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A familiar line I hear from new or potential clients with an established website is:
“We used to rank really well for our top keywords – always in the top 1-3 results that was bringing in lots of traffic and enquiries, but we’ve found it just slipping down the rankings and now we’re lucky to be on the first page at all….?”
These aren’t older sites that invested in manipulative link building in the past and have now been hit by Penguin, I’m talking about regular sites that paid barely attention to SEO in the past, ranked very well naturally in their keyword vertical via a combination perhaps of a lucky EMD, a few decent links and a low number of competitors.
Of course, there are so many potential variables, speculative reasons and invalidated data points to consider, plus the fact that the above paraphrased quote is pretty much self-selecting – people who already rank highly in organic results don’t generally seek an SEO consultant for help as much as those who are ranked lower in the SERPs.
But I do have a theory about SERP competitiveness in general – while there’s nothing profound in saying that over time and years, Google has become more competitive as the number of websites listed on the front page is always the same (generally speaking – calm down, SEO nerds) and the top 3 sites will only be open to three or less websites, the rate of increase in that level of competition may have been significantly accelerated by the huge uptake in WordPress as not only a blogging platform, but also content management system.
This data accompanies the aggregate number of total websites on the internet over time (versus the fixed number of results positions in the search engines):
For better or worse, WordPress makes it easy for people to publish simple, functional websites for free or very little cost with few of the overt SEO issues like text content in images, flash entrance pages and non-search engine friendly URLs.
Even according to Matt Cutts, WordPress as a CMS takes care of 80%-90% of SEO issues.
Plus, with easy to install third party plug-ins like Yoast, the majority of on-page optimisation where you would normally employ say an SEO junior to tediously fix are resolved out of the box by plug in scripts.
This of course raises the bar for SEOs. Obvious SEO issue-plagued websites are increasingly rare. Less tech saavy business owners are more easily able to create additional content (in the past, they might have been discouraged from regularly updating and adding new content as they had to pay a developer to modify their code or spent 3 hours trying to figure out the difference between articles and modules in the Joomla backend), leading to more and more average to decent quality content pages competing for the same number of high visibility spots as 2003.