Competitive SEO Research
Competitive research is one of the most important processes in organic search engine optimization (SEO). It involves studying websites that are ranking for your targeted keywords in order to improving your rankings. It is crucial during two phases of the SEO process. When you begin a search engine optimization project, you need to determine your goals in terms of content and links. In order to beat the competition, you first need to be in the same ballpark. As you continue to optimize your site, competitive analysis allows you retain your competitive edge and keep on top of your competitors. Getting the top search engine ranking is half the battle. Staying there is the other half. This methodology gives you the research tools to find out what your competitors are doing right, how to improve your website, and how to increase your natural SEO ranking for the long-term.
Why do competitive research?
You must understand why your competition ranks well and find out how your site matches up. This will help you set goals for writing additional content and your link campaign. Each keyword and industry can be vastly different so you need to understand which sites have top search engine ranking for your major keywords.
The amount of good content on competitor sites is one of the parameters you need to look at during competitive research. You need to evaluate how much content your competitors have, both on individual pages and on their sites as a whole. Your research should answer questions like: How many pages do they have? How much content do those pages have? What level and what demographic is the content written at? How are they distributing the keywords on those pages?
By answering these types of questions, you can determine how your site stacks up against the competition and identify any weaknesses.
Remember, the top SEO ranking goes to the site that is least imperfect.
Determine who your competitors are
Most site owners identify competitors as those in their field who offer similar products or services and are in direct competition for the same customers. While these are certainly important, when doing competitive analysis, do not forget to look at sites ranking well for your keywords that may be informational sites or offering different products and services. You still need to analyze those sites to see why they are ranking well since the search engines have decided they are relevant.
Your most important competitors are those sites that rank in the top 10 in the major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, MSN and Ask) for your most important keywords. SEOToolset's Research Summary Report will show you who these sites are. Also keep an eye on pages two and three of the search results for any sites that might be making a large leap due to a solid organic search engine optimization strategy.
Common Mistakes in Competitive Analysis
The most common mistake that those new to SEO make is assuming a site's ranking is due to only one factor. There are over 200 components to Google's algorithm, so many different factors come into play when a site is ranking well. Many elements that otherwise do not carry much weight become tie-breakers.
Also keep in mind that some sites will rank well in the short-term due to only one factor, but it is difficult to keep those rankings. For example, a competitor may rank well due to a large number of purchased links, but have a lack of content. We often describe SEO as a three-legged stool - with page factors (content and optimization), links and technical server issues all representing one leg each. Sometimes a site can rank with two of the three, but that is a very shaky stool that can collapse at any moment with a slight change of a search engine ranking algorithm. You want to make sure to build a solid foundation for your site based on all aspects of natural search engine optimization.
Occasionally, you will find a site that is spamming or using some sort of deceptive ranking tactic. This can trick some people who are new to SEO into believing that that is the single reason the site is ranking well and lead them to copy that spam tactic. Making sure to follow the SEO Code of Ethics will ensure that your site ranks well for the long term, rather than receiving short term gains followed by spam penalties and potential banning from a search engine. Report spammers to Yahoo! or Google, and eventually those sites will lose their SEO rankings.