Whichever path you choose, evaluating the competition’s activity on search engines is a crucial part of your strategic research. Not only does it give an insight into the online ranking trends of your particular sector, it also gives clues as to what kind of information search engine users are typically offered. You can use this information to map out your own ideas for reaching your target demographic through improved organic listings.
The easiest place to start when embarking upon competitor research is to find out who ranks where for your keywords. Who is at position one? Who is at the bottom of page one? Don’t fall into the trap of just looking at the web site ranking top, take time to investigate sites a little further down the SERPs. The likelihood is these will be your first targets and the easiest sites to overcome so it makes sense to find out what they are doing before trying to usurp them.
Having built your list of sites to mine for SEO knowledge, you can start to compile an on-page optimization report. This involves visiting each of the sites and finding out as much as you can about how they have gone about their on-site optimization. This internal site structure will come into play later when you begin to introduce search engine friendly content to your own pages and kick your updates up a gear.
Record what your competitor site are doing right so you can emulate successful strategies but remember, what they are doing wrong is just as important. Finding these gaps in their optimization armor will help move your site through the rankings.
The second stage in your competitor research is backlink research. This means checking out who is linking to your competition and how they are linked to. Are keywords used in the anchor text? What kinds of relevant sites are linking back? How many good quality links are there? There are a number of free tools to check who is linking back to well-positioned websites. Most people use the link:web address search string on Google but this doesn’t show all backlinks. Instead, try the link:operator in Yahoo or invest in one of the many inexpensive link tracking programs available to buy online.
Why is competitor backlink research so important? It is a great starting point for developing your own link building strategies. After researching how your competitors have successfully gathered backlinks, you will start to develop your own ideas for corralling your own links. This kind of research also means you gain more of an insight into the kinds of materials that have been distributed prior to your own backlink building efforts. It may even help you identify your own USP. If a competitor has lots of links back to a particular product for example, checking out the anchor text and landing page may lead you to realize that you have a similar product that is cheaper, performs more functions, is more environmentally friendly or available in more formats.
Whether you conduct competitor research only at the start of the campaign or consider it to be a necessary monthly activity, the knowledge you accumulate will make an invaluable contribution to your own SEO planning.