For many search marketers tactical approaches to managing and optimizing SEO campaigns fills much of their time in their very busy diaries. However as SEO and social media disciplines merge, the importance of SEO is slowly rising to the top of many a C-Level agenda as a key driver of business goals including top line and bottom line.
Understanding where your competitors are positioned in SEO is one important aspect in today’s competitive landscape for meeting your organic search goals.
There are several ways to look at competitive intelligence. One framework approaches this from the content, authority, and opportunity angles.
I like to think of the opportunity aspect of competitive intelligence as consisting of:
- Improving share of voice: Understanding you and your competitors’ performance and strategies, and using this to improve your own share of voice
- Forecasting opportunity: Quantifying the value of SEO opportunities
Technology Is No Longer a Bottleneck
It was not too long ago that being able to understand the competitive landscape and actually begin to forecast opportunity in SEO was very much a case of consulting a magic 8 ball and seeing what results you were presented with.
The development of SEO technology has provided search marketers with a wealth of choice in tools and data from providers like SEOmoz and Majestic SEO to help us understand the competitive landscape. The SEO space is seeing significant investment in innovative technologies as well as integration between these technologies.
So, technology isn’t a constraint and we can begin to look at how this can help search marketers understand, estimate value more accurately, and now scale their SEO campaigns. Let’s then look at how to harness this technology to win in SEO through competitive intelligence.
Eight Steps to Successful Competitive Intelligence
There are a number of methods to look and evaluate competitor activity in this market. These vary from detailed spreadsheet/manual analysis, through to utilizing a number of free tools, and finally to using an Enterprise platform to tie together competitive analysis, opportunity forecasting and productivity and workflow. Utilizing any number of the above techniques works if you follow the structure I have identified below.
Step 1: Discover Competition
Before you go out and devise strategies to outperform completion, it makes sense to define competition and share of voice. I like to describe this as;
Understanding how you stack up against the competition. Share of voice allows you to discover the entire competitive landscape for a group of keywords, the percentage of the keywords in the group they rank for, and the number of keywords for which they rank. This helps you discover new competitors and create winning competitive SEO strategies.
Discover competition; measure you and your competitor’ SEO share of voice For your SEO strategies to be complete and effective, you will need to know who your competition is. While most marketers have a list of competitors they track, it is very likely that they do face competition from companies and brands they might not be aware of.
Discovering top competitors for each keyword/keyword group that correspond to product, product category and industry should be the first step as you think about gaining a competitive advantage.
One way to measure your competition is to map out the share of voice for each segment relevant to your business. If you are an apparel retailer, you may want to measure your and your competitor’s share of voice for every product or product category related keyword/keyword group. That should give you an exhaustive list of competitors that you actively need to track.
Step 2: Analyze Competition
Identifying competitors is a strong first step. The next step is to assess your competition and see how you perform against them. There are several ways to measure your performance against them and all of them are important.
Evaluate your competitor’s performance and the competitive landscape
Estimating the value and volume of all keywords that a domain ranks for helps you view the competitive field in more monetary terms and gives you value based parameters to monitor and track going forward.
Key questions you might answer with such a map include:
- Is any company dominating the market?
- Which keywords are they strong? Where are they weak?
Step 3: Track SEO Performance of all Keywords & Keyword Groups
Keeping track of performance is a complex task – especially within the long tail. There are three broad considerations in tracking keyword performance for competition.
First, ensure that you track data by product, brand, theme, project or any logical grouping that makes business sense. Analyzing data by these groups will make it easier for you to prioritize how to handle competition for specific groups.
Second, it is important that you track organic/classic and blended rank. Blended rank measures rank among all types of search results including text, images, video, local, and social results.
Last, ensure that you segment your analysis by the geography/search engines that you track.
The call to action from this analysis is two-fold:
- Shine a light on the keyword groups and keywords for which you outrank competition so you can reinforce what is already working for you
- Call your attention to the keyword groups and keywords where you face stiff competition so you can take corrective actions.
This leads in to the next step on having the ability to track universal search performance.
