Well, the 2019 Wix SEO Battle is over!
While it didn’t end exactly how we wanted it to, we had a lot of fun and are very proud of the strategy our team built and iterated on. We learned a lot, tested and verified some of our tactics and theories, and grew collectively as a team.
With that being said, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t address some controversial things that took place at the end of the competition – and along the way.
But first, let’s set it up.
About the Competition
Six months ago, we and Marie Haynes Consulting were chosen to compete in the Battle. Wix wanted to put their new SEO tools to the test! Marie’s team was deemed the “Wix SEO Lovers” and we the “Wix SEO Haters”. They needed to build a website using Wix, and we could use whatever platform we wanted (we built ours on a homegrown platform). At the end of the Battle, a third party would see, via an Incognito Google Search, who was ranking higher for the term “wix seo”.
In our opinion, the premise of the Battle is flawed and just perpetuates some of the misunderstandings that have occurred in the SEO industry for years. It’s foolish to measure the success of an SEO strategy based upon one short-tailed, generic keyword, such as “wix seo”. Ideally, when creating a successful SEO strategy, you want to try ranking for as many relevant and related keywords as possible. It’s also crucial, with some of the last year or two’s Google algorithm updates, that you take search intent into account.
While the term “wix seo” may have a decent amount of search interest, this wouldn’t be the ideal term to target, since the intent is unclear. Are users looking for SEO services specific to Wix? Do they want to read about past performance? Or, maybe they are interested in the SEO tools Wix offers. It’s hard to tell, and the SERPs reflect that.
This is always the problem with targeting short‐tail terms such as this one.
Also, as many SEOs know, aside from page 1 or 2 on Google, search results can be extremely volatile. Google is constantly changing results and updating their algorithm to provide users with the best experience possible. We saw our site jump a few spots, or even pages, within minutes of the same search.
So, to deem one website as a “winner” based upon a snapshot of ranking performance for a single keyword in Google doesn’t make much sense. Instead, it should be based upon average ranking performance for that keyword over the 6-month period. If that were the case, as you’ll see below, we would have definitely won.
This all being said, we took on the challenge in an effort to push our team and our tactics! We were honored to have been chosen in the first place, among what we were told was "hundreds of other agencies".
How the Competition Started
From the start, we had some cards stacked against us.
Marie was a strategic “Lovers” pick by Wix because she’s well connected within the search space, with over 18,000 Twitter followers, and her backlink profile, domain authority (according to Moz), and authority score (according to SEMrush) far exceeded ours.
Moz Domain Authority Score
SEMrush Authority Score and Backlink Profile
On the site about the Battle, Wix placed “SEO” multiple times within their description around the link to their website (content around your link provides more context to search engines to what it’s about):
Whereas ours had no mention of SEO:
To make things even worse, when Wix announced the competition across top search publications, they used partial match anchor text for the Lovers and generic anchor text for us.
For example, take a look at the article that was published on Search Engine Journal. Here is the sentence in which the Lovers are mentioned. Notice that their anchor text has “Wix” in it.
Impartial Anchor Text for the Lovers
And now look at ours:
Generic Anchor Text for Haters
We flagged this and it was eventually removed. However, the damage had been done.
In the end, we knew getting into a contest that was created by the platform we were competing against would be an uphill battle. And we conquered that hill – for the most part.
How the Contest Played Out
Despite these initial hurdles, our team crushed it! We designed a truly optimized, and high-performing, website. Check out our speed scores from Google Page Speed Insights:
Desktop Page Speed
Mobile Page Speed
Even with just days to get a website stood up in collaboration with our incredibly talented designer/developers, we built it, and our on-going content development, around thorough keyword research. This led us to a ton of success for the first 5 months of the Battle, as seen below in SEMrush’s position tracking for the term “wix seo” (we’re the green and the Lovers are orange).
SEMrush Position Tracking
For the majority of the competition, despite some normal fluctuations, we outranked the Lovers anywhere from 15-30 positions (or 2-3 pages in Google).
Take a look at the final Wix SEO Battle scorecard. As you can see, we’ve been leading in overall performance for the entire contest. I’ve removed the final positions because based upon the rankings above and the performance in the weekly stats, you’d assume we’d be leading, right?
Things got a little fishy in the last month or so.
Randomly, around November 18th, we saw a dip in ranking (first red circle). We recovered briefly, only to see another dramatic drop early in December (second red circle). Seeing that we had made no major changes to the site, we assumed it was just some search fluctuation. We did recover for a day, only to drop again and stay low for weeks in December, even actually bottoming out of the top 100 on occasion (third red circle).
SEMrush Position Tracking with Drops
This went on to see us drop out of the top 100 spots in Google the night before the end of the competition.
