16. March, 2021

Why Is My Competitor Ranking Higher? 11 Strategic Insights For SMBs

Author avatar
Martin Petrov
Marketing @ Morningscore.io

As a business owner, you understand how important it is to stand out from your competition. But if it takes you a little while to find your page when searching in Google, where your competitors came up right away, how is a regular user supposed to find you when searching. To help with that, we’re looking at answering why your competitors rank higher than you in Google search.

Your competitor ranks higher in Google because they invest in SEO. Implementing an SEO strategy improves a combination of factors that determine where their website ranks. Good SEO practices lead both end-users and Google to see your competitor’s website as more relevant and authoritative.

The saying “You don’t become an astronaut by accident” applies to its full extent here as well. Nowadays, ranking high up on Google doesn’t happen by chance, and it’s only the result of deliberate actions. In the past, website owners used questionable practices to get there. However, by becoming more advanced, Google is able to surface only the best pages that genuinely help users.

That being said, let’s now explore what specific factors can sway your competitors’ rankings in both directions. Under that, we’ve also listed a table of how strong of an impact these factors have.

What Specific Factors Help Your Competitors Rank Higher?

By now, you might be thinking, “Google works in mysterious ways.” And you might be right in this case. However, it’s relatively straightforward for those with experience in SEO to see why the search results are ordered the way they are. While Google does have hundreds of factors that determine where a page should rank, there’s a subset containing the most important ones at which your competitors likely excel.

The most important factors that help your competitors rank higher than you in Google are:

  • They Have An Older Site And A Stronger Brand
  • They Earn More Relevant And Authoritative Links
  • They Write Better And More In-Depth Content
  • They Meet Users’ Needs With Relevant Content
  • They Feature Known And Respected Authors
  • They Produce More Relevant Content Overall
  • They Write More Engaging Titles & Descriptions
  • Their Website Is Secured With HTTPS
  • They Have A Faster Website That Users Prefer
  • They Have A Mobile-Friendly Website
  • They Provide A Better User Experience Overall

Now let’s look at what role each of these factors plays in how your and your competitors’ websites rank.

1. They Have An Older Site And A Stronger Brand

Consider that your competitors could have potentially been in business for a very long time. Depending on how their company has grown, this might have allowed them to build a strong brand that people recognize.

Strong brands help websites rank higher in Google search because people are naturally inclined to click on their results. Having been in business for a decade allows the company to quickly get traffic for some keywords where the competition might be otherwise investing thousands in ranking at the very top.

Naturally, having been in business for so long increases the odds that they have a well-aged website. Google loves those because it’s a good indicator of how long a company has existed. Since Google’s priority is to offer the user the most helpful content available, they consider the age of the website to be a factor determining the trustworthiness of the content this website provides.

2. They Earn More Relevant And Authoritative Links

It’s no secret that having other relevant and authoritative websites link to your site is a factor that Google considers when ranking websites. To illustrate better how this works, suppose that Google is running the front desk of a library containing tons of information. When a curious reader shows up and asks it a question, how would Google determine which book to refer them to?

Naturally, they will look for some signals and trustworthiness. In the case with a library, those are mentions of the book or author in other relevant books. If many authors mention that one book, say, as a great source, Google is more likely to see that book as the most authoritative source on that subject. Backlinks work similarly in the digital library called the internet.

Your competitors likely have relevant and authoritative backlinks pointing to their homepage, which improve their brand presence. They likely also have deeper links pointing to specific pages, which, in turn, enhance the performance of those individual pages.

3. They Write Better And More In-Depth Content

In the current day and age, the most critical factor for ranking is your content. Searchers are bound to look for content in order to explore their problems and find a solution.

Now, “content” is a broad term. Still, in short, it primarily includes written text, videos, and visuals like images and tables. In general, the better you explain the subject they search for, the more helpful you are to your end-user.

Better, more in-depth content on the subjects you want to rank for is a very legitimate reason why your competitors might beat you in the search results. The quality and helpfulness of your content is the number one reason for ranking higher on Google.

4. They Meet Users’ Needs With Relevant Content

While on the subject, it’s also important to talk about what type of content they create, too. Your competitor might have a dedicated content team or an agency with which they are cooperating. This can give them great insights into exactly how to format their content to target specific queries for which people search.

