Growth of online businesses has quickly become an unprecedented global phenomenon. The Internet, in many ways, has evened the playing field for businesses around the world. It’s now possible to run a successful online business from the comfort of your own home. But along with these opportunities, new challenges have arisen. The most significant is visibility – how can you get your website to stand out among the more than one trillion (and growing) web pages that currently exist?
That is the question that continues to be a focal point for many online marketers. One of the primary ways to have a competitive online business is by using search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. These include optimizing your website and content to achieve higher ranking on search engine results pages (SERPs). An additional SEO strategy that is often overlooked by newbies focuses on learning about your competitor’s SEO activities.
Researching your competitors can help you improve your own SEO to position your website to get better PageRank and higher SERP listings. Plenty of free and paid tools are available to assist with your competitor research. When researching, you want to look at very specific information that you can turn into actionable SEO improvements.
You may have a general sense of who your competition is, but to know for sure you can use competition finder tools that will tell you the number of web pages currently indexed by Google that include your keywords in title tags or anchor text. This will give a list to start working from. Of course, those sites with the most competing pages are likely your most significant online competition. You can also find competitors by looking for websites that include keywords in their domain name. URL competition tools can be used to find these domains.
To confirm this, find out what your competitor’s PageRank is so you can have a sense from the beginning of exactly how you compare. You can get the PageRank of any website by using a PageRank checker. These are usually free tools that simply require you to enter a URL to get the score. PageRank is basically the level of trust and authority Google assigns to your website. The greater your PageRank, the more visibility your site will have on SERPs. And customers prefer high-trust domains over those with low PageRanks.
Your competitors consistently have a higher PageRank than you do. To find out why, begin by identifying the keywords they are using. With keyword density analysis tools you can easily identify the most commonly used phrases and words on any website. Those used most often will be keywords and keywords phrases. If your competitor is not using keywords you are, it may very well be because they know your keywords have no value. This means nobody is using the keywords on search engines. These are dead-end keywords that will get you know where with SEO. Google Search Insights is a tool that helps you trend a specific keyword and identify the top keywords in a particular category.
Once you’ve identified your competitor’s keywords, you then want to find out how well they are performing for them. In other words, how much traffic are they getting as a result of their keyword selection? What you really want to know is the ability of their keywords in driving traffic to their site. One way to determine the value of keywords is to examine the cost of the keyword if you used AdWords which is a paid approach to getting traffic.
You can get very specific and compare how one of your web pages stacks up to a competitor’s page with similar content. Use page comparison tools to look at tags and similar keywords. You can also use a search engine saturation tool to see how many of your pages are currently indexed by search engines compared to those of your competitors. The more pages you have indexed, the greater your authority. Your pages will only be indexed if they have original content. This means no duplication within your site or external to it.
Link Strategy Review
Research tools exist that allow you to learn about your competitor’s link strategy. Link analysis tools can show you their backlinks so you can see how the success of their link building campaign compares to your own. With certain tools you can actually download a site’s entire link profile. Both Google and Yahoo! use the SEO link analysis script from Joost De Valk to analyze links. You can verify a link still exists and whether it uses nofollow tags. Want to know what their link popularity score is compared to yours? There’s a tool for that as well. Most importantly, you want to examine the value of their backlinks. Are they linking to high trust domains? Also consider the diversity of their link strategy. See where the links are coming. It is helpful to know if links are coming from press releases, RSS feeds, or social bookmarking.
In addition to those elements already mentioned, you can also check to see if competitors have blogs. Blogs have become major players in SEO strategies. If they are operating one, find out if they have it established as a sub-domain or as a separate domain. You also want to see if their videos and images are being indexed by search engines. Are yours? Check out their URL structures which can be important to SEO success. Sites that take control of their URLs often have better success than those who allow the built-in website navigational structure do it for them. With URL competition tools, you can also see which of your competitors actually include a particular keyword in their URL address. This practice often results in higher SERP listing and can also impact PageRank. It is an SEO technique that continues to increase in popularity so knowing how competitors are implementing is can help with your own SEO strategy.
Obviously you want to see what your competitors are doing socially. Check out their Facebook, Google+, and Twitter pages. See how many followers they have and how they are integrating social media into their overall SEO strategy. Keep track of the number of followers they have so you can see how fast they are growing. If they have a blog, check their postings to see which get the most comments, “likes” and “tweets”. You do not want to duplicate their efforts per se, but you can leverage what they are doing to expand your own SEO efforts.
Search Engine Crawling
Web pages get listed on SERPs because they are indexed by search engines which use algorithms to collect and analyze website information. You can see what the search engines see when they index competitor sites. Spider test tools provide information that details how competitors are using title and meta tags. You will also get keyword density for all similar phrases including long tail. These tools will even provide the outbound links on each page of a website so you gather additional intelligence on a competitor’s link building strategy.
You can easily get information on the traffic trends of any website through sites such as Alexa.com which detail a site’s traffic volume on an ongoing basis. You can also get demographic information on the traffic using traffic trend tools. Depending upon your specific niche, it might be helpful to know where the traffic is coming from. Google Trends is an excellent tool that immediately provides the top sites for a particular keyword. This is determined by the amount of traffic to those sites. It is possible for the top sites to change daily so monitor it for several weeks to see which stay on and which fall off.
Competitive analysis requires you to collect as much of this data as possible to get an accurate picture of how your site compares to competing sites. Selecting only one or two on which to focus will skew the results and waste your time. Don’t become overwhelmed once you realize how much competition exists for your website. You only need to focus on those sites that continuously appear on the first and second SERPs.
The final step in competitive analysis is to closely examine the content of those top sites. Look for weakens. How frequently are they updating their content? Is high quality and relevant? Those sites that use black hat SEO tactics or offer poor quality content can be overtaken by high quality sites. This means that after you have completed your analysis, you should be ready to refocus on providing fresh content and establishing quality backlinks. With SEO, quality will always supersede quantity.
Competitor research can be helpful in the short-term, but don’t jeopardize your own business by giving your competitors too much of your attention. Instead, use the information you obtain to establish a baseline and future benchmarks for your own SEO strategies. You should give the majority of attention to good customer service which includes quality content and positive experiences for site visitors. The rest will come in time if you follow SEO best practices.