SEO Competitive Analysis Part I

Before launching any SEO campaign on your site, you have to do some fairly extensive research. In fact, probably 80% of the effectiveness of your SEO campaign will tie back to the quality of the initial research, market and competitive analysis. Remember that SEO is primarily targeted around search keywords and you will have thousands if not hundreds of thousands of competitors for the keywords that you wish to rank for. Competitive analysis is crucial in the creation of a solid SEO strategy for your business.

Competitive analysis all begins with keyword research. Keyword research seems very straight forward on the surface, but as you dig pretty deeply into the subject it can become quite complex. First of all there are broad terms like “insurance” and then there are long-tail keywords like “buy motorcycle insurance in California”. General or broad terms like “insurance” will have tons of traffic, but it is rather low quality traffic and is not targeted. Just think of all of the things that could be applicable to a very general search like “insurance”. You have no idea of whether the person is talking about car insurance, home insurance, mortgage escrow insurance, business liability insurance or anything else – the term is just too broad. Long-tail keywords (aptly named because they are long, multiple word phrases) are usually much more targeted and convey what the intentions of the user are. So, in the above example of “buy motorcycle insurance in California” it is very clear what this user is looking for. It is known exactly what type of insurance the user is looking for and it is known that the user is looking to “buy” – that’s a great thing to know.

When performing this keyword analysis, you will have to balance many factors and make some strategic decisions. Larger search volume keywords tend to be general, non-action keywords like “insurance” that tend to be very costly to compete with because you will likely be competing with the top insurance companies in the country. However, if you get too specific in your quest for long tail keyword phrases you will likely get very little search volume. As is everything in life, it is a trade off. Consult with your SEO expert on your best strategic approach. You may choose to go aggressively after more competitive, larger volume keywords, or you may go “wide” and choose dozens or even hundreds of very specific long-tail keyword phrases.

After narrowing down your list of keywords to target, the next round of competitive analysis begins. Here is where all of the real nitty-gritty of SEO optimization comes into play. There are many different factors that affect how well your site will rank for a given keyword, here are just a few of them: the quantity and quality of your SEO optimized relevant content for the given keyword, the PageRank for the individual page on your web site that will appear in the SERPs (search engine results pages), the number and quality of your incoming links for that page, the onsite SEO optimization of the page itself (title, meta, and description tags, url name, organization and structure of the HTML included in the page, internal linking structure of the page and the site as a whole, and many other factors) and the offsite SEO optimization for the page/site.

You can’t achieve your goals (a page #1 ranking) without first quantifying them – and that takes a very thorough analysis of your competitors. You will need to take all of the data defined about and examine how your competitors stack up in each of those various areas – onsite/offsite SEO, page backlinks, domain backlinks, domain age, page PageRank, domain PageRank, etc… Make a chart listing and comparing these factors of those who hold those top 10 positions right now. That is your competition; that is who you have to beat out if you’re going to make page #1. There are various tools which can largely automate a very substantial amount of this data aggregation and analysis for you, but a tool is only useful in the hands of a skilled craftsman. The point being, if you are not skilled in SEO, don’t expect that you can simply purchase a $300 tool and solve your problems. You will still have to know what the tool is telling you and how to best use that information in your decision making process. This is where a professional SEO expert can really excel. First of all they will have an arsenal of tools that largely automate a significant amount of the analysis and they have the requisite knowledge and familiarity with SEO to make very quick work of translating that data analysis into a strategic plan to optimize your site for SEO purposes and get you onto page #1 (and bump off one or more of your competitors).

Lastly, don’t be lulled into thinking that SEO competitive analysis is a one-time effort. Getting to page #1 may take significant effort, but keep in mind, all of your competitors will then be trying to bump you off the page too! So your efforts will have to continue to not only maintain but to continue to improve. If you obtain a #7 rank, don’t be content – keep trying to improve it until you have achieved that #1 position. Once you have, continue your SEO efforts and continue to study your competition so that you hold your ranking. At this point, you can, of course, begin going wider and branching out into other keywords that you want to rank for as well and thus the whole competitive analysis cycle will start from scratch once again. Make sure to treat your SEO efforts like a “health exam” for your business – you need regular and scheduled “check ups” in order to maintain your health. Just like preventative health maintenance is the best way to go, so is preventative SEO maintenance and competitive analysis. The fact is if you stop analyzing, you stop competing and that’s a sure way to disappear from page #1 altogether.

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