Why Match And Exceed Is More Important In SEO Than Ever Before

SEO has gotten a lot harder in the last 2 years. Let’s face it – it used to be easy. You put up a site, you made sure your target keywords were in your titles, descriptions and content, then you built loads of links (wherever you could) and shot up the search rankings. The quality of your website didn’t matter too much and neither did the quality of your backlinks. This all changed last year, with the advent of the Google Panda update, and again in April of this year, when Google’s latest big webspam update, Google Penguin – was first run. In this article I’m going to discuss an SEO strategy which I currently use to rank our websites, and our client websites – “match and exceed”.

Now, more so than ever before, Google is penalising people for actively trying to over-optimise their websites using techniques such as keyword stuffing and link spam. The key to being successful in modern SEO is for your website to look natural. To fit in with the crowd. Of course – the best way to look natural, is to be natural. Unfortunately, this is often difficult for many new websites – people won’t link to your content if they can’t find it – after all. The second best option is therefore to try your hardest to emulate natural.

Match and exceed is all about looking to see what your competitors are doing, matching them – and then subsequently exceeding what they have done. Whilst SEO tools like those offered by SEOmoz, serpIQ and Raven Tools have a purpose, in my experience people think too much about the % optimisation score these tools give them. Do you not think your website being 100% optimised for a particular keyword may look suspicious to Google? Is a website that’s built with usability in mind first, really going to be so well optimised for SEO also? People often go too far with these metrics, and in doing so risk getting penalised by updates.

The secret to optimisation is to see what is working for your particular target keywords. Do a search, now, for a keyword you are trying to target. What do the pages on the front page all have in common? Do they have long, 2000+ word content? Do they have short, 400-500 word content? Are they sales pages, or informational? Do they have lots of images on the pages? Are they using sub-headings? Do they use their target keyword in the sub headings? You want to get as close to what these websites on the front page are like from an “onsite” optimisation point of view, whilst adding something unique. I’m not saying to copy a website’s structure or content – but to observe exactly what is working for those sites, and try to replicate it. If they don’t use the target keyword in their headings, you shouldn’t – if their pages are full of pictures, yours should be. It’s become evident that Google is treating different searches differently – so what works for one keyword, will not necessarily work for another.

Once you have done an analysis of the pages themselves which are ranking, you want to have a look at the links they have. The more tools you have, the better. Personally I put most faith in MajesticSEO for finding backlinks, but ahrefs often also picks up a few additional links that I have missed. Look at websites where they have links, and try to think of creative ways you can get a link there too. That may be as simple as submitting to the directory or asking the website owner if you can write a guest post. Pay attention to their anchor text profile, also – try to get close to it.

Once you’re starting to move up the rankings (which you should be – providing you are doing the above) you need to work to exceed these competitors. That doesn’t mean to start over-optimising your pages, or to build twice as many links, but to go slowly and run tests. Make a change to your page title, wait for several weeks and see if it has any impact on your rankings – slowly build links from sources your competitors do not currently have links on, but make sure not to diverge too much from their anchor text profiles. If your rankings improve, then leave the change – if they get worse, change it back. (Beware of temporary blips though, which are often explained by transition rank, or the “Google Dance” – more on that here. It can often take about a month for rankings to stabilise, even after minor changes. So don’t make a change back if your rankings drop after a day, or week, for example.)

So, in summary, remember that Google has to show its cards every day, in the form of the front page search results for your keyword. By emulating those pages and optimising in a similar fashion, rather than blindly trying to achieve a maximum optimisation score, you do not stand out from the crowd. This reduces the chances of you being hit by a future Google update, and should lead to longevity in search engine results.

This post is a guest post written by William Steward, Managing Director at Iconsive, a digital marketing agency based in the United Kingdom. They specialise in search engine optimisation, pay per click, conversion rate optimisation and reputation management.

Filed in: Google, SEO
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