BACK TO BASICS: Competitor Research – How to Beat Giants in the Search Results
What does it take to beat a giant? Sometimes trying to fight your way up the ranks of search results may feel like an impossible battle; no matter how much you improve your site, establish quality connections and wait patiently, those giant sites above you simply will not budge.
Competitive research strengthens any marketing project, but for SEO, you can't do without it. The search engines rank highest those sites they consider the most relevant, trustworthy and high-quality for a given user’s search query and perceived intent. So what better way to find out what the search engines will reward than to look at the victors?
Once you've identified your top competitors, you’ll want to use a tool to save time with your research and determine what the search engines are rewarding for that keyword. It’s amazing how much of an opponent’s optimization strategy you can see and analyze in an instant. Tools such as our SEOToolSet® can expose all kinds of details about a website, as well as track your SEO progress over time. For a quick analysis, try free options such as these for starters:
Now that you’re better armed for battle, we’ll look at how to beat the giants through some strategic competitor research. (Disclaimer: This article deals primarily with on-page attributes you can research and optimize. There are also other SEO factors that contribute to rankings.)
Sizing up the giants
The top 10 organic (non-paid) search results are the ones you want to examine for your competitive research. You may think that only businesses offering the same service, product or information you do should qualify as true competitors. But in the search engine results pages (SERPs), those first-page results are ALL competing to take your place. And so far, they may be winning!
So, who are those unbeatable websites among the top 10 competitors for your targeted keywords? Let’s look at four types of giants and what you can do to better compete.
This information giant often squats in the second or third position of search results. Is it a competitor? Not in the sense that you offer the same things (unless your site is an encyclopedia). But you may be competing against it for placement on the SERP.
Can you beat Wikipedia? Depending on the searcher’s intent, possibly yes. As Bruce Clay points out in his training courses, Wikipedia answers the who, what and when, but seldom addresses the how. That could be your edge. But to satisfy the search engines, your content must still cover the subject equally well for research-oriented searches.
First, visit the page that’s ranking for your keyword for an in-person look. Then plug the URL into your research tool and answer these questions:
#2: Ehow, EzineArticles, Yahoo! Answers, Wikihow, etc.
These user-submission sites offer practical how-tos that search engines often rank high for information-based queries. Like Wikipedia, these results may not seem like real competitors. But if Google thinks an Ehow article is more relevant than your website for a targeted keyword, you should find out why.
What kind of competitor research will help if you’re a David going up against a Goliath brand name? Google gives a lot of weight to well-known brands. But you know how the battle ended for David, so it may still be worth a shot.
Here are some suggestions for an SEO strategy that could at least keep you alive on the same SERP with a giant brand:
#4. Authority .gov and .edu sites
Official authority sites are hard to beat in direct combat. Government and university websites may have PageRank as high as 7 or 8 (on Google’s scale of 1 to 10), giving them tremendous clout in the search results. Nevertheless, remember that ranking comes down to quality content, trustworthiness, and relevance to a particular user’s query and perceived intent. You probably can’t beat a .gov site for trustworthiness; however, in the areas of content and relevance, you have a chance. Here’s what to look for:
Pre-battle pep talk: The best way to use competitor research for SEO
Of course, what you don’t want to do is copy a competing site’s content. Not only would that be unethical, but it also wouldn’t help you rank. Search engines can detect duplicate content, and you can be sure that your site, not your high-ranking competitor, would be the one filtered out of the results.
So what should you do with the behind-enemy-lines intel you gather through competitor research? As you watch your website competitors’ maneuvers, count their troops and assess their weaponry, you’ll find out their strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, you’ll see the on-page areas you need to improve in order to compete better in the search engines. And you’ll develop an SEO battle plan to do what they do, only better.