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Five Reasons Your Competition Outranks You (and What You Can Do About It)

by | Jan 23, 2014 | Articles, Web Design, Web Development | 1 comment

search engine ranking

According to a 2013 update to a search clicks study, the top result for a search query receives 32.5% of all click-throughs. 61.5% of all clicks go to the top three results. When potential customers search for phrases relevant to your business, what do they see?

Every site outranking you represents a significant loss of traffic. Worse yet, search engine rankings provide a visible signal of success. If your website is not ranked #1, your online efforts appear inferior to your competitors.

Google has a mini-site dedicated to explaining how their search engine works for end users. The company notes that it uses hundreds of factors to rank websites. Only a small portion of the search engine ranking factors have been made public, but some firms have managed to reverse-engineer a portion of the list.

Thus, with the proper strategy, it is possible to improve your website’s search engine ranking. Here are five reasons your competition outranks you in Google.

1) They Have a Better Website

The most common factor in diagnosing poor-ranking websites is the underlying quality of the website itself. Technical errors in design, setup, or implementation of a website can significantly harm search engine rankings.

In one extreme example, a business owner made a single-line error in the site’s robot.txt file and blocked Google from crawling the site. This resulted in the entire site disappearing from the top 400 results for every possible search query related to his industry. As Google notes, mistakes in a robots.txt file are unfortunately common and often result in huge impacts on search results.

Your competition may have a better website based on many other factors as well. Cheap hosting, lack of a content delivery network, poor site structure, and excessive code are also common reasons your site performs poorly relative to your competitors. Note that these factors can damage your potential to rank in search engines even more than other important factors like visual appeal and user-friendly design considerations.

2) They Update More Frequently

More frequent updates are a positive signal in Google’s rankings for at least a portion of search queries. For some search results, simply having a more recently updated website will directly lead to higher ranks. An entire sub-set of the Google algorithm, called “query deserves freshness” bases search rankings on the recency of content publication.

Even when a search query does not deserve freshness, having a website that is updated more often provides secondary benefits which lead to higher rankings. Sites that are updated on a consistent basis have more stable readership and are more likely to generate social sharing and external links than sites that are never updated.

Similarly, a website that is updated with new information is far more likely to have engaged visitors who spend a longer time interacting on the page. The longer time on page and more satisfied visitors cause the site to rank better in Google. So even for queries where the frequency of update is not a direct ranking factor, the secondary, beneficial effects on users will improve website ranking.

3) They Publish More Content

Google employs millions of software “spiders” which spread out across the internet in search of new information. These crawlers are immensely effective in finding new pages and adding them to the search index. Once incorporated into the index, these new pages become eligible to rank for relevant search terms.

Since Google has automated the process of adding new content into the search engine, websites that publish more content immediately become more likely to rank highly for related search terms. At Hawaii content creation firm Argon Marketing, we like to use a simple thought experiment to explain the benefit of more content:

Imagine your website has one great page that provides best-in-the-world information on one topic. Your competition’s website has 1000 decent pages that provide good information on 1000 different topics. In this example, your one page will definitely rank #1 for its specific search query and you will outrank your competitor for that one result. However, your competition will outrank you for 999 other queries and their additional content will also provide #1 rankings for an array of long-tail search results.

Having more content leads directly to more pages being eligible to rank in Google. But it also creates a host of ancillary benefits which indirectly lead to higher rankings. More content means more opportunities for external links, more social sharing, and more internal Page Rank. More content also means visitors are likely to stay longer on a website and interact with a higher proportion of the site.

4) They Create Better Content

While more content is a clear benefit for net search engine ranking, the quality of content also matters. Two years ago Google introduced the first algorithmic change designed to reward high-quality content. This “Panda” algorithm is now fully incorpoated into all Google results for queries world-wide.

Better content clearly ranks higher in Google’s search results. But as our thought experiment demonstrates, volume of content is also relevant. Thus, like most business decisions, you face a constant balance between spending resources on higher volume of content or higher quality of content.

A good tactic is to find an important search query for which your competition outranks you. Analyze both the quantity and quality of content on your competitor’s website relative to your own. Then, develop a plan to match the amount of content on the competition site while ensuring that your content is of higher quality. By equalizing quantity, you can neutralize the beneficial effects of more content and turn search engine rankings into primarily a contest over quality.

For a fixed quantity of content within a particular industry, the site with better content will win over time. Your competition may be outranking you simply because their content is better.

5) They Are Stronger On Social Media

The explosive growth of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ have changed the landscape for sharing online information. Whereas email or newsletters used to be the primary means of distributing links to interesting sites, social networks are now the main method of internet sharing.

There is still debate as to whether sharing on social media directly translates into higher rankings. But sharing on social media definitively affects other factors which are known to influence search rankings. More social media sharing means more incremental visitors who spend longer on a website and who are then more likely to link to the site on their blogs.

If your competition is more active than your company on social media, then you are at a permanent strategic disadvantage. Every time your competition publishes a social update, they have additional users who visit their site rather than your’s. Worse yet, the advantage of social media builds over time as the more active firms tend to dominate social activity within a given industry.

Beating Your Competition on Google

Note that the five factors listed above do not include one factor known to be a major ranking signal: the number and quality of links to your site. As Google’s guideline explicitly warn against artificially creating links, paying for or spamming backlinks is no longer a safe way of competing for search results. Rather than using blackhat techniques to increase links to your site, concentrate on improvements which will make your site more useful to visitors.

By focusing your search engine optimization strategy on these five factors, you will naturally accrue more links and thus strengthen your overall website. Your competition may be outranking you on Google, but by improving your website; publishing additional, high-quality content more frequently; and strengthening your presence on social media, you can start to rank higher in search engine results.

By Nolan Kido

This article has been written by Nolan Kido. Nolan works in the technology industry in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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