Consider that some subjects are more searchable than others. For example, many people are likely searching for “how can I fix my bicycle chain.” On the other hand, likely not as many people are searching for “john’s bike chain fixing tool.”

Now, in full honesty, I’m trying hard not to say the word “keywords.” You’ve probably heard this term in the past – but from my experience, a better term to use is “topics.” See, while Google used to rely on specific keywords in the past to understand and rank your content, things are slightly different nowadays.

By improving the algorithm over time, Google can now understand subjects and topics similar to how humans do. Their algorithm can judge many factors that ultimately help them answer the question, “would this website satisfy the searcher’s query.”

Therefore, if your competitors rank higher (especially at the very top), they’ve likely mastered the practice of writing relevant content. In other words, they satisfy your target audience’s specific search queries through high content relevance.

5. They Feature Known And Respected Authors

Continuing with the library example from above, also think about whether users care about who presents the information. For a subject (and therefore, a website) to be accurate and trustworthy, users need it to be created by authors who have experience with it.

The internet is filled with recycled information. Anyone can read 2-3 blog posts about a subject and summarize them in one. But ultimately, is this genuine? To combat the issue of questionable content that can potentially harm users, Google also considers who is offering the information.

Your competitors might be featuring highly respected authors in your industry, which signals to Google that their content is authoritative. As a side-benefit, doing that also allows your competitors to gain more exposure through that author’s own following – be it on social media, private groups or events, or their email lists.

6. They Produce More Relevant Content Overall

Now, there’s a direct correlation between how much topically-relevant content you produce (and how high-quality it is) and your rankings. Thoroughly breaking down your industry subjects allows Google to understand your overall goal with your website better. This also allows you to cement yourself in Google’s eyes as an authority on the subject.

Thinking about the example with the library from above, consider this. Suppose you have two books on, say, dogs. One of them is a dedicated book about dogs and covers everything from the biology of individual dog breeds to dog psychology to canine eating habits. Meanwhile, next to it, you find a biology book. You can only mention so much about each type of animal before that book gets enormously large – and their section on German Shepherds is rather shallow.

Now, both of these books are highly reputable because they are both useful. But if you pose the question of “what should I feed my German Shepherd,” who would you guess is Google more likely to recommend? Naturally, the more in-depth book.

Google knows that almost no one does a singular search when exploring a subject. After this question, we might think about our German Shepherd’s sleeping habits. Here, Google knows that sending you straight to the source where you can find that information provides you with a better experience.

7. They Write More Engaging Titles & Descriptions

Creating content is essential, but if you don’t “frame it” right so that it matches the end-users’ demands, it might never see the light of day. Have you noticed how, when searching for literally anything, you click on the result that sounds most relevant to you even before you’ve seen the website?

Well, that is where your title tags and meta descriptions come into play. Essentially (and fortunately), Google allows you to control how your website appears when people search for the content you’ve written about.

Think of it as a banner for your business. Customers who feel most drawn to a particular banner are going to enter the store and explore. Google monitors those behaviors, and over time their algorithm adjusts the rankings. Suppose it notices that the top result for a page is getting significantly fewer clicks. In that case, it might change the priority of the pages appearing there. That happens simply because Google interprets the behavioral signals that the first result isn’t satisfactory when people click off it.

Suppose your competitors understand their target audience and their needs very well. In that case, this might give them an advantage in writing more relevant titles that attract more visitors to their website.

8. Their Website Is Secured With HTTPS

Now, think of this factor as a “standard” that you need to meet rather than something that’s going to get you to the top. Your website needs to be secure, especially so when handling online purchases.

Once again, we need to stress that Google understands its purpose – serving the end-user as best as possible. Showing websites that can potentially harm their users isn’t in Google’s interest. Therefore they are likely to deprioritize them in the search results.

Additionally, nowadays, SSL certificates are incredibly cheap and easy to install, and it’s simply not worth taking a chance with something like that when it comes to Google.

9. They Have A Faster Website That Users Prefer

As the internet evolves, so do consumer demands. While waiting for a minute or two for a page to load was acceptable just a decade ago, nowadays, it’s a big no-no. Users expect everything they wish to be at their fingertips immediately when they request it, and this applies to your website, too.

