Don’t let anyone fool you. SEO is not rocket science. There is a general formula with four major components to SEO that all SEOs follow if they want to be successful with their campaign: content, links, on-page optimization, and social media.
The big component that the success of your campaign hinges on is depth.
The appropriate depth of your efforts depends on the niche and by what your competition is doing. Developing an appropriate strategy requires thinking, analysis, and time.
As if that is not enough, you need to consider the different goals of SEO. Rand Fishkin on Moz covers these in much depth here: The 6 Goals of SEO – Choosing the Right Ones for Your Business, so I will only provide a tiny synopsis of the different goals: SEO for raw traffic, SEO for E-Commerce Sales, SEO for Mindshare and Branding, SEO for lead acquisition and direct marketing, SEO for reputation management, and SEO for ideological influence.
You must choose your tactics for SEO based on the goals you have set for your business, as well as the different depth in strategy required by your niche.
In order to beat your niche’s competition, you must first execute proper research for your niche, beginning with the general components of SEO: Market research, competitor research, keyword research, content, links, on-page optimization, and social media.
Market Research & Competitor Research
Who is your competition? How deep is the industry you are targeting?
You should never start an SEO campaign blind. But, you shouldn’t copy your competition exactly, either. Performing market research into your competitors will help reveal exactly how much of their content is gaining traction and social shares, how much of their strategy is being devoted to link acquisition, how much they are focusing on content, what keyword phrases they are targeting, and many tactics that will help aid you in dethroning the number one spot.
I must stress: avoid copying your competition’s strategy exactly. Unless you are a super advanced SEO, you don’t know how Google is going to react to a specific link or piece of content. The problem with copying a competitor’s strategy compounds itself in the form of SEO penalties. By using the various SEO factors as indicators, rather than your overall exact strategy, you can still beat your competition by using white hat techniques that conform to Google’s guidelines. This will help you go after your niche effectively, and beat your competition. This can all be done without the worry of eventually falling under a Panda or Penguin penalty.
By the way, I know algorithmic changes make what some thought were good SEO strategies seem worthless. The thing is, what some people feel are good SEO strategies may actually fall into the area of gray hat or borderline black hat SEO.
Such myths have been perpetuated throughout the industry for so long that some believe they are solid strategies, when in fact, doing research into Google’s quality guidelines reveals they were never a solid white hat strategies. One example is that of link wheels, which falls directly under Google’s “link scheme” violation. When done too aggressively, you can be hit by Penguin. A usual good rule of thumb – if you doubt any particular link adds value and it’s only being done for SEO, don’t acquire it.
What keywords is my competition using to drive traffic?
Finding the right keywords is the most important step of your SEO campaign. Keywords are the backbone of SEO and will drive your strategy – you should be researching your competition and how they are using keyword phrases. Not only should you be researching their on-page optimization and how they use these keywords, you should also be researching keyword phrases for search volume and how much traffic they will potentially drive to your site. Once you have built up the list of keywords, you can then begin setting up your editorial calendar and coming up with topics for your website.
How much content are my competitors writing?
It’s not about creating content with the most amount of words, or content with the most amount of great ideas. It’s about creating interesting content that people care about, that they will want to share with their friends, and their friends will want to share with their friends.
People will NOT share boring content. This is called social amplification, and can greatly enhance the traction of any piece of content you write. (I will discuss the social component of content later in this article.) But, the fact remains, you should examine, as a general indicator, how much content your competition is creating, along with the kind of content they are creating that is successful.
- How many words are they writing per article?
- What is the general word count of the top competitors in that niche?
- How many articles are they posting per week?
- How many articles are they posting per month?
- How are they using keywords in that content?
By analyzing your top 5-10 competitors and creating a spreadsheet with this information, you are now armed with appropriate information to take on the competition in that industry.
Which competitors are under a penalty? Do they have bad link profiles?
Links are no longer the be-all, end-all SEO success metric they used to be, but they remain an important part of an SEO campaign. Which is why it is important to deduce the link profile of your competitors. Using tools like Cemper’s Link Detox, Google Webmaster Tools, AHREFs, and Majestic SEO, you can examine the strength of your competitor’s link profile. By doing this for the top 10 websites on Google, you can get a good idea of what links are driving value to these top 10 sites that Google is rewarding.
