Research and strategy are a large part of starting any organic search engine optimization campaign. One of the most important aspects to understanding what needs to be done (and for estimating how long it might take to acheive results) is to know your online competition.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between a company’s competition, and their “online” competition. Many of a company’s direct competitors may not have an Internet presence and thus do not need to be included on the list of “competitors”. Similarly, any companies that have some natural results on the second or third page may not be on that competitor list but should not be forgotten about because they may be working on increasing their placements.
OK, so we have defined “who” you should be looking for as competition in the search engines. What is the best way to go about finding them?
Any good SEO company or Internet marketing company will help you define your most powerful combinations of keywords and phrases. Generally the best keyword lists for any SEO or PPC campaign will include both broad search terms geared to your products and services and more specific “long tail” terms. The more specific terms sometime drive less traffic than the broad terms but can actually offer better conversions through more targeted traffic.
By defining these most important keywords, you can then use them to run searches. For example, if your company sells shoes online through an e-commerce platform then you should run a search for the terms “shoes”. Your direct competition are the sites that rank 1 through 10 in the organic results and any of the PPC ads along the top and right side of the page. You do not need to focus on sites that are on the second or third page for now (or until they are on the first page). These days only first page placement really matter!
Once you have this list of sites then you should look at the following to determine how they have acheived these results and how you can beat them:
- Age of the domain: how long has the site been an active/registered domain – the longer the better
- Number of pages the site has: to determine this type “Site:domainname.com” into your Google search
- Number of inbound links: to determine this type “Link:domainname.com” into your Google search
- Use of proper title tags/meta tags
- Does the site rank for MANY keywords and not just one or two
By understanding all of these factors, you can more readily assess the competition. Sometimes, the sites that rank well for some of your keywords are not well optimized. If that is the case your task just got easier. In theory, if your site has more pages, more inbound links, an older domain, and is properly optimized…then you should have better results than your online competition. This is not always true. It depends on all factors combined. Sometimes you will see sites for your keywords with decent rankings that have no business being on the first page. Generally, those rankings do not last and are a result of some search engine algorithm update.
Once you achieve those first page rankings there is a hierarchy of click through rates. Obviously being number one in Google for your top keyword is the best you can do but not always feasible. The higher you are on the first page, the better your click through rates will be. If your site is well designed then hopefully your conversion rates are good too! Understanding the other players on the first page of the SERPs and keeping up with what they are doing to stay on the first page is always going to be important. A good Internet marketing company can help you do this and their engineers should always be following how the competitors achieve their rankings.