Competitive Research via Search Engine Tools
Greetings from Search Engine Strategies in New York City. Monday’s Advanced SES Track kicked off with Competitive Research and Search Engines. This panel was moderated by Detlev Johnson of Position Technologies, Gavin Appel of Hitwise, Cam Balzer of Performics Inc., Allan Dick, General Manager of Vintage Tub & Bath, and David Willams 360i.
Competitive research has grown beyond the ancient bumping up and down of rankings on the Infoseek search engine to competitive research in paid listings, shopping search engines, eBay, and multiple organic search engine rankings.
Who are your competitors? Here are some techniques that Allan Dick of Vintage Tub & Bath introduced for Search Engine Competitive Research. First, start by identifying search competitors via Alexa by simply typing in a URL. One can dig in deeper than basic Alexa results via links, relevant sites and relevant brands.
Archive.org’s Wayback machine is an excellent source of competitive intelligence for checking out competitor’s product pricing over the years, SEO techniques, and designs.
Marketleap Link Checker – Who’s linking to your competition and from which portals, blogs, directories, and even newspaper articles. Sometimes newspapers and press releases even list the distributors and marketing firms which your competitors may be using.
“eBay is the world’s forgotten search engine” says Dick, eBay can be used to find new and upcoming competitors, new products, customer feedback and customer opinions
Other basic competitive research tools include paid listings, DMOZ and the Froogle shopping search engine data feeds for specific search terms. Allan also recommended basic Google phone number, “intitle”, name of executives, and address searches for further competitor information.
Defending Your Brand Via Search
Searching for your own brand name can expose competitors who are using SEO, marketing techniques, and content pages which are optimized for your own site.
FaganFinder.com – Copy search can see if page content has been plagerized by another competitor or site. Sometimes affiliates and competitors are quick to copy chunks of text for black hat SEO techniques.
Feedster – Search for competitor RSS feeds and blogs
David Williams of 360i was the next speaker and he covered competitive research from the perspective of a Search Engine Marketing agency. 360i suggests looking at a prospect’s competitors in paid search, data feeds, shopping feeds, and organic search engine listings/indexing.
Williams recommends Hitwise tracking for looking at the competitor sites which users are surfing to before arriving at a site and after leaving the site. For the VTB example, competitors were split between offline companies, shopping portals, eBay, and direct online competitors.
Basic site design and usuability is also looked at to assure that future organic rankings can be achieved. Is the homepage search engine friendly? Lots of internal navigation links, HTML text, anchor text links, visibility of products on home page, and conversion process. Site load time and coding quality is also reviewed. Competitor search friendly design can be used to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses for organic search competition.
Keyword competition also varies depending on specificity of keywords. While come competitors may be targeting the high traffic, broader keywords.
Williams suggests that shopping engines are sometimes overlooked in a holistic search marketing campaign “A lot of the companies still ignore the shopping feeds.” Shopping search sites are now dominating organic search results, so being listed in a shopping search portal is an obvious technique for reaching targeted consumers and such listings are possibly a channel which your competitor may not jump on for some time.
Cam Balzer of Performics Inc (a DoubleClick Company) discussed looking at the competitive marketplace when re-evaluating a search marketing campaign or diving in for the first time. Understanding a competitor’s engagement and bidding in PPC listings is quite important and that although PPC prices may be inflated at certain times of the year and in product competition booms, PPC average listings can be managed to maintain a constant price due to competitive inefficiencies.
Passive PPC Intelligence – identify search savvy competitors (natural and paid), watch for well optimized sites then steal their keywords directly from title, meta tags, content, and high density keyword harvesting. One suggestion that Cam introduced was clicking through on competitor paid ads to see the URL string. If the competitor’s link uses specific URLs for keyword listings, that competitor is more or less a savvy paid search advertiser.
Cam’s advice was a bit irresponsible as clicking on their competitor’s results to hurt the competition’s return on investment via paid search. There are over 400 people in the room today and if everyone took Cam’s lead, this could result in tens of hundreds of dollars in losses by firms which do paid search engine marketing.
We suggest right-clicking on paid search results and selecting the link properties, which also tracks the click thru URL of paid search advertisers, without charging them for a false click. I asked Cam about this after the presentation and he confirmed that he did not want to mislead the crowd to click all of their competition’s paid search ads.
Cam also recommends tracking a competitor’s exposure on Google on tools such as AdGooRoo for tracking bids in the marketplace, trademark violations, bid amounts, and competitive paid listing history.
More questions which can be answered from paid search intelligence – Are your competitor’s ROI savvy? May they be losing money from paid search? Are they using different metrics such as brand building? How aggressive are they? Can you compete in paid listings with them?