One of the greatest frustrations when doing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in competitive niches is: doing everything by the book, and yet still not being able to beat the last few sites – competing for your keyphrase – at the top of Google. What can you do?
Quite often we already know what to do, but need someone to give us permission to do it. So here are a few ideas on what I do when I find myself in that situation.
#1.) Rework the Content
Just like a pair of shoes only grab attention after they have been thoroughly polished, so content becomes truly great after it has been worked through and fine tuned at least a dozen times.
If your content has a hard time dominating on Google for the keywords you’re pursuing, it’s time to ask this question: Is it truly the best piece of content online covering this topic?
Don’t be biased. Look at the top 10 sites on Google that come up when you search for the keyword you’re pursuing and see how your content compares to the content on those sites. Again, be unbiased. Look at it the way an unbiased robot (Google) would look at it.
- Are other websites covering the topic more thoroughly?
- Are they using and covering more subheadings/topics?
- Do their pages have more words?
- Do their pages have more keyword optimized (unique) images?
- What is their average text to keyword ratio?
Oftentimes working through your content and making sure it is indeed the absolute best content on your keyword-topic is all that is required for your site to move up to that magical #1 spot on Google.
After you’ve worked through your content, give it about two to three weeks. If your rankings still won’t budge, consider my next step.
#2.) Build More QUALITY Backlinks
Of course there are a dozen different ways to build rank-boosting backlinks, but here are two of my to go to sources when I try to get a page to beat (tough to compete with) sites on first page of Google:
- Good Private Blog Network (PBN) backlinks. If you don’t feel like setting up your own PBN, I recommend a couple good ones over here.
- Press releases. They are a fantastic source for strong (yet diverse) anchor-text backlinks. I talk more about them here.
Both are great options that I use very consistently in my offsite SEO. When done right, they do wonders.
I might also re-share the link I am trying to rank on my social media accounts or pay someone on fiverr to do it MANUALLY for me.
Assuming you’ve done it all though…
- you’ve built a ton of powerful backlinks
- you’ve done extensive on site content optimization
… and yet despite all that, your site still won’t get into the top 3 Google positions for your desired search phrase. What do you do?
First, let’s check your
#3.) Backlink Anchor Text Ratios
I know we could talk all day about backlink anchor text ratio theories, but here is what I KNOW from my own testing: Anchor text ratios matter a great deal!
It used to be the more links pointed to your site – using the exact keyword you wanted to rank for (as anchor text) – the higher your site would rank for that keyword. That is no longer the case. Meaning you can easily overdo it with exact match anchor texts.
One of the easiest ways to check your anchor text ratios is to head over to Majestic and paste in your URL. It is not going to be 100% accurate, but it will give you a fairly good idea.
NOTE: A lot of PBN owners (as well as press syndication sites) will block Majestic, Moz, and other SEO bots from crawling their network to keep it off other SEOs’ radar. So if you purchased a lot of press releases or PBN links, you likely won’t get a very accurate reading of your anchor text ratios from any SEO tool. Just something to keep in mind.
From my own experience, you generally want to keep your exact match anchor text ratios under 15%. In other words, if you want to rank for “best seo blog in the world”, and you have 100 links pointing to your site (or even to the page on your site you’re trying to rank), you will not want more than 15 of those links to use the anchor text “best seo blog in the world”.
While testing this, some of my sites dropped in ranking at 16% exact match anchor text ratios while others dropped at 23% (and everywhere in between). So make sure you have plenty of naked URL anchor texts (ex: https://seodagger.com), branded anchors (ex: SEODagger.com or SEODagger), as well as other keyword variations as anchors (ex: cool SEO blog, or top seo blog). I personally throw in the occasional “click here” or “see article here” type anchor texts as well just to appear as organic as I can.
Please note that 15% is a general rule of thumb for me. I like to check out the anchor text ratio of every site that outranks me and use their average exact match anchor text percentage as my golden rule.
If your anchor text ratio consists of your main keyword over 15% of the time, chances are you’ve overdone it and your rankings will suffer.
