Businesses are always interested in what their competition is up to, usually out of professional curiosity. But how can competitor research and analysis help your SEO efforts and is it necessary for a successful SEO campaign?
Researching your competition, whether online or not, is a vital part of any growing business. It will help a business to grow by providing better products or services than other companies. It will reveal gaps in the competitors’ offerings that you can take advantage of and, hopefully, encourage you to come up with original ideas of your own.
But when it comes to the online marketplace the main focus of many small businesses is how to get high up in the search engine rankings. It is often only when they are high in the rankings and their sales are not as high as expected that they start to think in more traditional ways about improving their products and services and their marketing strategy. Initially a high ranking is the Holy Grail, which many small businesses believe will be the answer to their prayers.
But try not to become so focussed on SEO that you lose sight of the marketing basics. Competitor analysis is the ideal opportunity to focus on both SEO and Digital Marketing strategies at the same time, which can lead you to high search engine rankings and high volumes of sales. That really is the Holy Grail.
You should already have completed a thorough keyword research and analysis process and have a list of defined keywords to target. Some businesses use competitor analysis as part of their keyword research but this can often limit free-thinking and the development of new ideas so try and do independent keyword research first.
The first step in competitor analysis is to look at where your competitors use their keywords in their web page titles. Simply perform a search on each of your keywords in the most popular search engines. Which search engines you use is very much dependent on which country you are based in and which country/countries your target audience resides in. Take a look at the titles that appear in the search results on the first 2 pages. Your aim may be to achieve page 1 but that is almost certainly the aim of those businesses on page 2, so don’t overlook what they are doing – they have probably been doing it for longer and may already have found a chink in the armour of the Top Ten so you may learn something from them.
Now put yourself in the shoes of a buyer and write down which titles really grab your attention and which page titles seem to offer a benefit to the potential customer. A classic marketing technique is to promote the benefit of buying your product and this is just as important online as in the bricks-and-mortar retail world. For example, would you be more tempted by “Book a Cheap Exotic Holiday” or “Luxury Tailor-Made Holidays to Exotic Destinations”? Of course, the decision would almost certainly depend on your budget so ensure you know your customer.
Now look at whether the page titles are relevant to the search phrase. Sophisticated online browsers are already aware of ploys by certain companies that throw up pages with automatically filled titles that take you to irrelevant pages. For example, if you search for “Car Hire in Madrid” you may get results showing titles like “Best Car Hire in Spain – Cheapest Rates” but the website to which you are directed does not actually have a car hire office in Madrid. Never assume your potential customers will be foolish enough to fall for these ploys – they are more likely to get annoyed.
Think about good, alternative and eye-catching titles that actually promote what you have to offer. Don’t forget to log all your title ideas in a spreadsheet along with the good page titles and good websites you come across from your competitors. These are the businesses you wish to emulate.
If you offer a number of different products or services, competitor analysis can become very confusing. So take one webpage, with maybe 3 keywords (1 main and 2 secondary) and follow the analysis process through just for that manageable amount of information first. This way you can become more familiar with the process and once you are confident of the best way to research and analyse the competition, it will be much quicker and easier to complete the process for your other pages and keywords.
Now look at all the good competition – those genuinely offering what the customer is searching for – and study their home or landing pages – the visual aspect and the underlying source code. This should give you enough information to get started on improving your webpage for higher search engine rankings.
First concentrate on creating a great Page Title (less than 70 chars long) that includes your main keyword and 1 or 2 secondary keywords, where possible, using the competitions’ page titles as a guide. But remember, don’t blindly copy your competitors – they do not have exclusive access to good ideas. Limit your keywords to 3 per page to keep SEO simple and manageable. This title is an extremely important factor in the success of an SEO strategy.
Now use the same keywords and competitor research to create a great Description (for the META DESC tag), which is usually used by search engines to display underneath the Title. The META DESC tag does not contribute much, if anything, to your search engine ranking position but it is a key factor in whether a visitor will click on your website. Use it to add detail that cannot be shown in the title but don’t repeat the title words in the first part of the description unless as a deliberate aim to reinforce your message. Limit your descriptions to 150-160 chars long otherwise it will be truncated by the search engines. And when you extend your competitor analysis to other products and services, with other keywords, on other pages an important SEO factor is that each Description is unique.
Always ensure that all of the information gleaned from your competitor analysis is documented in a spreadsheet. It is impossible to effectively store all that information in your head or on scraps of paper. And when your business and product offerings grow it will be a useful document to refer back to.