Picture Perfect: 4 Steps to Building Powerful Links With Images


Written by Neil Patel on September 8, 2015

The things that go into a healthy diet, also go into a healthy backlink profile.

A healthy diet requires moderation – eating a bit of diverse types of foods.

Links are no different. You want people to link to you for all sorts of reasons, and you need to create different types of content to give them the chance to:

  • your content
  • case studies
  • product reviews
  • pictures

Images are among the most important parts of a link building strategy that are often ignored.

But that’s a mistake – the Internet is increasingly becoming focused on visual content.

In a study of 100 million articles, Buzzsumo and Okdork found that infographics (one type of image) were the most shareable type of content by a decent margin:


Anyone who’s familiar with Quick Sprout know how important infographics were in building the site’s traffic.

While they’re not quite as effective as they used to be, infographics can still be effective when used as link-bait.

But don’t limit yourself to just infographics, there are many types of images that you can make to get high quality backlinks pointing to your site.

These will drive immediate traffic, but also help you drive consistent organic search traffic for years to come.

Even if you have no design talent at all, you can still build links with images. You’ll probably just have to outsource the image creation part of the process.

And I’m going to show you how to do it.

To build links from images there are only 4 steps:

  • Step 1: Create an image that people love
  • Step 2: Do some initial promotion
  • Step 3: Get your content in front of linkers
  • Step 4: Get bonus links from people using your images

I’m going to break down how to each and every step in this post. 

What makes an image worth linking to?

Am I making this too complicated?

Why not just take a picture of your cat and ask people to link to you?

Obviously, a picture of a cat is completely irrelevant for most niches, so you won’t actually get any links from it.

Some images are more linkable than others. That’s why some get hundreds of links, but most get 0 or just a few.

Images that get a lot of links can have any (or all) of the following properties:

  • new – No one wants to see another infographic about the basics of SEO. You need to come up with a new topic, or a new angle on an old topic that people can get intrigued about.
  • relevant – If your site is about gardening, produce images about gardening or related topics (e.g. landscaping) if you want links from related blogs.
  • funny – All images need to provide some sort of value. Some types of images, like comics, lend themselves to providing value through humor.


  • interesting – The most reliable way to provide value through an image is to show something interesting in it. It could be research, expert opinions, or information on a hot topic.
  • controversial – Images can communicate something in a simple way that would take thousands of words to say. That makes them perfect for summing up controversial topics that can stimulate discussion (and links!)
  • high quality – If you’re not a great artist, it’s almost always better to outsource your image creation. No one wants to link to an image that looks like it was made by a kid.

The more of those properties that you can include in your images, the better results you will get (in general).

Sometimes you won’t be able to include them all, and that’s fine. Just hit as many of them as you can.

Ready to get started now?

Let’s go…

Step 1: Create an image that people love

Without a great image, you can use the best promotional techniques in the world and still fail.

It’s a lot like content marketing. People only naturally link to great content, just like they only link to great images in most cases.

There are 2 approaches that you can take:

  • Image type first – You can pick your image type first, and then come up with a topic that fits it later.
  • Topic first – With this approach, you come up with an interesting topic in your niche, and then decide which type of image suits it best.

Both can work, without a doubt, but I’ll be going through the image type first option.

The topic first approach is a little more abstract. You’ll generally need a little experience with image link building before you start to see good content ideas that could work in image format (the second approach).

The top types of link building images: The first part of your image building campaign is to decide on which type of image(s) you will create.

Some types of images attract more links than others, and have different costs.

I do recommend testing many types of images to find out which ones produce the best return on investment (ROI).

For now, though, start by picking one of these proven types of images:

  • infographics – As the name implies, infographics convey information in a graphical format. They started really becoming popular around 2010, and are now relatively common, which reduces their effectiveness. If you’re going to make a high quality infographic, expect to spend $500-1,000 on a good designer.


  • comics – Entertainment is one of the main uses of images, and comics are a perfect format for that. While they’ve been around for decades in newspapers, they’re just starting to get more popular online in marketing circles. You can produce a small series of comics for the price of one or two infographics.


  • hand drawn pictures – Hand drawn pictures are not easy or cheap to make, and that’s why they work. As I shared in the $100,000 case study, we had some very good success using hand drawn pictures.


How to get an image created: There is no shortage of great artists out there these days looking for work, which is good for you and me.

The amount that you will have to pay depends on how good of an image you’re looking for (and how complex), as well as how much work you want to do yourself.

You might be able to get away with finding a foreign designer through a platform like Upwork, but you’ll basically have to specify everything, or you’ll get a sub-par product.

If you go with an experienced, top designer, you can be more confident that they’ll figure out the best way to lay out information.

Here are a few suggestions of places you can find designers:

  • dribbble.com – Look through top-notch artists and reach out to them to hire them.
  • 99designs – Have thousands of designers that specialize in web images. You’ll pay a premium, but you get dozens of designs to pick from.
  • Upwork – Post a job and you’ll get several (minimum) designers apply for the gig. Designers range from cheap foreign designers to high priced North American and European designers – Good for an unsure budget.
  • /r/forhire – A subreddit dedicated to hiring freelancers and hobbyists for small jobs. You can find a lot of talented, unexperienced designers that are hungry to work (usually cheaper than professional agencies and freelancers).

It doesn’t matter where you find a designer, just find one that meets your quality expectations and that you can afford in your budget.

Pick a topic that is likely to be linked to: Once you have a designer (or a plan to get one), the next thing you’ll need is a topic.

If you know your niche inside and out, you may be able to think of one off the top of your head.

However, in most cases, it’s better to follow a simple process for coming up with topic that people will be interested in.

If you find past images on your topic, you can see which ones are the most popular. These are obviously topics that your audience will be interested in. You can then make an image about the same topic from a different angle, or create one about a similar topic.

Even if you come up with a great idea off the top of your head, you should still research your competition to make sure that no one has done it in the same way as what you’re planning.

Some types of images are easier to search for than others. Since infographics are so popular now, they are the easiest to research, so let’s start with them.

Go to the Visual.ly gallery and search for your topic in the search top at the top:


If you’re just looking to see if someone has done an idea before, look at the search results.

If you’re looking to build off the most successful infographics, select “viewed” from the sort drop down menu:


This will show you infographics sorted by the most viewed, even though some may not be as relevant as you’d like.


These top few have several thousand views each, and that’s just on Visual.ly. They likely have many thousands more on other sites.

So, if your site was a motivation site (searched for “motivation”), you could get a few spin off ideas from these top results:

  • X Unusual Ways to Stay Creative
  • X Ways That Famous Authors Stayed Creative
  • Chances of Success: The Journey of Y – Pick a well-known name for Y (like Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk)
  • The Science of Motivation

Next up, head over to Pinterest. Create an account if you don’t have one already, as you’ll need that to be able to search.

Type in both your niche or topic, plus the type of image you’re interested in:


There’s no easy way to sort them, but look for the ones with the most pins and hearts in their descriptions, then base your ideas of these:


As I said before, if you’re searching for less popular types of images, you won’t get as many relevant results.

So if you searched for “motivation comics”, you’ll get other images that aren’t comics. But if you scroll down a bit, you’ll still find some good ones:


As a last resort, head to Google Images.

The big benefit of Google Images is that you’ll be able to find tons of images of any type on just about every topic:


The downside is that there’s no easy way to know which of these are more popular than others. (In general the most popular will be first, but this is far from always true.)

Gather research: Not all images will need much research and data, but this is the time to do it.

Unless your designer also offers to find supporting research, you’ll have to do it yourself.

If you’re new to this, I’ve gone over some researching techniques in my guide to writing a data-driven post.

Once you have what you need, hand it off to your designer.

Publish it: It may take a few rounds of edits, but your designer should hand you a polished image that’s ready to go get some links.

Start by publishing it on your website (you want to get credit for it first!).

I generally include a small intro before the image, which is good for readers and can help with search rankings:


If it’s a comic or other small picture, you may just want to put it in one of your upcoming posts (instead of making a separate post just for it).

At the bottom of the image include embed code to make it as easy as possible for someone to put the image (with a link) on their site.


Step 2: Generate initial buzz and links with communities

You’ve finished your image(s) at this point. All done, right?

Unless you have a very large following – no, you aren’t done.

You need to get your image in front of people who will like it. You can do this yourself, or hire a virtual assistant (VA) to do it for you.

It’s up to you how much time and resources you invest into the initial push, but more is almost always better.

Option #1 – submit it to relevant subreddits: Reddit is a gigantic content aggregator with millions of users.

For the most part, the users on Reddit hate typical content. However, they loveimages, which makes Reddit the perfect place to start.

Reddit is composed of different categories called subreddits (e.g. /r/comics is about comics). Refer to my beginner’s guide to Reddit if you’re not familiar with the site.

You’ll want to submit your image in at least a couple different subreddits.

Start by submitting it in image-based subreddits.

The comics subreddit has tens of thousands of active visitors, so if you create something with wide appeal, it could lead to tens or hundreds of thousands of views as it spreads:


In addition, there is also an infographic subreddit, although it is strangely not as popular as the comic subreddit:


Finally, there are a few other image based subreddits you may want to submit to:

Next up, you’ll want to submit it to any relevant subreddits.

For example, if you made a comic about motivation, you’d want to submit it to the largest motivation subreddit.


Option #2 – post it on niche-relevant forums: Forums will always be around, all full of people who are craving high quality content.

For the most part, you can simply start a new thread and post your image (assuming you’re an existing member already). If it’s a good image, it will be loved.

Here’s an infographic that was posted to start a thread on a gaming forum:


It’s a beautiful infographic, and went on to encourage 13 pages of replies and thousands of views:


There is one exception though: Most marketing forums hate when members do this (think forums like Warrior Forum). They know that you’re sharing it to get views and links and don’t like being “marketed to”. I’d skip this particular option if you’re in the marketing niche.

