One of the nastiest moments in any SEO guy’s life is the moment when, after a few glorious weeks at the top spot for a well-contested keyword, your client suddenly drops a space despite your ongoing efforts. The difference, according to Google, between a #1 spot and a #2 spot is a 15% drop in clicks (from 40% of all searchers clicking on your link to a mere 25% of all searchers clicking on your link.)
For any business depending on traffic from that keyword for their bread and butter, that’s a huge hit to the profit margin. Some even panic and head for the hills, looking for a new SEO guy. That’s the wrong idea (unless, of course, you’re headed over toward my front door, then it’s a great idea.) A drop in the rankings isn’t the end of the world, or even an indication that your SEO guy is doing anything wrong.
It may mean that Google has changed the rules (again), and the techniques that were working aren’t working as well anymore. It may mean that someone who hates you is doing negative SEO (that’s a whole different post). But most often by a significant margin, what it means is that one of your competitors is simply doing better SEO than you are.
Fortunately, you have plenty of options, and the best of them is also the dirtiest — find out what your competitor is doing to beat you out of the top spot, and do it along with whatever else you were already doing. If they’ve built a relationship with an authoritative company that’s giving them the nod in the form of some juicy backlinks, email the same company — preferably even the same person. They’re profiting from their other similar relationship and there’s no reason whatsoever they can’t profit just as much by sharing their juice with you.
If they’re beating you out because you’re doing exclusively high-value, content-marketing style links and they’re doing hundreds of thousands of low-value but still Google-approved links, figure out how they’re doing it, and do it on top of your high-value links.
If they’re doing exactly what you’re doing but they’re adding some new element on top of it, they probably researched you first and are ripping your link base off just like I’m suggesting that you do to them. If that’s the case, there’s going to be an arms race, and the winner will be the one willing to spend more money on SEO. It might be worth your while, if they prove willing to drop the cash, to simply accept the number two spot on that keyword and spend your money researching a few new keywords to dominate in order to make up the loss in traffic.
The two important things to remember if you get bumped out of your number one spot are these: First, don’t panic — there are always other ways to get the same or more traffic by switching tactics or simply re-one-upping your competitors. Second, don’t assume that your SEO guy is failing just because you get bumped — going down 1-3 steps in the SERPs is a normal part of business on the Internet. Give them a chance to get you back on top before you bail and find a new guy.
Unless, of course, that new guy is me. Then it’s a totally great idea. 😉