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

By on Mar 28, 2012 in Content, Conversion, Search | 70 comments

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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:

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:

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:

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:

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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  1. Andy

    March 28, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Thanks Jason. Some really great advice in here. Just saved it to Evernote for further studies… 😉
    I think one thing I’m really lacking on my sites is a good internal link structure. Do you do that manually or do you use a plugin that automatically replaces set keywords with links?

    • Kaiserthesage

      March 29, 2012

      Post a Reply

      Hey Andy,

      Thanks for the comment. I do internal linking manually, since I also have to vary the anchor texts of the links, especially for in-content internal links.

  2. Ferdous

    March 28, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I have achieved massive click through boost by implementing rich snippet on my wifes recipe site. For some keyword CTR gone from 4% to around 12% without any ranking improvement.

  3. Content is King! I knew it was you and I am very impressed with all you achieved because of your broad knowledge about SEO.
    I don’t need to ask some strategies from you on FB but instead I just need to read your posts here in your blog and I believe that I can find the right answers.

  4. Internal Linking plays a vital role too. That is where I make mistakes. I never give any emphasis to internal linking. Now, as I read your this post, I can say I should definitely cut out my mistake and establish a great internal linking strategy to beat the competitors.

    Your post was really worth reading. I owe you a Thanks. :)

  5. Did you ever try internal linking to your categories or tags pages in a WordPress site. I always wondered about this because as you create new posts these pages are constantly updated. I would only use one or the other . Categories or tags. I guess the question really is can these pages rank well in the search engines for random keyowords bringing in extra traffic with little effort by using simple seo techniques?

    • Kaiserthesage

      March 30, 2012

      Post a Reply

      Yeah, I have custom categories here, on this blog, and that’s where I internally/contextually link to, to improve their search rankings (so far so good).

  6. Hi Jason,

    Are you not worried that by utilising all of the above strategies that you may fall afoul of the “over-optimisation” penalties that have been thrown in our faces recently?

    • Kaiserthesage

      March 30, 2012

      Post a Reply

      Hey Sebastian,

      Great question. Not really afraid of that new penalty that Google is bringing in, since trying to optimize your page/site for users (for them to easily use, navigate and do things within your site) is something that Google can’t really flag as over-optimization (just my opinion).

      What’s important is to try to contain the visitors that you’re getting from search engines, because the more they are staying/returning to your site/page, the more search engines will see how useful the page/site is.

  7. Joseph Mills

    March 29, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Wow!!! Its full on!!! I think you already give away all your secrets in business. Super juicy dude!!! Now I realized where Im lacking. Thank you thank you!!!
    All the best,

  8. Jason was absolutely right. Most of the people forgot what is inside their own site. The most important thing in campaign/SEO revision is to look back on the site itself, check the road map, analyze the link-building structure, provide calendar activity, check for algorithm update, furnish the strategy, and execute the SEO effort. Anyway, in addition to Jason’s tips please see below:

    -Answering questions..
    If you got ranking problems, you still might want to consider branding and traffic concerns while working on your new SEO efforts. If you don’t have good rankings, it doesn’t mean you won’t have a good traffic, correct? :)

    Try to join discussions and provide answers, even more suggestions and recommendations. If people think that you are right, people will start to respect you as well as your brand. Then, they would probably check more about you and recommend you.

    -Research/Newsletter Type: Provide a research type content like what this blog. Make sure that is fresh, detailed, and provides factual information.

    -List.. example: top10 .. Admit it, people always look for the best or top list.

    -Blog: You probably want to start a blog (Ouch) and maybe start sharing tutorials, how to use, solution based content, and latest updates on your niche. Reason: you need more valuable contents that will benefit your site.

    -site architecture: Provide a user friendly navigation and again pay attention to your deep links.

    -Finally, videos!!: If you guys can still remember the prediction last 2008, that video will boom in 2010 and so on.. See this link http://www.arteworks.biz/2008/01/video-seo-101.html Well, that is actually happening right now. People are more active in web social, they prefer watching a video rather than reading number of pages, they profit from it (Fiverr), reduces bounce rate, etc.

    Note: Search engines when faced directly with a video draw a blank as to what it’s about. So, you still have to apply best SEO practices like providing a relevant filename, captions, video sitemaps, etc..

