Home Search Engine Marketing 10 Things I Learned From Doing SEO For Competitive Keywords

10 Things I Learned From Doing SEO For Competitive Keywords

by amol238

A couple months ago, I did SEO work for a client who wanted to rank for three competitive keywords. This project was different from my normal line of work.

My usual work consisted of two things.

First, I helped clients achieve better rankings but I had only worked on low to medium competitive keywords.

Second, I did SEO in competitive niches but I never had to worry about rankings. Instead, an SEO firm was responsible for the rankings. They outsourced their link requests and linkbait creation to me.

So when the chance came to do SEO for competitive keywords, I took it. I wanted to learn, get practical experience, and most importantly, test my skills.

The SEO Project

Let’s talk more about the actual project so you have a better idea of what I was dealing with.

The SEO contract was for six months but I only had to work 50 hours each month.

The client had three different phrases they were targeting with their home page. Each phrase only had two words. The first phrase had over 100,000,000 results on Google, the second over 64,000,000, and the third over 10,000,000.

The keywords were commercially-oriented and product-driven. The client was in a relatively lucrative niche. It wasn’t as lucrative as mortgages but it was worth more than wedding photography.

Fortunately, the site was already in the top 50 results for the keywords so I didn’t have a lot of ground to cover. However, the sites on the first page were all authoritative sites so it wasn’t a guarantee that I could get the site could rank in the top 10 results.

Due to the circumstances, the client only let me create one piece of linkbait for their site. My linkbait did not do very well.

I created an onpage optimization report for them, which they implemented. For the most part, they did not have any big issues with onpage SEO.

After the six months were up, I had ranked the site on the first page of the desired keywords. Here’s what I learned from the project.

1. You don’t need many links but you do need quality links.

Because I only worked part time on the project and linkbait was not much of an option, I did not have time to build many quality links.

I built only 10-15 links per month, which came out to be around 70 links in the six month period. But those few links were enough to get the top rankings. The links I built were content-based and most of them were on high trust domains.

I was worried that 10-15 links per month would not be enough, but a few quality links makes a big difference on Google.

Here’s the takeaway: Don’t underestimate traditional link building. Sure, linkbaiting is flashier but going after links one at a time can be effective too.

2. You can’t go wrong with copying your competitors’ links.

Copying my competitors’ backlinks was an indispensable strategy.

I spent many hours using the linkdomain and link command on Yahoo search to find out the links of the sites in the top 10. Then, I used various tactics to try and build those same links.

With this strategy, you can quickly generate a list of strong sites. These sites are great link targets because they’ve shown a propensity to link out.

3. Buying links still works but you have to stay under the radar.

I was hesitant to buy links because it can be risky. But I came across a couple great link opportunities that did not look like paid links at all.

In my view, money is just another link building tool like guest posts and
linkbait. Some sites simply won’t link to you unless they get paid. You have to do a cost/benefit analysis. Some paid links are too expensive while others are good deals especially the permanent ones.

Yes, there are risks involved. But as long as the link seller is not obvious with their paid links, it is virtually impossible for Google to detect that a monetary transaction took place.

I didn’t buy many links but the ones I bought were some of the best links and they seemed to boost the rankings.

Link buying probably should not be a main strategy since Google has been more vigilant in tracking down paid links. However, there are enterprising link sellers in every industry that stay under the radar. Keep your eyes open and pick your spots.

4. Link requests still work well.

I built many quality strong links by sending the old fashioned “Please link to me” link request. Okay, I didn’t beg, but I did say that my client’s site was a great resource and if they it liked it, I would appreciate a link.

I got links on a couple high PageRank .edu domains with this tactic.

5. Blogs are prime link targets for guest posts.

Guest posting is a solid strategy even for commercial sites without a blog like my client’s. I found that many trusted blogs are willing to link as long as I had a good guest post.

Don’t be afraid to contact blogs that have never published a guest post. Many times I found a blog with good link authority but no one had ever guest posted on the blog.

At first, I ignored these blogs because it seemed like they were not welcoming to guest posts. But I realized I had nothing to lose other than a small amount of time so it went for it. I got a couple rejections but more often than not, those blogs were happy to get free content.

6. Don’t forget directory links.

Directory links are a great place to start since many commercial sites don’t know about their usefulness. These links are easy to build. As long as you’re submitting a useful site, you just pay the price and you’ve got your link.

Here are five of my favorite directories:


Of course, there are many other good directories. Here’s a
directory list to consider. You can evaluate the directories just like you would other sites.

