One of the challenges of SEO marketing is that many people don’t understand how SEO works. Even among SEO experts, some misconceptions and inaccuracies get passed along. This misinformation happens because Google (and other search engines) doesn’t give a detailed explanation of how rankings are determined. In a recent Google Webmaster Hangout sessions, developers from Google helped dispel some misconceptions about the way low ranking pages and penalties are handled.

During the Google Webmaster Hangout, John Mueller was asked how low-ranking pages were connected to penalties from Google. Mueller used this opportunity to correct a common misconception, that all situations where a page doesn’t rank are the same as a penalty. A site where some pages are low ranking isn’t the same thing as a website that has been penalized.

Mueller tried to explain this difference by saying, “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. So I suspect that’s not the case…”

Mueller’s response shows that low-quality content issues, such as content duplication or content cannibalization won’t necessarily affect the whole website.  While the low-quality pages won’t rank in search, that (usually) doesn’t affect the other pages on the site. In his response, Mueller suggested that the team at Google will do what they can to index good parts of the site while not ranking parts that are “iffy.”

Mueller stated, “In general when it comes to quality of a website we try to be as fine-grained as possible to figure out which specific pages or parts of the website are seen as being really good and which parts are kind of maybe not so good. And depending on the website, sometimes that’s possible. Sometimes that’s not possible. We just have to look at everything overall.”

Website owners need to keep this interaction in mind when creating content. Having some low-quality content shouldn’t be a huge issue. However, if your site is producing so many negative signals that Google can’t easily make heads or tails of what’s happening, then there is a chance that your entire site will suffer.

One takeaway from this discussion is that you can minimize the effect of low-quality content by separating your website into sections. Make sure it’s easy to see the content that Google considers to be high-quality (well-written, original content) and place things that are problematic into a particular section.

There were other interesting things discussed during the Google Webmaster Hangout that can be useful for business owners and SEO marketers. You can watch a replay of the Hangout on YouTube.

For more recent advice from Google employees on how to improve to your site’s SEO, read this article on the problem of adding useless text to category pages.