As a business and site owner myself, I know first-hand how frustrating it is to see the competition "getting away with it" when it comes to SEO. As a strictly white hat SEO practitioner I know that playing by the rules is the only way to ensure long term success and stability and I would never do anything but, but even then it's still annoying to watch other sites dominate the SERPs for search phrases I (and you) feel like we clearly deserve. Why is someone else (mainly the competition) being rewarded for their bad actions?
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year you've undoubtedly heard more about the Google Penguin update than you ever wanted to and how it was designed to target sites that were guilty of web spam tactics and those that had shoddy link profiles. But I've heard from more than one client and numerous prospects over the last year that their competition (who they felt was in flagrant violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines) wasn't getting whacked by Penguin at all. Why were some sites getting away with having bad links and others were getting caught?
I've spoken with several site owners recently that wanted to know why they too couldn't continue to try and "cheat" the system. If the competition was getting away with it then surely they could do, right? After all, how can you effectively compete with someone that is willing to cut corners if you don't cut some corners yourself? But when it comes to link building my opinion has never been, "if you can't beat them, join them," especially when it comes to any link building tactic that could come back to bite you in the you-know-what somewhere down the line.
Even if you feel like the competition is getting away with their link building activities, you shouldn't be so quick to jump on their bus. Here are 3 reasons why:
1. You don't actually know how their website is performing.
I have never been a huge fan of ranking reports as a metric of SEO success for a variety of reasons. For one thing, the search results are too personalized to let rank dictate your SEO campaign. For another, searchers are getting smarter and more discerning with their search behavior. A site that is ranked #1 typically gets the most traffic, but searchers are more than willing to bounce from site to site and dig through the SERPs to find exactly what they want before converting. The competition may be in that coveted #1 or #2 spot, but unless you can see their analytics you have no way of knowing how well their site is actually performing. It's entirely possible they've lost traffic due to their link building efforts or that their conversion rate is sliding because they aren't getting the right kind of visitors. Just because a site is ranked #1 that doesn't always mean everything is peachy-keen under the hood.
2. Just because they are safe today that doesn't mean they won't get caught tomorrow.
Google's algorithm is getting tweaked and updated every single day. A site might be able to skate by for a while (sometimes a long while) but sooner or later if they are doing anything that violates the Webmaster Guidelines they will pay the price. I have no doubt about that. I know it's incredibly frustrating to feel like the competition knows some secret that you don't so they can get away with poor links building activities that they should be penalized for, but patience is a virtue when it comes to SEO. Those links will catch up with them one day and the fallout will be that much harder to recover from. That's why a site should never copy the competition's link building efforts link for link; you don't want your site to follow in the wrong footsteps just because the competition is doing it.
3. Their bad links might be vastly outweighed by other white hat link building activities, tipping the scales in their favor.
A few bad links isn't going to derail a website that has been online for 10 years, has a strong social presence, a powerful online brand, pumps out great content for their blog and others day-in and day-out and (for the most part anyway) sticks to white hat SEO link building. Every site is bound to have a few links in their profile they'd like to see gone, you can't control who links to you after all, but if the vast majority of their efforts are on track chances are they won't get in trouble for a few missteps along the way.
The best piece of advice I can give site owners is to tell them to use the competition's SEO as a guideline only. What works for them might not work for you, so don't start stealing strategy blindly, especially if it's something that will come back to haunt you in the end.
Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, one of the premier full service SEO firms in the United States. With over 12 years of experience Nick Stamoulis has worked with hundreds of companies small, large and every size in between. Through his vast and diverse SEO, search engine marketing and internet marketing experience Nick Stamoulis has successfully increased the online visibility and sales of clients in all industries.
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