Market research to discover what other people in your space are doing is one of the biggest and most valuable areas of SEO.
No matter whether you’re launching a new vertical or trying to dominate a small niche, analyzing what your competitors are offering is crucial.
There are ways to make that kind of analysis useful, game changing even, but it’s also possible to get hung up on the kinds of sticking points that only inhibit progress.
The Serenity to Accept the Things You Cannot Change
At some point in life, usually as a kid, we’re all introduced to a universal concept: life isn't fair. It just isn't.
Why do some people have all the money and most people don’t have enough? Well, there are probably some really complicated and intricate socio-economic theories about this, but we can sum it up with: because life isn’t fair.
You know what else isn't fair? Google.
Even though we know this, it’s still easy to get frustrated by the rampant disparities we see in Google's search results. It’s infuriating when a competitor with newer site and an inferior product is outranking you.
It doesn’t seem right when someone is ranking better with a backlink profile full of the kinds of links you’re trying to take down. It makes you almost homicidal when the other guys are all over the search engine results pages (SERPs) and their pages have about much content as the back of a shampoo bottle.
It’s not right. It’s not fair. But that’s life. And when you’re faced with this situation you really have two options: get mad, or get better.
Focusing on the injustice of the situation is going to help you rank better about as much as living in a tent and complaining about the government is going to help you get a better job. In short, it’s not.
Instead of occupying a pity party for one, why not fight back?
The Courage to Change the Things You Can
If you know enough to realize that your competitor’s tactics are subpar, you already have an advantage. Study their strengths, and learn from their weaknesses. Go all Sun Tzu on ‘em.
You can try to copy their strategy for low level links; syndicate some articles if they have them, get directory links, blogs sure. But if you know those aren’t future-proof links, and you get them anyway, that’s a choice. And if you choose what looked like the path of least resistance, you can’t be all that surprised or upset if it takes you somewhere you didn’t want to end up.
Or, if you know a competitor has a lot of inferior backlinks, build better ones. Find angles they aren’t taking or filter out the one or two legitimate methods that worked for them and use them for yourself.
The key is to know the difference between good and bad links. If you do it this way, you can one-up them. It may not lead to instant results but legitimate links earned by through merit are the future. Yes, you may still have to bear the indignity of watching an unworthy competitor beat you sometimes, but at least you’re not taking it lying down.
Content is a big point of contention is SEO.
- Is this enough?
- Is this too much?
- Is it optimized?
- Is it unique?
- Does it convert?
- Is it too thin?
- Is it slightly pudgy with a muffin top?
There are a hundred questions that go into creating good web content. And most of them are healthy to ask. But “Why does my competitor get to rank with such weak content and I don’t?” isn't one of them. In fact that question generally just engenders rage and rarely leads to the production of good copy.
Is it inconsistent that all we hear is “create content” but you can easily find examples of top 10 ranking pages that have jack for content on the page. Sure.
Heck, I tried a popular brand of expensive women’s shoes to test and, yeah, 3 out of the top 5 had nothing but pictures, product names and prices on their landing pages.
Clearly, there are major inconsistencies and certainly inequities in the SERPs. But being mad at the situation and refusing to do anything differently because of it won't change your results.
When you see high ranking pages that are lacking in content or other attributes, as a merchant or an SEO it can be tough to stomach. Content can be hard to write, and even more tricky to optimize, but most of all it takes time and money and let’s not lie, mass content creation is pretty much a pain. But for every single new page of content you’re able to churn out, it’s a heck of a lot more productive than just asking why you should have to.
Why are some children born into wealth while others are born into poverty? Luck of the draw? Some grand plan? Possibly, but mostly, life isn’t fair.
The Wisdom to Know the Difference
We have more information now from Google about what they want and how they think when it comes to ranking than we ever did in the past. And sure there’s a whole lot of “do what I say, and ignore what we do” going on (i.e., “Create great content” but they rank plenty of pages without much if any).
It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, but it’s Google’s game and we’re just playing along because being on their good side tends to equal better sales. But at least the game is more like Texas Hold ‘Em than 5 Card Draw. No we don’t know all the cards Google is holding, but we know which ones are on the table and with that info we can make good decisions about how to play out the hand.
Google is telling us what they want. Do the rankings fully support that dogma? Not always.
If we choose to ignore what Google has told us they want, and just become bitter because their processes still lag behind their vision, there won’t be progress or improvement. And when ideology finally does align with technology some people will be ready, and others will still be stewing on the unfairness of it all.
Unhealthy competitive analysis just results in being angry. So turn the anger into active energy. Channel it not just to do better than the other guy in the SERPs, but to offer more value than then him to the online market.
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!