Why Aren’t My Competitors Getting Whacked for Link Spam?

Written by Nick Stamoulis

Penguin was undoubtedly the Google update heard round the world and the second refresh finally rolled out on October 5th. The original update came out back in April 2012 and had a major impact on the search results with many sites getting whacked for their web spam tactics, many of which had to do with low-quality link profiles and poor link building choices. Since Penguin was an algorithm update it means that sites that were impacted the first time around wouldn’t fully recover (provided they took the right steps) until a refresh was implemented. For many business and site owners, waiting for 6 months to recover is a lifetime! And what if they didn’t recover? How would they know what was and wasn’t working in their favor?

I’ve spoken with several site owners since Penguin went live that wanted to know why their site was negatively affected when a competitor that was employing the same link spam tactics (or worse ones) got away with it. While I can’t definitively say why one site was hurt and the other wasn’t, I can say this—even though two sites might be guilty of the same link spam, some websites have enough “good will” built up that they can manage a penalty with much less pain than others.

Think of it like this—let’s say your website has 1,000 links and 200 of them got flagged by Penguin has link spam. That means 20% of your link profile is actually working against the rest of your SEO. If your competitors also have 1,000 links and only 100 of them are link spam than their overall link profile might be more valuable since fewer links are likely to raise a red flag. On a purely link building level, their link portfolio is better than yours so they should be doing a little better in the SERPs than you even if they have engaged in some shady link spam activities.

But what if the roles were reversed? Why would a site that how MORE low-quality links do better than a site with fewer? This is where it gets a little trickier and is usually the cause of frustration for many site owners. Keep in mind that link profiles, while incredibly important to SEO, aren’t the only things that the search engines takes into consideration when creating a search results page.

Google has over 200 factors feeding into their algorithm including

  • Content freshness
  • Author authority
  • Domain age and trust factor
  • Social signals

A site might not have the best link profile in the world, but if your competitors have a lot of positive factors weighing in their favor they might be able to edge out a lead over your site, even if on the surface it looks like you are both doing the same thing. This is why it’s so important to not let a competitive analysis dictate your SEO. You can never be 100% certain of what your competitor’s are or aren’t doing that is having an effect on how well their site performs online. Plus, what works for one site might not work for another; even worse, it can completely backfire! You also don’t have access to their analytics. For all you know, their website might have lost 40% of its visitors due to a link spam penalty, but a large and powerful online brand might be able to limp along long enough to repair the damage.

I know it can be very frustrating as a site owner to watch your competitors engage in tactics that you know are link spam and black hat and get away with it (or even benefit from it!) but just because the competition is doing it that doesn’t mean you need to make your own SEO campaign match.

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