Odd timing, right?
What’s even odder is that not too long before and after those drops, we earned do-follow backlinks from SEMrush, a college, and several digital marketing blogs with some equity we were excited about. If not staying consistent, we should have been on the up.
So, in an attempt to resolve this and do some “digital damage control”, we considered all of the possibilities.
- Did we receive a Google Penalty?
- Did we have a lot of toxic/spammy links?
Oddly enough, we did have nearly 30 domains which attributed for over 100 toxic links, but these were disavowed in a timely fashion. So, we should have recovered.
- Did we make any drastic changes to the website (e.g. Greatly Changing Our On-Page Copy)?
- Were we hacked?
- Were we just being outranked by our competitor?
No. If you look at their performance, they stayed consistently on pages 5-6 during the majority of the Battle, including while we saw dramatic drops.
- How were we performing on other search engines?
So, we checked all other major search engines including Bing, Baidu, Yahoo, and DuckDuckGo. For all of those, we ranked on page 1 in positions 4-6. The Lovers ranked 20-30 spots below us.
So what’s going on?
It’s hard to tell. The only other explanations that we could come up with for this kind of drastic drop would be a negative SEO attack, being falsely reported as spam to Google, or something being done with the domain (being as Wix owns the domain).
All of this data and our concerns were reported to the Battle judge, SEO thought leader Lukasz Zelezny. He confirmed he would look into it. His response, minutes prior to the end of the Battle, was that Marie Hayne’s company site had a higher domain authority than ours, and after adding a sitewide external link in the footer, directing to their Lovers site, they saw a bump.
What that didn’t explain was the significant drops our site saw. It also didn’t necessarily align with the fact that the Lovers stayed consistent in ranking performance over the majority of the Battle, and even saw a drop towards the very end (until the final day).
Also, we thought it was worth noting that with that response, Lukasz essentially confirmed that the Lovers’ performance had nothing to do with the effectiveness of Wix’s SEO tools, which was what the Battle sought to prove in the first place, but rather their pre-established link equity.
If all of this wasn’t suspicious enough, we were prompted with this pop-up while on the section of Wix's site about the Battle:
If you look in the bottom right-hand corner, you’ll see the date is December 18th. However, the contest didn't officially end until December 19th at 12:00PM EST.
We were prompted with this pop-up while on the FAQ page of this site section. We actually happened to be in the lead when we caught this!
We flagged this to the judge. We didn't initially receive a response; however, the pop-up was taken down shortly thereafter, and we were later told that it had been launched accidentally.
That night, as mentioned before, our rankings fell again (again falling out of the top 100) while the Lovers jumped up multiple pages.
Stats from the Competition
As mentioned previously, accessing your SEO performance based upon one keyword certainly isn’t best practice. So, here are some of the performance stats we also wanted to share that speak to how we did. In 6 months of launching a brand new domain, we were able to:
- Rank in the top 100 of Google for over 140 relevant keywords
- Earn 875 backlinks from nearly 100 domains
- Drive over 1,100 organic sessions with a bounce rate below 50% with an average session duration of nearly 3 minutes
- Drive over 5,000 sessions (the majority being from referral traffic)
- Gain over 700 organic clicks and 50,000 impressions
- Achieve a domain rating 36 (via ahrefs)
- Gain position 18 for the term “wix seo” (page 2)
- Gain an average weekly position for the term “wix seo” of 33 (prior to drops at the end)
Coming into the Battle, the Liquid team and I, along with an overwhelming majority of SEOs in the industry, had a poor perception of Wix based upon historic performance. However, I must admit, they have improved their tools immensely and have resolved some of the major SEO issues that previously plagued their users.
With that being said, my position on their platform remains. I do not recommend that anyone use Wix if they are serious about their SEO performance and organic growth. The platform still has critical issues, such as:
- Slow Site Speed
- Non-Customizable Robots.txt File
- Non-Customizable XML sitemap
- Takes Much Longer for Content to Be Crawled and Indexed Compared to Other Platforms
- Non-Customizable HTML or CSS
If anything, this contest proved how far Wix still has to go to be considered a viable platform for SEO. They chose a well-known and well-connected opponent with an abundance of link equity in Marie Haynes Consulting, an agency who clearly knows what they are doing from an SEO standpoint – and their website still couldn’t crack page 4 consistently.
How would your average small business owner, freelancer, or blogger who is not as well versed in SEO perform for more difficult queries? Not well.
Congratulations to Marie Haynes Consulting, the Wix SEO Lovers, though! It was a lot of fun to compete against such a well-known and legitimate agency. We wish you the best moving forward.
I’d also like to say thank you to our entire team, our clients, the SEO community, and others that supported us along the way. We learned a lot, and we’re beyond proud of our efforts!
