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Search Engines and Competitive Research

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Search engines can tell you a lot about your competition, if you know what to look for. A panel of experts offers tips on profiling your competition.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies Conference, New York City.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members describes strategies to determine how sophisticated your competitors are, how to determine whether competitors are using paid inclusion or XML feeds, and how to assess a competitor's link development process. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

"Where do your competitors receive their traffic from, and what search engines are they working with?" asked Bill Tancer, VP of Research at Hitwise. "What search terms drive the most traffic to your competitors' sites and the industry? When you have answers to these questions, you can use this data to gain a competitive edge."

Keyword research and ad campaigns

A competitive analysis always begins with keyword research. "Search for your most obvious terms, including your brands and trademarks on the search engines," said Cam Balzer, Director of Search Strategy at Performics. "If you see your competitors consistently showing up in both natural and pay-per-click (PPC) search results, you know you are dealing with search-savvy competitors."

"PPC ads tell you what terms are important to your competition," said Allan Dick, General Manager of Vintage Tub and Bath.

Based on this keyword research, Balzer recommended building a matrix of both keywords and competitors. "With PPC campaigns, you can estimate your competitors' spend," he said. "You can view current cost-per-clicks from Overture's search interface, and you can calculate total costs based on the number of estimated searches per month, and estimated CTR baselines (5% for position one, 3% for position two, 1% for position three)."

"If the competition is aggressively bidding for the first position, it may make sense to manage against positions two and three and also managing against acquisition metrics," advised David Williams, Chief Strategist and Co-Founder of 360i.

Search engine optimization campaigns

Monitoring search engine ads are not the only way to gather competitive information. Natural search results can also provide information about link development strategies and keyword research.

"With natural search results, you can extract keywords from the titles, meta tags, headings, etc. on your competitors' actual Web pages," said Balzer.

Allan Dick uses natural search results to determine distributor information, manufacturing contacts, newspaper/magazine articles, and the marketing firms competitors use. For example, if you want to find your competitors' distributors, search for the manufacturer name and product name in a title, using Google's advanced search page.

Dick also uses eBay for competitive research. "Using your top keywords, search through the listings and find up-and-coming sellers, new product offerings, and different product terms," he said. "Take a look at your competitor's feedback for useful information."

In addition, many newspaper and magazine articles appear in reverse link look-ups, indicating your competitors' PR campaign strategies. "Look at the anchor text of some of the links," said Williams. "If the competitor has more links with anchor text that includes the targeted terms, then the site is much more likely to rank for the targeted terms."

Search engines offer a plethora of information about your own site and your competitors' sites, ranging from advertising, SEO, to publicity campaigns. Understanding how to search and diligently monitoring search results often provides valuable information about the players in your industry.

Want to discuss this article? Join the Search Marketing and Competitive Intelligence discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Related articles

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http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3323241

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http://www.searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3100291

The Lunchtime Effect
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http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/opt/article.php/1579241

Shari Thurow is the Marketing Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc. and the author of the book Search Engine Visibility.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members describes strategies to determine how sophisticated your competitors are, how to determine whether competitors are using paid inclusion or XML feeds, and how to assess a competitor's link development process. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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