How to Protect a #1 Ranking (When Your Pesky Competitors Are Trying to Take You Down)

You finally did it.

You reached the pinnacle of SEO—the coveted #1 position. Time to rest on your laurels and watch the traffic roll in each and every month, right?

Yes, if you are okay with your competitors working feverishly to steal what you have worked so hard for. Because here is the truth: they are coming after you and will take your spot if you don’t do anything about it.

So, what can you do about it?

After running experiments over the past 6 months trying to protect high-traffic #1 positions for clients, I created a process that has kept me several steps ahead of my competitors.

The Top-Spot Security Plan: 3 Steps to Securing Your #1 Ranking

Note: Technical SEO also plays a huge role in protecting a #1 ranking (and your rankings in general). This guide goes over the content side of things, but you also need to make sure your site is a well-oiled machine. 

1. Make your content even more link worthy.

Duh, you need to keep your content updated and look for ways to improve it.

But there are a few specific ways to do this in the context of keeping your top position — that also help you grab even more keywords with the same post.

Part 1: Analyze your competitors’ content and beat them at their own game.

Your content is already way better than everyone else’s…obviously. But that doesn’t mean the content you are competing with is complete garbage.

After all, content needs to be pretty good to hit the first page in most situations, right?

I recommend reading through every article on the first page for your keyword and asking questions like:

  • Do they give great examples?

  • Do they have awesome, well-explained tactics and strategies?

  • Is their post visually appealing?

  • Do they have really helpful graphs and diagrams?

  • Did they do their research? Do they make a valid argument?

  • What specific things are people talking about in the comments? What do they love? What are they arguing about?

  • How can I take this to the next level?

Your content is already ranking #1 because it is the best article on the internet for your target keyword (and your links obviously have an impact as well).

But that doesn’t mean it always will be the best if you never come back to it; you have to keep looking for ways to improve, refresh, and revamp your content to stay at the top.

Part 2: Add new sections to your content based on Google Search Console impressions.

As SEOs know, Google normally doesn’t like helping us out, but this little gift from Heaven is an exception.

Google Search Console essentially tells you which keywords you should optimize your content for.

Here is how you can utilize this:

1. Head to GSC and click on performance.

2. Add a page filter containing your top-ranking post’s URL.

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3. Click the columns for Clicks and Impressions at the top, then click Queries.

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4. Sort by impressions and look for keywords that get tons of impressions but few clicks (thus making CTR low).

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5. Use these long-tail keywords for further optimization, as well as ideas for new sections in your post.

Sometimes you can rank for one of these bad boys just by putting it in a heading or using it a few times in the body. 

2. Keep building links and promoting your content as usual (but be sure to include these 3 crucial tactics).

Nothing will guarantee the death of your #1 spot faster than stopping all link building and promotion once a post hits #1. Yeah, you need to shift the majority of your focus on boosting other posts. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about the post that is getting you boatloads of leads and cash. Where is the sense in that?

Outside of your standard link building tactics, there are a few things you need to do specifically for top-ranking content:

1. Spy on your competitors’ every move with the SEMrush backlink explorer.

Here is a fantastic strategy.

Like we have talked about, your competitors are frantically building links to catch up to you. The funny thing is, you can watch pretty much every move they make by using the SEMrush backlink tool you already use on a daily basis, but with a significant difference.

You know the drill.

1. Enter a competing article’s URL into the search bar.

2. Click backlinks on the left-hand menu, then click the backlinks tab.

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3. Here is the important part — check “New” and only look at recently gained backlinks (because you have likely already gone through all the links they previously had).

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Do this for every competing article under you on the first page.

Every time they get a new high-quality link, add it to a spreadsheet and reach out to the same site. I do this every Friday so I can quickly act on link opportunities my competitors unknowingly show me. When they get really excited about a great link they just got, I go take it from them. 🙂

2. Set Up Brand Monitoring to find new link and promotion opportunities.

SEMrush’s Brand Monitoring tool is fantastic for many reasons, but I love it mainly because it is an invaluable tool for holding onto a top position.

It helps you:

  1. Find mentions of specific keywords on other sites that are directly related to your content so you can reach out to them for a link.

