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How My Competitors’ Backlinks Helped Me Rank Higher In Search

Yes, backlinks. The holy grail to ranking high in search. Many SEO professionals chase links like Pooh chases honey. Unfortunately, the days of using links as your main SEO strategy are over. Before you go rolling your eyes, note that I said “main” SEO strategy.

Links alone will not do it. Yes, there was a time when building as many links as you could would rank you higher than those who didn’t. This was the main idea behind Google when the search engine was launched almost 20 years ago.

The times they are a changing.

Many link acquisition strategies are considered black-hat. These include just about anything that builds links quickly. Google no longer puts up with those types of black-hat techniques as it can tell when links are natural and when they are not. Google has done everything from algorithm changes to de-indexing websites to combat spam and has changed the way you must approach SEO.

It has even gotten to the point where some people neglect link building for fear of being penalized. Some sites have cracked down on external links and simply don’t allow them while others use a nofollow attribute.

This does disservice to people looking for valuable information. However, it has also helped keep out some spammy backlinks that would have otherwise been cast upon us.

How My Competitors’ Backlinks Helped Me Rank Higher In Search

Now, I can teach you plenty of ways to acquire backlinks, but there is one thing that will guarantee failure with all of them – having crappy content on your website that the links point to.

Link Acquisition Spree – Get Ranked High Fast

I use Moz.com, SEMRush, and Alexa to evaluate my SEO strategy. One of the main things I look at is how my competitors do with specific keywords. This is something you should do as well if you want to generate more leads.

I recently saw that one of my competitors (digital marketer – not SEO provider) went on a link acquisition spree. It was either that or all of a sudden people decided to link to them in the same week (increasing their backlink profile by four times).

Anyways, it was clear to me they were acquiring backlinks to rank higher for specific keywords. This is based on the exact-match anchor text I found while looking through some of their newly acquired links.

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

The reason I use this as an example is because they initially outranked me for a few terms I held top 10 spots for. Ugh!!!!

No big deal. I knew the links were unnatural and they would be punished for engaging in black-hat SEO tactics

The link diversity was non-existent and the content it led to was horrible (actually, most of it led to the homepage but the landing pages were horrible). Some of the pages where the backlinks originated also used three or more exact-match anchor text, all of which led to the same page.

Unfortunately for them, they didn’t realize that Google will only count the first instance of anchor text and likely disregard the rest.

Black-Hat SEO Always Comes Crashing Down

As suspected, it didn’t take long. Actually, it took a little longer than I anticipated (two months) but Google eventually caught up. Because the domain wasn’t brand new, I suspect Google didn’t see it as a spam website.

How My Competitors’ Backlinks Helped Me Rank Higher In Search

The screenshot above is from my Moz.com dashboard showing me and two competitors. I removed the names in order not to shame anyone, but you can see the blue line on the chart that basically crashed and fell to the bottom.

When it happened, it happened big. The competitor not only dropped in rank, but much of the content they previously ranked for (prior to the link acquisition), ranked lower after the link acquisition.

Why? I’ll give you one guess.

Okay, I’ll just tell you. It’s about QUALITY CONTENT.

Google has preached quality content for the last few years. Those who listened are being rewarded. Those who didn’t can’t get ranked.

How can Google tell your content is quality?

First, they see how people interact with your content. People tend to spend more time reading quality content (Google knows this). People also tend to share quality content more (Google knows this as well). So, time on site and content interaction are important.

Google also has human evaluators. Yes, humans! Referred to as the “human raters,” they manually evaluate content based on quality guidelines given to them by Google. All of these “quality signals” have very little to do with backlinks.

Here is what I mean.

Let’s say someone does link to you. You could have tons of links, but that is only one ranking signal. If people go to your content and quickly leave, this is another ranking signal (and not a good one).

No matter how many links you build to crappy content, those links do not guarantee rank.

Not only does quality content matter, but link acquisition should not be relied upon as your main SEO strategy. Yes, you want to build high-quality links, but those links must lead to high-quality content on your site.

Summing it Up

So in the end, they helped me rank higher. They actually overtook me in the short run with the black-hat link building that took place, but they quickly fell after Google caught up to their game.

White-hat link building is fine, but you must have quality content that you are linking to. Links are a ranking signal, but so is quality. Google looks for time on site and if they see people leaving, your backlink profile will be useless.

If you are unsure of what constitutes “quality,” ask Google. The company has never shied away from telling people what they are looking for. In fact, Google has a module on what they are looking for in quality content.

Acquiring backlinks without having quality content is like selling tickets to a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s the “cart before the horse” concept. Think about that when you are putting your SEO strategy together.

Image: Shutterstock


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Mike Wood is an online marketing expert and owner of Legalmorning.com. He specializes in content writing, brand management, and professional Wikipedia editing. Wood is a regular contributor to many online publications that have included AllBusiness Experts, Business Insider, Business2Community, and Social Media Today. You can follow him on Twitter. http://www.legalmorning.com

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