Search engine optimization is a competitive game which often gets described as being “zero sum” to the worry of many online business owners who are afraid of competing in what seems like such a harsh environment of winner take all. While this view of it is not entirely incorrect, it’s also overly simplistic. In reality, numerous different parties can successfully make their SEO work despite competing in what is more or less the same niche.
This is possible because even within any given broad niche or market category, there are numerous different angles from which one can create a powerful and effective optimization profile while others do the same through their own separate lines of SEO. These variable angles can revolve around different keywords, phrases, region based searches or even different search engines and backlink sites. Now, while it’s true that top page rankings on Google for any given set of search parameters are indeed zero sum in nature, the number of different front page search results can vary enough to give lots of different players a shot at top SEO spot.
This is where market research and competition analysis come into the picture and in part why they’re both so important. By conducting both effectively, you can know exactly what optimization angle will work best for you and give you your easiest route to a high SEO spot in search results and other optimization hotspots. This will result in you knowing how to best your competition and steal their edge while also giving you knowledge of the angles that will let you rank in ways that any competitors simply haven’t yet
Before you embark on a competition analysis and Market analysis campaign, you first need to know as much as possible about what your site is about and how it’s doing already.
First, before anything else, get a real feel for the kind of target market you want to be aiming for. Ask yourself what you’re about, who your potential viewers/customers are and what it is that you’re offering to the vast online marketplace. Hone this down as much as reasonable given your interests and in doing so you’ll have a better idea of what kind of audience you’re aiming for.
Collect Metrics on Yourself
That done, you need to extract some solid numbers from your existing online presence; this means getting the score on basic analytics data such as your number of monthly visits, how long your visitors stay, the conversion rate (the number of them that follow the next steps or buy something from your pages), percentage of organic visits, number of visits from inbound links (and what those links are); you should also get to know what kind of keywords your site itself has, how their density is and which of these keywords are bringing in the majority of organic search based visitors.
Market Research and Keyword Research
Once you’ve done this, you can move on to researching your keywords, since they are the cornerstone of any market research campaign online. Use tools like the Google Keyword Tool or even pay to use keyword research tools like what www.wordtracker.com offers to find out what sorts of keywords your target niche is searching for. Input some of the terms you’re already garnering inbound visits for and see what associated terms are relating highly to them in searches by the same individuals.
Another keyword research tactic will involve something a bit more complex than using analytics tools like WordTracker and Google, but it will garner some rich information for your use. Start visiting online forums and sites where people in your niche are participating, reading and commenting a lot and start looking around. You can even participate in the conversations and comments that are going on there.
In doing this, pay attention not only to the keywords and terminology being used by readers and commentators, but also keep an eye on what sorts of specific subjects and information are most being sought out; look at the most pressing needs that you can find amongst your target audience and note them down just as you did your keywords.
You’ll use all of this information to dramatically improve your content quality and the topics you cover on your sites. The end result of this should be a dramatic improvement in the precision of your results when it comes to hitting your target market and its most commonly used search terms.
Having done the above, you should be well on your way to improving your optimization against competitor efforts. This is because you’ve now created a valuable list of metrics about how well your site is doing and also created a strong dossier of keywords, potential content titles and potential discussion subjects that your website can build to improve its ranking within your niche.
This alone gives you a strong edge over many competing sites, whose own efforts are often likely to be much more superficial, especially in understanding what keywords most fit their target audience best.
However, to be sure, you do need to understand your competitors well so that you can find as many ways as possible to improve upon their own efforts. Ultimately –and this is crucial—once you know who your main competitors are, what you most want to do is improve upon their conversion rates and bounce rates, increasing the former and decreasing the latter so that they are superior in your case.
By doing this you’ll improve your standing with Google even if your site doesn’t have as many daily or monthly visitors at the beginning. Why? Because Google (as well as other search engines) looks at the same information for both sites and tends to give more weight to the page that engages visitors more deeply (high conversions and low bounce rate) since this page is obviously doing something to create more value.
Finding out this valuable information about your competitors is possible through the tools available with Google Analytics, at www.google.com/analytics/.
Other highly important information about the sites that are most directly competing with you will include things such as:
-their URL structure (is it optimized with keywords)
-site layout (how does their homepage connect to sub-pages, what kind of pages do they have, etc)
-social media connectivity
-ease of navigation
-type of content posted (video, audio, images, info graphics, and how well all such content is optimized with text based keywords and descriptions)
-how optimized they are for local search (if you’re competing against them with this as a parameter)
-How they try to convert visitors into subscribers, buyers or into doing certain things (what kind of layout do they use to promote this and what are their “calls to action”)
Okay, but how do you go about finding out who your biggest competitors are to begin with?
Locating your Primary Competition
This is the easiest part of all, once you’ve done your market research of course. Finding your competition is mostly a process of doing Google searches on the keywords you most want to rank for or are already getting many or few inbound visits for and seeing who else appears in the search results both higher and lower than you in the rankings.
Pick out between 3 and 7 of these competitors across multiple primary niche search terms and start the above analysis on them.
Note all information, preferably in a way that’s easy to cross reference and examine visually and from there you can start the task of creating a site that is superior in its tactics when compared to how the competition has set up its own SEO campaign.
An Important Note on Priorities
Bear in mind one final thing though: Do not try to focus too much on simply beating competitors and tricking the search engine into ranking you higher. Your primary focus should always be YOUR visitors and their own experience on your pages; the amount of value they get from you and how it makes them respond to you.