Not Many Backlinks, But Great On Ranking - Huh?


Yourname

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Hey guys,

So I'm new here and this isn't particularly Local SEO focused so I'm posting here. Hope I'm not in the wrong place and within guidelines.

There's this competitor who just started in February, and without many backlinks (comparatively) they're able to show up in rank 4-5 (behind ofcourse, the directories that seem to be taking over Google but that's another thread). The domain was registered in mid 2014. Moreover, their on-page isn't anything special either.

However, others like us for the same keyword and higher DA, and been around longer (older domains, and SEO work) are in the low positions or on the second page. On-Page is on point too.

In your experience, what could it possibly be? An auditor once told me "maybe they're hiding their backlinks so your ahrefs/semrush can't see it". So I'm wondering about that and also wondering what I'm missing.

Any thoughts?
 

Colan Nielsen

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Welcome to the Forum! If you can provide the website in question you will get some specific advice. Otherwise it's really like shooting in the dark.
 
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Like Colan said, it's hard to say much without looking at either domain. That said, a few things jumped out.

First, 'hiding your backlink profile from ahref/semrush can't see it' sounds like some voodoo hand waving an 'auditor' might use to hide the fact that they don't know a better answer. In theory it might be possible to 'hide' your backlink profile. For example, if you control the page that links to your site (if you're trying to use a PBN for example) you could set the robot.txt file to stop those bots from seeing the page, but in practice, no one but a black hat SEO is going to even try to swim in those waters. Ahref's, open site explorer, and any other backlink checking tool is going to be an incomplete list though, so there's always going to be holes in what they see. For the most part, those holes aren't going to be from any 'hiding' tricks the site owner is using.

Next, the number of backlinks is massively less important than the quality of the backlinks. You can have 10,000 mediocre backlinks and get beaten out by a site with a single indexed backlink, provided that backlink is from a high enough, relevant enough authority site.

Last piece, none of this is a science. Use your tools to get what intel you can, but your spot in the SERPs is what tells you if you're winning or not. If you're still on page two, assuming your on page and such is in order, then you're still neck deep in a backlink campaign. Time to keep working. Could be time too to re-evaluate how you're building backlinks... if you're using any kind of an automated system, you're still in 2012 and need to change tracks. The best links are going to double as a source of new customers and revenue all on their own, so 'building backlinks' itself isn't a purely SEO task anymore in my view.
 

Yourname

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Hi guys,

Sorry for the delay.
Just wondering if giving the website entails getting calls from the specialists? :) There was another forum that I provided some info on and next thing you know I got loaded with commercial queries! haha

Want to make sure I'm not crossing any such guidelines, and also not opening myself up for "lead generation" :D
 
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Haha, I can see that happening on some forums. I can't speak for the lurkers on this forum, but none of the real experts here will call you unannounced. I help dozens of businesses a month with my volunteering time, and I know some of the others here help even more. If I tried calling every single one 'to make a sale', that'd be a lot of calling. I'm not a big fan of being on the phone with people who aren't excited to talk to me.

Feel free to post your information if you want me or someone else to take a closer look, but you certainly don't need to. I don't know if you'll get any unasked for calls if you do, but this forum's a pretty safe place. I'd be surprised if you got more than one or two.
 

Yourname

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Haha, I can see that happening on some forums. I can't speak for the lurkers on this forum, but none of the real experts here will call you unannounced. I help dozens of businesses a month with my volunteering time, and I know some of the others here help even more. If I tried calling every single one 'to make a sale', that'd be a lot of calling. I'm not a big fan of being on the phone with people who aren't excited to talk to me.

Feel free to post your information if you want me or someone else to take a closer look, but you certainly don't need to. I don't know if you'll get any unasked for calls if you do, but this forum's a pretty safe place. I'd be surprised if you got more than one or two.
That's kind of you James!
I'll private message you. Either way, it's a competitor we're talking about to see how he's climbing up...
 

Yourname

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FYI, to the thread, there's been nothing but submissions to article directories and press releases (from what's visible)
 

JoshuaMackens

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First, 'hiding your backlink profile from ahref/semrush can't see it' sounds like some voodoo hand waving an 'auditor' might use to hide the fact that they don't know a better answer. In theory it might be possible to 'hide' your backlink profile. For example, if you control the page that links to your site (if you're trying to use a PBN for example) you could set the robot.txt file to stop those bots from seeing the page, but in practice, no one but a black hat SEO is going to even try to swim in those waters. Ahref's, open site explorer, and any other backlink checking tool is going to be an incomplete list though, so there's always going to be holes in what they see. For the most part, those holes aren't going to be from any 'hiding' tricks the site owner is using.
Just a heads up to people on PBN's, hiding a PBN is pretty common these days. They've even come out with plugins that do all of that for the PBN owner instantly. They block the .htaccess because robots.txt leaves a "footprint". I mean, they really have it down to a science now, it's pretty crazy. And they don't have to build their own PBN. There's tons of people ready to rent theirs out or even build one for you. It's gotten very sophisticated.