Even if you have a better website with more content, your users might not have the patience to wait for your pages to load. This might not be a significant factor in the short term, and your website can still appear high up in the search results. However, over the long term, Google might collect enough data with users leaving your website even before it has loaded. Similarly to the explanation above, these behavior signals inform Google which websites should rank higher – and which should be lowered.

Even if they provide a less satisfactory solution than you, your competitors might provide the solution instantaneously by having a faster website. In turn, this can improve their rankings over your website.

10. They Have A Mobile-Friendly Website

Continuing this train of thought, the way users browse the internet has also changed with the introduction and adoption of mobile devices. Users now expect websites to be fully viable for browsing on phones and tablets.

Being slower machines with a smaller screen and working with a limited internet connection, mobile devices put many demands on the infrastructure of a website. However, as any economist will tell you, where there’s demand, there needs to be supply – and the opposite is not necessarily true.

Your competitor might have a mobile-friendly website, which users prefer. Once again, over the long term, Google will collect enough of these signals to understand where you and your competitors should rank – and adjust the search results accordingly.

11. They Provide A Better User Experience Overall

Lastly, let’s summarize that SEO nowadays is very much intertwined with User Experience. This trend has been going on for a while. However, as time passes, those changes become more prominent.

Google’s task is to be the ultimate servant, and they tweak their algorithms to crack exactly this code. Showing websites that provide a great experience to the end-user while solving their needs also improves how users perceive Google itself. One such user experience factor that affects SEO is your website’s readability.

Therefore, to achieve success in your SEO efforts, you need to align with both Google’s and the user’s expectations – which is something your competitor might already be doing well.

How Important Are Each Of These Factors?

Now let’s look at each factor’s individual importance. To better illustrate how much each factor contributes to the equation, we’ve listed them in a table showing the impact on rankings it has. We’ve also added a column to judge how easy each of these changes is to implement for most businesses.

Factor Name Ranking Impact Ease of Implementation
They Have An Older Site And A Stronger Brand 3 1
They Earn More Relevant And Authoritative Links 4 3
They Write Better And More In-Depth Content 5 3
They Meet Users’ Needs With Relevant Content 5 3
They Feature Known And Respected Authors 3 2
They Have Produced More Content Overall 4 4
They Write More Engaging Titles & Descriptions 4 5
Their Website Is Secured With HTTPS 5 5
They Have A Faster Website That Users Prefer 4 2
They Have A Mobile-Friendly Website 4 3
They Provide A Better User Experience Overall 5 3
Factors Important For Success In Google’s Search Results (1 – Low; 5 – High)

What If They Beat You On Multiple Factors?

The best thing to do if your competitors are better than you in many of these factors is to consider whether you should invest in SEO. To have an easier time when making that decision, you should first determine whether you have historically seen anything come out of this channel.

Using your analytics setup or simply gut feeling, objectively look at whether you have gotten any sales from people searching for your products. Doing this can be a good benchmark on whether an SEO campaign is viable for your business in the sense of your potential return on investment.

Secondly, you need to consult someone who has expertise in the subject. You can either hire someone in-house, set up a one-off arrangement with a consultant, or go directly to a respected agency in your area. All in all, these people have a deep understanding of the factors that contribute to Google’s rankings. This allows them to come up with a concrete plan of action on how you can tackle the issue.

Finally, once you have the analysis and strategic plan, consider when the investment is going to pay back. This is actually a great question with which you can challenge the expert you’re hiring. If their projections show that your investment in SEO can at least pay itself back, this channel is worth considering.

In Conclusion

By now, you’ve probably spotted that we take our own medicine. In this post, we targeted a specific topic, went in-depth with it, and provided as much relevant information as possible. To top that up, we’ve added questions and a table to aid your decision-making. These individual elements might not necessarily rank in Google. Still, we decided to create them because they ultimately help our readers. This very practice is the first step you can adopt to win over your competition.

To understand what next steps you can take yourself to outrank your competitors, read the guide linked here. Even if you decide to work with an agency, understanding the concepts listed in it allows you to think more critically and objectively about their proposals.

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