SEO Should Beat the Competition, Not the Algorithm

Sometimes in life, you only have to be the least imperfect to survive.

Take, for example, the story of two friends on a camping trip. They get to the campsite and set up their tents in the same manner. Then they both store their food safely away from wildlife in the same bin. Later on, they eat the same soup dinner, cooked the same way in the same pots.

Then suddenly an aggressive bear comes into camp. They start to run. This is where it really matters that they do things differently. Neither of them is Olympic material by any means, but only one of them has to outrun the other to survive.

This story is not unlike competing to survive online. You don’t have to be an Olympic SEO contender, you just have to be least imperfect to compete in the search results.

SEO should beat the competition, not the algorithm.

Why ‘Least Imperfect’?

The goal of SEO should never be to beat an algorithm that is infinitely large. Not only do we have to contend with an algorithm that has hundreds of signals on its own, but we also have to deal with the fact that each searched keyword has a different intent, and that intent biases the algorithm.

Since every keyword has its own intent and thus its own algorithm, there are as many algorithms as there are keywords. Add to that the bias of RankBrain and an individual’s web history on a query, and truly, multiple algorithms exist for each search.

It is virtually impossible for an SEO professional who doesn’t know exactly what’s in the algorithm to figure out the algorithm. So instead of beating the algorithm, we need to beat the competition. And the way to do that is to be least imperfect compared to the competition.

Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.

–Famed surrealist artist Salvador Dalí

Every website is imperfect against the Google algorithm. When Google evaluates which pages to serve in its search results, it chooses the least imperfect compared to others for that search.

For example, say you have two webpages on the same topic from different websites. They both have compelling metadata, quality content written at a similar grade level, image optimization and structured data markup.

Except one of them has a slower load time than the other. Which webpage do you think is going to win in the search results?

So it is our belief that it is easier and more manageable to focus not on the algorithm, but on the things your competition is doing. And then outdo them through quality SEO strategies.

Sizing Up the Competition

There are a great many ways to assess one webpage or website against another. Of course, the first thing we need to know is which webpages are ranking for our keyword terms. That’s our competition.

And then we need to dissect them. Just some of the things we look at when it comes to dissecting the competition include:

  • On-page factors
  • Off-page factors
  • Technical factors
  • Quality factors

Essentially: What is it that’s helping them to rank so well?

Now, a lot of this takes the right tools but it also takes the right expertise. When you’re analyzing your competition by keyword, you’re not always going to follow best practices prescribed by tools or industry research.

Let’s go back to the bear example. Say you once heard that “playing dead” is better than running from a bear. But that advice only works for protecting yourself against a mother Grizzly bear who is defending her cubs, not other bears or other situations.

Focus not on the algorithm, but on the things your competition is doing. And then outdo them.

A prescribed SEO recommendation based on research across millions of keywords may say, for example, the optimal meta title is eight words. But upon further analysis of the search results for your keyword set, you might find the top-ranked pages to be very different.

Tools and data can prescribe recommendations but they cannot replace expertise. This is key when examining the competition and outdoing them to be least imperfect.

SEO Celebrates Imperfection

We don’t need to know the entire algorithm and its hundreds of variables. What we do need to know is what the competition is up to. Maybe they’re doing five things well, so it’s our job to do those five things better, plus one or two more things excellently.

At the end of the day, the webpage that is least imperfect compared to the competition is going to win the race to survive in the search results.

If you found this post helpful, please share it and subscribe to our blog. For help with your SEO strategy, give us a call or fill out our contact form. We’d be happy to talk with you about your business needs.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

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Comments (6)
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6 Replies to “SEO Should Beat the Competition, Not the Algorithm”

This is an amazing piece of content. So many people are too much bothered about understanding their algorithms. But you have proven to be different. And I agree with you. We don’t have to know some 200+ signals to just rank for a low competitive term. Good content, few authoritative links, and nice UX would take us to the top of the page usually. But if we are talking about ranking for some highly competitive commercial intent keyword then this will need a lot more effort to beat the competition. Eventually, it all depends on the competitiveness of the niche or keywords.

In our work, we use competitor analysis to create pages better than others have. And that works like a charm.

Stephen: I agree, terrible. Two wrongs do not make a right – but you still want to beat them. If best practices won’t do it then perhaps a study of emerging algorithm changes will – but if they are competent spammers (wow) then they study and deceive there as well. Simply be the best you can be.

I love this approach. I’ve always used the old Lexus tagline “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection.” With SEO, it’s about understanding that you’ll never have a “perfect” website, but if you’re always trying to improve, you should be closer than the competition!


True. Shady outdated techniques, exact match still works and Google is still far from perfect when you look at examples like those.

On topic I saw Surfer Seo tool have a nice feature to compare your page with the top ranking one.

If I try and compete with my competitors here in Calgary, my site will be penalized in 30 days. In my case, I need to keep up with algorithm changes and do my job as properly as possible. Everyone ranking number #1 here uses shady practices & Googlebots don’t know their left from their right! Terrible.


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