It can be difficult to outrank your competitors, especially if your website is relatively new. Even more aggravating is being unable to outrank competitors with spammy backlink profiles. Why is Google not penalizing them? Why do you appear lower in Google search results than they do, even though you follow the rules?
Google’s algorithm has changed dramatically over time. The main goal of the enhancements was to make it easier to discern between real and intentionally produced links. Unfortunately, despite significant progress, top-ranked websites with clean link profiles are not always the case.
It’s likely happened to you (or someone you know) to run a firm that complied with all of Google’s link-building requirements but was ultimately dethroned by other sites in the industry with spammy link profiles. So, what’s going on here? Let’s investigate!
Concentrate more on on-page and technical SEO factors.
If you think I’m going to argue that utilizing BlackHat SEO link-building practices in 2022 will help you increase your rankings, you’re wrong. While some people are upset about their websites being penalized, others are concerned about something quite different:
“Despite having spammy links, my competitors rank higher than me.”
Then, nearly always, comes the following question:
“How should I proceed in this situation?”
There’s even a Reddit discussion about it:
You’ve come to the right place if you’ve been battling this problem.
The quick answer is that a spammy link profile does not automatically imply that a website should not rank well. The primary goal of Google (and other search engines) is to provide the most significant search results to people, not the search results with the highest link profile. There are hundreds of additional characteristics that Google considers when ranking a page, and while links are still one of the top three most significant, they aren’t the only ones.
Google appears to be moving away from links. Although links cannot be fully removed from the equation (at least not very soon), other criteria have recently gained prominence, such as user engagement.
If your top competitors have bogus backlinks yet are still performing well, you’ve landed yourself into a competitive niche, my buddy.
There is, however, still hope. But it won’t be inexpensive or straightforward (is there anything affordable or specific in digital marketing?). So before we get into the ideas and tricks, let’s take a look at what Google has done in the past to combat link spam and why.
Why Do Spammy Link Profile Sites Still Rank Well?
So, if Google is working so hard to eliminate spammers, how come certain webmasters with such blatant dubious link profiles are still performing well?
According to Google’s John Mueller, we don’t know if they got away with it or not.
However, this appears unfair because those websites have spammy link profiles but are still ranking well.
There could be a thousand causes for this, but I’ll try to clear things up with what I believe is going on.
Those Links Were Built A Long Time Ago
The BlackHat sector was booming in 2012. You name it: ScrapeBox, GSA, Comment Spamming, Private Blog Networks, etc. It was successful. People became addicted.
Because blackhat SEO services might be very profitable, they were pricey. As a result, even major corporations were involved.
The innocent business owners who had no idea what was going on suffered the most. They recently signed contracts with SEO firms in order to boost their websites’ rankings on Google.
As word spread, more nefarious activities began to take place. There was a period when search engines didn’t always deliver the greatest results. And because Google didn’t like it, it took action.
Many of them were permanently demoted. Some people eventually recovered after brutal actions involving improvement and disavowing links.
However, some people got away with it, and they’re likely still ranking now. This makes it logical, given that the system is now supposed to be real-time and avoid bogus links.
It doesn’t mean they’re horrible websites or still employ blackhat SEO tactics. It’s possible they just got away with it. They were fortunate.
Those Links Were Not Built (Negative SEO Attack)
People sometimes prefer to ‘work’ other websites instead of working on their own by attempting to attract Google penalties. Negative SEO Attacks are the term for these approaches, your competitors will try to spam many toxic links to your website.
In theory, the procedure is straightforward: perform BlackHat SEO on another website until Google penalizes it. Then, you replace the spot when they fall.
An example of a negative SEO attack on the Jellyfish website.
You could accuse someone of cheating if they have a lot of spammy links on their website. However, while you can examine a site’s link profile, you have no way of knowing whether or not those links have been disavowed.
The Google Disavow tool is extremely handy, but it’s also one of Google’s finest decisions in terms of algorithm improvement.
Many webmasters began submitting their spammy links through the disavow tool, asking to remove the link and to avoid the manual penalty from Google.
The Google Disavow tool is extremely handy, but it’s also one of Google’s finest decisions in terms of algorithm improvement. It helps you to define low-quality websites and remove spammy backlinks.
