I learned most of my SEO (and nearly all of my link-building) by looking thoroughly at what websites were on top for competitive keywords. When you analyze what websites do at the top, you learn more than the perfunctory ritual of the general practice. We read business books on how Apple innovates products and how Amazon manages vastly diverse teams. We emulate workout routines from idolized athletes and Olympic gold medalists. This should be no different for websites that set the standard in the eyes of Google here in 2021.
In this article, you’re going to learn with complete transparency how to analyze what gets websites to the top and keeps them there. Of course, it isn’t good enough to simply replicate most of the strategies and techniques that you’ll learn. You have to meet these qualities and then surpass them, and I’ll walk you through exactly how to do just that.
Our SEO Strategy for Beating the Competition
Our goal is to first look at what is required to compete with those at the top, and then the few extra steps to beat them. This is specifically for organic results, and often applies to many of the high-volume, high-competition short-tailed keywords. But with proper implementation and follow through, this will carry on to your local SEO/Google My Business, long-tailed keywords, and have long-term benefits across the board.
P.S. I tend to preface all of my work with data and analysis, so if this becomes TL;DR quickly, I’d advise you go straight to the videos provided below to learn how to uncover your competition’s strategies right away. Scroll down to the first video to pass the data that shows the correlative data supporting the ranking components we evaluate.
What SEO Strategies Do My Competitors Have that I Don’t?
Those that win typically have three major components working for them – a strong content marketing strategy, a highly authoritative website built by strong backlinks, and on-page optimization of their website that complies very closely with what Google is looking for. In some less competitive markets, you may be able to get away with having 2 out of 3 of these going for you, but in major markets across the country, it’ll be very unlikely if you don’t have these all secured continuously.
Before we proceed, we need to confirm that these factors correlate strongly enough to delegate their progress and development with predictable advantages to keyword positioning. We need to ensure that it isn’t authority alone, for example, that creates the correlation in keyword rankings (which can be the case, but we won’t see this rampant in legal marketing).
To ensure we can use positioning of quality search terms as an indicator of having content, authority, and on-page done well on the website, I used a handful of objectively competitive keywords in different practice areas:
- San Diego family lawyer
- San Jose DUI lawyer
- Nashville personal injury lawyer
- Memphis car accident lawyer
- Kansas City criminal lawyer
We will exclude instances of legal directories (SuperLawyers, Justia) and business directories (Upcity, Expertise), as their inclusion in search results is much more ambiguous and easier to peg to Google’s effort in providing diversity in search results.
Comparing the Search Results of the Top-Performing Sites
When we compare the highest positioned towards the top of the 1st page with who is towards the bottom of Page 1, the gaps in authority and content can almost be negligible – we may have to look at more specific items like sitespeed (Core Web Vitals) and website errors. But the difference between the first page and second page is much more apparent. With these searches alone, the averages are much more significant.
In these initial findings are that the average website listing on the first page is 74% more authoritative according to the SEMRush Authority Metric Tool, and on average have 154% more content than listings on the second page. Though this is a small sample size, I believe it would be a common theme among most studies of this nature.
This theme can be summed up relatively quickly in the following video as well.
Now that we have an initial correlation, let’s dive into discovering what is working for the websites on top.
A simple tool like https://wordcounter.net/website-word-count can easily count the words of a page quickly and can be used for on-page SEO below in the form of the main keywords being calculated for density. Many SEOs believe there is a specific quantitative nature to keyword density, and from my preliminary analysis before, it was very common to see keywords being utilized between 1.5%-3% of the time on high-ranking pages.
Consistency of Content
When you get to hyper competitive markets, “content is king” is not the phrase you’ll be living by to win, but it’ll be a contributing factor. You’ll want to know how much content competition is putting out in the form of blogging, but also pages, articles, FAQs, geo-specific content, and others. Even for yourself, it helps to keep that in check for content expectations, which leads to sitemaps. You’ll see in the video above that most law firm websites with strong rankings (and a strong presence in multiple markets) tend to have a well-developed content plan that spans across pages, blogs, or both.
