Why Do My Competitors’ Sites Outrank Mine?

You feel like you have read and done everything SEO professionals have told you to do. Your site has great high quality content that is relevant, you have interesting white pages, info-graphics, and other content that people want to share, you launched a strong link building campaign, and continue to build relationships with other web sites and bloggers.

So then, “Why/how is it that my competitors are outranking my site for my keywords?”

Guess what, you’re not the only one with that question. In fact, many are starting to ask an even more specific question:  “How is it possible for competitors who practice black-hat SEO techniques to outrank my website?”

I’ve worked on various campaigns and can attest to the fact that I deal with this on a daily basis. And I understand it’s frustrating. Through my research, I discovered that the competitors who out rank my clients all have “paid links,” and not just one or two – we’re talking about thousands of paid links.

As my SEO director wrote in a previous blog post, Danny Sullivan, Matt Cutts, and Duane Forrester have all agreed that “buying links” is highly discouraged and if practiced, puts a site at major risk for consequences. This isn’t news if you’re familiar with the search world. However, after much analysis of many competitors’ links, I find that almost every single competitor has tons of “paid links” and their sites still have the top rankings.

How do I know it’s a “paid link” and not a legitimate editorial link?

Through much time, effort and the help of multiple tools, I spot checked over 100+ links individually for each competitor I analyzed. Typically, most SEO firms who practice this tactic will either own or work with a multitude of blog and site owners to post their clients’ domains with carefully selected and oft-repeated anchor text. Also, a lot of these SEO firms even include a link back to their site as well. If that doesn’t raise a red flag, I’m not sure what will.

As an example of the types of links I see, let’s say your client is in the fashion industry, and you look up their competitors back links and find a link to their site on a blog. Well, as it turns out, that blog is all about paleontology, the science and study of past geological periods. Yet, you find that the content, blog roll (or side navigation), or footer includes a domain link back to your competitor’s fashion website. It doesn’t seem too natural for a blog all about the study of rocks to be including a link back to a fashion site, does it?

So, let’s all ask this question again, how are those sites out ranking my site? Especially when paid links are considered a black hat technique and are frowned upon by the two major search engines and thus by just about every single SEO guru.

While, I firmly believe it is possible to compete with those types of sites and I am against “paid links,” I can’t help but notice that those sites have maintained top rankings. Paid links are still helping sites achieve top rankings.

That said, while “paid links” are leading these sites to top rankings now, I think these top rankings will be short-lived.

Recently, my team members wrote a great deal about upcoming changes for all of us in the search world.

If you missed it, the take away from what Matt Cutts said during a panel at SXSW 2012, is

“We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect.”

And on Google’s official blog:

“We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off a method of link analysis that we used for several years. We often rearchitect or turn off parts of our scoring in order to keep our system maintainable, clean and understandable.”

Is it possible that those sites with paid links will have trouble in the future? I certainly think so, and this gives the chance for all of us to compete fairly for those rankings. So, if you’re thinking about maybe going rogue and partaking in the purchase of links, I would urge you to reconsider.

If you have any questions about the tools I used to analyze back links or have any other questions, drop me a line in our comment section or visit our Facebook site and Twitter page.

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