Knowing who your competitors are and what kind of time and monetary investment they are making into their online marketing is nearly as essential as implementing your own marketing strategy. If you have a good idea of what you're up against can make better decisions about where and how to invest your own time and money. You will also have a decent indicator of how quickly you might be able to see results from your efforts.

It's possible to develop a decent SEO strategy without looking at your competitors simply by having a firm grasp of the online competitive landscape. However there will always certain aspects of your campaign that will need to be tailored specifically to outperform those you are up against. It's important to learn as much as you can as early as you can so the bulk of your marketing campaign will be focused in the right direction. No sense starting down one path only to have to back track and go down another because you missed an important piece of information.

When analyzing your competition, be sure to try to fully grasp what they are doing and why. They may target an audience slightly different than what you are compatible with, or they could simply be doing the wrong thing entirely. You want to learn from them but not mimic them. Build your own strategy based on the knowledge gained.

Accessing the competition will give you a good idea of who they are, where they are, what they are doing, what's right or wrong about their campaign and what is or isn't effective. This data can then be assimilated into the other areas of your research to help you develop an optimization campaign that will help you succeed, not just with the search engines but for your visitors as well.

When analyzing your competition there are three types of competitors you should review: Those naturally ranked in the search results, those dominating the paid ad results, and those that are offline but targeting your same audience.

Naturally ranked competitors

Who's dominating the top results for your keywords? Run several searches for a variety of keyword phrases to see who keeps coming up. While performing these searches you'll often find that certain keywords end up producing results entirely different from what you had expected. You may even find that some of these keywords simply are not worth going after. This is not because of the quality of the competition, but because the search results are so far removed from hitting your target audience. It makes no sense to invest in phrases that your audience will never search for.

Once you find keywords that produce a good list of competitors you can then move to analyzing the competition itself. Look for patterns of one or more sites routinely showing up in the top 10 for quality phrases.

What do you see? Are these sites small with little or no name recognition or are they the giants of your industry? The difference between the two can mean a substantial difference in the marketing investment you need to make. Smaller, lesser-known sites won't have deep pockets, while the giants certainly do, and likely invest quite a bit in their marketing efforts.

Once you know what you are up against for all your various keywords you have a choice to make. Will you compete on the same level as those with large marketing budgets? Or will you compete on a smaller level against other sites in that same range?

If you have deep enough pockets then by all means, compete on that level. If not, then don't try to be a David up against Goliath. A good strategy is to begin your efforts on a more manageable scale that will ultimately start bringing in returns sooner rather than later, producing quality results and increased sales. Once you have that foundation, you can begin to work into the more competitive realms.

Paid Placement Competition

Along with your natural ranked competitors you also want to check out the sites positioned highly in the paid results. The research process above also applies here.

You want to find out which sites engage in active paid advertising campaigns. You'll also want to know what positions they usually appear in, the average cost of those keywords in those positions and how frequently their ads show up. This information will give you a good idea of the budget that is being employed to maintain those ads.

There are also a number of tools you can use that will give you this competitive data without having to perform multiple searches yourself. I suggest using these tools as you perform your competitive analysis into PPC campaigns.

You might want to monitor these results several times a day over the course of a couple of weeks, noticing how often the ads rolling in and out. Advertisers can set daily budget limits that prevent the ads from being clicked on too many times each day, keeping the advertiser on budget. Unless you check the results repeatedly over several days, at various time intervals you could be missing important competitive data.

Be aware that click through rates can be as much as 10-15% or as low as 1/2 of a percent depending on the individual ad. If your competitor has a poor performing ad they may be spending less than you would assume. You'll also be able find out which competitors appear in both the natural and paid results, which again will tell you somethign about their overall investment and competitive level.

Offline Competitors

Don't forget about your offline competitors. You may not be competing against them today, at least online, but it likely won't be long until they too jump online and start investing dollars to optimize their sites for the same keywords you are going after.

Keep an eye on your offline competition and develop plans to compete against them at some point in the future. If you get online before them then you have an advantage. However if you're not invested heavily enough, they can come in with more money and push right past you. This needs to be a factor in your decision making process.

How you move forward against your competition is up to you, however the mindset you have will be crucial to your success. If you expect to implement a small budget against sites using big budgets, you'll be frustrated by your "lack of success". However, if you fully understand what you're competing against you can set reasonable expectations for success and continue to build on that success over time.

Having competitive knowledge can be extremely helpful in determining a course of action with your online marketing campaigns, and setting appropriate expectations. Lacking in budget doesn't mean you have to plan to fail, it simply means you have to be more strategic with the resources you do have. Plan carefully and use your resources wisely. Above all, having an arsenal of competitive knowledge will let you establish achievable goals for success.


February 17, 2009





Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.





Comments(26)

I agree that it's always good to conduct competitor market analysis, especially in the SEM/SEO world. Analyzing your competitors is a great way to discover potential undertapped market/resource for your company, and also provides avenues to better position your company in a saturated market.

Good job on the article! Definitely worth a re-tweet.

David Abling
http://www.zioneyemedia.com

Yes, keep an eye on your competition is something you should do. Just by studying how they target those keywords, how many pages have those keywords in titles or in links or just in content, how many incoming links and from whom - all that information is valuable.

The only problem is that it takes time but it will be well spend time.

Thanks,
@TomaBonciu

Good info. Any tools you'd recommend for monitoring competitive PPC?

Article is on point! I agree that you must analyze your competition in order to outperform them in the SEO world. Studying your competition's incoming links is one way to prepare to get ahead. When doing this, you should ask: What are the PR scores of my competitors' incoming links. Do they have any backlinks from sites such as DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory? These questions are ones to ask yourself in developing a SEO strategy.