How to Fix Over Optimized Anchor Text Ratios
The short answer: Build a bunch of non keyword anchored backlinks.
I remember the first time I became aware of over optimization, I started freaking out. I thought I had overdone it and was too paralyzed to do anything about it. I had bought all the PBN links pointing at the site, so there was no way I could go and manually change some of the anchor texts. In hindsight, even if I could have, it would have been a waste of time doing that.
There is nothing natural about anchor text changing in your favor on a large scale. It is very natural for your site to get more links though. Which is also what I recommend: Forget the links you built and focus on getting more!
Going back to my first “over optimized anchor-text” penalty: When I finally came to my senses, I threw a press release at the page. This time I was NOT targeting specific keyword anchor texts. In fact, I kept it very broad – only using brand name and naked URL anchor texts.
An amazing thing happened. In just a couple of weeks my site jumped past it’s previous rankings (before silly me overdid it) and started to get solid rankings for the keyword I wanted to for rank all along.
It sounds counter intuitive at first, but it worked. In fact, I’ve repeated the same process a few times since if I got too carried away with a specific keyword. Every single time – without fail – it yielded similar (positive) results.
Again, my favorite cost effective approach is to toss a press release at it but you certainly could use other high quality links as well.
How to Fix Under Optimized Anchor Text Ratios
Under optimizing anchor text ratios is just as real an issue. After I got penalized for overdoing it with my exact match anchor text, I was too scared to use my main keyword as anchor text again. So I started building a ton of random anchor text links to my niche sites and started ranking for some weird stuff. Only problem was I couldn’t seem to rank for the keyword I really wanted to rank for.
You see, Google is really good at reading on-site content. If the content is properly optimized for your keyword, you just might rank organically for it without many backlinks (IF there is little to no competition). If there is strong competition for that search phrase, you will want to tell Google what to rank your site for by pointing keyword optimized links to the page.
So, if your main keyword does not show up on majestic or it only shows with one or two links despite having dozens of sites linking to you, build a few PBN links to it using your money keyword as link anchor text. You can find some of the ones I like to use over here.
If you’re scared you might overdo it, also point a press release or two at it using branded anchor texts. Again, here is a review of the one I like to use for that.
#4.) Build More Internal Backlinks
I have a niche site that has about 200 articles on it. The content is unique and niche relevant. It isn’t particularly high quality content, but it was specifically written for the site.
I had done extensive backlink building over the years to the money pages and yet had a hard time getting them to rank on first page of Google. At least for any worthwhile search phrases.
The site hadn’t seen any new content in two years. I suppose I could have added some new fresh content to it, but instead I decided to start going through the existing content, rework it, add some images, and re-publish it with today’s date.
Whenever it made sense, I would also add an in-content link – pointing to the money-pages I was trying to rank.
I had worked through 10 posts in a 2 week period when I noticed the money-page rankings positively jump up to places they had never been before.
This of course motivated me to keep going through the next 190 posts and add links to my money-pages whenever it makes sense to do so.
There are two key takeaways I learned from this:
- Google hates stagnant sites. By reworking the old posts and republishing them with a more recent date, I told Google the content is relevant again.
- By pointing links from inner pages to the money-page, I confirmed to Google that those pages are the cornerstone of the site and anything these posts talked about was also relevant to the page they were linking to.
I used to think that having the navigation-bar link to the money pages was enough. Truth is, relevant in content links are worth way more than than stand-alone sidebar or navigation-bar links.
#5.) Finding & Boosting Existing Backlinks
Assuming you’re good on all previously outlined steps, there is one last thing I’d recommend: Empower your existing backlinks.
With this strategy you’re essentially building backlinks to the pages (on other sites) that contain a link back to your site. It’s known as tier 2 link building.
In other words: links pointing to your site are known as tier 1 links, and links pointing to those link URLs are known as tier 2 links. Of course you could go even further and build tier 3 links if you wanted to, but I generally don’t bother with that (although I know some SEOs who do that).