If you have a hand drawn image, it may not warrant it’s own thread.

What you can do in that case is post it in a reply when it’s relevant. People post images and videos all the time in replies to make a point:


Option #3 – submit it to infographic sites: There are tons of sites that consist solely of infographics. Their userbase loves them and are usually happy to share them as well.

That being said, most of these sites are worthless, and will only get a few (if any) views.

If you stick to the better known ones, you’re more likely to get hundreds or thousands of views. However, that still depends on getting your infographic featured.

Here are some of the most well known infographic submission sites:

If you want more, here’s a list of other infographic submission sites.

Some have a “submission” link in the header or footer, but most you will have to contact the team behind the site and ask to be included:


Option #4 – share it on social media with the hopes of going viral: Remember that graph I showed you at the start? Infographics, and images in general are highly viral.

All this means is that people like to share them (if they’re good). This also means that social media is a great place to get started.

In addition to sharing your infographic through your normal social media channels, you should also consider a bit of paid advertising.

Social advertising is relatively cheap, and for a few dollars you can get your infographic in front of a few hundred targeted viewers.

You’ve already put a few hundred into your image, it makes no sense to cheap out on the promotion side, which is arguably more important.

Images spread fast on Stumbleupon: In addition to your normal social channels, submit your image to Stumbleupon.

Create an account, and then click the drop down in the top right. This will bring up a menu with the “add a page” option that you should choose:


Add your image URL (or page URL), a category, and then tags and comments:


If you get a bit lucky and have a great image, you can get tens of thousands of views on your content in days, with hundreds of more shares, and often a few backlinks.

But if you want to remove a bit of the luck from the equation, you’ll need to useStumbleupon’s paid advertising.

It’s very simple to get up and running.

Create a new campaign, then enter your URL.


You get to choose your targeting options, so you can be sure that your image will be shown to the right people.

I suggest using “precise targeting” so that you can drill down to a specific interest to target.


As you choose your options, you’ll get to see how specific your campaign is in the right sidebar. It will also give you a few interest suggestions:


The more specific you are, the more it will cost per view, but you’ll also get way better results (viewers will be most interested in your images).

Finally, you need to set your budget.

I recommend starting small at just a few dollars a day. If it starts to catch on, you can consider bumping up your spending a bit:


You get to choose how much you pay per stumble. The more you pay, the more priority you get.

If you’re budget per day is small, start on the low side, because you don’t really need priority. If not enough people are seeing the image, then bump it up.

When you go back to you dashboard later, you can see the performance of the ad. The “earned” views are the natural ones that came because the paid viewers stumbled and shared your image:


If your image takes off, you can get the cost per view down to under a cent.

If you’re not seeing results after a few hundred paid views, either try different targeting options, or end the campaign.

Step 3: Efficient outreach produces results

Email outreach is arguably the best method for connecting with other website owners.

It’s part of almost every white hat SEO technique there is, including building links with images.

While these emails don’t always drive much traffic (although sometimes do), they do have a fairly high chance of resulting in a link.

Start by emailing your sources: When you want to get on an influencer’s good side, what do you do?

You feature them in an article (or other piece of content).

Well, you can do the same thing here.

While citing studies is always a good thing, try to find sources of information or inspiration for you picture from other blogs and writers.

You’ll notice in my infographics that I cite SEO blogs and articles written by marketing writers quite often:


Then, I can email them with a short message like this:

Subject: Thanks for your research

Hi (Name),

I just wanted to quickly say thanks for your great bit of research on (topic). I’m referring to this post you wrote – (URL).

I actually created an infographic around (topic), and used some of your research (cited of course!).

Thought you might be interested in seeing it, could I send you the link?


(Your name)

Say you had a custom picture drawn instead of an infographic. You could email someone with a similar message, but say that you “drew inspiration from one of your drawings” instead to make a connection.

Then, find people that have linked to similar images in your niche: Next up, we’re going to target blog owners.

There are 2 main ways that you can do this.

The first is to simple Google phrases like:

  • “Top (niche) blogs”
  • “Best (niche) blogs”
  • “(niche) sites”

From the results, you should be able to compile at least 50-100 blogs. Either collect the contact information yourself or have a VA do it.

Then, you can send them an email asking if they’d want to see your image (since it’s relevant to their work).

This approach can work, but you have to realize that blog owners are constantly being asked to look at infographics and other images, so it has a limited effectiveness.

The better approach, in my opinion, is to find sites that like including images like yours on their site.

Find similar images using the methods we used all the way back in step 1 to find a topic. Copy down the URL of each image.

On Google Images, click the image of the camera to perform a reverse image search.


Then, enter an image URL in the pop-up:


And then click search. You’ll hopefully get a long list of pages that have the picture on them (or a similar one):


For each of those results, you want to examine the page and find the author:


The first result published the infographic on its own page.

Your next step is to find the author’s contact information. Sometimes it will be on the site somewhere, other times you may have to search their name on Google and find their personal site. (Here’s how to find anyone’s email address.)

Once you’ve done this for all your images, you should be able to send at least a few hundred emails to likely linkers.

It will be similar to the last one, with a few small changes:

Subject: An (image type) about (topic)

Hi (Name),

I love that you cover (topic) on such a regular basis.

I noticed that you’ve published a few (topic) (type of image) in the past on your blog, and that your audience seemed to have liked them (judging by social shares).

I actually created an infographic around (topic), which I thought that you might enjoy.

Would you mind if I sent you the link? If you’re interested in sharing it with your audience, I’d be happy to write a custom intro for you.


(Your name)

That last little twist will make it easier for someone to say yes. Instead of having to write an intro themselves, you’ll do it for them. (That tip courtesy of Backlinko.)

Step 4: Get bonus links from people using your images

If you do everything up until now right, you should get at least a few thousand views and a few dozen links.

There will be variance. Sometimes an image will go viral, other times it will have a limited spread. That’s why you need to be consistent.

This final step happens a bit down the road from your initial promotional work.

Many times, sites will use images, but not link to it, either because they didn’t know they should, or just forgot.

If you can find people that have used your image, but haven’t linked to you, you can send them an email and politely ask them to include your link. It should have a decent success rate.

First, get a list of all the images on your site: It’s a good idea to keep a list of all the image URLs of images that you create and publish here on out.

If you have been publishing some high quality pictures in the past that you know other people have probably used, go back and compile a list of these image’s URLs.

If you have a large site, it might be worth investing in Screaming Frog SEO Spider or hiring a VA to do it.

With Screaming Frog, open up the spider configuration and make sure only “check images” is ticked.


Then, enter your URL and click “start” in the top bar:


This will give you a report of all the image URLs on your site.

Second, find sites that used your images without linking to your site: Next up, we’re going to use Google Images’ reverse search again.

Enter in your first image URL into the tool:


You will again get a list of all the pages that have your image on it. Copy down these URLs into a spreadsheet for later.

Now, repeat the search for all of your images.

Alternatively, use Image Raider instead: There’s a tool called Image Raider that was created specifically to find out which sites use your photo.

In the basic tool, just paste in your image URL and click “Check URLs”:


It will give you a list of domains, plus a list of the pages that use the image:


In addition, if you create an account, you can have it automatically check for new pages using your images periodically. This is incredibly useful if you will be creating many images in the future.


Finally, ask them for the link: Once you have your list of URLs that use your images, you need to visit each of them and see if they already link to your site. If they do, remove them from your list.

You should be left with a more manageable list of URLs that do not give you credit for your image.

Find their contact information and send them a quick email like this (it can be a template):

Subject: Image on (site) article

Hi (Name),

I stumbled across (site) today. More specifically, this article – (Article URL).

I noticed that you actually use an image from my site, so I wanted to say thanks for including that!

I would really appreciate it if you could add a link back to my site so that your readers know where it came from.

If you could, that’d be great. Here’s the HTML code to save you some time:

Image courtesy of <a href=”http://site.com”>(Site name)</a>


(Your Name)

If they don’t get back to you, don’t sweat it. There’s a lot of scraper sites and unmaintained sites that there’s nothing you can do about.

However, if you use this tactic, you’ll score a few extra high quality links on a regular basis.


Just like content, images are going to be a part of web content for the foreseeable future.

Image link building is not easy, but if you follow the steps in this post, you can pick up some great backlinks that will improve your search rankings across your site.

Finally, remember that image link building takes practice.

Expect to create a few images before you get the hang of it and start seeing solid results – don’t give up too soon.

I know that some of you have tried image link building in the past. It’d be great if you could leave a comment below and share your experience.


The Complete Guide to Google Penalties (Both Manual and Algorithmic)


The Complete Guide to Google Penalties (Both Manual and Algorithmic)


It’s your worst nightmare…

You wake up one morning and check your analytics. But something’s wrong…where’s all your traffic?

Whether you like it or not, websites in most niches rely on Google for a large percentage of their traffic.

If you get hit by a penalty, 10%, 20%, or even more of your business can be wiped out overnight. That’s a pretty scary thought.

There are two types of penalties that can hit you: manual penalties and algorithmic penalties.

Algorithms get most of the attention because those types of penalties affect tens of thousands of sites all at once.

However, there are over 400,000 manual penalties that are applied every month, according to Matt Cutts—that’s a lot. 

To be fair, many of the sites that get penalized are legitimately awful sites that consist of nothing but content spam. However, hundreds of site owners are penalized every day who are trying to make the best site they can. It could even be you one day.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid a penalty in the past, you might think reports of penalties are exaggerated. In most cases, they’re not.

While not all penalties will have the same effect on your traffic, some can wipe out 90% or more of it in an instant.

