Excessive Worry About Competition

Jul 7th

Excessive Worrying = Missed Opportunities

Do you worry too much about who you are competing against? Do you feel competitive research leads to many more "move on please" rather than "let's go!" types of outcomes? Believe it or not, it may be a good sign.

Competition is usually a good thing, it means something is worth fighting for. A lot of hucksters try to push ways to "Uncover hidden markets that nobody else knows about, that you can make millions from with little effort, and that is yours for just $47."

Here is the problem with lots of opportunity and 0 competition: businesses follow the money and shorten the supply chain. If an ad market is ripe it means that some of those advertisers are also going to be publishers in the same darn market, targeting the same darn keywords. So if there is big money there will be competition. It is unavoidable.

It isn't so much that specific niches are glossed over, but more to do with the fact that the bigger a site gets and the more keywords it targets the less time it has to focus on optimization at a granular level. These kinds of sites leave the door open for you to come in and attack some of their profitable keywords by creating niche sites around those topics.

Consider that our competitive research tool shows a site like ehow.com coming in with 2,948,950 organic keywords they are ranking for in the top 20 (our tool is powered by SEM Rush). Lots of opportunity there!

However, if you are interested in your public-facing status then chasing the long tail of a large site may not be the sexiest thing in the world to you. If you are more interested in profiting from your efforts versus tooting your own horn then what should matter is how you can maximize profits while keeping expenses low.

Certainly I'm not advocating that you only focus on niche keywords. If you have the resources then you can go after just about anything you want. In either scenario, long-tail plays or broad keyword plays, there should be less worry about who your competition is and more focus on what their weaknesses are, and how you can beat them.

There is an intimidation factor that is at play in just about every situation where competition exists:

  • Business
  • Sports
  • Personal Relationships

Much of that intimidation is perceived by the underdog or the new competitor. The following points are worth keeping in mind:

  • The best team is not unbeatable
  • The biggest site is not strongly optimized for all their keywords
  • The girl or guy you are quite fond of is actually approachable

Many of the competitors at the top of the heap are there for a reason, they're good. However, it doesn't mean they are invincible or beyond reproach. In fact it's quite the opposite. Some of the upper echelon sites in your market likely have become lazy or so big that can no longer reasonably go all out on all their profitable keywords. There are no shortage of tools out there that can help you find potential keywords for your sites by looking at profitable keywords of a competitor's site.

You can't win every battle you fight but if you win more than you lose then you are on the right track. Competing, in and of itself, is not going to mortally wound you if you lose :-). Look at is as a learning lesson.

  • What could you have done better?
  • Where could you have pushed harder?
  • Do you need to rethink how you view potential opportunities?

The great thing about SEO is that (providing you don't torch the site) there is no 4th quarter, final set, TKO, or bottom of the ninth. Your timing for failing is based on when you think it's a good time to pullout and move on to another site or use a new approach. The effective holding cost for a paused project is ~ $0. And who knows, maybe a future algorithmic update or another search engine will take a liking to your site. As long as you have analytics installed you are passively collecting market data - not a bad deal.

Google can be the referee that makes a horrible call which ends the game but more often than not you get to be the decider of when to push and when to pull.

So rather than worrying about your competition you are better off tracking your competition and figuring out where they are outperforming you. I like to keep a running log of ideas and processes that my competitors are implementing along with notes on where I think they are weak and how they could do what they are doing more efficiently.

Armed with that information, along with your findings with free tools like SEO For Firefox, you can start in on a thorough review of your competition and the feasibility of competing against them. Some core items you'll want to consider are:

  • Number of backlinks from unique domains (don't be *wowed* by the total link count)
  • Anchor text distribution of external links
  • Domain age, relative to when the site went live (with a few links)
  • Presence of the site in some of the better directories like Yahoo! and Business.Com
  • .Edu Links
  • .Gov Links
  • Is the exact match ranking?
  • Is it all big brands?
  • Are there lots of interior pages ranking?
  • The on-page optimization of the site/page
  • PageRank
  • and so on...

There are a number of tools available which can help you find weak spots in areas where your competition is possibly profitable and where potential opportunities exist for you. We did a review of the following spy tools :

We outlined a competitive intelligence strategy recently in addition to having quite a bit of killer tips and posts in the competitive research threads inside the forums.

So while you shouldn't ignore the competition completely you shouldn't be consumed by it, particularly if it's just a few metrics that you find daunting. There are enough tools out there where you can try and clone most of their best strategies but at some point you will have to go beyond what they are doing.

Studying a competitor's on and off page strategies, then finding ways to exploit weaknesses and build on strengths, will produce a better ROI for your business rather than searching for "The Fountain of No Competition" promised by that really nice internet marketing fellow you got that email from :-).

And SEO is just one phase of your analysis. Does everyone have the same business model? Are there other options? Do they all have similar site structures? Are they so inspired by one another that they are missing huge market segments?

Published: July 7, 2010

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Comments

July 8, 2010 - 1:10am

I look forward to seeing more content from the super mods in the forum :D

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