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December 13, 2007

Competitive Search Engine Optimization

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One of the objectives we lay out in our SEO training course is that to be successful in search engine optimization and earn your rankings, you have to make yourself equal to, and then ultimately better than, your competition. I think is a pretty logical goal. If you want to rank higher than your competition and get your site seen by users, it makes sense that you would have to better than they are, right? Right!

But there’s a learning process involved. You can’t be better than your competition without knowing who they are, what they offer and what’s important to them. For that, you have to do a little digging.

I had the chance to attend last week’s Competitive Intelligence session during PubCon. Overall, the session was great and I came away with a lot of super information. However, you may remember that I was just a touch uncomfortable when one of the speakers began advocating techniques that would leave me unable to sleep for a week, things like staging phone calls to the significant others of your competition in order to find dirt. As a result, I thought I’d present my own list of angelic ways to keep tabs on your competition.

Go Digging for Holes!

What’s the easiest way to be better than your competition? Fill up all those holes they’re unknowingly leaving behind. And you don’t need to go stalking ex-employees to do that, that’s why the Internet was invented–so that one day we would have the Google. And Ask.com! Whatever your engine of choice (coughAskcough), go conduct some searches and set up news alerts for your competition. Read what people (customers, the media, niche bloggers, etc) are saying about them, what they’re up to and what the conversation around them is like.

Once you have your data, use it! For example, maybe consumers are complaining that your competition, a vintage clothes seller, doesn’t carry enough merchandise for the 20s. Or maybe someone left an angry review because there wasn’t a book on how to get the perfect ’20s bob in the entire store (Sorry. Our ’20s-themed holiday party is approaching.) Competitive intelligence is a great way to find new product or service, offering opportunities to win over customers your competition is neglecting.

Or maybe the conversation has nothing to do with products and everything to do with the complicated nature of your competition’s Web site or how their customer service department sucks. If that’s the case, highlight how easy to navigate your Web site is or include customer testimonials touting how helpful your staff is. Help the alienated users of your competition find a new home with you.

Identify Where Their Rankings Are Coming From

There are tons of competitive intelligence tools on the market for search engine optimization. Some are useful and others just throw lots of data at you without really explaining what it means. Here are just a handful of my favorite tools:

  • SpyFu: If you want most of the good stuff you’re going to have to subscribe, but even the free version gives you some good nuggets. SpyFu is a fun tool that allows you to input the URL of a competitor and find out their daily ad spend, if they own any other domains, how many sub domains they have, what their average PPC position is, who their top organic competition is, and what they’re ranking for. It’s also a good way to find out which terms your competition has dropped out of their PPC campaign due to poor performance or other reasons.
  • Copernic: Allows you to track changes to your competitor’s Web site. Why is this useful? It gives you a glimpse into your competitor’s mind and a hint at where their business is going, what they’re focusing on and if there are any surprises from them in store. For example, maybe they just got rid of all the information regarding their consulting services. Could they be downsizing? Is there trouble in paradise? Or instead, maybe they just added a section about the new consulting services they’re starting which will put them in direct competition with you! You may also find that they dropped a whole section of content for keywords that weren’t converting or that they’re hiring a new blended search intern. Lots of goldmines can be uncovered just by monitoring your competitors’ Web sites.
  • SEOToolSet’s Competitive Research Tool: There are a lot of great tools inside our SEOToolSet, but our Competitive Research Tool will tell you your top competitors across all the major search engines, how many pages they have indexed, how many inbound links, etc. To can combine these results with data generated by our other search engine optimization tools to get an in-depth keyword analysis of each top-ranking Web site, and comparative link analysis & comparative keyword analysis of your top competition.
  • Yahoo! Site Explorer: If you want to know why your competitors are ranking above you, the first thing you should do is take a look at their links. Yahoo Site Explorer will not only tell you who’s linking to them, but it will give you the links in order of importance.
  • Trellian’s Competitive Intelligence Services: Trellian has made a full launch into the competitive intelligence space to help users improve their search engine optimization efforts. One of the tools at your disposal is the Search Term Intelligence Tool that shows search marketers exactly what terms their competitors are targeting. There are lots of tools out there that will help you do that (HitWise, AdGooRoo, KeyCompete, etc), or you can do it by hand, but I find Trellian to be the most user-friendly and intuitive. Whatever tool you want to use is fine with us, but use something! You absolutely must be aware of what keywords your competition is targeting, which ones they’ve forgotten about that you can capitalize on, where you can capitalize on geographic terms, etc.

If you haven’t really played around in the field of competitive intelligence, it’s time to start. I’d recommend outlining what it is you’re looking for before you start and then using a series of different tools so that you can capitalize on the strengths of each. Doing so should allow you to stay abreast of your competitors’ movements without making you sacrifice your soul in the process.

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One response to “Competitive Search Engine Optimization”

  1. Kate Morris writes:

    Hey, just a comment that the link to Spyfu is wrong and goes to a squatter page.

    These are great resources! Thank you!



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