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SEO Warfare Part 2: Counteracting Competitor’s Ranking Strategies

June 28th, 2007 by shawn · 5 Comments

Now, as promised, I want to talk more about finding out what your competitors are possibly doing to outrank you and how to counteract their SEO efforts. This is a continuation of the first post, Tactics of SEO Warfare for Web Businesses.

We want to employ a very simple strategy, namely the following:

  1. Discover the factors that influence your competition’s ranking
  2. Compare this to your own site (after analyzing the same factors for your site)
  3. Replicate (as much as possible) the things your competitor has done and is doing
  4. Do more than what your competition has done and is doing

Okay, these are simple steps in a much larger and much more involved process. By much more involved, I mean “Not possible to achieve overnight.”

What’s He Doing?

The most important thing to us is “What has caused him to become so highly ranked?”that is the question we need to answer. We can’t do anything to change his “onsite SEO”. But, while we can’t change his offsite SEO efforts, we can trounce those efforts by outdoing him. So right now you want to find out how many incoming links he has and the quality of those incoming links. (And depending on what denomination of SEO religion you are, you may care to examine the relevancy of the links.)

Whatever you believe or have read, it’s pretty well accepted that backlinks are the main determining factor in ranking. (There are other things that influence the rank of a page as well, but some of this is based on speculation or things we can’t control. For instance: does the current amount of traffic going to a particular site influence the way Google sees the site and ranks it? Like if a site is dugg to the front page?)

“How do I check this”, you ask? There are lotsa ways. Here’s one – http://minnesotainteractive.com/seo-analysis/

What Am I Doing?

So now that you see what you are competing against, find out what you’re dealing with on your end. Do the same research on your site and find out your backlink situation. If you have less backlinks (which is likely the case), then your first course of action is obvious: get more links.

What Can I Duplicate?

Now that you know where you stand and where your competition stands, you should have an idea of the amount of links to your site you’re gonna need. This gives you an idea of how many backlinks you need to get pointing to your site in order to close the gap. This is the thing you have to take care of first but we’re gonna go further than just getting a bunch more backlinks.

What Can I Do Better?

The other thing to pay attention to is your site’s optimization. Make sure you are doing everything you can do on-site to affect the search engine spiders’ view of your site.

What do I mean? I mean the little things that all add up: make sure you have everything you can have keyworded, keyworded – for one thing. On all your images put alt tags, on all your links, put title tags. Make sure your titles are keyworded, and make sure your URLs are “search-engine friendly”.

Do you have enough content? Perhaps your competitor simply has a better site with more words on it. That’s another major thing the search engines care about – words words words words words. Relevant words. Keywords. How many times the words occur. If the words are in bold. If the words are bulleted. If there’s an occurance of a word within an H1 tag. If the keyword is italicized. So, try to mix it up and not only have more content relevant to your subject, but have a variety of the above factors covered.

When I do landing pages, I try to have the major keywords in a short synopsis of the page in the description meta tag. I of course place the keywords in the keywords meta tag. I place the keyword first in the title, and within the visible text I try to work in the keyword(s) in an H1 tag, and at least once in bold, italics, and a bullet point. If you write enough content, you can make that happen and still have a readable page. (Or, just play a lot of tricks with CSS. Trust me you should read Designing With Web Standards by Zeldman and do some web tutorials on CSS – it’s invaluable.)

One trick you can do with CSS is hiding content. Call it shadow content or maybe call it cloaked content. Whatever you call it, it’s spiderfood that your human readers can’t see. Why would one do this? Besides just to show your friends how smart you are, it’s so you can stuff a page full of highly-targeted keyword-rich text for the search engines to find, yet only display very human-friendly text to people. The way (one way) it is done is with CSS and the use of the something like:

.dontlook {display:none;}

But be careful! Matt Cutts has been quoted as saying “We can flag text that appears to be hidden using CSS at Google. To date we have not algorithmically removed sites for doing that.” So the question is, will they unindex sites at some point in the future for doing this?

Another variation is defining a class so as to put the text -500 pixels off the screen. You think Google can’t easily find that?? I bet that one’s easy to detect.

So let’s think about something else. What if we could leave the text on the screen and not do anything obvious like setting the display to “none”. What if, instead, we could simply bring everything humans are supposed to see “forward”? If you’re familiar with Photoshop, this would be analogous to “layers” – the bottom layer is invisible unless you choose to bring it “forward”. We can do that with CSS and no doubt Google will have a much harder time detecting anything fishy. We can:
.invisible {
top: 50px;
left: 50px;
.visible {
top: 50px;
left: 50px;
z-index: 5;

Oh yeah! So within that “visible” block, put yourself a graphic. Within the “invisible” block, put whatever keyworded text you want. (Just don’t do anything obvious like labeling the classes “visible” and “invisible”! :)

Okay this is enough for now. And I still haven’t talked about how to actually get more backlinks, so we will have to continue this in Part 3.

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    Comment by Robb
    2007-06-28 17:58:36

    Wow, talk about black hat! I’ve known about this type of technique for some time, but have always been afraid to try for fear of getting Google’s wrath (akin to whack-a-mole). I’d love to hear some stories of people doing this effectively and not getting penalised, because I’m more than a little bit skeptical.

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    2007-06-28 21:04:57

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    2007-06-28 21:06:21

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    Comment by Layouts
    2007-06-28 21:26:41

    Very comprensive, great job…thanks for posting this

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-29 23:35:23

    Thanks – there’s way more to come, so stay tuned. Same bat channel.

    I ended up veering off course though and this is gonna be a much longer series I think – so while I originally planned like 3 posts, there’s just too much I need to include in order to do justice to the subject.


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