Step 4: Measure & Track Universal Search Performance
Google continues to put more emphasis on universal results, displaying image, video, social, and local results to make search results more relevant to the user. Tracking all of this helps you better measure competitor performance.Some people prefer to track completion manually or through Excel. However, universal and local listings make this a more and more complex task.
Identifying where you are positioned and where your competitors appear (and invest) across images, videos, social, local, and mobile allows you to make decisions on your future investment going forward. This allows you to rank across not just one but multiple channels.
Step 5: Understand How Competitor Social Media Activity Impacts Rank
With Search Plus Your World, Google signaled a greater importance for Google+ pages in the search algorithm. Understanding and scanning social media signals such as tweets, likes and shares is of growing importance. A recent case study BrightEdge conducted with Twitter and Tiny Prints highlights this point as 47 percent increase in search rankings was identified using Twitter.
It is also important to understand and track your competition’s social media activity and , more importantly, correlate it with their rank performance, Again, this needs to be done at keyword group level as discussed in Step 3. Once you have insight into how social media is impacting your competition’s rank, you can take actions like ramping up your social media activity for keywords where your competition is benefiting from social media.
Step 6: Build Insight into Competitive SEO Strategies
The analysis in Steps 2 through 5 paint will help paint a solid picture of how you perform against competition. While that is a great way to reinforce what’s working and fix what’s not, it is not sufficient. You need to drill down into your competitions SEO strategies and uncover new opportunities to improve your share of voice – that’s where the real competitive advantage lies.
Once you have gained an understanding of your SEO share of voice, where your competitors rank for the keyword groups that matter, you are ready to take your competitive intelligence to the next level. Now is a good time to understand what your competitors are focusing on. The following sequence should give you solid visibility into your competition’s strategies while also helping you discover opportunities:
- Build a list of your competitors’ top ranked pages. Ask yourself if these pages compete with any of your pages. If yes, follow the next step
- If yes, understand what the target keywords are for these pages. Do you track these keywords? If not, you need to track them – create logical groups of such keywords. Once you have a list of these keywords, ensure that you actively track performance for these keywords and the relevant pages are optimized for these keywords
- Also, map out the backlink profile for your competition’s top-ranked pages in A. Backlinks are a key driver of SEO performance.
Step 7: Compare Your Backlink Landscape With the Competition
It is really important to map out your competitions backlink profile. For your competition’s top-ranked pages identified in Step 6, make sure you have the following answers:
- How many backlinks do these pages have?
- Which domains with high authority link to them?
- Do these domains link to you? If no, you have an opportunity to link to them and raise your rank.
- How does the backlink profile for your competitor’s domain (not just top-ranked pages) compare with you in terms of number of links and value of these links? This analysis might call your attention to a linking project, using white hat techniques) to shore up your backlinks.
As I mentioned earlier there a huge number of tools that look into backlink analysis with some highlighted here.
The important thing to remember is that numerous tools give you numerous results so it's important, regardless of the tool you use, to set important benchmarks accordingly and follow them rigorously. Make sure you look into backlink distribution by pagerank quality and identify historical trends.
Step 8: Compare On-Page Factors of Your Pages With Top 10 Ranked Pages for Every Keyword
Finally, it's time to look into and compare on-page factors with your competitive analysis as we move from strategic awareness to tactical implementation. Understanding gaps, turning them into opportunities and build recommendations around on page factors is important to do in parallel with your off page strategies.
Use this knowledge to:
- Get ideas/suggestions for your on-page tags, especially titles, H1, and meta descriptions.
- Make the case for SEO improvements to your website, within your company.
- Educate everyone in your company on best practices for SEO.
Beyond Competitive Intelligence – Forecasting Opportunity
Evaluating your competition and uncovering opportunities is one thing. Placing a business value on these opportunities and managing your efforts based on this value helps you prioritize your approach and make your competitive intelligence initiatives ROI focused.
In Step 6, we talked about uncovering keywords that your competition ranks on that you don’t and grouping them into business themes. Forecasting the dollar value of targeting each of these groups helps you decide which groups to pursue. It also helps you make a business case for investing in SEO for these keywords.
At SES San Francisco I will take a deeper dive into this subject highlighting some key steps that help you forecast opportunity and get that all important buy in from your clients, both internal and external. I hope to see you all there.
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