And penalties don’t discriminate either—they affect both small and large sites.

After the Panda 4.0 update (more on that later), eBay’s traffic was hit hard:


But that’s far from the only example of a big site being penalized.

Recently, another large company named Thumbtack was penalized.

Thumbtack, in case you didn’t know, is a company that Google invested $100 million into, and they still got penalized.

That being said, there is a difference between penalties for small and large sites. If you’re a verylarge site, where a penalty will garner a lot of press, you may be able to get prioritized support in fixing the penalty.

Thumbtack was able to get their penalty lifted in less than a week. If you have a lesser-known site, it’ll typically take a few weeks or months (at least) to correct the penalty.

I didn’t tell you all this to make you terrified of getting hit by a penalty. I did it so you recognize that avoiding penalties is ideal for your business.

If you understand all the different common penalties that Google hands out on a regular basis, you can take simple steps to reduce your chances of being hit by one by 99%.

In this article, I’m going to go over all the main types of penalties you can be hit by:

  • Panda
  • Penguin
  • Mobile-Friendly
  • Top Heavy
  • Payday
  • Pirate
  • Unnatural Links
  • Spam
  • Thin Content

For each of the penalties, I’ll let you know if you have the type of website that is at risk of being hit and what steps you can take to minimize your chances of being penalized in the future.

If you’ve already been hit by one of these penalties, check out my step-by-step guide to fixing any Google penalty.

Panda – This penalty chews up weak content

The Panda algorithm might be the most well-known algorithm.

It was one of the first updates that specifically penalized websites. The first Panda algorithm was run in 2011 and decimated the traffic of a lot of low-quality websites.

In the three years following its release, Panda was run about once per month. Now that the algorithm is more established, it only seems to be run a few times per year.

While this might seem like a good thing at first, it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, with fewer updates, there are fewer opportunities to get penalized.

However, Panda is an algorithmic penalty. This means that if you get hit, once you fix the underlying issue(s) that caused the penalty, you have to wait for the algorithm to be run again to get your rankings back.

That means you could be waiting several months to get the penalty lifted.

And if you’re unsuccessful fixing the issues, you’ll have to try again and wait for another iteration of the algorithm.

The basics – What is Panda? The amazing thing about Panda is that even though it’s been run several times over the past four years or so, we still don’t have an exact definition of what types of sites it affects (although we have a good idea).

Google’s search team keep their algorithms as secret as possible. They don’t give much help to sites hit by algorithmic penalties, whereas they provide a lot of support for manual penalties.

As of now, we know that:

The purpose of the Panda algorithm update was and is to keep low-quality (“shallow”) content from showing up in search results.

Therefore, if you don’t have low-quality content on your site, you should be safe from the traffic-eating pandas.

Here is the problem, however. Low-quality can mean many different things.

Google provided a list of over 20 questions to help alleviate the worries of webmasters, but most of these are open to interpretation:


Two different people could be asked these questions regarding the same site and come to different conclusions. I don’t think they are very helpful.

Over time, the SEO community has come together to analyze websites that were hit by Panda and arrived to the following conclusions about pages that get penalized:

  • The content is poorly written (perhaps “spun” using software)
  • The content is very short (“shallow” content that is too brief to be valuable)
  • The content is mostly duplicate content (copied from another page)
  • The content adds no real value

It’s no surprise that content farms, like most web 2.0 sites, were hit the most. They were heavily used by SEOs to create backlinks to content, but those links were placed in terribly written, short articles for the most part.

How do Panda penalties work? Google often patents its algorithms, and it did so for Panda. It was granted its Panda patent in 2014. While you’re free to read it, it’s pretty boring, so let me sum it up for you:

Google creates a site-wide modification factor based on the quality of all the pieces of content on the site. If it falls below a certain threshold, the factor is applied to the site (lowering rankings ofall the pages on the site).

In plain English, this means that if a site has a certain amount of low quality content on it, the entire site will be penalized.

That’s why, when it comes to reports of Panda penalties, you usually see graphs like this one:


Panda penalties are rarely small—they decimate organic search traffic.

How do you know if you were hit by Panda? You don’t get any messages about algorithmic penalties. The only way to spot them is by observation.

If you get hit by a penalty that wipes out most of your traffic, chances are you’re not alone. Monitor SEO news sites such as Search Engine Land to get more information. If it’s a Panda update, it’ll likely get spotted quickly.

If you ever suspect you’ve been hit by a penalty, but it happened in the past, there are online tools that can help you.

One useful free tool is the Panguin Tool. Once you connect it to your Google Analytics account, it will overlay a graph of your traffic over timelines of past algorithms:


If you see that your traffic rapidly declined a few days before or after a major Panda update, you were likely penalized by it.

Remember that these algorithms are often run over long periods of time (weeks), so your traffic decline may not start on the exact day that the algorithm was reported.

Penguin – The bird that can’t fly but can detect your bad backlinks

Only in SEO would a panda and a penguin be so closely related.

Both have had a huge impact on the way SEOs approach their work.

While Panda focused mainly on on-page factors, Penguin was a huge step forward for identifying unnatural link profiles.

The first Penguin was released in 2012 and affected over 3% of all queries. Like Panda, it decimated the traffic of any site it penalized:


What Penguin looks for: Penguin was groundbreaking when it was first run and has become more sophisticated over time.

It looks for a variety of obvious unnatural backlink patterns.

Google will never release the full details of the algorithm (or not any time soon), but we do know that there are three main backlink factors that can be used to identify unnatural link patterns:

  1. Link quality – A site that has obtained all of its links naturally will have links of both low and high quality. Sites made by blackhat SEOs often have a ton of just low quality links oronly high authority links (like from a private blog network).
  2. Link velocity – Look at the backlink growth of any large site, and you will see that it gains links at an increased rate over time. Unnatural sites often get a lot of links in a short period, followed by a sudden decrease.
  3. Link diversity – Legitimate sites get links from all sources (contextual, blog comments, forums, etc.). However, bad SEOs often create a large portion of a site’s links from one source (like blog comments). In addition, links should have varied anchor text. Too many links with the same anchor text could trigger a Penguin penalty.

Complicated, right?

Penguin is one of the main reasons why most SEOs are “whitehat,” or at least “greyhat,” SEOs these days. If you want to manipulate Google, you’ll have to plan your link-building strategy very carefully to make sure that most of your links appear natural.

How Penguin penalizes sites: Penguin is not a site-wide penalty—it affects specific pages.

However, since it affects those pages that typically have the most backlinks pointing to them, you can still lose 80%+ of your traffic if those pages are responsible for most of your traffic.

If your site is flagged by Penguin, you’ll typically be penalized. In some rare cases, Penguin will discount the value of the unnatural links instead of penalizing you.

A tool such as Panguin (shown in the previous section) can confirm that your traffic drop was caused by a Penguin algorithm update.

If your traffic drop was relatively small, you were probably one of the lucky few who didn’t get penalized. The drop was most likely caused by those now-discounted links.

When you’re checking to see if you were hit by Penguin, you should know that it is an even bigger algorithm than Panda. It can take more than a few weeks to fully run.

Recovering from a Penguin penalty is possible but difficult. Not only will you have to try to fix the issue (which could be a number of different things), but you’ll also need to wait for the next algorithm refresh to see if it worked or not.

Mobilegeddon – Can Google force website owners into the future?

Google’s primary goal is to help users find the best content that satisfies their queries.

For the first decade of Internet search, most of the work done by Google was dedicated to finding and classifying content better.

But Google is pretty good at that now.

The biggest factor affecting the user experience (when someone is searching for something) is the content itself. In other words, website owners aren’t improving their websites and content fast enough to keep up.

In early 2015, Google announced that it would start trying to help mobile users find useful results on mobile-friendly websites.

This announcement caused a lot of stir in the SEO community. A mobile-friendly update was soon to come, and it sounded like it was something big.

Site owners scrambled to make their websites mobile-friendly—something that Google would be happy to see (better experience for mobile searchers).

The update finally came a few months later on April 20th.

Although it was called “Mobilegeddon” and “Mobilepocalypse,” it turned out to be much less significant than originally predicted.

There was definitely some movement in the search rankings, but only the worst mobile-offenders suffered traffic losses.


What does Google consider mobile-friendly? Mobile-friendly can mean many different things. This is probably why Google started by just demoting the worst offenders.

Right now, there’s no sliding scale. Your web pages are either friendly or not friendly.

You can see what Google thinks of your content by using the Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Enter a URL, click Analyze, and it will give you a green passing message or a red fail message.


It’s a good idea to check a few different pages such as your home page, a blog post, and any other pages with custom layouts or designs.

Another place to check if you have any major mobile issues is in Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console).

Navigate to “Search traffic > Mobile usability”, and you’ll see any errors that you should fix as soon as possible:


Finally, Google has also released a useful mobile SEO guide. In it, it explains the most common mobile errors such as blocking javascript or messing up your mobile redirects.

On top of those mistakes, here are a few more general mobile-friendly principles to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use software that most mobile devices can’t render, e.g, Flash.
  • Resize text to match the screen (i.e., responsive design)
  • Use text that is easily readable on a small screen (typically 16px or more)
  • Don’t put links right beside each other (hard to tap the right one)

Mobilegeddon in the future: Just because the first mobile-friendly update wasn’t huge doesn’t mean you shouldn’t concern yourself with making your website as mobile-friendly as possible.

Google will likely make changes to the algorithm in the future as it further develops its requirements for what is and isn’t mobile-friendly.

Keep in mind that even if you get hit by a mobile “penalty,” your traffic likely won’t be decimated. This update primarily boosts the rankings of the most mobile-friendly sites, so they’ll just push down your unfriendly pages in the results.