  9. Ravi

    March 30, 2012

    Post a Reply

    How to outrank strong competitors? I think this issue is very critical for many SEO’s including me, but you’ve mentioned some nice tips to do it. I think the best way is to use relevant and quality content for your targeted page that’s what Google like and which certainly helps a lot rank your page higher on SERP.

  10. Roberta

    March 30, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I agree with Gary. You should concentration more about On Page optimization rather than Off Page or anything else. Always maintain the quality of backlinks you are making for your site and also take care about the credibility of your site. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

  11. And the issue is, by the time some companies implement these tactics to keep up, the Big G will change up their algorithm yet again :) It’s a never ending battle to stay on top of this for sure.

    I think this will become an increasingly large issue for those SEO firms that juggle a huge amount of low level accounts for clients who base success on ranking reports. Granted this is not a good model for the customer, only the firm to make money.

    However for the higher end firms, whose SEO packages start in the thousands per month, there will be a lot more resources available to do things the right way incorporating great content with social media, CRO, etc.

  12. Braden Conn

    March 30, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Really enjoyed your thoughts on this. I liked what you said here “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”. I would definitely agree with you on this. It’s a chore but a chore that is worth it to make your SEO activity look as natural as possible to Google.

  13. Shelli

    March 31, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason
    Great article. I don’t often come across articles that have something of value to say.

    Personally I think schema is going to have a massive impact on link building and SEO over the next 12 months. The potential applications for it are very exciting and is an area that everyone should be looking at now.

    Just to let you know I included the article in my link building monthly newsletter.


    • Kaiserthesage

      April 1, 2012

      Post a Reply

      Thanks for sharing it to your newsletter subscribers Shelli! Really glad that you liked this post!

  14. Glad to read this informative post. :)
    Most of the people forgot about the inbound links and not concentrate on the link building techniques. I think relevance is major problem in some cases. Best way is to use quality ans optimized content. And make your site’s design attractive for visitors. Give them a reason to come back to your site.

  15. Steve Papas

    March 31, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Great article! So many article talk of how you need to build links to get traffic. Well now I have but what is past that how can I further myself up the chain of competitions basically. The optimization of links is also very important.

  16. Shahid

    March 31, 2012

    Post a Reply

    “if you can’t beat their links, beat their content”, Such an impressive line and inspires me a lot. Thanks for this man and you really wrote such a great post. Good luck.

  17. Ella Turgeon

    April 1, 2012

    Post a Reply

    This article has so much great information! I’m going to print a copy of it and keep it by my desk for reference. This is something that so many social media marketers are having an issue with and these are GREAT tips. Thanks so much!

  18. Dave

    April 2, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Hi Kaiserthesage,
    Some interesting information and responses. Before I do anything with content, I fully research the competition. As you may well know, getting high serp results is a case of who is offering the most value to the end user. Google has so many choices and checking out the competition first and asking yourself, “what could I offer that is more value than this website?” gives you a much better idea on where you are going. People are too intent on doing what ever it takes to get on the first page of Google without really figuring out really needs to be done to actually achieve it and then wonder why they dont really get satisfactory results.

    As you rightly say, its getting much harder these days to get good rankings as Google and others are taking serious action to clean up the internet of all the poor quality content. I have to laugh when people read about techniques and methods regarding seo and they call them basic. The fact is, seo is basic, keywords, backlinking, quality content are all basic factors but what many fail to realise is that they are ALL important factors that can be very powerful if done in the right way.

    Sorry for the long rant Kaiserthesage. Thanks for the useful post and all the follow ups from your vistors which many will find helpful towards their cause.


  19. Tom

    April 2, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Great post Kaiserthesage
    You’re absolutely right. Winning SERPs is getting tougher & tougher. We have to be innovative .

  20. Kyle@SMSF

    April 2, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Thank you Jason for the link regarding how to do rich snippets.
    We are currently ranking in the 8th spot for a popular keyword here in Australia,
    however we do need more people to click-through onto our website.
    Hopefully by having rich snippets listed onto the search result, there will be a higher chance
    of gaining visitors. Cool tips!

  21. Very informative and useful post Jason! I totally agree with you on the part of “relevance” of the content. Authority is important for many reasons; expand your personality, deepen your expertise to improve your writing – and consequently your blog. Thanks Jason! You gave us some great thoughts to reflect on.