Sure, it might help you avoid being penalized, but it also might not. After they start disavowing links, some even lose their rankings.
What the disavow tool may truly do is provide Google with millions of bogus link patterns. As a result, Google is becoming increasingly intelligent. Isn’t that clever?
Negative SEO assault patterns differ from shady link-building tactics in any case. You may believe this isn’t the case, but when people perform blackhat SEO for themselves, they’re extraordinarily cautious and attempt to stay under the radar. When they’re framing someone else, on the other hand, they’re too blatant.
Negative search engine optimization has this drawback. If you make it explicit, Google will recognize it as a negative SEO attack; however, if you don’t make it plain enough, your opponent may go undetected, and the spam may help him rank.
So, even if you can see that your competitor’s backlinks are extremely spammy, and full of toxic backlinks you have no way of knowing how Google would view the scenario.
They are still the best website available.
As I previously stated, a spammy link profile does not preclude a site from ranking first on Google. This typically occurs when all of the other sites have a spammy link profile.
If every website broke the regulations, Google wouldn’t be able to produce any search results so it couldn’t penalize them all.
Even though Google knows they’re breaching the rules, if the top website has been there for years, offering value and good services to their customers, Google will reward them by keeping them there.
They’ve eluded Google… Yet
Why doesn’t Google punish all spammers is like asking why don’t the cops arrest all drug dealers. There are too many of them, and Google will never be able to catch them all. But it will very certainly happen…
Because it works, spamming is still profitable. If you can spam beneath the radar, you might be able to make some quick money. However, the frustration of continually being on the move is unpleasant.
Go ahead and read The Confessions of a Google Spammer on InBound if you haven’t already. It’s over once Google discovers you. And they have to start over from the beginning.
Although I believe that Google will eventually catch up with everyone… The harsh reality is that wicked guys occasionally triumph.
One to Demonstrate Them All
I attempted to find numerous examples at first but was unable. So I looked into the wedding and floral niches; however, the top-ranked websites were consistently legitimate in link building.
But then I got to thinking… why not payday loans.
I mean, if there’s one niche that’s been spammy as hell for a long time, it’s this one. It’s even the subject of a Google algorithm upgrade. And lucky for me, I hit the jackpot (even though I couldn’t visit all of the websites owing to my location).
So I used cognitive SEO to identify the anchor texts and run the Unnatural Link Detection Tool on a couple of sites from the top and one from the second page (the United States/British).
The outcomes were encouraging. The vast bulk of the hyperlinks is artificial.
A top-ranking website is shown in this snippet from the Unnatural Link Detection tool (speedycash.com)
Similar patterns can be found on another website from a lower range of results:
Unnatural Link Detection tool snippet showing a competitor website on the second page (cashone.com)
I can easily back up the statements I presented previously in the article with this example.
Point number one: The sites have been in operation for a long time.
You can easily determine when a website was registered. It doesn’t always imply that they’ve been in business since that date, but it’s a good indicator.
These domain names were registered more than 15 years ago. If the company was in business back then, it’s most likely a very legitimate company with a lot of experience.
Point number two: The links were created a long time ago.
We can quickly see from the link velocity section that these websites built links in the past but aren’t doing so now.
Mypaydaylonan.com’s link velocity; screenshot from the cognitiveSEO tool Cashone.com’s link velocity; screenshot from the cognitiveSEO tool
The top website appears to be actively building links, but the spike just before 2012 was clearly much larger than the ones occurring now.
The link velocity of speedycash.com; screenshot from the cognitiveSEO tool
Point three: These websites continue to provide excellent services.
Despite the fact that they still appear spammy in terms of design, one of the websites has over 2,000 reviews on TrustPilot, with an average grade of 9.1. Of course, they could be fake reviews, but they also could not be. I believe TrustPilot is doing its best to keep things honest.
Sure, I didn’t look at a thousand websites, but I hope I got my point across. Most websites in this niche have a significant number of unnatural links in their link profiles.
Why You Shouldn’t Create Spammy Links
I understand how appealing it is. I understand how you feel. You’ve most likely tried everything, and they still rank higher. No, unless you’re going for a hit-and-run niche site. It’s too dangerous.