Top Heavy – Balance is the key to any impression

When a searcher clicks on a result in Google, they are looking for an answer to their query.

If they can’t find it, they get frustrated.

So, it makes sense that Google would like to minimize these frustrations by not sending users to sites that make it difficult for users to find what they’re looking for.

The “Top Heavy” algorithm was first run in January 2012.

As the name implies, it specifically targets top heavy sites.

The best explanation comes from Google itself:

“We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.

So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience.

Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.”

How the Top Heavy penalty works: This is a site-based penalty. That means that either all of your content is penalized or none of it is.

Google clarified this after an article on Search Engine Land pointed out that Google’s results themselves could be seen as “top heavy.”


Google responded by saying that only sites where most pages are “top heavy” will be penalized.

If it’s only a few pages, don’t worry about this algorithm.

The final thing you need to know about this algorithmic penalty is that it is run very infrequently.

It was first run in January of 2012, then October of 2012, and most recently in February of 2014. If you get hit with this penalty, you’ll have to be patient to get it removed.

Avoiding a Top Heavy penalty: Although it may seem unfair that the algorithm is only run about once a year, it’s fairly difficult to get hit by this penalty.

Here’s an example of a top heavy layout:


Unless you have multiple ads, all above the fold, you’re probably safe.

And really, these types of sites should be penalized. They’re extremely frustrating to the average searcher.

If your content is pushed below the fold, chances are your site visitors won’t bother trying to find it.

To avoid this penalty, just create a good user experience.

Payday – If you prey on hopeful readers, your Payday may be over

Anyone who has been in the Internet marketing industry for some time knows that shady industries can be very lucrative.

Most of the best blackhat SEOs compete against each other to rank for keywords in the gambling, loan, and supplement niches.

This algorithm—“Payday”—was appropriately named for some of the most lucrative, and therefore competitive, search engine results for Payday loans.

Combatting spammy results with the Payday algorithm: We’ve seen in the past few years how good Google is at catching blackhat SEOs.

It has repeatedly crushed large portions of their sites, mainly belonging to beginner and intermediate SEOs.

However, the best blackhat SEOs won’t go down easy.

There is a small group of SEOs who have the ability and will to manipulate Google. They are good enough to rank well in these high paying niches and make enough money to justify it before getting penalized.

The Payday algorithm was first run on June 11, 2013, and rolled out over a few months.

It specifically targeted queries containing keywords such as:

  • Payday loans
  • Casinos
  • Viagra
  • Garcinia cambogia
  • and more.


The second version of the algorithm was released on May 17th and 18th of 2014, and the 3.0 version was released soon after in June.

If you operate a site in any “spammy” niche, you need to be extra clean if you want to avoid being penalized. Otherwise, if you’re getting results with blackhat SEO, expect to be penalized eventually. If that happens, you’ll just have to move on to a new site.

If you have a legitimate site that was hit by this penalty (line up traffic drops with any of the algorithm dates), you can try to fix it. However, you’ll have to wait for the algorithm to be updated again for any positive changes to take effect.

Pirate – Outlaws be warned! The Google police are coming for you

Google almost always tries to show searchers the results they want.

However, Google has taken a strong stance on piracy.

Piracy, which is essentially stealing copyrighted content, is considered unethical by many and is illegal in some countries (although hard to enforce).

The “Pirate” algorithm was Google’s answer to the growing number of torrent sites (mainly used for pirating media and software) showing up in search results.

Based on the following graph of the traffic for some of the top torrent sites, I’d say it worked pretty well.


It didn’t knock them out of the search results altogether, but it reduced a large chunk of their traffic:


The reason why they still attract organic traffic is because not all their content is illegal material. In addition, this algorithm had no effect on branded searches.

Other sites that were purely made for pirating did lose most of their traffic. For example, free-tv-video-online.me lost 96% of its search visibility:


How the Pirate algorithm works: The main purpose of this algorithm wasn’t to eradicate torrent sites from the search results altogether, just for certain queries.

For example, if someone searched “Game of Thrones season 5 episode 6,” the searcher should not get torrent results. Before this update, torrent links to the episode would show up. But now, only reviews and legitimate ways to watch the show (HBO) are in the results:


The algorithm works based on copyright reports.

If a site has a lot of copyright violations, this algorithm will penalize it by lowering its rankings.

While new torrent sites can be made, they will be removed each time the algorithm is run if they have accumulated enough violations.

To get an idea of the scale on which copyright violations occur, consider this: Google receives requests to remove over 10 million URLs from search each week:


Not all of those are legitimate claims (Google always verifies first), but it’s still quite a bit.

If you want to avoid the Pirate penalty, it’s simple: don’t steal content (or I suppose don’t steal too much of it).

Unnatural links (manual) – Diversity is healthy

Manual penalties are a whole different beast when it comes to Google penalties.

They can be just as damaging to your traffic levels as algorithmic penalties are, but at least you’ll be able to see if you were hit by one.

As the name implies, manual penalties are given by Google employees and contractors who review your site against their quality guidelines and deem that you are violating one or more of them (most common ones are below):


One of the most influential ranking factors has been and still is backlinks. The more backlinks a page has, the better it ranks (in general).

Of course, SEOs started manipulating this as soon as they found out.

Manually reviewing backlink profiles of “unnatural links” is one of the ways Google combats this.

If the reviewer sees that a large portion of your links are paid links or part of a link scheme, you will be hit with this penalty.

Different forms of unnatural link penalties: Many different penalties include the phrase “unnatural links.” Some have more of an effect on your site than others.

If you log in to Webmaster Tools (Search Console), you can see whether you have any manual actions applied to your site:


The three most common actions are:

  1. “Unnatural links to your site—impacts links.” If you have unnatural links, but it doesn’t look like you had any part in creating them, you’ll get this manual action, which isn’t actually a penalty. The links will no longer factor into your rankings (so traffic might drop a bit), but there’s nothing you need to do to “recover.”
  2. “Unnatural links to your site.” If you just see this message, then you’ve been penalized. It means that the reviewer has concluded that you’re responsible for the shady links. Depending on the specific message, either specific pages will be penalized or your entire site could be.
  3. “Unnatural links from your site.” If you’re always linking to specific sites with exact anchor text (for a high volume keyword) or you have way too many links pointing out from your site, you could get hit with this. This penalty can affect either a portion or all of your site.

Fixing a manual penalty: While no penalty is good, manual penalties are better than algorithmic. Once you fix the issue, you can apply for reconsideration. If you truly fixed the problem, the manual action will be lifted.

Once again, you may need to refer to my step-by-step guide to fixing any Google penalty.

Spam (manual) – If you’re going to play around, at least do it carefully

While most SEOs believe that spam refers solely to blasting thousands of links to a site, it’s much more than that.

The term spam, at least when it comes to manual penalties, also includes things such as:

  • excessive or malicious cloaking
  • scraping content
  • automatically generated content
  • and more.

Just like in the case of unnatural links manual actions, there are many different spam-related messages that can show up as a result of a manual action. These are the most common:

  1. “Pure spam.” The majority of the site is clearly spam, or the backlinks to the site are all spammed. It’s next to impossible to recover from this manual action.
  2. “User-generated spam.” If you have a site that allows users to submit content, you could be penalized for it if they abuse it to create spam content or links. Most commonly, this penalty refers to spam in comments or forum posts/profiles. It can be fixed.
  3. “Spammy freehosts.” If you’re unlucky enough to have your site hosted by the same web host that provides service to a ton of spammers, your site might be lumped together with them. This is a good reason to stay away from very cheap or free hosting services.

Since these are manual penalties, they can be fixed. Recovery usually involves either cleaning up on-site spam or disavowing spammy links.

Thin content with no added value (manual) – No one likes hearing the same story over and over again

If Google doesn’t get you with Panda, it may get you with a manual review for having thin content.

Thin or duplicate content typically consists of information that can be found elsewhere, either on or off your site.

If a manual reviewer spots that most of your content is derived from other content, you can get hit with this penalty, and your traffic will take a tumble.

Here are the most common scenarios that represent “little or no added value”:

  • Automatically generated content
  • Thin affiliate pages
  • Content from other sources, e.g., scraped content or low-quality guest blog posts
  • Doorway pages

When you go to the Manual Actions section in Webmasters Tools (Search Console), you can see whether you’ve been hit by this penalty:


Pay close attention to whether it says that it’s a site-wide match or a partial match.

If it’s a site-wide match, that means the penalty applies to all your content until you fix it. If you just have a few pages of thin content, it’s possible that the penalty will only affect those. While you should still fix it, it won’t have a huge effect on your traffic.


Penalties are part of every SEO’s education.

Most are deserved, but some happen accidently. Understanding the root causes of penalties is the first step to preventing them from occurring and fixing them if you do get hit.

Once you have a good grasp on all the penalties, monitor Moz’s Google algorithm change log for any new ones so you can stay on top of them.

If you’ve discovered that you’ve been doing something that might get your website (or your client’s) penalized, stop it and correct it. Hopefully, you’ll catch it in time to avoid a penalty.

Advanced SEO: How To Easily Analyze Your Competitor’s Keywords

Just Found this

Written by Neil Patel on September 1, 2015, Shares his deep insights to concentrated research

Competition can be scary, especially when it comes to SEO.

When trying to rank for a keyword, you might be going up against a junior intern, or you might be going up against an experienced SEO company.

Typically you will be competing with other SEOs around your own skill level, although that’s not always the case.

The good news is that, if you take the time to do comprehensive keyword competition analysis, you’ll be able to identify keywords that haven’t been targeted by the most skilled SEOs in your niche.

While it will take you a lot of time up front, it will save you much more in the long run.

