There was a discussion Twitter about competitor research and duplicating the SEO strategy. The person researched their competitor and found obvious examples of spammy tactics that obviously were helping. John Mueller entered the discussion and gave an answer that gave a profound insight into competitor research.
Here is the original question on Twitter
“Hey SEO’s will I get penalized for duplicating local service pages and just changing the cities?
For example: will “HVAC Repair Dallas” and “HVAC Repair Houston” get flagged as duplicate content if they’re the same except for the city?”
“How frustrating it is when a site that appears to have thin content still manages to rank well.”
To which John Mueller responded:
“They might be ranking well despite these things, not because of them — no need to copy their bad practices, when you know better!”
Red Herrings in SEO
A red herring is a literary trick that writers use to mislead readers with a clue that seems to point to the most obvious answer. Writers use red herrings to purposely surprise their readers when the most guilty suspect turns out to be innocent and the most innocent party turns out to be the true guilty party.
When diagnosing why a site is not ranking or why a site is ranking well, it’s easy to seize upon the most obvious clue and stop analyzing.
Many years ago someone I knew reached out to me and said he was under a negative SEO attack that was causing his rankings to drop.
I looked at his backlinks and they contained the most heinous anchor text one could imagine. I took his word for it, as he was a competent SEO.
I thought this was an interesting case so I forwarded it to someone at Google. The Googler responded a couple days later and said it wasn’t negative SEO, it was a Panda issue.
That was a lesson in SEO for me. It taught me to continue researching after finding the most obvious reason. Sometimes the most obvious reason for a rankings drop is not the reason.
Another example is someone who came to be about a Medic Update ranking issue. They felt that they didn’t have enough Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (E-A-T) signals. I did a thorough review and discovered there was nothing “wrong” with the site. It just wasn’t relevant.
I prescribed some changes to make their pages more relevant and the site soon started moving up the SERPs.
The point is, when doing competitor research, be wary about copying some of their tactics, as those tactics may not be what’s powering their rankings.
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