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Why is my competitor ranking higher? 11 reasons Google shows competitors higher

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 than you likely because they create more relevant, in-depth content, and more credible and authoritative websites link to them. As a general rule, the amount and quality of both backlinks and content are the top two ranking factors in Google.

From my five years of experience as an SEO, I’ve come across many websites. Unless we’re looking at a fringe case, in the majority of cases I see, the strongest reason for ranking lower than competitors is lack of quality content and backlinks. These observations are intuitive and correlate with the top ranking factors other SEOs find through research.

Usually, most small businesses compare their website to competitors that are entirely too big. Their sheer years of experience have amounted to great content, which has brought them valuable backlinks. This is also where less experienced SEOs start coming up with various improvements all across the board.

Naturally, things get a little different when looking at websites of around the same level of content and backlinks. In those cases, small changes can push one website above the other. However, generally speaking, for most new websites, the reason is most likely the amount and quality of content you create and the number and quality of backlinks you receive.

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. Additionally, when we generally say factors, we tend to overstate the significance of it. A “factor” sounds like something major and overly important.

Because of that, consider most of the “ranking factors” as standards. For example, having SSL on your website is critical – but by itself won’t get you ranked. It is a “pass” or “fail” improvement. Meanwhile, the two main ingredients that go into ranking are your content and backlinks. So it would be best if you primarily considered them as the important factors that you need to work on.

Why are your competitors outranking you on Google?

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 can surface only the best pages that genuinely help users.

That being said, let’s now explore a quick checklist of reasons why your competitors are better at SEO. In general, when I have to analyze the situation of a website and determine why competitors are ranking higher, I look for these things below.

7 reasons your competitors outrank you in Google:

Competitors have more and stronger backlinks

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 better illustrate how this works, suppose that Google runs a library’s front desk, which naturally contains 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 of a library, those are mentions of the book or authors 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 improves their brand presence. They likely also have deeper links pointing to specific pages, which, in turn, enhance the performance of those individual pages.

Competitors have better, 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 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 are the number one reason for ranking higher on Google.

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 search 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 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 humans. 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.

Competitors have more 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 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 provides you with a better experience.

Competitors feature known and respected authors

Continuing with the library example from above, consider whether users care about who is presenting the information. For a subject (i.e., a website) to be accurate and trustworthy, it needs to be created by experienced authors.

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 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 following – be it on social media, private groups or events, or their email lists.

Competitors get more clicks from search engines

Creating content is essential, but if you don’t “frame it” right so that it matches the end user’s 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 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.

Competitors have a stronger brand presence

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 likely allows the company to get traffic for quite some keywords quickly. Meanwhile, the competition might be investing hundreds of thousands in their efforts of 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 website’s age to be a factor determining the trustworthiness of the content this website provides.

Competitors provide a better website experience

Think of the user experience factor as a “standard” that you need to meet rather than something that will get you to the top. For example, 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.

And 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, it’s a big no-no nowadays. 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. Similar 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.

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.

And to summarize, 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 Google and the end-user. Unsurprisingly, this could be something your competitors are already doing well.

Which reasons influence competitor rankings the most?

Now let’s look at each factor’s importance. To better illustrate how much each factor contributes to the equation, we’ve listed all of 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
Competitors have a stronger brand presence 3 Hard
Competitors have more and stronger backlinks 4 Moderate
Competitors have better, more in-depth content 5 Moderate
Competitors feature known and respected authors 3 Hard
Competitors have more content overall 4 Moderate
Competitors get more clicks from search engines 4 Moderate
Competitors provide a better website experience 5 Moderate
Factors influencing competitor rankings on Google’s (1 – Low; 5 – High)

Are your competitors actively investing in SEO?

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 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.

If you’re actively investing in SEO, it’s always a good idea to raise your concerns with them. And this is especially true if you’ve been using their company for a while without any significant results.

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 develop a concrete plan of action on how you can tackle the issue.

Finally, once you have the analysis and strategic plan, consider the investment’s payback period. 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 allows you to think more critically and objectively about their proposals.

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