This week’s Ask An SEO comes from Arvin from Vancouver, Canada, who wrote:
“One of our competitors got a large number of backlinks from unrelated posts including forums like apache.org (and many other .edu sites too). Even after updates like Penguin, why does Google consider them relevant backlinks?”
Let me start by saying, Arvin, we are a sports loving family.
I currently have four kids in seven teams.
I love the lessons sports teach my kids.
And one of the big lessons I work to instill in my kids is not to blame the referees for the loss.
I’ve never seen a sporting event where, if a team did better, the referee’s call never affected the outcome.
This lesson translates well into search engine optimization.
If you know how to play the SEO game, what your competitors are doing – or even Google and Bing – shouldn’t be your main concern.
Focusing on your competitor’s SEO instead of improving it is a frustrating waste of time.
But, as an SEO, it is important to understand the factors that affect the rankings for each keyword.
Like no one could ever know
Unless you work at Google, you’ll never be sure why one site ranks over another.
We can speculate.
We can run complex mathematical models to try to understand the algorithm.
But the bottom line is that we can never know for sure.
In fact, I’m not sure the people who work at Google can tell you unequivocally why one site ranks over another.
The algorithm is too complex for anyone to decipher it completely.
How do you know that links are relevant?
There is no way to know if links generated by your competitor are being counted by Google.
Google knows a lot more than our tools tell us.
None of the many backlink analysis tools available on the market today can tell you whether or not Google is counting a link.
These tools use data from their own analysis to determine if an association is relevant or if it is toxic.
Your competitor could be spinning their wheels and wasting a lot of money buying links that do absolutely nothing for SEO.
Meanwhile, a single piece of content or a simple link from a strategic location can boost a site’s rankings.
Focus on your competitors’ strengths
When you look at the “bad” things your competitors are doing, you may be missing out on a tactic that can put you ahead of that keyword that you can’t get to rank for.
Instead of looking at all the things you think they get away with, look at what they do that is legitimate and that you don’t.
Often, when a client comes to me ranting about the farce of an “inferior” company ranking above them, the real reason for the ranking usually has nothing to do with perceived injustice.
But usually when we find the real cause – or at least what I think is the real reason – we discover a technique that this possibility has to multiply on.
Your competitor may have more robust content on a particular topic.
It could be that your competitor uses technical SEO techniques better than you.
It could be a thousand things.
Bottom line – when conducting a competitive analysis, focus on discovering the things your competitors do better than you.
Look for techniques that you can modify for your own personal use rather than focusing on how the customer cheats.
Especially if you do not plan to deceive yourself.
And I recommend not doing that.
- How to track competitors’ website traffic and upgrade your strategy
- How to determine the quality of a site for link building
- Link Building Guide: How to get and gain links that boost your SEO
Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, hand-selected by Search Engine Journal. Do you have a question about search engine optimization? Fill out our form. You may see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!
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