But ranking reports don't mean nearly as much as they once did. Search engine rankings change regularly, are different on various data centers, and won't generate traffic to the Web site, much less generate leads and sales, especially if a site ranks well for keywords that aren't often searched.
So, I preach to my prospects and clients that they should be focused on analytics and measurement of SEO much like they would (try to) measure any form of marketing effort. Is the SEO program generating qualified traffic to the site? Is the SEO effort generating phone calls (yes, you can track this)? Is the SEO effort delivering a solid ROI (for what I'm spending on these efforts, either in internal resources or outsourcing)?
Now, that's not to say that a firm you've outsourced your SEO efforts to shouldn't be delivering reports. They absolutely should. But, let's try to focus on things that actually matter. These include things like solid keyword research, a competitive analysis, a site structure analysis and analytics reports that "mean something" (making sure that analytics programs are set up properly and tracking what matters).
Today, I'll touch upon one of the most overlooked aspects of a successful SEO effort: the competitive analysis.
Determine Who Your Competitors Are
Many CMOs are quick to list off a number of competitors (those that they think of as competitors in the traditional sense). In the SEO landscape, we lean towards those "keyword competitors" -- Web sites that are ranking for keywords we'd like our client to be found for.
A good example of this would be a client from my former life who sold "signs" (banners, billboards, etc.). One of their main keywords was (is) "signs." At the time, the movie "Signs," starring Mel Gibson, was released. Obviously, the movie isn't a direct competitor for this keyword, but a page devoted to this movie ranks number one in Google for "signs," and the movie still has several mentions in Google's top 10.
How to Compete for Various Keywords
Once you've determined the keyword competitors, you need to determine the factors that might be in play to help these Web sites to rank, while yours may not.
It's possible to get carried away with this type of analysis, as there are over 100 factors in play to determine why a Web site might rank, and the factors (and the weight of the factors) will fluctuate in the search engine's algorithms.
With that said, there are some pretty consistent things that you can look for to better compete for various keywords:
- Age of Domain: Many people getting into business on the Web for the first time don't know this simple rule. Buying an aged domain saves you a great amount of time. While you're at it, buy a domain that already has links pointing to it (links from within your chosen industry, ideally). When you look at the Web sites that are ranking for your selected keywords, you'll most likely see a trend that those listed on the first page of the search results are many years old. This could be because it took that long to generate enough quality links/content, but an aged domain is certainly one of the most important factors that goes into getting a Web site to rank.
- Pages Indexed: This is what I refer to as the "Wikipedia effect." Wikipedia is an extremely deep Web site, with only one page relevant to your search. Why does it keep showing up when you're searching? Because the search engines have determined that the Web site -- as a whole -- is an "authority" site. That is, it's deep with quality content (there are a number of other reasons why this Web site ranks, but the depth of the Web site is certainly key among those reasons). Wikipedia has more than 380 million pages indexed in Yahoo.
- Linking: Through an easy "site:www.sitename.com" search on Yahoo, you can see the pages indexed and links indexed for any Web site that you're analyzing. Click on the "Inlinks" link and use the drop down to select "except from this domain," so that you aren't counting those internal links in your analysis.
By following these three simple steps, you'll gain a greater insight into what it takes to rank for the keywords you're interested in ranking for, and help you better understand the steps/tactics that you'll need to employ to compete with those that are showing up in the SERPs.
If you're interested, I'm offering a free SEO competitive analysis (much more in-depth than what we've discussed here) to the first 50 applicants. To request your competitive analysis, click here.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!