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

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

Hunter Branch
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.

performance-report.png

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

ctr-in-performance-report-2.png

ctr-in-performance-report-3.png

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

ctr-3.png

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

ctr-4.png

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.

domain-research-1.png

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).

domain-research-2.png

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.

brand-monitoring-1.png

brand-monitoring-2.png

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

brand-mentions-3.png

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

brand-mentions-4.png

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.

ctr-in-performance-report-1.png

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.

ctr-in-performance-report-2.png

ctr-in-performance-report-3.png

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

gsc-tutorial-2.png

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.

ctr-comparison.png

ctr-comparison-2.png

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.

Hunter Branch is an SEO consultant and the founder of Rank Tree―an SEO agency that works with New York Times bestselling authors, personality-driven brands, and small businesses to generate traffic and leads from Google.
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Newcomer

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Man, exactly what I needed for a few of my clients. Defense wins championship :)
Ashar Jamil
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Very useful stuff. Thanks for sharing Hunter!
Hunter Branch
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Ashar Jamil
Absolutely!
Umesh Singh
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Great post Hunter, I got some cool ideas now. Let me act on that.
Hunter Branch
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Umesh Singh
Thanks! Glad it helped. :)
Marco Diversi
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Wow! Full of Good Stuff!
Hunter Branch
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Marco Diversi
Appreciate it, Marco!
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Thanks for the update, but i think ranking new blog will be very hard to do in 2019. What do you think?
Hunter Branch
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MrkingsHOK
I think ranking a new blog will always be hard and will take time. But it's definitely still possible to do. :)
Aparna Patel
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Great article thanks
Hunter Branch
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Aparna Patel
Thanks!
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Hey,

Thanks for sharing great and valuable post.

For improve SEO it will be best techniques above blog. Keep it up
Hunter Branch
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Rajeev Dave
Appreciate it!
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Provides valuable insights and adds depth to the conversation.

Getting the no. 1 position in the SERPs is in itself a great achievement. But it is a tough job achieve #1 rankings and keeping it that way is not that easy either. Your competitors are always on their toes to optimise their site, their content, to surpass your standings in the SERPs. If you wish to secure your position in the SERPs, it is necessary for you to keep updating your content and post content that is relatable for the audience. Plus, you need to seek help from SEO tools that can help you track your competitor keywords, so that your success rate increases.
Hunter Branch
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Sahil Kakkar
Exactly right!
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Really helpful blog....
Hunter Branch
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Nitin Shrivastav
Appreciate it! Glad it helped. :)
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Very Helpful information...
Hunter Branch
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Dwarkesh Infotech
Appreciate it! Glad it helped. :)
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thank for this infomation
Hunter Branch
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mark
Absolutely!
Editors' Pick
Kelechi Ibe
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Editors' Pick
Wonderful post, Hunter!

You are so right about technical SEO being vital for maintaining rankings! From my experience, I have noticed rankings of website with poor technical SEO (i.e. incorrect schema markups, slow speed, bad internal linking, crawlability issues etc) tend to fluctuate on the SERP more often. This is the absolutely necessary to ensure rankings are maintained (in my opinion). Unfortunately most marketers don't understand the importance of doing this, which is quite sad.

I really like your idea of using the SEMrush brand monitoring tool to track keywords for backlink opportunities! I haven't thought about doing this (until now). I only use it to track "brand" mentions. Such a great idea for finding good backlink opportunities! :)

Thanks a bunch!
Hunter Branch
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Kelechi Ibe
Thanks, Kelechi!
Shehryar  Aziz
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I just loved the idea of checking the mentions. But with Title, Meta & Content optimization I would like to share my personal experience. I was hanging on the first page on about 5th-6th position. I did a few edits with my Title and Meta and my page went to the 9th positions. I revert these changes after a few days and got the position back.

Well, this time I tried optimizing the content more: I optimized it, put some more words and new keywords etc. Well, once the new edits got indexed, I moved from the first page to the second page.

