by Michelle Knight, Oregon Chapter, IT Division
SEO Competitive Analysis: A Brief Overview
When customers search for information on a business using a search engine, they are engaging in a collaborative process. No longer is a consumer just typing in golden keywords that worked a year ago to find your business. Search engine technology is changing to allow customers more options to customize their searches. Shortly, they will be able to vote on the quality of search engine results, in turn, affecting how results are retrieved. Search engines are using newer technologies to index documents and to identify searching behavior. To be future ready, you need to ensure your business is part of this collaboration so that your products can reach your customers.
How do you ensure that your product reach customers who need it? You need to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors, what to copy from them and what to do differently. You need to see this information through your patrons. You need to do a SEO (search engine optimization) analysis of your competitors.
Competitive Analysis Plan for Assessing Your Competition
To understand your competition, you need to have a plan. First you need to know what you provide and how your customers will be likely to find you. To come up with a list of competitors you may do the following:
- Enter different search terms as you anticipate your customers would do so on popular search engines, such as Google. Look at the search results and list your rivals.
- Go to web sites that your customers frequently visit such as organizations, blogs, social networking sites, magazines or general information sites. See what resources are listed there.
- Talk with your customers and find out who they think has a strong web presence. Make a list.
- Note to whom your customers link from their web pages.
Once you have a list of competitors you need to analyze how they are using keywords in search engines, how they present their website content, and how they take advantage of technology (such as servers, HTML code and database indexing) to make it easy on their customers to find what they need.
If this analysis seems cumbersome or too time consuming, you may wish to hire an analyst to provide you a high level summary of your competition and their strategies.
Competitors: When to Copy
Now that you have assessed your competition, look through your customer’s eyes to see how your competitor’s strategies have influenced your customers positively, resulting in easy to find information and readable content. If a competitor is doing something your patrons appreciate, then it may make sense to adopt it. Some strategies you may wish to adopt include:
- Keywords your competitors find successful that bring your relevant web pages to the top of the search engine results.
- Display of web-page content resulting in clearer communication with customers and better search result rankings.
- Technologies your competitors have found successful to their business, such as tools to measure web analytics and ways to ensure clean code.
- Linking strategies your competitors use.
Before adopting a particular set of strategies think about what has worked over a period of time. What has consistently brought good results? Copy strategies that will maintain your business integrity and show value to your customer.
Competitors: When to avoid
Do not use strategies that compromise business integrity and do not benefit your customers. It may seem like a good idea to be the top contender, above your competitors, on as many search results from many different keywords. However, this is not the case. Think about it from the customer’s perspective. If they are searching for unpasteurized milk and your business only has a small quantity or is not branded for such a product, then they are going to be annoyed when you appear on the top of the search results. The article Search Optimization and Its Dirty Little Secrets sounds a wise warning and examples of using such tactics.
In general, do not copy exact text from your competitors. Doing so could result in legal and copyright violations. Do not copy the overall look and feel of your competitors so that it deceives a customer in thinking your website is something else. For example, if you are selling antiques and made your website to mirror the look and feel of the White House, then it could potentially confuse customers. Also, many antique customers would probably not be amused. Keep the look and feel of your website and web pages true to your business and true to your customers.
Do not copy technologies that your customers do not use. For example, if you are selling sailboats to customers that live remotely, it would probably not be a good strategy to focus on search engines for mobile devices. In this case, your customers may not be in range of a cell phone tower. If your customers are not going to use the technology to find you, then it does not benefit you to copy your competitors use of it.
Do not base the SEO strategies you adopt, solely on what web site analytics and tools say about you and your competitors. Your customers do not care how many times they visit your website or what actions they need to take to purchase an item. Your customers want to find the information and get what they need. If the customer has to come back to return an item or go to the help section repeatedly, it will not leave them with a positive impression. It may just mean that the tool provides a higher analytical number.
Finally, do not seek out or pay to be linked from a site purely to increase the number of back links and result higher in the search engine results. You may appear on top of your competitors, but you will lose your customers. If your customers do not see the value or integrity of the site from which you are linked, then you may lose your integrity with your customers.
Revisiting Competitive Analysis:
SEO Competitive Analysis is not static. Your customers will change their perspectives over a large amount of time. When you look through your customers’ eyes 6 months from now, you may see different competitors in your market space. You may see different keywords, content, technologies, and links that you need to meet your competition. Be future ready and do excellent SEO competitive intelligence.
Michelle Knight is an information specialist and MLIS who provides information businesses need to decide. She has worked as a software tester, a researcher, and a librarian. She is a member of the Oregon Special Library’s Association and is seeking her next opportunity using her writing, research and analytical skills. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org on Twitter @mknight1130 or at (503) 345-4350.