What to do When Link Building is not enough to Outrank Competitors

by Jason Acidre on March 28, 2012 · 72 comments · Content, Conversion, Search


Winning the SERPs is getting tougher these days, as search engines are getting more intelligent along its continuous evolution, plus the fact that bigger sites/brands in most industries are investing more and trying to monopolize this area to intensify their marketing efforts and capacity to generate leads to their businesses.

Today’s version of Search Engine Optimization involves a lot of processes and factors, unlike before that it’s mostly focused on how the site is optimized to easily be understood by search engines, and on how search engines can assess the site’s popularity/authority based on the site’s link graph – a process which what most of us call “Link Building”.

Link building has been a very vital practice to both search marketers to achieve better search rankings for their sites and search engines in determining the value and relevance of websites, but link building as a marketing practice has grown to be more competitive over the years, leaving smaller players/brands/link builders in situations such as:

  • Exhausting almost every link building method available out there just to acquire more links than their competitors have, which results to grey/black hat dependency in many occasions.
  • Continuously built quality links to a website for almost a year, but hasn’t seen any major movements/improvements in terms of keyword rankings.
  • Competing with sites/pages that have 200+ links from .edu and .gov sites.

Competitive intelligence, it is something we SEOs use not just to determine the sites linking to our competitors (amount, value and impact of these links to their rankings), but also to know how we can outsmart them by knowing where their strong and weak points are.

Smart SEOs analyze their competitors’ weaknesses and strikes where it will hurt the most. We all know that links are important in this business, but if you can’t beat their links, beat their content.

Become more relevant

Relevance of the content is one of the biggest ranking factors in SEO, knowing that the best way search engines can serve their users right is by returning highly relevant pages for their users’ search queries.

After seeing how your competitors’ are doing with their linking activities, it’s best to evaluate their content and take note of the things you feel are lacking from those pages, especially when it comes to information and presentation.

Outpacing your competitors and proving that you are an authority in your industry will require you to be more than a Wikipedia page. Few ideas that you can start with when optimizing your content for better search rankings could be:

  • Making the content of the page you’re trying to optimize more comprehensive, where you can choose to include more text details about the subject (information that isn’t available on your competitors’ pages), including videos and/or rich images that pertains or compliments the page’s target keyword.
  • Let the content host relevant links within it – to both external and internal sources/pages – using thematically related anchor texts (for instance, linking to a “dog training lessons page” from a “dog food” page).

Drive interactions

User generated discussions/interactions is a great signal to search engines, wherein the more interactions are occurring to a certain content, the more search engines will see the authenticity of that page.

There are several forms of interactions that you can try to build to your content (or to the page you want to achieve higher rankings on search results) such as:

  • Blog/user comments
  • User reviews
  • Social shares and votes (Google +1s, Facebook Likes, Stumbleupon views, etc…)
  • Embedded testimonials (you can check out my blog’s about page for samples).

Social signals has played a big role lately in helping search engines determine popular as well as authoritative pages on the web, and implementing a good social media promotion strategy to your landing pages can certainly help in improving its search rankings.

Generate more activity

Think conversions. Search engines, particularly Google, apply usage-data (such as bounce rates, time on site, pageviews and return visits) as ranking factors to determine pages that are not just popular, but also proven to be useful to its users as well.

Test and analyze your pages if they are really converting your visitors (especially traffic from search engines) to do more or stay longer within the site. Some of the elements that you can test and implement to improve user-activity to your target landing page(s) could be:

  • Including internal links that direct to other high-value pages of your website to entice new traffic to view more pages from your site.
  • Adding social buttons (Facebook like/share, Tweet, Google+, etc…) and making them very visible.
  • Improve middle of the funnel offerings, such as inviting your visitors to sign up to your newsletter, giving away free ebooks, putting out more expert content and/or attracting them to subscribe to your blog’s RSS feed.
  • Test and strengthen calls to action, but should not be interruptive to the users’ experience.

Improve your SERP listing’s click-through rate

The more people are clicking for your page from the search results, is the better chances of improving its rankings, considering that Google uses their own SERP click-through data to measure high-converting pages from their results – seeing as pages that get more clicks, no matter what their ranking positions are, signify relevance to the inputted search query.

Below are several ways to optimize your page’s snippet on Google’s search results to effectively entice searchers into clicking your page from the results.

Title page and meta description

Optimize your titles and meta descriptions for “brand marketing”. Don’t just use and stuff these areas with your target keywords. Make it more interesting to searchers for them to click on your page, while using its target keywords to describe what’s within the content.

Implement authorship markups

Apply authorship (rel=”author”) or publisher (rel=”publisher”) markup to your site. This can massively improve your page’s SERP click-through rate, as your page will show up prominently on search results and could possibly get and attract more clicks whatever its ranking position is.

You can check out this guide on how to implement Authorship markup to a site/blog.

Use schemas for rich snippets

As I’ve mentioned above, the more your listings display outstandingly on the search results, the more it can attract people to clicking it. There are many types of microdata tags that you can use to different types of pages (like for events, products, people, movies, videos, reviews, recipes, applications, places, and a lot more) and you can also use Google’s rich snippet testing tool to check if you have installed these markups correctly to your pages.

Improve site/page design for site preview

Having a visually appealing webpage design/layout can also help in attracting searchers to clicking through your page (especially to those who might accidentally hover on the results’ site preview button, it might get them more interested with what you have to offer).

Be on Google+

Searchers that are logged-in to their Google accounts can also see pages that have been recommended by people who’re in their circles, which can also manipulate their decisions into clicking your page’s listing.

You can also check my post on how to build authority on Google+ to make the most out of this strategy.

Build Strong Internal Links through Support Pages

Create strong and highly linkable pages that can naturally generate incoming links and social signals, and make these pages internally link to and support the page you are optimizing to rank higher on search results.

You can use keyword-rich anchor texts when internally linking to your main landing page, as these votes from your internal support pages (that are receiving quality links and social mentions) will continuously grow the link value it passes through to your target landing page, and will help improve its search rankings.

Zappos is using the same strategy to make their categories rank for hardcore keywords, and Eric Siu, from Evergreen Search, wrote a great piece about the strategy.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed and follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre.

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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