How to Find Sites that are Linking to Your Site
If after a few months of link building I am on page one of Google for my desired keyword but can’t seem to break into the top 3 positions – despite following the above steps – here is what I do:
- I log in to webmaster tools (assuming I’ve added my site in the past), select my site, then on the left click on Search Traffic, and then on Links to Your Site. I usually build page specific backlink campaigns, so I usually find the page (on my site) under the “Your most linked content” heading and click on it.
Assuming I have over 25 sites linking to that page, I select “Show 500 rows” and click on the “Download latest links” button. This downloads a spreadsheet containing the most relevant links pointing to my site.
- Another great place to download your existing links is Majestic. You will need an upgraded account for that though.
All you do is paste in the URL you want to find backlinks for, hit enter, click the Backlinks tab, and then the “Export Data” button.
I usually use ScrapeBox to sort through the URLs to quickly determine which sites at this very moment still link to my site, but you can also sort through them manually by opening each page one by one.
Doing it manually gives you a chance to fix a URL (example: if it points to a feed instead of the actual post) or take it off the list if you prefer Google forgetting about it (example: if it’s on a review site with negative reviews), etc.
How to Boost Backlinks
Once you’ve cleaned up the list of backlinks, you’re ready to build tier 2 links to them. Unlike tier 1 links, we don’t have to worry so much about the quality of these links and focus more on volume. Yes, the higher the quality the better (obviously), but at the same time – because the tier 1 links provide a buffer – you can get away with more questionable links.
Here are some of my favorite sources for tier 2 links:
- Press Releases: Whenever I do a press release, I almost always have one random link going out to a PBN site of mine. I would not do press releases just for PBN sites, but am simply leveraging a press release I am already doing (for a money site) to also push link-juice to the PBN. It’s a great way to boost the overall strength of a PBN and have each press release serve two purposes.
I wrote extensively about the press release service I use here.
- Social Bookmarking: There are plenty of mass bookmarking gigs on Konker and Fiverr. My to-go-to guy is Iennod. I usually spend $5 and have my tier 1 URLs bookmarked on 200 sites. If I have over 100 URLs, I will split them up into two files, order two gigs from him, and have him submit them separately.
All you really need is a short generic description, generic title, and of course the list of URLs.
- GSA: I usually use ScrapeBox to shorten all the tier 1 URLs (creating bit.ly like 301 redirects) and use those shortened URLs for more questionable backlink building like GSA. Using redirects instead of the actual tier 1 URLs is like adding just one more buffer between the questionable practice of GSA links and your site.
A gig I’ve recently started using to point links at my shortened redirects is this one by SEOLinksGuy. He tends to over deliver big time – so definitely worth the $5.
- Important: Never ever point GSA links at your money site directly – even if you use 301 redirects. ALWAYS only ever use GSA links to promote your tier 1 links (the links pointing to your money site).
Of course there are hundreds of other gigs you could be using instead (or as well) but these are my to-go-to sources.
Once I get the report back, I copy all the new (tier 2) links into an indexing service to make sure Google crawls them. I currently use Linklicious for that.
How Often Should You Build Tier 2 Links?
There is no set rule to this. I know most SEOs build tier 2 links the same day as they build tier 1 links and that’s it. They move on and focus on other things after that. Doing it the way I explained above (leveraging links Google already gives our site credit for), I try doing it at least once every few month.
Doing it once is better than doing it never. Using various types of mass backlink building gigs is better than using only one source. Doing both regularly is obviously ideal.
Breaking into the top 3 positions of Google can be difficult for competitive search terms. I laid out a few simple action steps I take to make it happen over and over again.
- Give your content an unbiased audit to see if it really is the best content deserving of that much coveted #1 spot on Google.
- Build more high quality backlinks to the page I am trying to rank.
- Determine the webpage’s anchor text ratios:
- Are the backlinks pointing to it over optimized for the main keyword?
- Are the backlinks not optimized enough?
- Increase the number of internal pages linking to the money-pages.
- Find all the important links pointing to the money-pages and build tier 2 links to them.
Following these five steps over and over again will get any page into the top 3 positions of Google 99% of the time.