Those Pesky Competitors: Why Their Crappy Website Might Still Outrank Yours


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In a perfect world, we’d all like to think that if we do our best to provide the absolute best content in our industry or niche, we’d rank higher than everyone else.

And it’s true – the Google algorithm is highly advanced and extremely sophisticated, and it’s getting smarter every day. But a lot of people have run into problems where they feel that their content is better, it contains more relevant links, and they have done a superior job of keyword targeting.

So why on earth would these lower quality websites rank higher? Rand Fishkin of Moz SEO has some great points that I found to be pretty enlightening, so let’s take a closer look at what you might be doing wrong.

The Basics of Ranking

Rand starts off with reviewing the basics of ranking metrics, and I think he did a good job of covering the essentials. First off, you do have domain-based features to consider. The first point that he makes revolves around domain authority, but I’d also like to point out exact-match and partial-match domains. While they certainly aren’t nearly as powerful as they used to be, they do still have value.

It could be that the keywords you are targeting are partially included in a competitor’s domain.

Next, he explains page based features, such as the content, keywords, links, and overall user experience (nothing new there).

Thirdly, he makes the point of listing based features, which make the page more enticing. How your link appears in the SERPs is very important, and a user may be encouraged or dissuaded on visiting your link depending upon how your snippet is presented (people are naturally wired to judge books by their covers). Over time, this can have a momentous effect and cause the Google algorithm to note that one page is more popular than another.

Strengths Versus Weaknesses

So now that we have the basics out of the way, where can we find areas for improvement on our own pages?

Where do we even begin?

The first area for improvement mentioned in the video includes your listing. As a diligent SEO, you should always Google your keywords to see how your snippet appears to other users. But you’ll also want to see how your competitors list their snippets as well. You might be able to find a new idea that drills straight down to the reason that users entered their keywords in the first place.

TIP: An easy way to see how your website listings show in Google is with the site: command.  Just go to Google and type in without any spaces.  Of course, replace with you actual website address.  For instance:

Next comes the brand and domain. Repairing a brand’s trust and identity is tough work, and it can be hard to hear that your baby is ugly. You may want to find a way to pivot or reposition your brand’s identity; otherwise, you may need to start over from scratch, which isn’t even an option for some brands and domains. Just remember that the face of your brand affects all the channels that you’re present in, from social media to organic searches.

Furthermore, user experience is critical for long term success, and it’s really an umbrella term that incorporates the content and how it solves the user’s need, page load times, and everything in between. It should come as no surprise that Google’s number one priority when determining the relevancy and quality of web content is a site’s user experience.

Now let’s take a moment to discuss links. There are two key factors, when it’s all said and done, and you need to be sure that you include both an appropriate quantity of links as well as links of a high quality. This holds true for both outbound links and inbound links, but for inbound links, consider where they’re coming from. You’ll have a much more diverse, well-rounded, and strengthened back-link profile if your back-links come from a variety of sources. On the other hand, if they all come from similar types of websites, you’re back-link profile isn’t going to add as much link juice to your site.

For example, let’s pretend that you have a digital service such as an online cloud storage business. Though it would be good to have plenty of links from sites that provide product testing and honest reviews, you’d also want back-links from other sites, such as an Internet security blog or a news site.

Last but not least, Rand mentions the acceleration rate as a factor, and it’s tough to know just exactly how the algorithm quantifies this data. But the general idea is that if a website is picking up steam and gaining momentum, Google sees that the website provides a quality user experience.

Content Quality and Usefulness

These points have been made nearly as many times as you’ve heard me say, “content is king.” It seems to be the apothegm of every website owner. But that doesn’t change the fact that you do need to have content that solves a concrete problem. If your competitors’ content does a better job of solving this problem, you’re going to have long term problems outranking other sites.

Results Biases

The very last point Rand makes is related to results biases, which come in many shapes, varieties, and flavors. The first type of bias to bear in mind is that of a user’s location. You see, the Google algorithm as well as web browsers can track information such as the location for a user. As such, it makes it very easy for the search engine to populate the results page with links to a user’s local area that may not make since outside of that region.

Furthermore, you should already understand that mobile friendliness is a key ranking signal. It could be that your competitor’s site loads more quickly in mobile devices, and that it is more easy to navigate. If your website isn’t mobile ready, it would be a good idea to work with a professional web designer to ensure that you aren’t missing out on organic traffic because of a silly mistake like failing to accommodate mobile users.

I can’t emphasize that last paragraph enough.

What Do I Do Next?

Though we don’t know every facet of the inner workings of the Google algorithm, there are some steps you can take to thwart lower quality sites from outranking you. Start by downloading our Digital Marketing Checklist to make sure everything is in place.  Then attend the training ($29) webinar and you’ll be on your way to taking over those top spots!

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