  2. Find people who shared content containing the specific keywords from above so you can reach out to them for shares.

These prospects are much more likely to link to and share your content because they have already shown their interest in your content’s topic.

I have found that my outreach emails convert 2x – 3x better when reaching out to people from this report. Here is how you can set this up to protect your #1 ranking:

1. Head to the Brand Monitoring tool and create a new project with your top ranking post’s URL and title.

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2. Add your post’s main keywords and click “Start Tracking”.

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3. Look through the Mentions tab to find web pages and Twitter accounts that are likely to help you promote your content.

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4. Reach out to every new site/person you find who mentions your content’s topic.

I recommend doing this once each week (along with the new links strategy).

3. Keep an eye on the SERPs for new threats and take their links.

It is obvious that you want to monitor the ranking changes right under you, but it is also essential to look for new, potential threats on the whole first page. I am not talking about looking at your ranking reports every day.

I am talking about literally typing your keyword into Google and checking the whole first page for changes.

Is there a recently published article that just reached the bottom of the first page? Is it from an authoritative site? Uh oh. Better keep an eye out there.

It seems like common sense, but taking your eye off the SERPs for even a few days can come back to bite you. Real life example:

Earlier this year, one of my client’s #1 ranking posts got jumped. I saw it drop to #2 in my reports. Crap.

It turns out, a brand new post was gaining steam and went all the way from the bottom of page 1 to the #1 ranking within about 72 hours.

If I had been paying attention to the rankings on the entire first page, I could have prevented it.

(In case you are wondering: I believe it was mainly a CTR issue. I made a way more compelling SEO Title and Meta Description through some CTR experiments, and it went back to #1…and is still there.)

Moral of the story: watch the first page like a hawk.

Whenever you see a new post hit the first page:

  1. Look through their backlink profile and take their links.

  2. Add them to your weekly list of posts to monitor for new links.

3. Run experiments to optimize your organic Click-Through-Rate.

As you already know, CTR is an important ranking factor when you reach the top half of the first page. If an article under yours has a higher CTR, you are at risk of getting jumped. A “safe” CTR for a #1 ranking is between 20% – 30%, so I recommend running experiments with your SEO Title and Meta Description combo until you reach 30%.

Here is my process for running CTR experiments:

Step 1: Take a look at your post’s CTR over the last 3 months.

Here is a quick refresher on how to find CTR in Google Search Console.

Just click on performance, then average CTR.

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Filter the report to show CTR’s for keywords your top-ranking posts show up for.

To do this, add a page filter with your post’s URL.

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Then, click back to queries, and you’ll see all the keywords your post shows up for (with the CTR for each).

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Step 2: Write a new SEO Title OR Meta Description.

When doing a CTR experiment, it is super important to only change one thing at a time. Why?

If you change both your SEO Title and Meta Description, you won’t be entirely sure how either specifically affected CTR. So, I recommend starting with SEO Title experiments, then moving to the Meta Description once you’ve found the most clickable title.

(As far as best practices for crafting CTR-optimized titles and descriptions, I recommend Brian Dean’s CTR Magnet Method.)

Step 3: Set a time frame for your experiment and leave it be.

The right time frame for your experiments will vary depending on how much traffic your #1 ranking post drives.

If its main keywords drive 1,000’s of visitors per day, 2-3 days will give you enough data.

If the traffic is more like 50 – 100 per day, you might want to wait 7 – 14 days to analyze your results.

Whatever time frame you decide on, be sure to do CTR experiments regularly until you have reached that 30% range.

Step 4: Analyze the results in Google Search Console.

To compare the CTR between two date ranges in Google Search Console, just click the date filter, then “Compare”, then enter the previous date range that corresponds with the time frame of your experiment.

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For example:

If I did a 28-day test, I would want to compare CTR vs. the 28 days before I implemented the changes.

Your Work Isn’t Done Once You Hit #1

Like that rhyme? 🙂

Don’t make the mistake most people make: ignoring their posts once they hit #1. You can definitely shift your focus to bringing up other rankings, but if you don’t take time to protect your top spot, someone will eventually take it.

And that really sucks. These 3 strategies are really effective, don’t take much time to implement, and can keep you from being usurped.

Do you use other strategies to keep your #1 ranking? I would love to hear them in the comments.

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