Assuming you’re producing high quality content, you’ll have a much easier time getting it seen and getting it ranking highly on Google and other search engines.

You will need exponentially fewer backlinks, which will save you either a ton of time or money.

In truth, there are only a small amount of low competition keywords in a niche at any given time (new keywords pop-up as others disappear), but that’s all you need.

Ranking for just a handful of low volume, but low competition keywords will get your organic search traffic started. Traffic has a tendency to grow exponentially.


As you build your authority and trust with visitors and search engines, you’ll be able to start ranking for more competitive terms down the line without any major new investment.

I’m going to show you a comprehensive method of analyzing keywords to target. None of it is too complicated, but it is a lot of work. Be prepared to put it in now and it will save you effort in the long-term. 

Why no competition analysis is perfect

Before we get going, there’s something important that you need to learn.

Keyword competition analysis is an estimate of the competition for a keyword, but it’s not a science.

Just because a keyword appears to be easy, or easier than another keyword to rank for, doesn’t mean it will be easy to rank for in all cases.

Yes, competition analysis is very useful. It will give you a good idea of what you’re up against and where your opportunities are.

However, remember that your results won’t always be accurate. There are 2 main reasons for this.

First, no one knows what Google is thinking: While we understand which ranking factors are most important for the most part, we can’t exactly quantify them.

Your competition analysis is a reflection of how you think Google ranks sites. But even teams of very smart analysts have been unable to recreate the Google ranking algorithm.

This means that our competition analysis methodology isn’t 100% accurate.

In addition, Google constantly changes their algorithm (about 500 times per year).

So even if you’re able to perfectly predict the competition level for a keyword today, it might be a bit off in a few weeks or month.

Secondly, there’s a tradeoff: When doing keyword analysis, you will always face a tradeoff between efficiency and accuracy.

The more ranking factors that you try to take into account, the more resources (time and money) you will need to do your competition analysis.

If you only take into 1 or 2 ranking factors into account, you can do competition analysis quickly, but it won’t be too accurate. As you add more ranking factors into the equation, you start to get more accurate results, but it takes more time.

It’s up to you to decide on a good balance between efficiency and accuracy for your situation.

The most important SEO factors to consider

The main strategy behind keyword competition analysis is to look at how the top rankings fare when it comes to the most important SEO factors.

For example, one of the factors we will look at is the number of backlinks. If a page has 0 backlinks, it’s likely to be easier to beat than a page with 100 or 1,000 links.

When we do this for several factors, we are able to see if a keyword is “low competition” or “high competition.” Then, you can decide whether or not to target that keyword.

Our first step is to decide on which factors to consider in our competition analysis.

To do that, let’s turn to SearchMetrics 100 page report of the most important ranking factors.

This report’s data consists of over 100,000 different search engine result pages (SERPs). The team looked at different potential ranking factors to see if top ranked sites tended to score higher (in regards to these factors) than low ranking sites.

Below is an image excerpt of the factors with the highest correlations, which means that top sites tended to have the most of these factors:


One key thing to remember is that correlation does not equal causation.

What this means is that just because top ranked sites had a lot of Facebook likes and engagement, doesn’t mean that Facebook likes and engagement causes you to rank highly.

In fact, in that specific case, it’s more likely that it doesn’t. Sites that rank highly get more traffic, which likely leads to the boost in social sharing.

In addition, sites that have large social followings are usually large sites that already have a lot of domain authority, so they naturally rank higher.

Are any of those correlations useful?

Yes, because some are legitimately caused by the factor helping sites to rank better.

It’s our job, as SEOs, to test each factor individually and figure out which ones do and don’t help.

For years, we’ve known that backlinks help. However, Google has come out and stated that social signals do not affect rank in the past. Some case studies have seen temporary ranking increases from social signals, but it’s not a factor I would suggest focusing your attention on at this time.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to look at the most important factors that are known to help pages rank. If you’d like to add more on top later in your own analysis, then you’re welcome to.

Factor #1 – Backlinks: When a site links to another site, it counts as a “vote” for the site being linked to. That’s nothing new. We know that backlinks are a key ranking factor, and they need to be part of any analysis.

However, we need to look at them on a few different levels, which is where it can get a bit tricky for beginners.

First, we need to consider that backlinks are important on both a page level (links to the exact page), and a domain level (total amount of links to all pages on the domain).

Second, we need to consider that not all links are created equally. Links can have different value based on which page they are located on.

To analyze backlinks, you need a backlink database tool. For a serious analysis, you’re going to need a paid plan to one of the best tools. I recommend Ahrefs or Majestic. They are by far the 2 most comprehensive backlink database tools.

When you want to analyze a specific page (from a SERP), you’ll simply plug it into the textbox on one of these tools.

As an example, let’s say that you saw my beginner’s guide to online marketing in a search result, and decided you wanted to see how hard it would be to outrank it.

Typing the URL into Majestic reveals that there are 232 domains that link to that specific page, and over 4,600 total backlinks from those domains.


That’s quite a bit for any single page.

In addition, you also need to check how strong the domain is in general. By switching the dropdown beside the URL, or changing the URL to the root domain, you can see all the links to Quick Sprout:


Just about 16,000 referring domains, and well over 1 million backlinks.

So that’s how you look at quantity, but how do you look at quality?

One high quality link is worth hundreds or thousands of low quality links, so it’s important to not just go by numbers.

You could examine the quality of each link individually. A high quality link is:

  • on a page that has a lot of links to it itself
  • relatively high up on the page
  • found naturally in the page’s text (surrounded by appropriate description)
  • is on a relevant page
  • is on a page without too many links (link power is divided by number of links)

In other words, quite a bit goes into it.

It would be impossible to evaluate this for every single link.

Luckily, link database tools have a pretty good solution for us. They algorithmically try to determine the quality of each link. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

On Ahrefs, every page and domain get a score:

  • URL rating: A score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to that specific URL, on a scale from 0-100.
  • Domain rating: A score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to anywhere on the domain, also on a scale from 0-100.

Majestic is slightly different. It uses 2 metrics:

  • Trust flow: A score purely based on the quality of links to the page you enter.
  • Citation flow: A score based on the quantity of links to the page you enter.

In general, citation flow will be a bit higher than trust flow, but if it’s more than about 1.5 times higher, it’s likely that the page has a lot of low quality links.

Instead of manually checking the quality of every link to a page, we’ll be using these metrics (or similar) for a quick check.

Factor #2 – Relevance: When it comes to search results, relevance is the most important factor. When someone searches for “yellow tables”, they will be disappointed unless they find a page about yellow tables.

A long time ago, relevance was mainly determined by having the exact keyword in the domain, title, and body of the page.

However, Google is now great at picking up synonyms, along with user intent.

So now, if a searcher types in “yellow tables”, Google knows that they probably want results where they can buy a table, not a fluff article about what a yellow table is. That’s user intent.

In addition, Google would also include synonyms for either yellow or table in the results. So you might see results for “golden tables” or “yellow stands.”

This is a factor that you will have to assess manually. I have not come across a reliable wide-source automated tool for this.

We can look at basic keyword density, but it’s very difficult to understand user intent and include the right synonyms without manually looking at a page.

Let’s walk through a quick example.

Pretend you were searching for:

“content promotional tactics”


Google will bold synonyms in meta descriptions and URLs. In this case, we see that Google knows that “content promotion strategies” means essentially the same thing as what we searched.

If we’re assessing the top few results for relevance, our main question is: “how well does this satisfy someone who searches for the keyword?”

If the answer is, “not very much”, you can probably outrank it.

So here’s the second result from that search:


This page has “50 promotional tactics”.

And while that’s fairly comprehensive, I feel that the quality could be improved. The picture above is of the first 2 tactics, which aren’t really promotional tactics at all.

They are also not very data-driven and there’s no clear cut examples or walkthroughs, which the visitor would probably appreciate.

Overall, it is relevant, but I think it could be improved on significantly.

If you come across a keyword where the first 3 results are basically perfect answers for the query, don’t bother trying to outrank them, it’s going to be very difficult. However, that’s also a rare situation.

Factor #3 – User satisfaction: This is related to relevance, but there are a few differences in how we will evaluate it.

It also needs to be done manually, but we can look at a few different factors to determine how much users typically like the page.

Since we can’t see things like bounce rate and time on page, we need to rely on public information.

First, we can start with how many social shares it has. A page that everyone loves will have a decent amount of social shares. So if we see a page with few shares (in niches where people aren’t embarrassed to share), we know that it’s probably not fully satisfying searchers.

On most sites, you can see the share count displayed somewhere prominent:


But if you can’t find the share count, use a share count tally tool.

Just type in the URL when prompted and submit it:


It will pull up the number of shares from the most popular networks:


The second place that we’re going to look is the comment section (if there is one).

If people are saying things like:

  • “Amazing post!”
  • “This changed my life”
  • “This is the best post on (topic) I’ve ever read”

Then they’re likely satisfied. On the other hand, if there are a lot of complaints or suggestions, most visitors probably left the page unsatisfied and went back to the search results.

Look for both the number of comments, and what’s in the comments themselves.


Factor #4 – Do you consider all your visitors?: Google has made it clear lately that it wants you to optimize your website for your visitors.

With the recent mobile-friendly update, and preference given to fast loading sites in search results, it’s clear that Google wants mobile friendly and fast pages in their results.

If the top results are not mobile-friendly and load slowly, it’s an indicator that Google has to rank a page that it doesn’t really want to. Unfortunately, there are no other pages of the same content quality, but that are faster and responsive. You could fix that.

This is another manual check, so you won’t need to do it for every search result. But it can be used as a final check before you make a decision to target or not target a keyword.

First, check if the page is mobile friendly by using Google’s own mobile-friendly test:


Put in the URL of the page and click analyze. It’s a simple pass and fail test.

