Stuck on Page 2? Are you the Black Sheep?

I get this question quite often. Today in fact.

I’ve been stuck for 3 months on page 2. It doesn’t matter how many links I throw at it. It simply won’t move. I can’t figure it out!

Has this ever happened to you? All of your tactics are clean but you simply can’t break into page 1. You have the perfect on-page SEO and your anchor text is properly diversified.

Most of the time I see this, it’s because the site has an off-site SEO record that is completely different than the other sites ranking on first page. It’s what I like to call the “Black Sheep Effect”.

The Black Sheep Effect


Good luck trying to power through this niche

Look at the top 10 for your keyword and look at the number of links that the ranking pages have (use mozbar to make this a lot easier).

If everyone in the top 10 is ranking with less than 20 links, and you’re the guy trying to break into page 1 with your 75+ links, Google is going to recognize you as being different from everyone else and you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to rank.

This often comes up when you’re in a niche dominated by authority sites.

For example, if you’re in the health niche trying to sell an affiliate’s new supplement, your page 1 is likely going to be filled up with a WebMD, WikiPedia and the Center for Disease Control. These sites typically have a huge domain authority (DA) of 90+ so it naturally takes them only a few links to rank. Sometimes none at all.

Another example of the Black Sheep Effect is when one of your non-intended pages ranks higher than the one you actually meant to rank.

Let’s say you have a homepage about Product ABC. You’ve thrown a ton of links at it to get it to rank, but for some reason you have a non-important inner page about the product which is ranking higher than the homepage.

What’s going on is you’ve either over-optimized the anchors for the homepage, or you have too many links pointed to it compared to everyone else.

How to Beat it

You might be saying, “Well, I don’t have a DA 90 site so I’m going to need a ton of links to rank for my challenging keyword.”

Easy solution: Reverse siloing.

What you want to do is create inner pages that are supporting articles for your critical page’s target keyword. Then place a contextual link to the homepage with some variation of the target keyword, or something generic like “Return to Homepage.”

When you send links to the inner page, the link juice comes in and immediately transfers to the critical page using a targeted anchor to establish the relevance. Works like a charm.

So instead of going brute force after a keyword, first take a look at the competition. See what they’re doing to rank, and mimic the same. As usual, send your most powerful links to your critical page and use inner-pages to supply the extra link juice to get to the top.

Are there any Other Black Sheep Scenarios?

black sheep

Quite simply… absolutely.

There are numerous situations where sticking out from the crowd and being different from your peers in the SERPs is going to make life harder for you…

As a general rule, your main goal for ranking in Google is to “blend in” but “do it better”.

Here are some examples…

Word Count

It’s a common fallacy when people blindlly believe that larger articles always outperform shorter articles.

Take local SEO for example.

If you’re trying to rank your plumber client, does it really make sense to have a 4000 word homepage? How much content does it take to sell plumbing in Chicago?

Google knows this. They know that many sales based pages (and ecommerce as well) do not require a huge amount of content to rank.

When your SERP is populated with short content sales pages, you’ll need to mimic the same.

Domain Age

Every time you’re evaluating whether or not to go into a new niche, take a look at the domain age of the sites on page 1.

If your competition is all 4+ years old, you’re going to have a hard time penetrating that niche.


So what’s the solution?

Is it as easy as being patient and waiting for your new site to age?


Remember, as your site is getting older, so is your competition. One year later, you have a year-old site but your competition is now 5 years old.

One option is to simply build new sites on aged domains. I would stick to non-dropped domains such as you can get from vendors like TB Solutions.

Another option is the 301 redirect.

When you redirect, the receiving site essentially inherits the age of the redirected domain, amongst other things such as anchor text and link juice (minus some fudge factor).

I’ve used 301’s to skate the sandbox as well as imitate artificial age, but I tend to avoid them as much as possible. 301’s add a measure of non-control to the ranking process, which I prefer to always keep.

Locally Relevant Link Diversity

locals onlySEO agencies are very familiar with this.

When ranking in locally-based niches, Google is expecting locally-based links.

If you’re the fella attempting to rank for “plastic surgeon beverly hills” with 100% PBNs, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle.

Looking at your competition will soon reveal a large list of locally relevant link sources, whether they be from business citations in the same city or guest posts from local bloggers.

I ran into the same situation on a national level when I was attempting to rank an affiliate website in Brazil.

Reverse-engineering the competition revealed that the competition had, on average, 40% of its links coming from domains.

This is what gave me the idea to use citations for affiliate websites, and as a result, I found myself on page 1 in short time.

Leverage local links like citations for a quick and cheap way to get that local relevance. For this I recommend Web 20 Ranker’s citation package (coupon code “Diggity15” for 15% off).

Being Bottom-Heavy

This situation comes into play when you have the following site architecture…

You have a homepage that virtually serves as a portal to various silo pages. Your homepage doesn’t exactly try to rank for anything, but your silo pages definitely do.

An example of this would be if you have a national dentist directory.

Obviously no one is searching for “dentist in USA”, so you wouldn’t care about ranking that page. But you definitely care about ranking your inner pages for “dentist in Palm Springs” and the like.

The problem comes into play when you’re distributing the links to the pages on the site.

If there is an unnaturally high ratio of inner-page links vs homepage links (as compared to the competition), this results in another black sheep scenario.

bottom heavy

To prevent this from happening, you need to link to the homepage.

You can accomplish this on the cheap with citations or, one of my favorites, press releases.



Matt is the founder of Diggity Marketing, LeadSpring, The Search Initiative, The Affiliate Lab, and the Chiang Mai SEO Conference. He actually does SEO too.

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