron. Running an Australian Real Estate Listings website I have always thought that giving something more than just provide real estate ads is the best way to treat the patronage of the visitors.

After reading your thoughts the main focus in the next months will be to provide many more real estate tips and helpful ideas to our users to help them handle (arguably) one of life's most difficult and time consuming transactions easier and have more fun in the process.

Best Regards,
John Coates

March 3, 2006 - 8:01am


March 9, 2006 - 12:46pm

Hi Aaron, Greetings from Sunny Seattle. First of all I want to say great look and feel on your site. I love the colors, and I will buy the book in the morning. I am too tired and now about to go to bed. I learned about your book yesterday, and did more research on SEO, contents and book. I am about to start offerring the Truth in SEO Solutions.

One of my friends and a fellow real estate agent here in Seattle was going to sign a big contract with a local SEO company for thousands of dollars. I felt my friend was being betrayed, because of so many things that this SEO company claimed, and they actually had a PR of 2 on their site. They could not prove to me or any one that were good at what they did. I actually was not thinking about offerring SEO services as our new company offerring. But I have decided to do that. Thanks for writing this book. My SEO blog is going to be at http://SEOtruth.blogspot.com I am trying to move all of my blog stuff, especially my real estate blog to Wordpress. I had some thing happen to my Blogger account. So that is why I am hesitant to promote that. Thanks again from a humbled Seattle REal Estate agent who just wants to help people help themselves. I am now starting a new offerring for SEO services and your SEOBook will come in handy for our LinkMint.com SEO services.

Thanks all

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