It is important to consider the penalty end of things: Do NOT use your competition’s link profile as an actual strategy. You can, however, use their link profile and go after sites that are of high value and high quality, and that conform to Google’s quality guidelines. By focusing on the quality sites in that niche, you can dethrone the higher ranking competitors by building your linking strategy around those sites Google considers valuable.
Remember, even link acquisition strategies will vary between niches. A niche with an expansive market in industrious cities like Los Angeles will require a much larger marketing budget in order to see effective ROI from these link acquisition efforts. A niche with a smaller market in Garden Grove, California and surrounding cities, with a lower competition level among keyword phrases, will require less link building in order to be successful.
This is why researching different niches and varying your SEO strategy between said niches is so important. Not only does this impact your link acquisition, it also impacts your keyword research! Every niche has its own jargon, and this impacts how people search tremendously. By performing your due diligence on this research, you can build an effective SEO campaign that delivers on the all-important return on investment that your client is expecting.
How is my competition using keywords on-site?
This is another biggie that can vary between niches, and can vary between keyword phrases widely based on how people are searching. One niche can require the use of highly technical keyword phrases in its copy, along with the use of synonyms and antonyms. Another niche can use extremely simple language that lends itself to the bare minimum of on-page optimization.
The important lesson in this part of your research is to learn the following on the top 10 sites on Google:
- What is your competition doing with those keyword phrases on-page?
- How are they being used in the title tag?
- How are they being used in the Meta description?
- How are they being used in the Meta keywords (no, Google does not use meta keywords for ranking, but they DO use meta keywords in the pre-indexation caching part of the ranking process)?
- How are those keywords being used in the content?
- What frequency of keyword phrases is being used? (Note: I am talking about frequency of keyword phrases for relevance, NOT keyword density. An important caveat here is if you follow your competition’s strategy for keyword phrases you also run the risk of a Panda penalty if their keyword use looks spammy. Are their keywords being used on-page in a spammy way? Then create higher quality content that utilizes that similar keyword strategy.)
Even keyword strategy and on-page use can vary in frequency and scope depending on your niche, so it is important to spend time researching how your competition is using their keyword phrases on-site.
Social Media Research
How can I amplify the social reach of my content?
Much misinformation and speculation has been perpetuated in recent years about social media, and its impact on rankings. So much so, that Matt Cutts finally – a year ago – had to put the kibosh on this with his video where he stated that there are no signals like that in Google’s search ranking algorithm:
So where is the value of social? The value of social is through establishing trust and authority with Google by getting your content out to actual readers, which in turn impacts their knowledge graph in relation to your website and other content.
By using research as a thin indicator of what the competition is doing with social media, you can examine what is being successful in your industry:
- Who re-shares content the most? This indicator can be used to establish who your new niche’s most influential people are on the network, and from there, you can gain insight into their followers and get them to share your content.
- What kind of content is being shared the most?
- What kind of content has the most actionable impact in general (likes, shares) across the big 4 social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn?
- When is content being shared/liked the most?
- How is content being shared?
- Why is specific content being liked and shared the most?
You can use tools like BuzzSumo to gain a full understanding of recent, shareable content across keyword phrases in your new niche, and Twellow to ascertain who the best influencers are. Then, examine how your competition’s content is performing across these social networks using the cues and indications mentioned above.
Without Customization of Your SEO Strategy, You Are Toast
Any Google search result can be as different as the keyword phrase itself, from singular to plural to its synonyms and antonyms. By performing your due diligence and researching your target niche, you can customize your SEO strategy. The customization of your strategy is an essential step, because boilerplate SEO no longer works. Search has gotten so complex in the last 5 years with multiple layers to Google’s algorithm, that it is no longer as simple as choosing a keyword phrase, optimizing your copy, submitting your site to a few directories, and moving on.
Search is now a major source of sales for many companies. It is only through due diligence, research, and customization of your SEO strategy that you will be successful. Not identifying your target audience and the intricacies of your niche early on can be costly for you – and your client.
If you still don’t believe me, consider this: no one ever bought a pizza by following links to a plumber’s website.
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