Clients and readers often ask why a site that's younger, smaller, or just plain "uglier" outranks them. There really isn't a simple answer. More than a few times I've had to say, "I don't know." But there are some things to take into consideration when a competitor is outranking you. Addressing these issues could be the catalyst for your Web site moving up into those coveted top spots.
Content Is King
No -- I didn't coin that phrase, but the number one reason for getting outranked by a competitor: better, and much more, content on their site. Don't forget your content needs to be original, unique and relevant.
More pages will not necessarily make you rank. We're talking about more text. Do you have an all Flash Web site with little text to feed the search engine bots? It may be a flashy classy slideshow. It may be much more aesthetically pleasing than your competitor's site.
If the search engines, though, can't spider (define) your site to determine how relevant your page is to a particular query, you're not going to rank well for that query. That's not to say you can't use Flash, just wrap some text around it -- or work around the problem.
In travel, my particular niche, many of our clients' competitors are part of a huge chain of Web sites with vast numbers of pages. The pages for hotels in New Orleans aren't relevant to the pages for hotels in New York City, but if all those pages live on the same domain, they lend power to all the pages on the site.
A 10,000 page site is going to have a much easier time ranking for a particular keyword phrase than a 10-page site, particularly if they're using that keyword phrase in their on-site optimization in the correct manner.
Architecture is the Path to Good Rankings
How is your site constructed? Do you have well thought out navigation and easy to understand "paths" through your Web site. Users and search engine spiders use your architecture to learn what your site is about.
The more pages the spiders can reach, the more "credit" you have for having a lot of content related to phrases. Think about the user navigating your site and make sure relevant content is linked together, and irrelevant content is not.
Age of Domain
Domain age is a bit more controversial. For the most part, age isn't a factor; with age comes content. If your competitor has a site that's been around for seven years -- with thousands of pages -- you'd need to build content like crazy to compete. A huge site built on a poor platform with poor architecture will be easier to outrank. Easier, that is, if you build your site the right way. Don't forget to consider what your competitors are doing when you build and market your Web site.
Links, Links, Links
You'll never rank well without good links coming into your site. That relates back to content, architecture, and users. Obtaining good natural links depends on having content people are interested in and willing to link to. You're going to have to do the legwork here.
New sites don't just naturally acquire links. You need to go out and ask for them. This goes back to my article on participating in blogs and forums that relate to your online "neighborhood." If you're looking to build links on your own -- be sure to check out what the SEW Experts have to say each week in Link Love. Along with links and natural link building comes authority.
If you can show your readers and the search engines that you're an authority on a subject, and you provide the best information on any given topic, you're going to do well. Search engines make money and retain users by delivering the best information first. So if you fit the bill, you're going to rank better.
Fight in your Weight Class
Sometimes ranking for a term is easy; sometimes it's hard. It depends on the competitiveness of the keywords and size of your site. Don't overreach. If your 20 page Web site is competing for an uber competitive keyword against a 10,000 page site, you're in for a world of hurt. Don't bite off more than you can chew.
There are many reasons a competitor may outrank you. If you analyze and determine which reasons may be contributing factors, you can tackle the problem and make sure you're doing what you need to do to rank well. Evaluate the competition before you even start with a Web site. Competitive analysis saves you the trouble of catching-up to competitors and making expensive changes to your site and content in the long run.