How to downgrade your competitor in the SERP, or why Google promotion does not guarantee anything?
Hi! My name is Dmitry, I am an SEO expert at Soft-FX. I’ve been pondering the title of this post for a long time, and here are a couple of more options: “Why does copy-paste rank higher than copyright content?” or “How can anyone demote your site?”.
Let me describe a specific SEO case.
Our company develops software products that can also be used for trading financial derivatives and other assets. They may include both CFDs and virtual currencies, depending on the regulator of the trading platform operator. As you probably know, the virtual currencies have recently experienced a rush period, and as the SEO specialist, I was primarily interested in whether the situation might somehow affect our search positions in Google Search results. In the Google Ads policies, it’s unequivocally stated that one can not advertise products and services related to cryptocurrencies through Google in countries where they are illegal.
Basically, if you produce this kind of content, the methods you can move your website to a top page of search results are quite scarce. I’m talking about SEO-optimization of texts and their obvious usefulness to users. It appears to sound logical, so I thought was no way anything could go wrong if one follows this formula. But a lot of things did.
In December 2020, we were finishing the development of a new version of the website. It also included a page of a white label software solution, which can be used by the customer to organize and brand a virtual currency exchange platform under certain conditions. For the reasons mentioned above, we decided to promote content on the page utilizing keywords related to virtual currencies.
I analyzed competitors’ activity, selected relevant keywords, and created a detailed technical specification. It was approved by the content department and put into production.
During this time, designers made a page layout and we successfully deployed the page a week later. I’ve also set up 301 redirects from old pages and sent the product page to GSC for tagging.
Tagging and first promising results
Usually, I give a page about two weeks for the content to be tagged and ranked. In our case, Google quickly processed the page, and it began showing up in search results and getting clicks in mid-December:
We started adding links to the page, and the first positions appeared at the beginning of January 2021:
Gradually, the positions were growing, and by the beginning of March 2021, they approached the top 10:
It’s interesting, that at just that time the Bitcoin rate reached 60 thousand dollars. This graph illustrates the growth of the virtual currency rate and the change in the average position of the site for a certain period of time:
The page hit Top-5 in search results, and we started getting a lot of targeted requests.
Receiving one or two high-quality requests per day (for our market segment, that’s a lot) we were more than satisfied with the result. By quality requests, we mean requests from clients who understand which software vendor’s website they are visiting and what exactly they need.
As a result, it took about three months for the site to reach the top 10 in search results for targeted requests.
An unexpected rollback
One April Monday morning, I noticed a drop in traffic in Google Search Console:
Then the same happened with the positions (note April 18):
There can be two reasons for such behavior: spam links or content plagiarism. I checked the new spam links using a well-known tool but found no changes. However, checking the uniqueness of the content cleared up the matter.
This is what it looked like:
Below there are the examples of some doorways (don’t recommend to follow the links, they are here just FYI):
I hope everyone knows that there is black hat and white hat SEO. In very competitive niches (they are banned in Google Ads, by the way) black SEO is used very often. They include such domains as casinos, gambling, betting, fast credit, online income scam offerings, etc. This is directly related to the virtual currency market, for which we can provide software — recall the Search positions, mentioned at the beginning of the publication.
I will not go into all aspects of black hat SEO, but in this particular case, we encountered doorway pages.
Our content, which I consider to be of high quality, was simply copypasted, mixed with junk texts and published on low-quality sites made to collect search traffic and redirect it to monetizing platforms.
And even though the page was still ranked higher for requests than doorways, it was performing its main function worse: the website traffic dropped and the number of requests went down.
Actions to be taken
If you find yourself in this situation, there is only one way out: take the old technical specification and write new content from scratch as soon as possible. No guarantees, but that’s the only way.
- Looking ahead: Google abuse reports work, but they don’t give the results we need. You can totally block these sites, but the page positions will not be restored.
- It is useless to write to hosters of such sites, as doorways have complaint-resistant hosting services that ignore any complaints.
- Usually free domains are used (see the examples above), so it makes no sense to write to domain registrars.
Turning to the issue, we decided to start redrafting the text in two weeks because it’s a time-consuming task, and there was little chance that Google would get the positions back.
A month later, the content was rewritten and published. The site positions never made it back to their previous values, though some short-term positive changes did occur.
Despite the unconditional technological superiority of Google’s methods and technologies, search spam, the mud-slinging method of promotion straight from the 2000s, still exists in 2021. The worst thing is that it’s almost impossible to defend against it. Anyone can copy the content, publish it on their website, and you’ll have to sort out the problems then.
After a while, I was analyzing the content of all competitors from the top 10, and it led to some interesting findings:
It turned out that all of our main competitors were also affected, but the situation is better there, primarily because the pages exist longer than one year, and they have a bigger size and a greater number of links. Also, apparently, the resources of second-level competitors (actually, we do not consider them competitors in terms of the quality of the proposed solutions, but they are our competitors in search which offer similar services) were intact. So, this suggests who might have been responsible for this situation, but that’s a completely different story.