Generally, these are an easy protocol to find on the website (and not just the “Sitemap” page found in the footer). With a few simple steps, you’ll be able to calculate the monthly/weekly scope of your content strategy along with your competition’s. By simply typing in a website URL, and then appending either “sitemap.xml”, “sitemap.html”, or “sitemap_index.html”, you’ll have a map to the extent of a website’s content plan (ex: example.com/sitemap.xml). If you don’t have luck there, you can always do a direct Google search constructed as follows: site:example.com.
Each SEO tool has their own metrics, which aren’t totally fabricated out of thin air but also aren’t the end all be all for predicting authority. These are useful though, relative to what your competition is getting from their current authority score. For example, if your top competition has an Authority Score of 40 according to SEMRush, you would build links with a goal of 40 and beyond in mind. This would be the same scenario for any SEO tool.
After securing the handful of backlink portfolios from respectable websites (keep in mind that you’re not just trying to get the same links, you’re attempting to get links your competition doesn’t have), you can map out which ones you can get the quickest. Some will be simple, like accessible legal directories and citations. Some will be completely inaccessible, such as domain redirects from domains they own and websites that linked in the past, but no longer link out to anyone. Fortunately, you can build your authority from the millions of websites that exist, so look for opportunities across dozens of websites in other competitive markets (or even competitive industries) instead of getting hung up on the links of several competitors.
Accessibility Vs. Non-Accessibility
To elaborate on the point above, you’ll find that links are either inaccessible because of time, money, or ability. Outreach linkbuilding is difficult for an individual law firm, and you shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars on one link. Be mindful of the link portfolio you plan on making over time.
Basics of Meta Info and Keyword Density
You can read about “best practices” for on-page on a thousand different websites, but you’ll know what’s working by simply looking at the competitor websites that rank well. You’ll often see a few things in common: the meta title is correct, the keywords placed throughout the content makes sense, and the use of H-tags is set up properly. It’s difficult to systematically compare you website pages to other pages from an on-page standpoint, so watch the video above to see how much an SEO tool can come in handy.
Proper On-Page Practices (Headers, Internal/External Linking)
These are among the items that start to assist pages from breaking out from the bottom of page one to the top, so once you’re situated on the first page for your keywords, you can start to explore how to set yourself over the last few humps with great on-page (and likely a few more quality backlinks to boot).
How Can We Take Each Component to the Next Level?
Vying for top 3 positions for competitive keywords, and eventually the #1 spot, is almost a daily battle. Once everyone has fought relentlessly for continual backlinks, have increased the word counts of their landing pages by 10,000+ words, and have maxed out the scores of every automated SEO tool in existence, all that are left are micro-adjustments to push you just enough in the lead. From each component of SEO, this is what that last stretch can look like:
- Higher engagement, reducing bounce rates, and using advanced content mediums like infographics, statistics, charts, videos, audio, and more to keep visitors on the site longer
- Creating extensive FAQs and linking to important pages
- Implementing recent Structured Data
- PR Link Building to acquire social signals and backlinks that competition can’t replicate
- Creating additional informative assets offsite that can link back to your website, such as an
external blog(just joking, no), a podcast, a forum, a niche website (but not a microsite that competes with your website.
- Conducting panels and webinars, or getting involved with something philanthropic that isn’t a scholarship.
- Assistance from a Tool such as the one included in the video above
- Getting your website up to speed with Core Web Vitals and a pristine mobile user experience
- Get better at your external and internal linking strategy
Trust the Experts at Market My Market to Give You an Edge
At Market My Market, we aim to help your website outperform your competitors’ sites so you can dominate your niche. We offer multiple SEO packages that can help ensure that your site gains traction, is visible at the top of search results, and ultimately gets conversions. To learn how Market My Market can help catapult your website to the top of search engine results pages, contact us for a free consultation by completing our contact form.