  22. Theoretically, I can’t help but agree, Jason – this is how all link building should be done.

    However, even with all my site authority, I still haven’t been able to conquer Google rankings on natural link building alone.

  23. Robert

    April 4, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I agree, it is getting more and more difficult to get high rankings and to keep them. I realized on many of my own sites that quantity of links is not so important. What is much more important is the quality of your backlinks. Some of the best links are editorial links from quality websites in your niche. A few of those links are worth more than thousands of “cheap” links from article directories, forum profiles, social bookmarks…

  24. John

    April 4, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I loved the statement you made here, if you can’t beat their links beat their content. Driving interactions is huge these days when it comes to search engine marketing because Google wants to see that people are really interested in your blog’s content. And having people share your content is a good social signal that will make Google know that your site is popular. Great advice Jason.

  25. Zoe

    April 9, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason, I’m relatively new to all of this and I’m learning fast! I didn’t understand the piece where you referred to rel = “author”? Is that a tag to go on my on-site photo? I need to do more to drive traffic to my new maternity site and reduce bounce rate. I have some ideas for new content on my blogs but don’t have any real experience on html code. Can you recommend a good book? Any help would be really appreciated! Thank you!

  26. Katja

    April 10, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I definitely agree – sometimes link building just isn’t enough. Also, sometimes too much ‘unnatural’ link building can be detrimental rather than beneficial (e.g. the new Google Panda update which focuses on unnaturally built links). It’s good to have some other strategies as well.

  27. Josh H

    April 11, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Hi Jason

    Just got round to reading this and it was really interesting. Definitely worth the wait, good quality article and some useful tips.

  28. Jack

    April 11, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Link building is nothing if you have poor content. Most people out there think that link building is everything and man… they are so wrong. If you start your marketing project with that kind of attitude, you will lose the search results war.

    Glad to see that more and more bloggers explain these marketing strategies to the masses.

  29. This was very relevant and helpful info. I’ve actually just read your previous post on link building and thought “I do what I can for link building but its only taking so far. What can more can I do?” This post answered that question. Thanks. Love the blog.

  30. Becca

    April 12, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Internal Link building plays a vital role too. That is where I make mistakes. I never give any emphasis to internal linking. Now, as I read your this post, I can say I should definitely cut out my mistake and establish a great internal linking building strategy.

  31. Hi Jason,
    thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Building backlinks is useless if people visit your site and then leave right away, because your content just sucks.

    Writing high quality content is tip n.1 to beat competition and rank first in SERPs.

  32. seolinkbuilding

    April 13, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Your information is 100% accurate, this time Jason you have did an amazing job of giving the right answer of ranking. but it’s very important to take all this information as one package, and not only focusing on one like content reliance

  33. Marie

    April 13, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Having good backlinks but a terrible site is a horrible combination. There’s no point in backlinks if they’re just going to click and leave. Good content is crucial!

    • Jack

      April 14, 2012

      Post a Reply

      It’s not about people visiting then leaving immediately because the content is bad. It’s about poor content or copied content not ranking regardless of the effort put in link building.

  34. Martha

    April 16, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Thanks for lifting up my spirit. I almost gave up on my goal but thanks to you I got a new technique.

  35. Paul

    April 16, 2012

    Post a Reply

    I have to say that bringing Web2.0 strategies into the mainstream is still effective. Simply Put, zappos still insulates their money page by linking from other mediums, maintains internal link structure to flatten architecture, and constantly creates new content. If we can’t learn from that, we’re not good SEO’s 😀

    Thanks for the Article!

  36. Generate more activity is key after the panda update. Engage more interaction with your visitors so they stay longer is crucial to surviving and getting good rankings. Thanks for the informative article.

  37. Pavel

    April 27, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Getting .edu and .gov links is not easy and having to outlink your competitors doesn’t always work for me. I try to engage visitors through social media by having “Share” links on my pages. This works pretty well if the content (which is key) is good. I like your advice about having scheme for rich snippets. Thats something I haven’t been using so I’ll give it a try and see how much it helps.

  38. Mohsin Ali

    April 30, 2012

    Post a Reply

    Very detailed article , i wonder how you write these articles. It will surly help me alot to rank better for my keywords.

  39. Alisa Conley

    June 7, 2012

    Post a Reply

    “but if you can’t beat their links, beat their content.” Love this tip. I’ll remember this always.

