On a long scale, SEO is a predictably beneficial strategy that provides consistent returns over time. But as soon as you put it under a microscope, things look quite different. Much like how stock prices can fluctuate wildly from day to day, your rankings can rise and fall for a number of different reasons, ranging from slip-ups in your strategy to periodic changes in Google’s ranking algorithm. If you’re the type of person who checks your individual keyword rankings daily (which I don’t recommend), this can be maddening.
Accordingly, when you notice that a competitor has overtaken you in search results for your prized keyword, there’s no need for major alarm. Unless you’ve dropped off the map entirely, you may find yourself returning to your former glory naturally after a few days or weeks. For those who would prefer to take action proactively (or those who have dealt with a higher-ranked competitor for longer than a few weeks), there are five different ways you can overtake your fiercest competitors in the rankings:
1. Diversify. This isn’t an option for everybody, but think dynamically about ways you could reposition your online business. Could you offer a new product or service line that your competitor can’t? Can you target a slightly different demographic? The goal here is to find an alternative way to challenge your opponent; think of it as claiming new territory rather than fighting your competitor for an older, similar territory. It will take you some time to find a niche that’s both relevant to your business and competitively open, and even more time to reposition your strategy to accommodate it — but the benefits will be enormous. You’ll have new web real estate your competitors can’t touch, and you won’t have to worry about the back-and-forth battle for dominance of the old keywords (at least not for a while).
2. Look for Holes in Their Link Profiles. There are a number of tools available to evaluate your inbound link profile, look for weaknesses, and identify your strengths, including Open Site Explorer. This is crucial for building and maintaining a strong network of inbound links pointing back to your website. However, this sort of analysis doesn’t have to be used exclusively for your own domain; try using it to scout one of your competitors. You’ll see a breakdown of their inbound links, and you’ll be able to identify any potential strengths in their strategy that you can replicate. For example, if they have a number of very strong inbound links from articles written by authors who tend to write stories about your industry, try reaching out to those authors with new, interesting pitches of your own.
3. Produce Content They Can’t. I mentioned targeting different demographics or offering different products and services in my first point, but here I want to mention the idea of producing higher-quality content than your competitor.
For example, are they stuck in the age of producing written-only content, or do they focus exclusively on short-form articles? Start introducing some alternative mediums like infographics and videos, and vary your strategy to include more long-form pieces. Do they lack original research? Start conducting research using your audience.
Put yourself in a user’s shoes (rather than a search engines) and make your content strategy the objectively more valuable choice. From there, you’ll be able to build more inbound links, achieve higher domain authority, and build more opportunities for online visibility, all of which position you above your competitor in one way or another.
4. Build More Valuable Connections. Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of your strategy, try zooming out to find an edge over your competitor. Focus on building better relationships by seeking out higher-profile influencers in your industry, and getting external content published on better publishers. BuzzSumo is a convenient research tool for identifying influencer connections. Bigger, better networks of influencers and publishers means your content will get more visibility, you’ll earn more links and shares, and eventually, you’ll build organic search visibility that puts your competitors’ to shame.
5. Go Local. Instead of duking it out on a national platform, consider adopting a local SEO strategy — local SEO functions on a separate algorithm from national SEO, and if you make it to one of the top three slots (the local 3-pack), you’ll instantly get higher visibility in local searches than any organic national results. It’s a smaller, but much more relevant target audience, and you won’t have to worry about as much competition. Start by including more local indicators throughout your website (including your content, titles, and meta descriptions), cleaning up your profiles on third-party directories like Yelp, and then build more local citations as an ongoing strategy. Working together with a review optimization strategy, you should start seeing some progress in the span of weeks to months.
These options aren’t limited to short-term, close rank disputes, either. Let’s say you’re getting started with SEO for the first time and one of your competitors is dominating the top slots for almost every keyword you can think of — it’s easy to be intimidated here, but don’t fret. The strategies above offer an alternative to the potentially long, slow battle you’d otherwise face to the top. No matter the case, remain vigilant in your strategy and observant of your competitors, and you should have no trouble eventually earning the visibility you need.