Old sites that did BlackHat stuff in the past may still rank well in Google search results, but new sites doing shady things get a lot more attention. You could be penalized right away, effectively eliminating your chances of ever ranking for that keyword.
Building a million spammy links may appear simple, but it is not. It requires a significant amount of effort, and the learning curve is quite steep. It is also not inexpensive. To cover your ass, you’ll need advanced tools and thousands of proxies.
It’s not going to be easy to defeat a BlackHat site the WhiteHat way. The advantage is that you don’t risk anything, and you build for the long term.
Your time is better spent on things like creating high-quality content, improving user experience, and cultivating relationships. Instead of pointing fingers at others, we should examine our own actions and consider how we can improve them.
The Disavow Tool and the Google Penguin 4.0 Update
If you’ve heard of the Penguin Update, you’re probably aware that it’s caused by spammy links. Although it is not the only algorithm that penalizes websites with spammy link profiles, it is unquestionably the one that has brought the most spammers to justice. If you’re planning on doing some shady link building, keep an eye out for flappy walks and orange beaks.
The issue with the first three Penguin algorithm updates was that, while they improved, they were still quite slow. Google used to collect information over a longer period of time (about 2-3 months) before releasing a patch that suddenly affected thousands of websites that violated the rules.
Google’s spammy link tracking is now happening in real-time in the latest version. Google Penguin 4.0 ignores spammy links or penalizes single pages rather than penalizing entire websites.
This does not mean that websites can no longer be penalized. Many users still admit to having been subjected to Google penalties that affected their entire website.
Some experts, such as Rand Fishkin, believe that Google used the slow mass penalty process to instill fear in webmasters, causing them to submit their spammy link profiles through the Disavow Tool.
This tool, which was launched in 2012, a few months after the first Penguin update, allowed users to submit links that they wanted Google to ignore. People believed that by submitting their links sooner, they could avoid a Google penalty. Google allegedly fed the Disavow Tool database to the algorithm, which was then used to create a real-time version of Penguin that understands link spamming patterns better.
The Disavow Tool also helps webmasters defend against negative SEO attacks. If someone created some spammy links to your site, you should begin disavowing them. However, Google previously stated that the Disavow Tool is not a substitute for removing links and that no reconsideration action will be taken unless users also attempt to remove some of those links.
Google, Google, Google! Isn’t it always surprising you with its tricks?
However, using the disavow tool can assist you in recovering from a Google penalty. If you ever find yourself in that situation, it’s worth a shot.
How to File a Spam Report
Although you can do it, I wouldn’t recommend it. While not identical, submitting a spam report does resemble a negative SEO attack because, instead of outranking your competitor by gaining positions yourself, you’re attempting to pull him down.
Consider the points I made earlier:
What if your competitor just hired a search engine optimization company and has no idea, even though he’d probably be against it if he knew?
Furthermore, submitting a spam report may draw Google’s attention to your website if you have some shady links yourself or share some of the backlinks with your competitor. You’ll understand why in a moment.
Instead of blowing into the candles of others, try to make your own candle burn brighter. If you had started doing SEO 5 years ago, you would now be ranking.
However, suppose you see a website ranking on top that attempts to steal information from clients or is involved in any illegal activities. In that case, you should submit a spam report as soon as possible.
In theory, Google employees should manually review these websites and decide whether or not to impose a penalty. Any phishing or malware attempts will undoubtedly be prohibited.
There are various kinds of spam reports. Anyone can file some of the more… dangerous ones, to put it mildly. This includes malware, phishing, and copyright violations.
On the other hand, the rest will necessitate a search console account (former Webmaster Tools). This means that Google will know who filed the report. You should keep this in mind if you’ve ever done anything shady.
Of course, you could just create a fake account to set up a report, but Google will most likely ignore those, as an account isn’t required in the first place.
How to Rank Higher Than Your Competitors Using Spammy Link Profiles
Even if things aren’t going your way, you shouldn’t give up. There are still ways to outrank these types of competitors.
One of the things that makes SEO so interesting is the journey:
Outranking a BlackHat SEO means becoming richer and more powerful than the Godfather by selling lollipops.