7. Keywords in anchor text is great but you don’t need them on every link.

About 50% of my links did not have keywords in the anchor text.

One of the most successful online businessmen I know says Google is placing more emphasis on brands. He says it’s very beneficial to have a lot of brand anchor text, which is commonly the site name. I trust this businessman because he has many high traffic sites and does a lot of SEO testing.

Therefore, I chose not to focus too much on keywords in anchor text. And I made sure to use the site name a lot.

Also, you should vary the keywords. Too much of the same keyword looks unnatural and may set off a spam filter with Google.

8. Rankings fluctuate wildly. Just stay the course.

I’ve never seen such fluctuating rankings until I started working on competitive keywords. One month I would be on the first page and then the next month I would languish on the second or third page. This happened every month until the sixth month. Sometimes the fluctuations were even weekly.

These up-and-down rankings can play on your emotions but there’s nothing you can do to immediately stop them. Focus on building quality links and in time, those fluctuations will go away and you’ll have stable first page rankings.

I asked my businessman friend about the phenomenon. He said that it probably has to do with link age. He believes that links age well like a good wine. The older a link, the more benefit it will give you.

9. You can keep rankings even after the link campaign is over.

I helped my client get a lot of targeted traffic to his site, so I thought he would renew the contract. Unfortunately, he opted not to renew.

I thought they would lose their rankings. Instead their rankings have improved. It’s been four months since my work with them. During this time, they gained 1-2 spots.

I’m not sure why this is the case since they did not hire another search specialist to replace me. I have two theories.

First, the links are, of course, still aging. This may have provided the small ranking boost.

Second, my client may be getting natural links because of the traffic from their top 10 positions. They have more useful content because of their article section than most of the other top 10 sites. Their articles may be getting a couple natural links every month.

10. Link building campaigns for competitive keywords are not much different from campaigns for less competitive keywords.

Based on what I’ve shared already, you probably realize that there is not much difference from link building for competitive keywords to link building for non-competitive keywords.

Yes, the rankings for competitive keywords will take more time to attain but the SEO fundamentals still work. Build quality links and be patient. By following this advice, in time, you’ll achieve your ranking goals.

Because of my experience, I’m confident I can achieve success with other competitive keywords.

Over to You

Now that I’ve shared my first experience with trying to rank for competitive keywords, I’d like to hear your stories. What was your first experience like?

This is a guest post by Dee Barizo. Along with doing freelance SEO work, he helps run Forever Geek. Contact us if you want to guest post on this blog.

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Tom@Free Squeeze Page February 10, 2010 - 5:24 am

That was really handy! I am really starting to focus on SEO and some of these tips I had not even thought of.

Scrap Gold Price February 10, 2010 - 7:27 am

Thank you for your favorite directory.
.-= Scrap Gold Price´s last blog ..Free Price Fixing =-.

Columbia Mo Mortgage February 10, 2010 - 9:25 am

I’ve been working in the SEO field for more than a few years now and this advice has been invaluable to me. Great post!
.-= Columbia Mo Mortgage´s last blog ..Feb 5 – Free Credit Report Websites Under Legal Fire =-.

Melinda@How to Lose Weight February 10, 2010 - 1:24 pm

Were these keywords something like “make money” or “lose weight”? Or were they more like “how to make money online fast in canada”?

Re: Buying links. Google will never be able to tell. Ever. They can’t control the Internet no matter how hard they try.
.-= Melinda@How to Lose Weight´s last blog ..Win $100 in Cold Hard Cash (PayPal) – Mini Contest =-.

Teeth Withening February 10, 2010 - 2:06 pm

I don’t know how I ever worked without it. We were treated like royalty. SEO is the most valuable business resource we have EVER purchased.

how to articles February 11, 2010 - 1:16 pm

Wheres a good place to purchase SEO services?
.-= how to articles´s last blog ..Welcome to How-to’s =-.

Nimit Kashyap@Blogging February 10, 2010 - 4:36 pm

It was en excellent post, and i completely agree with you that you don’t need quantity of links to rank but you do need some good quality links to rank and for that buying links always works for me 😀

Jack@Online Marketing Blog February 10, 2010 - 6:59 pm

Great post ZK. Do all your client’s participate in reciprocal linking, or do you focus on getting quality one-way links using authoritative sites to build trust rank? I find sites dropping their resources page now a days.
.-= Jack@Online Marketing Blog´s last blog ..Blogging God Steve Pavlina Interview =-.