If and when we hear anything more from Wix or the Battle’s judge, we will be sure to update this article.
[Updated on 1/22/20]
Since we weren’t satisfied with the results of the Battle nor Lukasz’s response to our questions around our own site’s performance in the final weeks, we decided to conduct our own investigation.
As suggested above, we considered a number of possibilities for why our rankings fluctuated so much so towards the end of the Battle. What we can’t confirm or deny is whether Wix took any actions, as the owners of wixseohaters.com, to affect our site’s performance.
We, too, spent some time taking a look at the Lovers’ strategy as compared to our own, and in doing so, believe we found violations of the contest rules.
Marie Haynes Consulting (MHC) has canonicals directing to their Wix SEO Lovers website on these two pages of their agency site:
Now, to be fair, the second article was published around the same time on both websites, so I suppose this makes sense to avoid duplication. However, the first article was published nearly a month and a half prior to the Lovers’ site launching. Utilizing their pre-established link equity, this article obviously performed well on the Lovers’ site (this page was ranking on page 4 for the entire contest, which was usually higher than both our sites).
As mentioned above, their Lovers website jumped to page 3-4 (from page 6) on the final day. This was the highest they had been since the early weeks of the competition. Adding this canonical would certainly explain such a jump.
How This is a Rule Violation:
Section 6, rule 6.3.3, of the rules set out at the beginning of the Battle states the following:
We felt as if this tactic violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, specifically the third bullet of what Google refers to as the “Basic Principles”:
Would MHC have done this if search engines didn’t exist? Absolutely not.
The Judge’s Response:
“This is cross-domain canonical. Marie is clearly saying here that content from MarieHaynes.com was moved to WixSEOLovers.
Both articles are freshly written (same time). And because Marie wanted them on both website - her own and WixSEOLovers to avoid duplication issue she canonicalized from Mhc to WixSEOLovers.”
Again, while we concede this point to the second article, the first article was written well ahead of the one published on the Lovers’ website. On MHC’s site, it established a ton of ranking and equity. The canonical was added later in a successful attempt to unnaturally boost the Lover’s site’s ranking position.
The Lovers created doorway or duplicate pages in an attempt to rank multiple times for “Wix SEO” by inserting that keyword into the URL. These pages do not have unique content and lead directly to the homepage:
Why This is a Rule Violation:
While it could be up for debate whether or not these pages are doorway pages, there’s no arguing that these pages lack original content. Either way, they are in direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (see screenshots below):
Thin Content / No Original Content
Oddly enough, the first page (https://www.wixseolovers.com/wix-seo) has since been 301 redirected to the homepage.
The Judge’s Response:
“This one is pretty straight forward. She called category "wix seo".
That is far away from doorway pages.”
What seems straight forward to us is that having your content and optimizations (page titles and meta descriptions) duplicated throughout your site with URLs that are clearly targeting one keyword is a violation of Google’s guidelines.
The Lovers have two blogs that are identical to ones that exist on MHC’s website.
- https://www.wixseolovers.com/post/why-did-mhc-join-the-wix-seo-contest which is identical to https://www.mariehaynes.com/why-did-mhc-join-the-wix-seo-contest/
- https://www.wixseolovers.com/post/q-a-with-gary-iilyes which is identical to https://www.mariehaynes.com/qa-with-gary-illyes/
Why This is a Rule Violation:
Copying content without adding any unique, additional value is considered scraping content, which is a direct violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
Here is the definition below. I’ve highlighted two main points to focus on.
The Lovers copied the articles word-for-word from MHC’s website (which, as shown earlier, has a high domain authority and is very reputable) without edits or additions.
The Judge’s Response:
“Again here - it’s not scraping. Marie published article same time on both websites.
Used canonical tag to mark that Google should consider content on WixSEOLovers as original one and MHC only as a copy.
Scraping would be usage of old content especially from 3rd part website (non related to MHC).”
As mentioned, the original publication date rebuttal is not accurate or applicable to the first article.
So, there you have it! This is everything we saw throughout and after the competition. Unfortunately, the judge did not see it the same as we did. Overall, it was a lot of fun and we gained a ton of invaluable experience.
Please stay tuned for a future blog regarding what we learned during this competition, solely from an SEO strategy and tactical standpoint.
What We Plan to Do With the $10,000 Prize
Due to our reasonable skepticism of the Battle and tactics leveraged by our competition, we have elected to accept the prize and use it to further educate others about SEO best practices. Through workshops and other events, we hope to educate our clients, other marketing professionals, and local college students on the value of SEO, trends and tactics that we capitalized on as part of this Battle – and most importantly, to avoid performance-limiting platforms, such as Wix, in order to be most successful.