Concentrate more on on-page and technical SEO factors.
I understand that this may only sound motivational, but you should shift your focus away from links and toward on-page factors. When people say they’ve tried everything, I suspect they’re only referring to link building.
That’s what happens when spammy link envy takes over: you forget about making your website faster, securing the connection with an SSL, and improving the overall user experience.
Here are some questions you should be asking yourself:
Is it true that I’m providing a good experience for my users?
One of the most difficult tasks for entrepreneurs is to enter their customers’ minds. It’s difficult to see their frustrations and come up with good solutions to them.
You’ve probably heard the expression “customers don’t know what they want.” That is correct, and it is a problem! They won’t buy because they don’t know what they want. At least not until you provide a viable solution to the problem.
Simply go out and buy something if you really want to understand the buyer. You’ll immediately enter the buyer’s mindset. And that is precisely what you should investigate for your website if you truly want to find solutions and increase sales.
How effective is your conversion rate? Is it fulfilling? Where do your users tend to click the most? Is it simple for them to tell what’s clickable and what isn’t? Do you provide live support chat? Are they squandering their time looking for something? Perhaps you should bring it to the forefront.
Is it true that I’m attempting to solve their problems?
Many websites do not attempt to solve a problem. They’ve only come because they heard you can make money online. You can’t really improve your website if you’re not focused on solving a user’s problem.
Is the information actually answering their questions? Does it fit their personality? Before you put another word on your pages, figure it out.
Is my website superior to theirs?
The website should be more visually appealing, faster, and easier to use.
However, I’m not just talking about website design and performance. There are numerous other variables that originate outside of the website:
Is your brand as well-known as your competitor’s? Could you really handle all of the orders with ease? How does your social media engagement stack up against theirs?
Improve your content game significantly.
Everyone understands that content is king. However, an untrustworthy King can quickly lose his throne.
Consistency has been proven time and again in the content marketing and SEO industries. This is something we’ve seen at cognitiveSEO. That being said, create an editorial schedule and stick to it.
It makes no difference how frequently you post. Obviously, the greater the number, the better. What matters most is that you post on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.
Remember that when you go for quantity, you risk losing quality. To be able to post more frequently while maintaining the quality of your content, you’ll need to expand your writing department.
Consider innovating in your niche. Analyze your competitors’ content to identify content gaps. Create personas for your target audience and get to know them.
One thing I frequently recommend to websites, especially eCommerce sites, is to start blogging. This can greatly aid in domain authority building, as articles and blog posts receive far more shares and backlinks than products. For that, you’ll need a good content marketer. Some niches struggle to generate interesting content.
Here are some advanced tips for expanding your content strategy, even in a very boring niche. It’s a long video, but it’s well worth watching.
The key here is to identify and respond to your client’s questions and objections that your competitors do not address. Any niche gap that the competition hasn’t yet filled is an excellent opportunity for you to improve your website.
Another excellent practice is to regularly update your content with new information. You are constantly learning new things about various topics. Never be afraid to add new information to an existing article if you believe you have it!
Using the cognitiveSEO Keyword Tool & Content Assistant is an excellent way to improve your content marketing strategies. This set of SEO tools works by analyzing all of the pages that rank for that keyword and recommending keywords that you should include in your article to make it more relevant.
Don’t just throw in a bunch of keywords. Consider the topics you haven’t covered before. Place them in appropriate locations while keeping the end-user in mind. Don’t include the keyword if it makes no sense to the reader.
We recently optimized our own content, and the results were promising, with a 70% increase in SEO visibility.
Look for additional keywords to target.
Keyword research is critical if you want to succeed in SEO. If you can’t outrank your competitors on Google, you can try targeting less competitive keywords.
Perhaps the ones you’re focusing on right now aren’t the most relevant for your website and users. Perhaps the keyword difficulty is too difficult for the authority of your website.
Instead, try focusing on longtail keywords. Your site will become stronger as you grow, allowing you to target more competitive keywords.
People frequently get stuck trying to rank for that one great keyword. Yes, high search volume keywords are desirable, but there are other keywords available.
Your spammy competitor cannot possibly rank on all of them.