ZK February 13, 2010 - 3:53 am

It’s a well balanced mix of both, you need to have a balance of your back links on Google.

Patrick Schwarz February 11, 2010 - 4:41 am

In the current time is online marketing more important than 10 ten years ago.
.-= Patrick Schwarz´s last blog ..Madeira bietet eine atemberaubende Landschaft =-.

Davits February 11, 2010 - 6:57 am

Thanks for share good seo strategies with us. Some clients discontinue seo when his site ranking well on search engines.

ZK February 13, 2010 - 3:55 am

They will find that the site will loose its ranking very fast , if they stop SEO work, SEO needs vision, will not happen over night.

how to articles February 11, 2010 - 1:14 pm

Nice post. Copying competitors links is probably the best method to go about getting a top 3 ranking

ZK February 13, 2010 - 3:56 am

It will certainly give you some clues about where you should focus you link building efforts

Motorward February 12, 2010 - 1:04 pm

Nice 10 tips there mate you round it up very well indeed.
.-= Motorward´s last blog ..Lexus CT200h Teased Ahead Of 2010 Geneva Debut =-.

Brian@Links February 12, 2010 - 2:32 pm

Great article… bookmarked for the directory list.

Directly on point about building quality manual links for which you may exchange some dollars to complete the deal.
.-= Brian@Links´s last blog ..If You Only Visit 1 Link Today… =-.

Paul@ Artificial Christmas Trees February 13, 2010 - 9:34 am

Great insight into your activities, I was particularly interested in no.7. I was always led to believe that ALL of your links need to be keywords, as unless you’re a big brand name people simply will not be searching using your company name as a keyword. Did you undertake any article marketing to generate links? This is a good way to generate links if time is short, once you have one good article written you can submit to 50 plus sites, 50 links for one article isn’t bad. Nice post.

TAGG Logistics February 13, 2010 - 8:31 pm

How do you know that the company didn’t hire another SEO company after they didn’t renew? And why wouldn’t they renew if you helped them so much?

Web Design February 15, 2010 - 4:01 am

Your experience with fluctuating rankings which just steadies and grows stronger after you’ve already stopped link building is one I’ve experienced too. The ageing of the links definitely has a longer term stabilising effect. Interesting case study, thank you for sharing!

Charm@ Turning Winds February 15, 2010 - 5:24 am

“Rankings fluctuate wildly. Just stay the course.”
This is very true almost everyday rankings do varies on position especially on Google.

You’ve provided and shared good and credible points to follow. Thanks for this informative insights you brought to us.

frikik February 15, 2010 - 10:20 am

Your experience with fluctuating rankings which just steadies and grows stronger after you’ve already stopped link building is one I’ve experienced too. The ageing of the links definitely has a longer term stabilising effect. Interesting case study, thank you for sharing!
.-= frikik´s last blog ..Dolunay Soysert Bikinili – 15.02.10 =-.

Marksteve February 15, 2010 - 11:15 pm

Implausible and stunning tips has been provided. Surely i can improve my keywords. And you have a really a vast knowledge of the seo thanks for providing this useful and prolific tips.

kitchen taps February 16, 2010 - 6:44 am

Good sharing. I think fluctuating is the common thing and i have my some keywords which were on the top of the positions but nowadays they all are 2nd and 3rd page, as i continue work on those then they fluctuate again on top position.

Rick February 24, 2010 - 8:22 am

Don’t forget to talk about top notch content on website. To get quality links, you need good content. Im in SEO for a couple years now and when i finish to optimize a website, i hire a professional content writter. And there is the magic sentence : get Quantity of quality links!!! Great post!!!

Brian March 3, 2010 - 10:10 am

Nice post there. Sphunn.

I’ve also been disappointed by point number 9. Had hoped a large potential client would lose rankings after the previous agency was kicked out. They waited a while, it never happened and so they thought they’d no longer need an SEO. Dammit.
.-= Brian´s last blog ..innovation i’d like to see in online gaming =-.

jo March 21, 2010 - 9:36 pm

Cheers for your writing your experience. Instead of getting spammy links with low page rank i will aim for a lower number but higher ranking pages. Cheers once again.

flash hard drives September 26, 2010 - 3:56 am

I adore your blog about 10 Things I Learned From Doing SEO For Competitive Keywords

Brad - Sixth Sense Marketing November 23, 2010 - 7:54 am

Great article ZK. I found the 6 month period to be a common time point for rankings to level out as well. As mentioned I think it has a lot to do with the link age as well as the Google bots finding all your link work and putting the puzzel together.

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