SEO Competitive Intelligence Strategy

Jun 18th
posted in

It's bad enough having to compete with Google's engineers.

But to win the search game, you need to out-compete your competition, too!

Back in the dark, distant past - around the turn of the century - there was an "us" vs "them" mentality in search. "Us" being webmasters, and "them" being search engines.

Back then, in those simple times, in-the-know webmasters gathered in dark forums to discuss and share cunning strategies to crack the algorithms. There was a time when the postings of the secretive GoogleGuy were a big deal. Imagine - a search engine rep actually fraternizing with the enemy! How strange was that!

Times have changed.

These days, webmasters are more likely to work with the search engines, in the form of Adwords and Adsense. GoogleGuy is now the non-mysterious Matt Cutts, who helpfully announces indexing changes before they happen, even if he is still rather vague on detail.

Unfortunately, the collective "us" - webmasters - do not share the same level of camaraderie we once did. As search marketing is now above radar, competition levels have become fierce.

It's more dog eat dog.

Winning The Search War Against Your Competitors

Once we've figured out what Google wants, or we think we know what Google wants, we then need to out-compete everyone else who thinks they've figured it out, too.

Typically, webmasters reverse-engineer competing sites. Who is linking to them? What pages are linked? How old are the links? What keyword terms are they targeting? What are their most popular keywords? What Adwords are they running? What meta keyword tags are they using"? ;)

Good questions - apart from the last one, obviously - and a legitimate strategy for emulating high ranking sites. Tools like SEMRush provide a valuable insight into what our competitors are doing. BTW: Not pimping, I've been using SEMRush a lot recently, and I think it's a great tool :)

However, there's more to it. We also need to look at some other, non-technical factors that reveal something much more lucrative and interesting.

Competitive Analysis

Competitive intelligence is an ongoing, systematic analysis of our competitors.

The goal of a competitor analysis is to develop a profile of the nature of strategy changes each competitor might make, each competitor's possible response to the range of likely strategic moves other firms could make, and each competitor's likely reaction to industry changes and environmental shifts that might take place. Competitive intelligence should have a single-minded objective -- to develop the strategies and tactics necessary to transfer market share profitably and consistently from specific competitors to the company.

The essential question underlying competitive analysis is this: "why do some web businesses do a lot better than others?"

In terms of search, we not only need to look at the technical aspects of the sites positioned above us, but we also need to analyse the markets in which they exist, what our competitors goals are, their pricing and products, and even obscure details, such as who they are hiring and firing, and why.

As you can see, it's not just about getting ranked higher for a certain keyword term. It's about getting ranked higher in terms of overall business performance. It's about seeing what market they capture, and where that market is heading in the future. Once you've figured out that, you might be able to discover new keyword streams that your competitors have missed, and may never think of.

Ok, so how?

How To Undertake Competitive Analysis

It would be nice if you could call up your competitors and ask them exactly what they're doing, and where they are heading. But we all know that's not going to happen.

We have to do a little investigative digging.

The problem is we don't want to do too much digging, as it is time consuming and can be expensive. Thankfully, a lot of the answers we need are sitting right in front of us.

Ask these questions:

  • What is the nature of competition?
  • Where does the competitor compete?
  • Who does the competitor compete against?
  • How does the competitor compete?

The nature of the competition is the overall market, and market forces. Take a look at Google Trends, trendwatching sites and other market research tools to figure out where their market is now, and where it heading. Does the market require significant resources? Why are these competitors in these markets? What related markets have they avoided, and why?

A concrete example. A few years ago, many SEOs competed as service agencies. Market trends showed that a lot of SEO was moving in-house, particularly at the top end. As SEO moved in-house, demand rose for training. A lot of SEOs are now engaged in training.

Ask yourself where your market will be in five years time.

Where does the competitor compete?For example, are they limited to a certain geography? Culture? Language? Do they have an offline presence?

Who does the competitor compete against? Make a list of the, say, top ten competitors in a niche. Compare and contrast their approaches and offerings. Compare their use of language and their relative place in the market. Who is entrenched? Who is up-and-coming? Who has the most market share, and why? Can you grab some of this share?

How does the competitor compete. What are the specifics of the products and services they are offering. Lower prices? High service levels? Do they provide information that can't be obtained elsewhere? Do they have longevity? Money, staff and resources? Are they building brand?

Whilst we could go into great depth, the value of even a basic competitive analysis is considerable.

By doing so, we can adjust our own offering, like altering price and service levels or by targeting a specific niche. We may slice a new niche in order to avoid direct competition with a highly resourced, entrenched market leader. We might make a list of all the things we need to do to match and overtake that fast rising new challenger. We then position against keywords aligned with the competitive realities we face.

There's much more to search competition that algo watching, keywords and links. And many more diverse ways to compete, too :)

Published: June 18, 2010

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Comments

June 18, 2010 - 6:35pm

Thanks for some useful reminders about evaluating competitors.

I am engaged in a project looking at 10 competitors for my French Food ecommerce store www.marketquarter.com. I have found www.rivalmap.com really useful in helping me sort out my ideas and make comparisons - and it's free.

I am splitting my analysis into functionality, on-site seo factors, off-site (link) factors, PPC and keyword analysis. I am also trying to visualize how I stack up and publishing these on my blog www.jonathanbriggs.com

June 18, 2010 - 10:51pm

Thanks for this article. It's a great reminder that SEO should be combined with business strategies. I am quite new to SEO, and just started my own (German) blog http://treasurezone.de/ to test some some thinks.

Jan

June 19, 2010 - 6:44pm

I really like this article. Reason being, it shows that there is much room for creativity in SEO. I'm fairly new to the SEO scene, and the SEO Process thus far appeared to be:

1) Let the smart guys figure out what's going on and then blog about it

2) Copy so and so's links

3) YOU WIN

And it seemed like there wasn't much room for differentiation between me and other people engaged in SEO. But now I see that spending that extra time to analyze the market can really up the conversions by targeting keywords that reflect market trends.

I'd like to add that complementary and supplementary goods could be applied to this concept as well.

If you see an increase in the demand for steel building construction, steel building suppliers should know to up their SEO budget to better ride the demand curve.

June 23, 2010 - 10:58am

Another good post. Statistics rule - how can you SEO without statistics? You'd be working blind. http://www.linkjuiceapp.com is a good tool to quickly check up on competitors from your iPhone. Great for quick references in client meetings and on the move.

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