blog home Search Engine Optimization Why Do Good Rankings Happen to Bad People?

Competing for spot one on Google often forces you to spend more time on your competitors’ sites to figure out how exactly they are beating you. You may have better content, stronger links, more benefits to clients – yet they still seem to come out on top. Further research may show that they are even using black-hat SEO practices and still ranking well, going against all of the lessons that you’ve learned about optimization. But why are they ranking well? Shouldn’t your best efforts be rewarded, and their worst practices punished?

What Goes Into Ranking Well With Google?

There is no single strategy for ranking well with Google across every keyword, location, or practice area. Google’s algorithm looks at several factors when evaluating where a website should rank, ranging from user experience to page speed to mobile design, just to name a few, as well as its competitor sites. A website can be middle-of-the-road and still rank well if its competition is not as strong or if it fulfills a very specific search query.

Time is also a major factor that is often overlooked. After posting a new webpage or blog, you may hope that Google will instantly index and rank it ahead of the pack if it has high-quality content, but this is rarely the case unless you have no competition. There is no set timeline for when Google indexes new webpages or old links that have been updated, but it is generally later rather than sooner. Your website may need more time to rank ahead of your competitors and taking shortcuts can only hurt you in the long run.

Shortcuts Are Bound to Backfire

Keyword stuffing, paid links, cloaking, blog spamming – these are just a few black-hat SEO tactics that should be avoided at all costs. Yet, we still see multiple websites using these poor practices, and even ranking well for their bad-faith efforts. Why is that? Well, some of these practices were used back in the Wild West days of SEO to trick Google’s algorithm and rank well. For a while, it worked, but Google has since updated its algorithm to identify these bad practices and ignore websites that employ them. The websites that do rank well despite using black-hat tactics should be considered outliers that may be using just enough white-hat tactics to balance out their rankings.

However, Google is constantly updating its algorithm, meaning it may not be long before these outlying websites see their rankings drop. Bottom line: they may get ahead of the pack for a short time, but firms that utilize best practices will ultimately come out on top.

Spot One Is Not the Endgame

This may go against everything you have learned about SEO, but spot one, and even spot zero, is not the finish line for a website. Ranking in spot one does provide more benefits than being farther down the page, especially if you drop below Google Maps, but it also doesn’t guarantee the highest amount of traffic. Oftentimes, lawyers stress over beating out the firm that ranks number one for “Denver personal injury attorney” or “Miami DUI lawyer,” but if you are still within the top three, you likely are seeing a fair amount of traffic. Users, ultimately, are fickle. Their eyes may be drawn to featured snippets, paid-ads, map results, or specific keywords in meta titles. Being in spot one may increase the likelihood that they will click on your firm, but it is not a guarantee.

There is also no specific “spot one to rule them all,” but an infinite number of spot ones over an infinite number of search results. While one firm may rank well for “Los Angeles tax lawyer,” it may rank very poorly for “top tax attorneys in Los Angeles.” You will, of course, want to rank for both of these terms to maximize your traffic, but you must always remember that there are more opportunities out there.

One opportunity often overlooked is featured snippets. Also called Position Zero, featured snippets are unique search results that pull a snapshot from a website to answer a specific search query. Oftentimes, snippets provide answers to long-tail keywords or questions, such as, “Should I call an attorney after an accident?” or “What are New York’s DUI laws?”

Featured snippets offer new opportunities by allowing firms to focus less on going head-to-head with a specific competitor’s website and more on answering user questions. When you answer these questions thoroughly, accurately, and clearly, Google is more likely to rank your blogs or webpages well, allowing you to outrank your competitors. And, because featured snippets provide direct results for a query, it increases the trust a user has in a website, making them more likely to contact you for more information.

Outpacing Your Competition to the Finish Line

Ranking is a misnomer in the SEO world because it suggests that after Google has indexed all webpages the final list of rankings will be set in stone. But this is never going to be true. Google’s algorithm is consistently being refined, as are all the websites that it indexes. Rather than a dedicated top 10 list, you have an ever-changing assortment of webpages, none of which are safe from being de-ranked. While today you may see a competitor succeeding through black-hat tactics, it is only a matter of time before Google re-indexes their site and penalizes their shady efforts.

While it is important to pay attention to how and where your competitors are ranking well, the only thing you can control is your own website. You know that, in the long run, taking a shortcut will harm your website, while the best SEO practices are about going the extra mile. Instead of stressing about where your competitors are ranking, focus on where they are not and shoot for that goal line.

Is there a question that they are not answering? A practice area that you specialize in that has no good content? Are they missing out on key demographics or local search results that you have experience with?

You may feel like you cannot beat them at their own game, so change the playing field. Take your tried-and-tested tactics and apply them to new keywords, search results, and geographic regions. Then, it won’t matter that your competitor gets silver in the 100-meter dash, because you are getting gold in the 400-meter.

If you need help seeing the endgame and developing the best SEO strategy to beat your competitors, reach out to the SEO marketing experts at SLS Consulting, Inc. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing law firms across the country, we understand how picky and complex Google’s algorithm can be – as well as how to keep on its good side. Not only will we keep an eye on your competitors’ rankings, but we will also focus on optimizing your site and highlighting your firm’s strengths in order to get you ahead of the pack – and keep you there. If you have more questions about how to rank on Google, call SLS Consulting, Inc., at (323) 254-1510 and get your free case evaluation.

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