Next, check site speed using a site speed tool like Gtmetrix. Paste in the URL and click “analyze.”


After a quick scan, you’ll get a performance report for the site. Pay special attention to the “Page Details” box:


In this case, the page isn’t slow, but it’s not fast either.

In general, a fast loading page loads in under 2 seconds and only has a few dozen requests. If you see a page that takes 4+ seconds to load, there’s a real opportunity to beat it.

Tools to help you do this faster

By now you might realize that it would be next to impossible to do a large scale keyword competition analysis without the help of some automation, which is where tools come in.

There are hundreds of tools out there to do this specific job, some better than others.

Most of them work similarly, so I’ll walk through a few so that you can understand how to use them, and how they work.

Tool #1 – Term Explorer: This tool can be used to find keywords, but also to analyze their competition, which is what I’ll focus on.

Your first option, once you create an account, is to run a bulk keyword job:


You enter one or more keywords, and it will give you a list of results anywhere from 1,000 to 90,000, depending on your account type and choice.


Once you run the job, you will get keyword results along with search volume data. You can easily filter the results according to keywords or search volume.


If you find a few keywords that you like (or many), you can check the box beside them, and then click the blue button at the top to send them to the keyword analyzer:


Alternatively, you can enter in keywords from other sources into the keyword analyzer directly.

You will get a similar report this time, but you will see an overall “difficulty” score from 1 to 10. This is based off the 3 categories to the right: relevancy, link strength, and trust.


A higher difficulty means that it’s more difficult to rank for the term. With this particular tool, a score under 3.5 or so is “easy”, while 3.5-5.0 is “normal”, and above that is difficult.

Tool #2 – KWfinder: This is another tool similar to Term Explorer. To generate keyword ideas, enter a seed keyword into the only box on the page:


It will quickly generate a list of keywords (I believe based on Google’s Keyword Planner).

You’ll also note that each keyword will have an “SEO” score beside it:


The scores range from 0-100 and are color coded (green is easy, red is hard). If a score isn’t showed by default, you will need to click the magnifying glass.

In addition, you can get a more detailed look at the competition behind any of the keywords.

If you click a keyword, the search results for that keyword will pop-up on the right. It shows data from Majestic (trust flow, citation flow), and shows you an SEO score for each search result.


The average score is the one you initially saw.

This is important because average scores can be skewed by one or two results. If there are some very low scored pages at the bottom of the first page (maybe they’re temporary), they could make the keyword look much easier than it really is.

Tool #3 – Moz Keyword Difficulty tool: A third tool for keyword competition analysis that you can use comes from Moz.

It’s one of the many tools that comes with a Moz Pro subscription.

Type in any keywords you’d like to analyze into the tool’s main text box.


It will bring up a quick report that shows you the keyword difficulty as a percent (maximum 100).

To get more detail, you can click the “view” button under the basic SERP report column:


The bottom section shows the same information as the top section, just in a bit more detail.

Note that the page authority and domain authority here come from Moz’s Open Site Explorer, which isn’t as reliable or complete as the other link databases we’ve looked at.

Tool #4 – Ahrefs Toolbar: This tool isn’t an automated competition checker. However, it can be used to quickly assess the strength of an actual SERP.

When you search for a term in Google, the toolbar will load a small bar under each result:


It shows link information from the Ahrefs database on a page and domain level. In particular, you can look at the URL rank (“UR”) and the domain rank (“DR”).

Step #1: Gather your keywords

Now that you have a good idea of what competition analysis consists of, and some of the tools that you can use to simplify the process, I want to walk you through, step-by-step, of how to actually do it.

Before you analyze the competition of keywords, you’ll need to gather a rather large list of them. It’s more efficient to do competition analysis in bulk.

Keyword research is an important skill by itself, and it’s something that you should spend some time learning before doing competition analysis. Here are some guides that will help fill in any gaps in your knowledge:

Try not to take the easy way out when you’re doing keyword research.

If you just plug in a popular keyword like “content marketing,” you’re going to get the exact same keyword list of thousands of SEOs before you.

Using some of the creative methods in those guides above, you can find “hidden” keywords that fewer people are targeting.

When less people are targeting a set of keywords, you’re more likely to find some low competition keywords ripe for the picking.

Step #2: Start filtering out keywords

Once you have a large list of keywords, it’s time to start assessing the competition of them.

Unless you have an experience eye (and even then it’s difficult), you’re not going to be able to reliably pick out low competition keywords without a thorough assessment.

This means you have 2 options:

  • a manual assessment: You could manually review all of your keywords. However, unless you have a few weeks of free time, this isn’t really feasible.
  • an automated/manual hybrid assessment (recommended): You can use tools to get started and find the highest competition keywords. Take these out of the results and then manually review the more promising keywords.

I would hope you’d pick the second option.

Run your keywords through a tool I showed you above (or similar tool) so that you can get an estimate of the competition:


It’s important to remember that this is just a quick estimate. There are many ways that the results can be skewed.

If you’re creating a ton of content, you might be able to just target all the lowest marked keywords, and then see which pages are ranking the easiest. However, most people need to be more selective.

You can typically check the box beside a keyword and save the selected ones to a private list. If not, save the most promising ones manually to a spreadsheet.

The idea here is to take out any keywords that are obviously going to be too difficult to target.

Step #3: Dig in deeper

By the end of that process, you should have a much smaller list of keywords. I recommend aiming for between 10 and 20% of what you initially started with.

Give the list a quick look over and take out any keywords that don’t make sense for your site.

Once you have a final list, the hard work begins.

Your tools have told you that every query you are left with is relatively easy to rank for based on the most common metrics, which is usually a combination of domain and trust authority.

Now, you get to see how easy they are to rank for from a user’s perspective.

For each keyword, search it in Google, but you need to make sure it isn’t personalized.

Go to “http://Google.com/ncr”, which is the global Google search (the “ncr” prevents redirection to your local Google). Make sure you’re in a private (or incognito) browser and you aren’t logged in to any Google account.


You can choose how many results to look at. I recommend starting with the top 3, and if you’re not sure if the keyword is low enough competition, continue with the next 5 to 7.

For each of the results for each keyword, you want to evaluate the following things:

  • how many (and what quality) backlinks point to the page
  • how many (and what quality) backlinks point to the domain
  • if I was a user who searched this keyword, would I be fully satisfied with this result?
  • does it load quickly?
  • is it mobile friendly?

You can also add in any other Google ranking factors to your analysis as you’d like, but it will take you more time.

Step #4: Make a decision

After you analyze each keyword, you have to decide if it’s worth going after or not.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic metric or tool that will help you this.

To make this decision, you need to first consider many factors:

  1. How strong is your domain? (How many links point to it, what’s its domain authority?)
  2. How easily can you get backlinks? (Do you have experience in SEO? Do you have a network of contacts to ask for links from?)
  3. What level of content can you produce? (Do you have the skills or financial situation to create the best content?)

At some point, the authority, trust, and relevance of the page you create for a particular keyword, needs to exceed all other results that you have examined.

The stronger your domain, the easier it is to rank.

The easier you can get quality backlinks, the easier it is to rank.

The bigger the budget you have for content, the easier it is to produce something that no one else can match. Not only does this make it easier to rank short term, it also makes it easier to stay there.

Based on these factors, you have to determine if a keyword is worth going after during your manual review.


Keyword competition analysis is not a science.

While you can get some information from a tool, you’re also going to have to apply some SEO expertise of your own to find low competition keywords.

This is going to take some practice and time. The good news is that you’ll save that time, and so much more, if you pick your keywords carefully.

The easier the keywords that you target are to rank for, the more consistent your results will be.

  1. Neil,Great job! I think there is no point reinventing the wheel. The best way to get more leads is to spy on your competitor. Afterall, it is said that if you want to travel to a place you have not been to before, the best thing to do is to ask those who are have gone there. Great job and very in-depth and apt for me,typical of Neil Patel.

I-Want-to-Buy Moments: How Mobile Has Reshaped the Purchase Journey


Written byAllison Mooney , Brad Johnsmeyer

Published in May 2015

For today’s constantly connected consumers, shopping never sleeps. Whether making an everyday purchase or researching a big-ticket item, we reflexively turn to mobile. These I-want-to-buy moments are important for consumers, and they’re critical for brands. Are you winning these micro-moments?

Written by
Allison Mooney , Brad Johnsmeyer
Published in
May 2015
Giana was in her local drugstore, trying to understand why two brands of the same type of treatment differed in price by $15. (The more expensive option coming in a smaller tube, no less.) “I thought there had to be a difference,” she recalls. So she pulled out her smartphone and searched for product reviews, right there in the store aisle. She ended up going with the higher-rated, yet higher-priced product. Looking back, Giana realizes that had she not had her smartphone, she probably would have bought the cheaper one.

Erica was at the airport, killing time before a flight, when she searched for a mortgage calculator. She wanted to figure out whether she and her husband could really afford a new home. That first smartphone search led to many more in stolen moments throughout her day as she researched the purchase step by step. “Being able to do it in the moment makes it more fun and less daunting,” says Erica. “I can space it out throughout my day.”

For today’s constantly connected consumers, shopping never sleeps. Whether we need to make an everyday purchase or research a big-ticket item, we reflexively turn to our devices. This happens in hundreds of micro-moments throughout the day when we’re making purchase decisions. (What’s the best choice? Can I afford to buy this? Is it worth it?) These I-want-to-buy moments are important moments for consumers, and they’re critical for brands. They’re opportunities to connect, especially on mobile: 93% of people who use a mobile device for research go on to make a purchase.1

Read more about Giana’s and Erica’s stories in our forthcoming micro-moments research.