  40. Lorenzo

    April 29, 2013

    Post a Reply

    These are great recommendations. Another tip is to regularly fix any broken links that may appear on your website. If your visitors are seeing 404 errors — then they are likely abandoning your site and going to a different site.

    Broken Link Checker or Redirection are two options (free plugins) that are available for free from the WordPress plugins directory.

  41. Akshay

    May 6, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Hello Jason,
    I’m 100% agree with you. Authorship and the Schema, Snippets are very useful to rank higher. Great article.

  42. Social signals are really playing a major role now to get higher search engine ranking. They increases the trust level of a website. For analyzing the backlink profile of a website, which software do your recommend?

  43. Shane

    May 25, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I totally agree with what you have posted. I have been lucky and had a few sites rank #1 on content alone.

  44. Nick Ortiz

    June 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I have been researching SEO techniques and really like the one about keeping in mind design as it will show on the preview page. That is why we are trying to do some more infographics, which have really surged in popularity lately. Now I’m thinking about using bigger graphic art in the infographics (on a few of them), such that they may be seen in the preview. Thanks for the tip!

  45. HTET

    June 13, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Such a world-class guide, Jason.

    Link building is such an awesome tool to get desired results and grow our blog/website at much faster rate. You have presented the data and explained the things in very very smart and easy to understand manner.

    Can I share this link on my Facebook page wall?

  46. Neelkantan

    June 16, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Well said bro..
    this is what exactly i was looking of.
    all of my competitors are strong in link-building but they have poor quality content.
    would try all your tips to implement on the research to get high CTR in SERP.
    Thanks btw.

  47. SEO Is becoming more like quantum physics by the day. I seems to be a full time job theses days. You have given some great tips here. Many thanks for sharing it with us. I am going to take a look at my site and make a few changes.

  48. Deljo Joseph

    July 7, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I have seen many sites went down from SERP’s even having lot of backlinks than that of their competitors. Just like signified in the article, now Google is smarter enough to choose those sites which offer things that actually solve people’s problems and SEO is almost dead. Great article.

  49. John

    July 18, 2013

    Post a Reply

    You did a great job Jason bro. That’s damn true that today once can’t rank on the basis of Links only. All we need is following post penguin strategy, Getting as much as possible social shares, lengthy content etc. SEO is totally changed now.

  50. Thanks again Jayson. Not only have I picked up some great tips in this post that I wasn’t aware of, the comments have given me some more great ideas. Wow, what a treasure trove of information this site is.

  51. Parveen Suri

    August 17, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Yes thanks, I have achieved massive click through boost by implementing rich snippet on my wifes recipe site. For some keyword CTR gone from 4% to around 12% without any ranking improvement.

  52. Sean Matyja

    September 1, 2013

    Post a Reply

    Jason, I like how you mention to try to beat our competitors with content, if it is too difficult to beat them with links. We have been working heavily on our site to create more, useful and fun content. Our site is a real estate website for a ski resort vacation town, so we have taken the idea of posting a lot of fun events and things to do in the area. Many of our website guests, and clients are from out of state. With this sort of fun info, we then send that out in the social media world pointing back to our pages on our website, usually on our blog. It does seem to get us more traffic, and I think we are generating a following because we are actually providing good information on living the Park City dream, rather than just posting about homes for sale. So far, I like the results, and its actually been fun to do!

  53. Jon Harthun

    September 14, 2013

    Post a Reply

    I don’t think only link building can help you outrank your competitors.. as you said.. but the most important thing is to write good content which gets shared and indirectly would increase social signal..:D

    Btw Awesome article..:)

  54. Sucha

    December 11, 2013

    Post a Reply


    Your details is 100% precise, this time Jason you have did a fantastic job of providing the proper solution of position. but it’s incredibly vital to take all this info as just one bundle, and never only focusing on just one like articles reliance.

    thank you

  55. Mamta Chopra

    January 28, 2014

    Post a Reply

    I’ve been researching SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING techniques and love the one particular about remembering design as it will show about the preview site. That is why we are trying to do even more infographics, which have really surged within popularity lately. Now I’m thinking of using even bigger graphic art inside the infographics (on a few of them), such that they are often seen inside the preview. Thanks for your tip!

  56. Shawn

    May 24, 2015

    Post a Reply

    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.

  57. Jesse

    May 31, 2015

    Post a Reply

    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.


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