Exceptions to SEO Best Practices

During my research this morning, I came across a very interesting niche, with some very interesting top-ranking sites.

Though I’m not going to reveal niche OR sites (this isn’t intended to be some kind of hit-job), I wanted to share something that I don’t see talked about very often:

SEO best practices are a good starting point, but don’t at all apply to some niches.

The keyword I was looking at is 301,000 searches per month, very competitive, and VERY lucrative.

If you wanted to rank a site for this keyword you’d have to come to terms with two big things:

  1. you aren’t going to crack the top 10 without some seriously aggressive link building
  2. your site is probably going to get penalized at some point.

So, not for the faint-of-heart, and definitely not a long-term business strategy.

Take a look at the top 20 ranking sites to see what that looks like:

To summarize, that’s:

9 .com, 3 .to (actually, the same site has all three top spots!), 1 .video, 1 .es, 1 .co, 1 .ag, 1 .ms, 1 .io. 1 .net, 1 .org.

Since I am not disclosing the keyword/niche let me assure you that:

  • Content is not king, here.
  • This is not about building relationships.
  • User experience is shit.


The .coms present here are the usual SERP-characters, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, etc. There’s a reason most domains are not .coms: a good domain name would be wasted on this churn/burn style of business.

What do all of these sites have in common?

A ton of links.

Unsafe, built-to-rank (not-necessarily-to-last) links.

The top ranking site (.to TLD) has built 1,390 links (many of which were 301 redirected from other, similar sites).

Similarweb.com estimates 318 million visits/mo:

So the trade-off of having their site be SUPER at risk for a penalty is 300 million visitors per month and a site in the Alexa top 100.

Building links to your site was, is, and will be the most important factor in a site ranking well.

Typical advice tells you to be smart about your link velocity, keep it looking natural, slow and steady.

For this site, however, the link velocity stray’s pretty far from the warming-glow of best practices:

The top ranking site has +1000 linking domains.

The other sites have close to 1000 linking domains.

Exact Match Domains (EMD) work super well (though you’ll need more than JUST an EMD to rank)

For this, I’ll exclude the domains ranking on pure authority and have nothing to do with the niche (Twitter, Facebook, etc).

That leaves 14 sites (in the top 20).

Of those 14 remaining sites:

  • 5 sites use exact match domains
  • 5 sites use partial match domains


I see the same trend of EMD/PMD across the related and equally valuable and competitive keywords.

The Takeaways

Commonly-given SEO advice is usually practical, but doesn’t apply to all niches/websites and specifically to all SEO strategies.

Exact match domains can still be an asset.

Link building is usually a must to help your site rank well. Excessive link building can rank your site well for ultra-competitive niches, but the trade-off is that it creates a site with a high probability of getting penalized eventually.

Remember, there are all kinds of different strategies for getting the traffic you need. The “SEO Best Practices” preached by many (including us) are generally right for most businesses, but there are countless exceptions if you are able to think outside of the box, and the results can be incredibly rewarding if you succeed.


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Sean Markey

Sean Markey

Obsessive consumer of SEO news and strategies, writes the This Week in SEO column. Loves playing drums and writing fiction. Bets you he can throw a football over them mountains.
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