I say all that to say it's not out of the realm of possibility and the only way you could find the links would be through using "link:domain.com" in Google but Google has pretty much done away with that these days. Or if someone else knows how to find these links, I'd love to know so I can check competitors I suspect of using them.

As to the thread, if they have terrible on-site it's a pretty big giveaway they're probably not using a PBN. If they don't know how do to basic on-site SEO I doubt they know how to operate a PBN or even find a place to get involved with one. I guess you never really know though.
 

Yourname

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Just a heads up to people on PBN's, hiding a PBN is pretty common these days. They've even come out with plugins that do all of that for the PBN owner instantly. They block the .htaccess because robots.txt leaves a "footprint". I mean, they really have it down to a science now, it's pretty crazy. And they don't have to build their own PBN. There's tons of people ready to rent theirs out or even build one for you. It's gotten very sophisticated.

I say all that to say it's not out of the realm of possibility and the only way you could find the links would be through using "link:domain.com" in Google but Google has pretty much done away with that these days. Or if someone else knows how to find these links, I'd love to know so I can check competitors I suspect of using them.

As to the thread, if they have terrible on-site it's a pretty big giveaway they're probably not using a PBN. If they don't know how do to basic on-site SEO I doubt they know how to operate a PBN or even find a place to get involved with one. I guess you never really know though.
Thanks for the clarity Joshua!
And yes, the on-page isn't bad at all. It's just troubling because when you see a relatively new domain (not aged) showing up right behind the directories in a short amount of time. For highly competitive keywords - I mean how does Google expect us to fight these blackhats?
 
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What industry are we talking about here? Not sure if that was brought up. We can speculate whether this competitor is using a PBN, but it's also possible they've gained some links that haven't been picked up by tools like majestic and aHrefs. How do their title and description tags look? It's also possible they're getting a higher CTR which could improve their chances of moving up. Are they a well known company with a strong brand presence - social media, good review reputation, etc...

Point is, it's really hard to give any real advice or insight without knowing the domain. Everything at this stage is pure speculation, and unfortunately has the possibility to lead you in the wrong direction without knowing more details.
 

Yourname

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What industry are we talking about here? Not sure if that was brought up. We can speculate whether this competitor is using a PBN, but it's also possible they've gained some links that haven't been picked up by tools like majestic and aHrefs. How do their title and description tags look? It's also possible they're getting a higher CTR which could improve their chances of moving up. Are they a well known company with a strong brand presence - social media, good review reputation, etc...

Point is, it's really hard to give any real advice or insight without knowing the domain. Everything at this stage is pure speculation, and unfortunately has the possibility to lead you in the wrong direction without knowing more details.
Honestly, it has none of that. They have a reasonable on-page game, titles are keyword stuffed, desc is also keyword stuffed to the point of broken english that doesn't even make sense.

No social, no review, no wikipedia - you can think anything of anything at all oh and it's in the drug addiction help niche - and it doesn't have it, lol

Only thing I haven't really looked into is the internal links (going to look into that today).

But yeah - this is the reason why I posted here. It fails on everything except on-page. Has some press-release action going on too.
 

JoyHawkins

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I'd love to offer advice, but like James I can't really do that without knowing who you're talking about and what industry and what keyword.
 

JoyHawkins

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Sorry it took me so long to reply. I took a look at their site and the backlinks they have (I used ahrefs) and most of them were profiles on random sites and press releases/articles with exact-match anchor text. The huge majority of their backlinks had keywords as anchor text (not the domain name or business name which is more "natural")

I don't see much they are doing that I'd recommend repeating.
 

Yourname

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Sorry it took me so long to reply. I took a look at their site and the backlinks they have (I used ahrefs) and most of them were profiles on random sites and press releases/articles with exact-match anchor text. The huge majority of their backlinks had keywords as anchor text (not the domain name or business name which is more "natural")

I don't see much they are doing that I'd recommend repeating.
Hi Joy,

Thanks much!
Yeah you're right - that's what the other gurus have said as well. And I thought the same thing, other than using techniques that aren't recommended today - they don't seem to be doing anything else.

But it's still disconcerting that Google is setting them up to win and the only others on the first serp are those annoying directories.

Thank to you and everyone else again!
 

JoshuaMackens

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Hi Joy,

Thanks much!
Yeah you're right - that's what the other gurus have said as well. And I thought the same thing, other than using techniques that aren't recommended today - they don't seem to be doing anything else.

But it's still disconcerting that Google is setting them up to win and the only others on the first serp are those annoying directories.

Thank to you and everyone else again!
They're definitely doing something. We just can't tell what.
 

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