The most frustrating phenomenon for those who put a lot of time and effort into SEO web development and optimizing of their website: to see obviously non-optimized websites, which (nevertheless) appear on multiple keywords above you in Google! How is it possible that, without the keyword ever appearing on the page, this website still beats you in Google results? How is it possible that a website with only 100 backlinks is #1, while you are on position #6 with more than 10,000 incoming links? In this article, we will cover 5 possible explanations, as to how this phenomenon occurs in nature.
Why can a website (in terms of content, authority and user experience) that is not optimized at first glance, still show up above you in Google results?
1. A higher click-through rate (CTR)
Forget terms like “keyword density” or “PageRank”. These are outdated terms that were previously considered to be general guidelines by Google in the way they evaluated a website. At the time, these were (fundamental) ways of assessing whether the content of a website corresponded to what people were actually looking for.
Nowadays Google’s algorithm is much more complex. It does not merely take the search request of a person, but it interprets it. One way to judge the quality of a page is to look at the click-through rate (CTR).
For example, if Google sends 500 people to a blog, but 495 of these visitors leave the page after a few seconds (remember the old term “bounce rate”?), this website will probably not be reliable. The Search Engine then decides that it does not want it to ‘trick’ the next 500 searchers by sending them to an unreliable website, and that is why it brings this website down a bit in the search results. On the other hand, a website where visitors stay longer and click through a lot more will be deemed as more “interesting.” Such website will inevitably be raised up in search results.
So it may happen that a website that, at first glance, does not seem to be optimized in according to the latest SEO trends, will still show up above you.
It is, therefore, crucial for you to ensure that visitors stay longer on your website and visit more pages. Make sure you have an immediate answer to the questions of your visitors and that the design of your website is accessible.
2. Higher domain authority and an older domain
A website that has been around for years has more “influence” than a website that has just sprouted out of the ground. If your domain has only been around for a few months, you will have to work a lot harder, to beat the oldies around you.
With every visitor, Google gives your website a tiny piece of authority. Therefore, a domain that has been around for years and had countless visitors ‘on its territory,’ builds up a lot of authority in Google’s eyes. A domain that has existed for years will probably also have more backlinks than you. (In point 3, you will read more about the importance of backlinks.) Nowadays, Google is increasingly looking at factors such as the number of visitors and the search behavior on a website, but old school factors such as backlinks also certainly count.
All in all, this is an issue that you can not exert much influence on. There is no other option but to be patient and to ensure that you beat your competitors in (at least) other areas.
3. Relevant and more naturally generated backlinks
While backlinks are still a factor, nowadays there is a little twist: they have to be as relevant and as naturally blended as possible. This partly explains, how is it possible that a website with 100 backlinks shows up above you in Google, while you have more than 10,000 backlinks?
You can still have hundreds of incoming links, each from a high authority domain, but if these links have no common ground with that, which can be found on your website, your website will not score. The website that beats you in search results may not have as many backlinks as you, but the few backlinks that they do have are relevant. They have an anchor text related to their subject and come from a website that has common ground with theirs. To give you an idea as to how you can distribute the anchoring texts of your website, I’ll give you a good example.
A great tool to judge the backlinks of your competitors based on relevance is Majestic. This tool analyzes not only the authority of a URL but also the ‘topics’ of this URL.
Natural backlink profile
If there is something that Google hates, it is a fake SEO. Everyone does it, but Google does not really approve of it. This also applies when building your backlink profile. If suddenly you get 10,000 backlinks to your website overnight, something is fishy.
The backlinks that your competitor accumulated have been carefully built up over the years. Every day a few new links are added. The same applies to the type of links. For example, not every link is a ‘follow’. A natural backlink profile also has links with the HTML attribute rel = ‘nofollow’. With a ‘nofollow’ you tell Google that it does not have to follow the link. No link juice is passed on paper (more on this later), but visitors can click on the link.
If you want to build a backlink profile that transcends your competitor’s profile, you have to take a few things into account:
- Do not create thousands of links in one day, but spread them over several days, weeks and months. Besides, keep constantly looking for new links.
- Ensure a natural relationship between do-follow links and no-follow links.
- Provide anchoring texts that have common ground with what can be found on your website.
- Generate not only in-text links but also links from images or banners.
- From time to time, remove redundant links that have nothing to do with your website or simply have a “bad authority”. You do this with the Disavow Tool from Google.
4. Better organized site structure
Even though you have built up such a huge authority for your website, if these link juices are incorrectly distributed or not distributed at all, the underlying pages will not score. This also works the other way around; if you have a clear website structure, you can still score in Google without a huge number of backlinks.
Authority from external backlinks is also called link juice, as you probably know. It is not only necessary that every page receives link juice from other pages, it is also important that each page has an outbound link that points to another page on the website. In this way, there are no dead ends, and no link juice is wasted.
5. Higher quality content
In practice, every website either creates excellent content or fails at it miserably. How do you plan to score on a specific search term, if this term can not be found anywhere on your website? It makes sense to sprinkle the keywords all over your website, right? However, it is possible that your competitor is #1 in Google for a particular search term, while these keywords do not appear on their page even once. Sounds contradictory, right?
The reason you can run into this issue is that Google’s algorithm (with the heavy use of AI) has advanced significantly. You have already heard that Google does not simply take over a search term, but interprets it semantically. This way the Search Engine knows when you search for Apple, you are probably looking for a laptop or smartphone, and not a fruit. This is done by studying the context. Let’s outline an extreme scenario:
When a page about technology, iPhone, Air Book, apps, cloud, touchscreens, photos are found, Google can assume that it is related to Apple, without the company name occurring even once.
The same thing can be the case with your competitor. Although the keyword may not appear on their page even once, Google can still deduce what the company does/offers/sells and place it above you. So for you, it’s important to not only literally process the keyword anywhere in your content but to use LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing) terms so that Google can better determine the context.
SEO: subtlety & natural optimization
All in all, there are a few reasons why a non-optimized website can still show up above you. SEO nowadays is more and more about elegance and natural optimization, so the website may not always seem optimized at first glance. However, the opposite is often the case: for example, your competitor will win if they have a higher CTR than you, a higher domain authority, their external backlinks are classified better, the internal link juice distribution is better, or they make better use of related search terms.
The moral of the story is not to discuss a new set of SEO rules, but to help you take your visitors into account more and more. This sounds cliché, but due to the increasingly sophisticated Google’s algorithm, the emphasis is oftentimes on visitor’s behavior. If you have a different opinion or experience with SEO of your website, please let us know below!