Mobile: The new shopping assistant

Related Story

I Want-to-Do Moments: From Home to Beauty

We don’t go to a store without our wallets; many of us say the same thing about our smartphones. In stores, 82% of smartphone users turn to their devices to help them make a product decision.2 What they find online can influence their decisions right down to the very last minute before a purchase. After reading something on a smartphone, nearly one in four shoppers has changed his or her mind about buying something while in the checkout line.3

Some marketers might see this as a threat and wring their hands about “showrooming,” because they are concerned that consumers will end up buying products elsewhere. But savvy brands see it differently. “We think one of the biggest opportunities that we have in retail is for our customers to leverage their phones as a shopping assistant when they’re standing in the store,” says Sephora’s vice president of interactive media, Bridget Dolan. To assist shoppers in these moments, Sephora designed its app to pull up product ratings and reviews when an item is scanned. “Having access to this information is that perfect new moment for customers to find everything they’re looking for and get advice from Sephora.”

Dolan and her team also realized that people were searching for products on mobile before heading to a physical store. To reach shoppers in these critical moments, Sephora began using local inventory ads to let customers know when particular products, such as lipstick, eyeliner, or perfume, would be available at a nearby store. This helped drive shoppers into stores, and they often bought more once they arrived. “A client that really knows exactly what she’s buying—all the reviews and all her options—is actually a happier client and will come back and shop with you more often,” says Dolan.

From product review to purchase

When searching in the moment, we often rely on reviews. In one study, more than half of millennials surveyed said they check product reviews on their phones while shopping in a store4—and YouTube has become a top source for reviews.

Related Story

New Research Shows How Digital Connects Shoppers to Local Stores

There are more than 1 million YouTube channels with product reviews where creators, brands, and experts share their opinions about a range of products, from consumer electronics to cars.5 These reviews take many forms. For example, “first impression” videos feature creators, such as Lauren Curtis, opening a product and giving their immediate take. In “haul” videos, shoppers show off their new purchases (usually clothes and beauty products) on camera. And in“sneaker pickup” videos, sneakerheads share stories of scoring a prized pair of kicks. The audience is bigger than ever; views of product review videos have grown 50% year over year.6

These I-want-to-buy moments are important moments for consumers, and they’re critical for brands.

As I-want-to-buy moments are increasingly also becoming I-want-to-watch moments, brands are amping up their mobile video strategies by creating a range of helpful content. “We’re in a world today where people are on 24/7. They have more choices when it comes to what they look at and when they look at it,” says Alison Lewis, CMO at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies. Last year, the company’s CLEAN & CLEAR brand created more than 100 videos for its YouTube channel, many of which are answers to specific product questions. “It’s the content that consumers are already coming to you for,” saysKacey Dreby, group brand director at CLEAN & CLEAR®. And when people watch these videos, they’re further down in the marketing funnel and closer to the point of purchase, Dreby points out. Indeed, we see that after watching a YouTube video, people actively search for products. Across more than 800 campaigns studied, 65% of campaigns see a significant lift in brand interest after viewers watch their TrueView ad on YouTube.7

Growing Genres of Product Reviews on YouTube

Source: View count growth, Google Data, April 2015 vs. April 2014, U.S., classification was based on public data such as headlines, tags, etc., and may not account for every type of review video available on YouTube.

Big decisions on small screens

I-want-to-buy moments aren’t just important for low-consideration purchases. As we saw with Erica, they also happen when we’re making big decisions such as investing in a new home, booking a vacation, or buying a car. In the auto category, for example, searches on mobile are growing 51% YoY.8 “Today’s path to purchase is more dynamic than ever before,” says Dionne Colvin-Lovely, director of emerging and traditional media at Toyota. “Car shoppers leverage mobile at the beginning and middle of their purchase process and continue to research and shop online while at the dealership.”

This constant access to information means that immediacy and relevance are now table stakes for brands. “Mobile’s rapid evolution is changing the expectations of today’s car buyer,” says Colvin-Lovely. “We want to make it easy for our customers to discover the information they are seeking about Toyota as they search, read, and watch auto-related content. To do so, we leveraged a variety of mobile tactics—from high-impact sponsorships and takeovers to dynamic, hyper-targeted, location triggered placements—to ensure Toyota remains top of mind during these key moments,” she says.

Search Interest in “Reviews” and “Test Drives” in the Auto Category on YouTube

Source: Google Trends, United States, 2008–present.

How to win I-want-to-buy moments

Whether they’re in a parking lot, in a grocery store, or waiting patiently at the airport, shoppers are using smartphones to help them decide what to buy. Here are five ways brands can win these micro-moments:

1. Identify your consumers’ I-want-to-buy moments. Talk to them—in stores, through surveys, in focus groups and forums—to figure out when and how they’re researching and making purchase decisions.

2. Be there in these moments of need. Create a comprehensive strategy that works holistically across channels such as search, video, social, and display. Keep in mind that consumers may be at home, in store, or somewhere in between.

3. Deliver relevant messaging. Simply being there in these moments isn’t enough. Look at how people are searching—the questions they ask, the terms they use—and create ads and content that provide helpful answers.

4. Make it easy for them to make a purchase. The step from research to purchase should be a simple and seamless one. Give the consumer multiple ways to buy—whether that means driving them to your e-commerce site from a YouTube video or from a local inventory ad to a nearby store.

5. Measure every moment that matters. It’s no longer enough to simply measure the online conversion. With mobile, the path to purchase is now fragmented. As a result, advertisers need to measure results online, across devices, in apps, and even in stores.

1 Google/Nielsen, “Mobile Path to Purchase” study, November 2013, United States.
2 Google/Ipsos, “Consumers in the Micro-Moment” study, March 2015, United States.
3 Google Consumer Surveys, April 2015, United States, n=1130.
4 Google Consumer Surveys, April 2015, United States, n=365.
5 Google Data, April 2015, global.
6 Google Data, April 2014 vs. April 2015, United States.
7 Google Data 2015, United States, brand interest measured via search volume/activity on Google.com.
8 Google Data, Q1 2014 vs. Q1 2015, United States.

Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps


Written byJames Tiongson

Published inMay 2015

People download apps every day, but the truth is that many of them are abandoned or never even used. New Google and Ipsos research uncovers how people discover and engage with apps—and what brands can do about it.

Written by
James Tiongson
Published in
May 2015

Before you enjoy that cup of coffee each morning, chances are you’ve already turned to a mobile app to start your day. Whether it’s finding your way to a meeting, logging your fitness routine, or even adding the cost of that latte to your weekly budget, one thing is clear:

Apps are now an integral part of our daily micro-moments, with people spending an average of 30 hours per month in them, according to Nielsen1. Apps play a key role in those I-want-to-know, I-want-to-go, I-want-to-do, I-want-to-buy moments.

They’re also a powerful way for brands to build deeper relationships with their customers. A mobile app marketing strategy can complement a brand’s offline experience (in-store special offers, for example), drive e-commerce, or simply help connect a brand with its loyal customers. Together with mobile websites, they’ve become important to both consumers and marketers.

So how can brands best tap into these vast app-consuming audiences? To find out how consumers are using apps, we conducted research with Ipsos MediaCT. Surveying 8,470 people with smartphones who had used apps in the previous week, we uncovered new insights about what drives consumers to install and engage with mobile apps. For example, one in four installed apps is never used, according to our research. So, what causes people to abandon an app?

Here we’ll dig deeper into these insights so that you can develop an effective mobile app-marketing strategy. Two integral points in that strategy are boosting awareness of your app and keeping your app audience engaged.

#1: App discovery doesn’t just happen in the app store

Marketers may assume that consumers head to an app store to find new apps—and a good portion do. In fact, 40% of smartphone users browse for apps in app stores. They remain a popular way to find new apps, from the latest in gaming to fitness tracking, music streaming, and much more. App stores are not the only way to discover apps, though.

People are finding out about apps in all kinds of instances while using their smartphones—when they’re engaged in an app, searching for another specific app, watching a YouTube video, or even surfing a mobile website. Search is a major source for app discovery, according to our research: One in four app users discovers an app through search. Say, for example, a business traveler has to fly to Miami on short notice and needs to find a place to stay. He heads to Google Search to look for “hotels in Miami” and finds an app that lists available local hotel rooms and short-term rentals. Because he’s a frequent traveler, he decides to download the app to help him book his stay.

Discovery through a search engine is especially prevalent for local apps, as are the tech (looking for reviews of new gadgets, for example) and travel (such as wanting to confirm trip details) categories. In these three categories, people are 26% (local), 59% (tech), and 30% (travel) more likely than the average to use search to find the apps they seek.

Source: Google/Ipsos, Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps (U.S.), May 2015.

Take action: Make your app discoverable everywhere,including search

People not only turn to search to find new apps; they actually download apps because of search ads. They’re among the most effective ad formats for driving app downloads: Of those who downloaded an app based on an ad viewed on their smartphone, 50% said they were prompted to do so by a search ad. This shift in how consumers find and learn about new apps paves the way for marketers to rethink their brand’s approach to app discovery. And there’s good reason to tap into search to help boost app awareness. Search ads don’t just raise app visibility; they also drive app downloads—by being there at the exact moment when a consumer is actively looking for apps.

For marketers, this means making sure your app stands out wherever smartphone users are looking to discover apps relevant to their interests. And with Statista2 reporting that over 3 million mobile apps are currently available for download, that factor is more important than ever in today’s flooded app market.

Ad Types Influencing App Downloads

Source: Google/Ipsos, Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps (U.S.), May 2015.

How do you get your app noticed? You can increase visibility by focusing your app promotion on a consumer experience designed for downloads, using mobile app install campaigns, for example. This way, your brand is able to reach broader audiences while looking for an app similar to yours. In addition to search, extending your campaign across ad formats that drive app installations, including display and video, can help people discover your apps anywhere.