Lol, so you should make it clear that changing content once you're on the first position is highly risky. This is actually the content that is ranking on that spot, if you'll edit the content, Google will re-audit it before giving you that spot again.
Hunter Branch
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Shehryar Aziz
Hey, Shehryar! Thanks for sharing your experience. To be clear, I'm not recommending "changing" the content as in overhauling it. I'm recommending looking for ways (constantly) to make that content even better. That might mean only adding 300 - 500 words -- it really depends on the situation and the opportunities available. From my experience, I haven't seen Google take away a top spot after adding extra content/sections to a post. I definitely see how that could happen if someone is overhauling their content, though.
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Always risky to update a top-ranking post... the update may rank more poorly than the original. All experienced site owners know that.
Shehryar  Aziz
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Chris
Exactly what I have posted here. This is where most of the SEO experts fail! If you'll keep optimizing your content, you won't be able to get the high spots. Google will re-check your content before giving you the position back.
Hunter Branch
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Chris
Hey, Chris! It's definitely something that you need to be careful about if you decide to do it. In my experience, updating content strategically with a focus on 1) making the post even more valuable and 2) optimizing for more (if needed) relevant keywords is usually safe. I haven't personally seen a ranking drop after updates like this. I definitely wouldn't recommend making massive changes, though (like rewriting 70% - 80% of the post).
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Hunter Branch
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Rithurawat
Thank you!
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Hunter Branch
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kavi
Thanks!!
Nikola Roza
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Hey Hunter, this was a wonderful post to read, very interesting and informative, thanks.

I find that reaching number #1 is the hard part, then later even if you do slip up, you'll still be on the first page and usually you'll know what you need to do to come back. Though obviously, it's better to prevent it if you can...
Anyway, I like the strategy of using keyword mentions to build new links that correspond to that awesome post you have.
It's a new idea to me because so far I only taught about using brand mentions to turn them into links.
But I see how it could work, assuming you have awesome content and are a brand.
Question:
What's the percentage rate if you're an unknown site but have great content?
Thanks Hunter:)
Hunter Branch
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Nikola Roza
Appreciate it! I assume you're talking about conversion rate for outreach emails as an unknown site with great content (let me know if that's not correct). With known sites, I've been able to get a 10% - 15% conversion with outreach emails. Normally (in my experience) with an unknown site, that has dropped to about 5%.
Nikola Roza
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Hunter Branch
Thanks Hunter, that' all I wanted to know. 5% success rate is not bad at all:)
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Hi Hunter,

Nice article - thanks :-)

Our top tip is to also use Search Console but to look for search queries which relate to your #1 ranked page but are slightly off at a tangent. Stuff that doesn't have much search volume and typically low impressions and CTR.

Most people ignore these but if you write a short blog post and use it to internal link to your main page (and keyword) it seems to help reinforce the ranking page.

Jonathan
Hunter Branch
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Jonathan Guy
Thanks, Jonathan! Yep, there are all kinds of cool things you can do with Search Console. :)
Kelechi Ibe
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Jonathan Guy
This is very true, Jonathan! Most SEOs ignore "low volume" keywords not understanding it can help boost their main cornerstone content with the right internal linking strategy! Search crawlers follows semantically relevant content and links and rewards them in its index.
Hunter Branch
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Thanks for hosting me, SEMrush!
Anastasiia Nesterova
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Hunter Branch
Thank YOU for sharing, Hunter! You're always welcome, keep up the good work ;)
wafiapps.net
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its really a great article i seen ever!
Hunter Branch
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wafiapps.net
Thank you!
Nathan Bradshaw
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Nice Article, Thanks for sharing information, for staying protect ranking following thing.
With the constantly changing Google algorithms, maintaining stellar search rankings can feel like a challenge. But you just need to monitor your competition, keep pursuing content marketing and ensure a superlative user experience for your web site visitors.

Even during a web site relaunch, you needn’t lose a lot of organic traffic if you plan systematically.
Hunter Branch
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Nathan Bradshaw
Appreciate it! Yep, it all comes back to continuing to give Google what it wants. :)

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