There are three primary things that factor into search engine ranking changes. 1) Your site changes, 2) a competitor's site changes, or 3) a search engine algorithm changes. I've already provided information on the first and third (see links above) so in this final installment of the series I'll talk about changes made to your competitor's site and how to deal with the ranking changes they cause.
(How to) Deal with Changes Made to Your Competitor's Websites
You're not the only site on the web so don't be concerned when you suddenly find someone else ranking above you. When it comes to search engine rankings there are hundreds of signals that factor in to how any site ranks. Now consider that every site on the web also has hundreds of signals that are being factored in. On the web the chaos theory reigns supreme. One small change on a website completely unrelated to you can have a dramatic affect on your own search engine rankings.
Everybody wants that coveted first page placement, and many are actively fighting for it. But in reality, there is only so much that you can control. If your rankings drop, it may not be you, it may be them.
New pages added
Every day new competitors come online seeking to gain space in the top search results. Every website has a handful of pages now being factored into the search results and one or more of these pages are going to be topically similar to one or more of yours. With every new page added to the internet, and subsequently indexed by the search engines, another couple hundred of signals are now being factored into the ranking landscape.
Initially most of these new pages will do poorly. However as they gain traction, popularity, links and implement good optimization strategies will have an impact on how well your pages do in the search results. Their lack of success allows you to be more successful. Their improved success may cause you to be less successful.
It may not just be direct competitor's your fighting for space against. There are all kinds of websites, informational, commercial, hobby, or a mix of all three. All of them seek good search engine positioning, bringing information sites into competition (ranking wise) with commercial sites, hobby sites overthrowing informational sites, and commercial sites succumbing to a popular hobby site. All this depends on the strength of each site, it's pages and the pages of all other sites targeting the same or similar keywords.
(How to) Deal With It:
The primary thing you can do to combat new competition, or aggressive competition, is to continue to build out your website. Begin to add new (and valuable) content pages to your site on a daily basis. Give each product it's own page with unique information, add new tools, write more articles, provide more tips. The list is endless. The key is to never stop growing and improving the informational value of your site.
Search engines are on a constant quest to determine which sites are most relevant to any particular search query. While we may not agree with their conclusions in that regard, the fact remains that other websites may be determined, for whatever reason, to be more relevant than yours.
This is where website marketing (SEO and SEM) comes into play, but you don't just want to optimize your website, you want to build a highly relevant source of information for your industry. Just because you sell products or provide a service that is a match for a search query doesn't automatically make you the most relevant for that query. You need to increase the value of the information, products and services that you offer.
Don't confuse this with just adding more pages. It's not the same thing at all. More content pages are great, however its the quality of that content that matters. Start with your home page and work your way through. Little things can make a big difference. Be sure that all of your pages provide value.
Many businesses get stuck in sales mode and that's all their sites do. But people aren't always trying to be sold. In fact, rarely are people trying to be sold, but instead they want to be helped. Learn how to help them and you'll sell them at the same time.
(How to) Deal With It
Whether you sell something or not is irrelevant to the information you can provide. You can sell products yet still have a highly valuable, informative website. The goal is to provide the best user experience possible, giving your visitors more of what they want. You want to turn your site into destination website for your industry, creating a place that visitors return to on a regular basis.
One of the most powerful factors in achieving good search engine rankings is links. If you have a strong and natural link profile then you're off to a good start. But you can't rest there. Competing businesses can at any time invest in optimization and link building of their own tipping the scales in their favor. Given enough time and investment you may suddenly find yourself at a distinct disadvantage.
Maintaining a healthy and growing link base is essential to maintaining top search engine placements. Link stagnation can ultimately cause you to be replaced in the SERPs by other sites with a more continuous stream of quality links coming in.
(How to) Deal With It
The single best thing you can do to build your incoming links is to focus on improving the value of your site, your services, your products and the information you provide. It's not enough to just do what you do, but you have to do it better than anyone else. And you have to give a lot of information away for free. The more valuable your site is to your audience, the more links you'll get from other quality sources. You don't have to invest in link building schemes, but investing in link building and social media campaigns can be a great way to increase your audience and link profile. Look for opportunities to increase your exposure, and find ways to improve what you are already doing.
Almost every site owner will, at one time or another, find themselves face to face with significant ranking drops. It may be you, it may be a competitor, and it may be the search engines. Either way, something has changes and you need to find out what it is. Panicking is not an option. Neither is jumping to making changes before you fully understand what caused the drop.
But there is one change you can always make and that is one of improvement. Don't wait for rankings to drop be make your site better. And don't worry about any negative impact improving your site will have. If you do it right, making sure your improvements are not just visual and are performed with search engines in mind, then you'll always be in a position of advantage. Build your site, look for opportunities to get new exposure, and continue to build a site that gives your visitors more of what they want. Do that, and you'll be dealing with ranking changes like a pro.
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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