Small businesses that are new to the web are lacking this type of knowledge. Knowing your competitors keywords should be part of your SWOT analysis. But not everyone is on the same page

I think its a common practice for every SEO expert to do a competition check before you start doing your own SEO so that you can have the basis on which strategy you will use.

Donna at the Granbury Home Center

@cat pickett

You can check out SpyFu to look at your competition. Their free version allows you to view the top 10 or so keywords they're bidding on. It also shows their 'average' budget and costs, although not specifically what or how much they're bidding on specific keywords.

If you already have an existing Adwords account, you can always use the search based keyword tool to get a good idea of what your competitors are ranking for by entering their domain and a generic keyword related to their service. It'll return the estimated amount of traffic they receive for that query, as well as displaying some other relevant keyword search queries.

SEMrush.com is also another great resource.

Whether it's for SEO or day-to-day operations, knowing what your competition is up to is critical for any sized business. Over the years, I've discovered literally a handful of owners and senior managers who consider competitive analysis a priority and a part of their day-to-day operation. The tasks range from the old-fashioned benchmarking (actually visiting or watching your competitors' locations of business for traffic, demographics of customers, etc.) to using online tools like Google Alerts.

The biggest challenge I hear is the lack of time - from gathering the info to organizing the data to digesting it. That's why it's so important to *allot* the time and simply make it happen.

Very important post, Stoney ~ thanks!

Yah absolutely right,
Without knowing the competitors strategies u can't do good SEO because u can get a lot more knowledge about the market by regular watching Competitors updates..

Yah absolutely right,
Without knowing the competitors strategies u can't do good SEO because u can get a lot more knowledge about the market by regular watching Competitors updates..

wow this is great idea and amazing information.thanx for sharing.keep it up

@webhost - not sure what you're asking.

Good article Stoney.

Competitive Intelligence is important for numerous business facets, especially SEO. If you are not aware of what your competitors are doing to achieve rankings, then you're completely guessing and just following 'best practices'. There are a litany of competitive intelligence tools (both free & nominally priced) available to in-house marketers and SEO firms to evaluate competitive landscapes quickly, then leveraged by human insight for interpretation, strategy & execution. Of all the free tools, I'd suggest SEOBook plug-ins. Often times, a customized & professional seo audit that evaluates your site versus your primary competitors' sites (those that saturate organic rankings) can give the most clarity into what areas require the greatest room for improvement for your business. It's one thing to analyze, but another thing to clearly map out a plan of attack and execute.

SEO competitive analysis should involve observations on site structures, URL strings, depth & freshness of content, various on-page strategies, quality & quantity of back links, and sources of backlinks. It's important to not only find common threads amonst highly visible competitors that you can leverage, but more importantly, areas where you can differentiate yourself and stand apart in the eyes of search engines as an industry authority. Mirroring a successful competitor has its limitations so websites need to separate themselves from the pack. Taking the approach of a SWOT analysis is ideal and something that can be used in a variety of business functions including SEO (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats).

I tried to find a free and effective seo software that can analyze keyword and google page count but most of them either analyze only keyword but not google page count, example is good keyword. Of course there are paid software such as seo elite, seo spyglass, market samurai, micro niche finder, wordtracker and so on. Is there any free and effective software to do the same jobl? Please share.

lose weight in a week

I may be letting the cat out of the bag but Google has a free tool that is perfect for analyzing the market and the competition. Maybe everyone already knows about it but Google Insights is a very powerful tool.

Very good article ..

Ranking is a relative measure, and therefore a check on the competition is absolutely essential.

Normally I take to angles on this check - one is to check the competition on the main keywords, and secondly we check the a list of competitors who are know as players in the market.

Then we not only get a picture of the competition in the organic listings we also get information on who is doing a good SEO job - and who is not.

Sometimes small competitors are doing very well in the Google listings, but not very good in the real world.

Steen Öhman
SEO Check, Denmark

Very nice article! I agree that you must scrutinize your competitors in order to outrank them in the SEO universe. Understanding your competition's inlinks and where they’re coming from is one way to get an edge. We need to understand the PR scores of the competition’s inlinks. Especially if they have any backlinks from high authority, high PR sites. This will form the basis for developing a strategy to compete.

kevis

Hi,

The competition on internet to out-perform businesses, blogs, forums or any websites is just like real world businesses. The experts have been able to develop lots of tools to arm the website owner to fight and a number of tools are to be developed as compared to real world. :)

This is a great article. thank you for this.

Well the competition on the web is the fun part. You can actually measure the effects of the optimization you have done, and even spy on your competitors.

You are able to analyze your own moves, and the effects of competitor’s moves. Based on this you can make a SEO-strategy where you try to move ahead of your competitors, using your strengths.

Great article. You can learn a lot from your competitors' websites. I tried using free tools such as overture and they were never as accurate as the tools that you have to pay for such as keyword elite and seo elite.

For many website owners like me, there is nothing more important that to increase web traffic. Therefore, I recommend google ad sense for all the web owners and web developers.

When it comes to marketing, there is a modern way for that. Here in the websites, you can let people buy and order without any hassles. You can also have other services such as business transactions, online banking and record search.

Good Post!!!
Thanx for sharing!!!
Competitor Analysis is a must for a successful SEO...
Without it u can't stand in any market whether it is on line or off line..

Really a great post !! now competition is very high on web and we can learn a lot from them and try to move ahead from your competitors.This is a great article. thank you for this.

Its really very informative post as seo point of view. Thanks for sharing this, from today itself i will keep an eye on my competitors. Now i realize the value and importance of competition analysis

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Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > Dominating Your SEO Competition Through Competitive Knowledge