If you spend too much time trying to rank for a single keyword, you’ll overoptimize and hurt yourself. You’ll also waste a lot of time and miss out on ranking for hundreds of other keywords.
The cognitiveSEO Keyword Tool can help you develop new keyword ideas to target. The ones with the most stars are more relevant to your primary keyword search.
Result of the cognitiveSEO Keyword Tool
Another intriguing trick is to use Site Explorer to find the top 10-20 ranking keywords for a website. It’s not very useful if you use it on your own site, but if you use it on a competitor’s site, you can gain new insights that you probably haven’t considered before.
Snippet from cognitiveSEO’s Site Explorer displaying the top ranking keywords for a website.
Another effective method is to use the basic Google Keyword Planner. However, to obtain more accurate keyword statistics, you will need to invest in advertising through Google Adwords.
In terms of Google Ads…
Spend money on advertising.
You’re not moving if you’re not moving. Unfortunately, if you’re obsessing over a competitor’s backlink profile, you’re doing precisely that.
If you cannot outrank them and generate sufficient traffic through SEO strategies alone, you may need to invest in advertising. You can use Google Ads or social media to advertise.
And did you know that there are advertisements that can help you rank higher on Google? Yes, it’s referred to as purchasing links.
You can buy links without violating any of Google’s guidelines by simply following the links. The key is to place them throughout the site and make it clear that they are advertisements.
Numerous examples demonstrate that nofollow links still have SEO value. So what’s the best part? Your target keywords can be used in the anchor text!
If you think it will work for you, you could even try using press releases. Just make sure they’re from credible news sources.
If you have enough money to advertise, make sure to strengthen your brand. Perhaps include an image ad with your brand logo near the link. Smart ads, particularly in the video field, have the potential to go viral.
Invest in it ethically, and nofollow those links!
Increase the effectiveness of your social media campaign.
Although social media has declined as a referral source (while Google has increased), it is still a good idea to invest time in building a social following. People spend far more time on social media than they do on Google, and you must be present.
Your competitors may spend a lot of time creating shady links, but they may be terrible at social media. We don’t know whether social signals are a direct Google ranking factor, but they can influence organic traffic, leading to more natural links (a real ranking factor).
Perhaps your competitor isn’t doing anything noteworthy on Facebook. You could, for example, add something new by creating a chatbot. Chatbot marketing works well because open message rates are incredibly high (up to 90 percent ).
Get ideas from your competitors’ good links.
Only if you want to spot opportunities for yourself should you spend time analyzing your competitors’ links.
It is a waste of time to spend too much time on a competitor’s backlinks profile. Instead, you could use that valuable time to identify and resolve new issues with your website.
The truth is that not all of the links on a spammy profile are harmful.
Higher rankings are usually the result of links, but it can also be the other way around. As websites begin to rank, they receive more organic traffic, leading to the creation of more links as people discover and share your content. And those are solid and natural connections.
If a site has ranked first for a long time, I’m sure there are some natural links in its profile.
You can look for natural links and attempt to replicate them. Of course, this assumes you have a better website. Nobody will link to you if they do not find your website and its content helpful.
To identify these opportunities, use cognitiveSEO’s Unnatural Link Detection Tool. Then, simply run the backlink analysis, remember the good links, and attempt to build or earn them by contacting the owners.
You can access the natural link navigator by clicking on the green bar.
Take advantage of your competitor’s natural links.
However, no matter how many online learning platforms about link building you attend, keep in mind that link building should not be your primary focus. Stealing your competitors’ links is an excellent link-building strategy, but earning them organically is even better. If you begin to improve all of the factors mentioned above, links will start to appear independently.
Outranking your competition isn’t always easy, but it’s often necessary in digital marketing. Shifting your focus from link building to other aspects of your website (such as OnPage SEO and conversion rate) can make the process less frustrating and more effective.
Improve your website by including more relevant content and analyzing and improving the overall user experience. Try to gain traction from other traffic sources, such as Google Ads or Social Media. Maintain customer satisfaction by working on conversion rate optimization.
Try to fill any gaps in the niche that your competition isn’t yet exploiting, and most importantly, try to have a better site than them, not just a higher ranking one.
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