HotelsCombined, for example, introduced Google Search and AdMob to its mobile app marketing strategy in 2014. Downloads of its app, which compares hotel prices across hundreds of sites and apps for destinations all over the world, increased 150% from July to August, and there was a 20% lower cost per acquisition than on any other network. By implementing Google’s search and display app promotion campaigns, HotelsCombined helped people discover its app on a global scale.

#2: App engagement and reengagement is key, as app users tend to lose interest

People turn to apps to ease their daily grind. And they’re more likely to use them if they serve a specific purpose. Our research revealed that two in three will use an app frequently when it simplifies their lives. For example, you can use a retail app, such as that of Walgreens’, to look for deals—sale items and coupons—while you’re shopping in-store. Apps can be quite helpful during a customer’s purchase journey. In fact, one in two app users turns to them to find information about a business or product or even to make a purchase.

The flip side is that apps can also be abandoned immediately after that transaction. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said they’re likely to download an app when it’s required to complete a purchase. Once they’ve completed that purchase, however, half will uninstall that just-downloaded app and move on.

So, what was it about an app that attracted users in the first place? How can brands ensure that their apps are used not just once but again and again? The answer is simple: Prove the value and utility of your app.

Brands can avoid getting lost in the app fog if they provide clear value. For example, Sephora enhanced its in-store shopping experience with an app that lets shoppers scan all products for additional information. The brand also offers in-store pickup of items purchased online. Sephora is sending a clear message that it understands what its customers want during every micro-moment of their purchase journey.

Take action: Make your app’s value clear

App users need an incentive to reengage with an app they’ve abandoned. And there are ways to draw app users back to your brand. Thirty percent of those surveyed in our research say they’d start using an app again if they were offered a discount toward a purchase, and nearly a quarter of app users would return if they received exclusive or bonus content. This is particularly true for the travel and retail categories: Those surveyed said they would use a travel (40%) or retail (47%) app again if they received a discount or coupon offer.

Reengagement Drivers for App Use

Source: Google/Ipsos, Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps (U.S.), May 2015.

Mobile app engagement ads can help remind users about your app’s value and get them back to your app. Let’s say someone is about to participate in a marathon and needs a pair of running shoes so she searches for “women’s running shoes.” As it turns out, she already has a shopping app installed on her smartphone that she used to find a lightweight running jacket last summer. The same app could reach out to her through a mobile app engagement ad (across search and display), reminding her of its presence and alerting her to a discount on running shoes.

Another way to help people find what they’re looking for is by addingdeep links to your ads. This way, the mobile app engagement ad links to the most relevant parts of your app. Take that shopping app we just mentioned, for example. A deep link could bring that marathoner directly to listings inside the app for running shoes for women.

Ultimately, by engaging your audience at the right time with content that’s relevant to them, brands can keep their connection to app users alive.

Deep Links Within Mobile App Engagement Search Ads

Reengaging today’s app users

Given the sheer number of apps available in the market, it’s more challenging than ever to gain an app user’s attention. That’s why your app needs to stand out from the crowd—both in and outside of an app store—so people can find it and use it, again and again. To make sure your app makes the cut, it’s important to show that it has clear value for your users, well past the initial app download. These findings from our research can help your brand develop mobile app marketing strategies that will be successful not only in attracting but also in keeping an audience—bringing tremendous value to your business.

See the “Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps” study conducted by Google and Ipsos MediaCT for more information.

Google partnered with Ipsos MediaCT on custom research to uncover insights about mobile app user behavior, including app discovery, acquisition, usage, and abandonment. On September 12-22, 2014, an online survey was conducted of 8,470 smartphone users ages 18–64 who had used smartphone apps in the seven days prior to the survey as well as apps from various categories (entertainment, finance, gaming, local, retail, social, tech, or travel) in the previous 30 days.

1. Nielsen, “Smartphones: So Many Apps, So Much Time,” July 2014.
2. Statista, “Number of apps available in leading app stores,” July 2014.

Google Algorithm Change History


Each year, Google changes its search algorithm around 500–600 times. While most of these changes are minor, Google occasionally rolls out a “major” algorithmic update (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affects search results in significant ways.

For search marketers, knowing the dates of these Google updates can help explain changes in rankings and organic website traffic and ultimately improve search engine optimization. Below, we’ve listed the major algorithmic changes that have had the biggest impact on search.

Why Do Sites Rank High on Google When They Aren’t Optimized?

Just Found This

by NEIL PATEL on APRIL 29, 2015

why rankings

Have you ever wondered why some sites rank high on Google when they aren’t optimized for search engines? Or even worse, when they barely have any backlinks?

I’ve been asked this question a lot over the last few months, so I thought I would write a blog post explaining why that happens.

Here’s why some sites rank high when they aren’t optimized: 

Reason #1: Click-through rate

Part of Google’s algorithm looks at a click-through rate. It calculates it as a percentage, reflecting the number of clicks you receive from the total number of people searching for that particular phrase you rank for.

The higher the percentage, the more appealing your listing is compared to the competition. And if your click-through rate is higher than everyone else’s, Google will slowly start moving you up the search engine results page as this algorithm factor tells it that searchers prefer your listing.

Looking at the click-through rate isn’t enough, however, as people could create deceptive title tags and meta descriptions to increase their results. So Google also looks at your bounce rate.

It assesses the number of people who leave your page by hitting the back button to return to the search listing page. If Google sends 1,000 people to one of your web pages and each of those 1,000 people hit the back button within a few seconds, it tells Google your web page isn’t relevant.

A lot of the websites that are ranking well on Google that don’t seem to be optimized have a high click-through rate and a low bounce rate. And that helps maintain their rankings.

For example, if you look at this guide, you’ll see it ranks really high for the term “online marketing,” and the ranking very rarely fluctuates as my click-through rate according to Webmaster Tools is 31%.

Here’s another example. This post ranks well for “best times to post on social media.” It would be hard to outrank this listing as my click-through rate is currently 52%.

ctr ranking

If you want to see your click-through rates, log into Webmaster Tools, and click on your site profile. If you don’t have a site profile, that means you need to add your site to Webmaster Tools and wait a few days.

Once you are viewing your site in Webmaster Tools, click on the navigational option “search traffic,” and then click on “search queries.”

If you need help increasing your click-through rates, read this post as I walk you through the steps you need to take.

Reason #2: Age

One of the big factors that cause some sites to rank well is their age. Most of the sites that rank high are at least a few years old.

Sure, most of these older sites have more backlinks and content as they have been around for longer, but not all of them.

What I’ve noticed is that if you take a brand new website, build tons of relevant links, and add high quality content, you still won’t get as much search traffic as older sites will.

There is not much you can do here other than just give it time. The older your site gets, the more search traffic you will generally receive, assuming you are continually trying to improve upon it.

Reason #3: Backlinks

Google doesn’t just look at the sheer number of backlinks a site has—it also looks at relevancy and authority.

Many of these non-optimized sites that are ranking well have a few high quality backlinks pointing to the right internal pages. For example, if you have only few links—but they come from .edu and .gov extensions—your site will rank extremely well.

In addition to having the right backlinks, those sites also have a spot-on anchor text for these links. Most SEOs think you need rich anchor text links to rank well, but the reality is you don’t.

Google is able to look at the web page that is linking to you and analyze the text around the link as well as the text on the page. It helps Google determine if the link is relevant to your site and what you should potentially rank for.

Reason #4: Cross-linking

Even if you don’t have the best on-page SEO and a ton of backlinks, you can rank well from an overall site perspective if you cross-link your pages.

And it’s important not just from a navigational or breadcrumb perspective, but from an in-content perspective. If you can add in-content links throughout your site and cross-link your pages, you’ll find that they all will increase in rankings.

On the flip side, if you aren’t cross-linking your pages within your content, you’ll find that some of your web pages will rank extremely well, while others won’t. It’s because you are not distributing link juice and authority throughout your whole site.

Reason #5: Content quality

Since its Panda update, Google has been able to determine content quality of websites. For example, it can determine whether a site is too thin or has duplicate content, allowing for a much better analysis of content quality than before.

A lot of these well-ranking older sites have extremely high quality content. You may not think so, but Google does.


Because Google doesn’t just look at the content on a site… It looks at the content on one website and compares it to others within that space. So if you have higher quality content than all of your competitors, you are much more likely to outrank them in the long run.

Reason #6: Competition

The beautiful part about ranking for certain keywords is that they are low in competition. And some of these low competitive terms don’t get searched often.

From what I’ve seen, the results pages for these low competition key phrases aren’t updated by Google as often as some of the more competitive terms are. Why? Because more people are viewing the competitive terms.

If you were Google, wouldn’t you focus your resources on ensuring that popular terms and results pages are updated more frequently than phrases that aren’t searched for very often?

Reason #7: Growth rate

What should you do if you want to rank really high for a keyword? Build a ton of relevant backlinks and write a lot of high quality content,right?

Although that’s true, what happens is a lot of webmasters grow their link count a bit too fast…so fast that it seems unnatural. And chances are it is.

Google is smart enough to know this as it has data on a lot of sites within your space. For this reason, you see a lot of older sites ranking well as they are growing at a “natural” pace versus one that seems manufactured.


There are a lot of reasons why sites that don’t seem well-optimized rank well. The seven I listed above are the main reasons I’ve seen over the years.

So the next time you are trying to figure out why a certain site ranks well when it shouldn’t, chances are it’s because of one or more reasons on the list.

As a website owner, you shouldn’t focus too much on your competition; instead, you should focus on improving your website. In the long run, the company with the best product or service tends to win.