Engaging in competitive research before and during your SEO, PPC, Social Media, and Link Building campaigns is smart business. As they say, "information is power."
But, too much information can also cause a handicap. It's not too difficult to be so inundated with info. that you get information overload or conflicting advice. That leads to decision paralysis. You don't know the right course of action to take, or you can wind up using good information to make bad judgment calls.
Some time ago, I was working on a client's keyword research and received the following email:
We decided to optimize our website only for keywords that bring up our competitors when searched. So, what I have to do is to take every keyword that is in your research and to run a search on Google to see if our competitors are there. You'll hear back from me early next week.
I have no doubt that if this client's competitor jumped off a bridge, the client would follow. This is a great example of taking information you have and making a bad decision with it.
Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be ranked for the same keywords your competitors are ranked for. But, this cannot be your sole optimization campaign strategy.
Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's Restaurant, once said he wanted to place a Wendy's across the street from every McDonald's in America. A smart strategy. It follows the same basic principles as to why car dealerships all congregate together: Customers looking for one may be swayed when the see more available options.
But, here is what Dave Thomas knew about McDonald's that I guarantee most people don't know about their own competition: McDonald's does a significant amount of research before building a new store in a new location. Thomas realized that McDonald's only enters markets where they are confident their restaurants will thrive. As Dave saw it, what was lucrative for Ronald would also be profitable for Wendy!
Before you follow your competitor off that cliff, are you sure each of your competitors have performed the right research on all their keywords? Do you know that they know that every keyword they are ranking for is bringing in traffic and conversions? Have they employed research strategies that have gotten them ranking for every possible keyword that will produce profits?
More than likely, the answer is "no" to more than one of those questions. That's not to say that any of your competitor's don't know what they are doing. In fact, they may have a very strong and successful online marketing campaign. But, chances are pretty good they are not doing all things perfectly.
Are there some targeted keywords that they are not ranking for? Do they know all the different ways a potential customer will search for their product or service? Are they investing time into keywords that produce little traffic or no conversions? If you don't know the answers to any of the questions posed above, then this may not be someone you want to blindly follow when it comes to setting the course for your own online marketing efforts.
From a competitive standpoint, it's always good to know what your competitors are doing, who they are targeting, and what areas they are venturing into. A failure to know this information can lead to developing a poor business marketing strategy. While Dave Thomas wanted to be everywhere his competitor was, he also never stopped identifying locations to put a Wendy's that McDonald's hadn't yet exploited.
We often explore our own client's competitors and see that many do not have a full grasp on what keywords they should be targeting. Part of this is ignorance. Another is the lack of insight from those running the SEO campaigns. Or it could be strictly due to lack of budget invested in SEO. Who knows.
Those that employ a "me too" marketing strategy will undoubtedly find themselves following competitors through the same mistakes, costing themselves valuable time and money. Or, in the case of the client I mentioned above, missing out on entire segments of convertable traffic solely because their competitor isn't ranking for the same phrase.
Think about what can be accomplished (and how much money can be saved) if marketing dollars are placed into a more forward thinking marketing campaign; one that doesn't solely focus on competitors but instead focuses on the audience. After all, it's not your competitors who'll be buying from you, it's your targeted consumer.
But there is one area where it may be important to follow in your competitor's footsteps. That's in the area of breadth and reach of the campaign. I often hear from business owners wanting to outperform their competition in rankings both naturally and paid, but they don't want to invest the money needed to make that happen.
This is where it becomes difficult for us managing the campaigns. An SEO can only do what the budget allows. If your competition is out spending you ten to one, and they have good people managing their campaigns, there is little chance that you'll be able to out perform them, no matter how much you cross your fingers, tap your heels together, or complain to your SEO that you're not doing as well as you had hoped.
Money isn't everything in SEO, but it certainly does open the door to a greater online presence and bolder optimization strategy. A bigger investment can implement broader keyword research, more targeted link building, and a more keyword and search engine friendly site. These things matter in SEO.
That's not to say you have to match your competition dollar for dollar. Working smarter is just as good as working harder. But, unfortunately, it still takes money to make money.
Doing what your competitors do, without ever really understanding why, is a bad SEO strategy. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing, but also know why, and make sure those same goals and objectives match up with your own before following them down ANY path, including one that might require a larger investment into your online marketing campaign.
Ultimately, you want to be able to compete for business for the same keywords, provided they are the right keywords. But you also want to find and exploit areas that your competition hasn't.
If your online marketing campaign is simply a reaction, you'll never be ahead of them. You'll always be playing catch-up. Instead of being the "me too" guy, you can become the industry authority, leaving the others playing catch up and trying to be like you.
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.
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