Blog: SEO
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Outranked by Websites with a Weak Backlink Profile?

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

One thing is certain in SEO: outranking your competition can be difficult, especially for a relatively new site.

It’s outright perplexing when competitors with spammy and weak backlink profiles comfortably sit above you in the search results.

There’s no need to get agitated at your competitor’s seemingly easy success. In the context of SEO, there is great value in a clean and strong backlink profile.

Let’s look at some reasons Google might rank a website with weak backlinks above your site, even when your website may be objectively better.

What’s a Backlink Profile?

The backlink profile of a website is the cumulative amount and overall quality of incoming backlinks to a website. To further understand your backlink profile, and the approximate website authority of your site, third-party tools such as Ahrefs to get a rough estimate of how you compare to the competition. A backlink profile of a website reflects the trust and validation it has earned from others sites, if incoming links are seen as votes of confidence from other websites.

The best way of getting quality backlinks remains to create high-quality, relevant content that easily resonates with users’ needs.

Why do Websites with Spammy or Weak Backlinks Still Rank Well?

In our previous articles, we’ve warned against applying “black hat” or manipulative link building tactics to gain authority, because they aren’t sustainable. The evolution of search engine algorithms makes it hard to get away with shortcuts. Eventually, these search engines catch up and algorithmically penalize sites with a large percentage of spammy backlinks accordingly.

That said, it’s important to understand that having a weak backlink profile doesn’t imply a site shouldn’t rank well. It all comes down to how helpful your content is for users. Google and other search engines exist primarily to provide the most helpful search results for each user query, backlink profiles notwithstanding.

Obviously, backlinks are a key ranking factor, Google representatives have said this themselves. But links are one factor among hundreds or more other relevant factors.

Methinks if a competitor carries a weak backlink profile and still ranks higher than you, chances are you’ve ventured into a very competitive niche.

Here are a few more reasons why websites with low-quality links rank higher than your site.

Best in the Niche

Google ranking algorithms are rational. In an industry niche where most websites have weak backlink profiles, the search engines cannot demote all the sites. That would mean losing out on collecting user data on a wide range of websites for the specific search query.

If a site provides value to visitors and quality interactions, Google rewards it by ranking it higher in the search results.

Competitors Pushing Their Luck

In the past, questionable SEO strategies such as Private Blog Networks (PBNs), automated back link generation, social bookmarking links, and comment spamming were alive and thriving. Even some big brands would dabble in these unnatural link schemes, since these practices brought rankings and revenue–for a time.

The good guys finished last, literally, as brands that played by the rules got beat. Google noticed these activities and developed systems to detect manipulative link building. Most of the businesses using manipulative links lost rankings forever, while some made fundamental changes to regain their rankings. Each time that link schemes evolve, Google also must develop ways to detect unnatural links and demote the value of those links.

In some rare cases, a competitor may be using a link scheme, in part, to outrank you. But at some level, users might be getting some usefulness from their site. Otherwise, their site will slowly shift down the rankings over time.

It’s also possible that they are using a linkbuilding scheme that violates Google guidelines, and the algorithm hasn’t figured out that there is shady link building going on yet.While this can be frustrating, the best thing you can do is improve your content and user experience, so that your website eventually shuffles to the top of rankings. Google will pay attention to use signals, if your website truly is the best choice.

Your Content Doesn’t the Searcher Intent

Google uses machine learning to keep track of what content seems to satisfy searchers for each query. After some time, the ranking algorithm can detect patterns of what type of content will make users happy for a given set of keywords.

Where many businesses make a misstep is not creating content that fits the pattern of what the majority of users are seeking, for each given keyword set.

People typing in a keyword search into Google or Bing are trying to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. The type of goal they are trying to achieve is known as the search intent for a specific keyword. Make sure that your content fits that general pattern, or Google may keep your pages low in the rankings.

Not Caught…Yet:

Crime exists because it’s profitable and police cannot arrest everyone. The same applies to spammy link building. People use shady link building tactics and manage to stay undetected. Being on the run is not thrilling. Once caught, that’s the end of the road. Google may penalize the domain, either algorithmically or manually.

However, you should not rely on reporting your competitor’s link schemes as a SEO strategy for your own site.

Most of the time, there is little change in the search results.

The best thing you can do is improve your content, earn more authoritative back links, and improve any design flaws in your own website. You will still need to be better than your competitors to win at SEO in the long-term.

Conducting a Backlink Audit

Think about the regular servicing your car needs, and apply the same principle to backlink auditing. It’s a process to find the gaps in your own link profile and sites that are winning at SEO. They may have some spammy links, but they might also have enough high-quality links to cancel out any negative effects.

By fortifying your own backlinks, you can close the gap between your rankings and the top of the search results.

Outranking Competitors with Spammy Links

Here are some other ways you can improve your website, and help boost it in SEO rankings.

Concentrate on On-page Optimization and Technical SEO

In my encounter working in the SEO industry, focusing on links erodes the importance of other relevant ranking factors. Improve the user experience, and page experience, and update your Core Web Vitals among other factors. Over time, your site should start to rank higher.

Maximize Your Content Quality

In the SEO community, content remains the indisputable king. However, a reckless and disorganized king sets himself up for failure. Find a niche and aggressively generate excellent and relatable content to answer user queries. Exploit any content gap among your competitors and retarget your content to serve defined personas in your audience. Go hard and reap the benefits of quality content.

Target Keywords You Can Win

A strategic way to outsmart the competition is to go for the less competitive keywords. Utilize the long-tail keywords and as time progresses, you should start targeting and ranking for the highly competitive keywords. An inferior site cannot rank for a wide array of keywords, and this gives you an opportunity to eventually get ahead. Slow but sure!

Advertise for Brand Awareness

At times, we all could use a little push. If your competitors are too high on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs}, consider investing in Google Ads or social media marketing. Embrace natural SEO strategies, build brand recognition and use targeted keywords to optimize your search advertising efforts. Combine this with a strong social media campaign to market your brand.

Build Quality Backlinks

Truth is, not all “spammy” links are bad. Be wary of SEO tools that flag a large number of links as “toxic”. Google tends to ignore most of these links and devalue them, so they have no positive or negative effect.

It’s reality that some competitors will rank higher, even with a “bad” link profile. You shouldn’t spend too much time worrying about their poor link profile. How can you make your website’s links stronger?

Need Additional SEO Help?

If you are frustrated with low rankings against inferior competition, contact the team at Lockedown SEO. We have extensive experience helping industrial and manufacturing clients solve quality issues, closing the gap on SEO rankings, and generating more meaningful leads. Check our case studies for specific details.

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

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