When you’re just getting your feet wet in SEO, one of the more difficult aspects of it can be wrapping your head around the timelines involved.
To make matters worse, the timelines vary dramatically based on:
- Content types.
- Starting point.
- And a whole litany of other factors.
For example, if you’re Amazon and you want to rank for the newest “blue widget model 123abc” you can basically just start selling it and that should get the job done.
Assuming it’s a competitive and important product, you might need to build a link or two.
Assuming you’re not Amazon, however, it’s going to take just a bit more work than that.
And that’s why it’s time to start getting ready now, for the holidays. And I’m not referring to Valentine’s Day (though we’ll touch on that below).
Though if you haven’t made your dinner reservations yet, stop reading – do that – and then come back and finish this article.
You’ll hopefully still get the place you want and have increased the time on page this article gets. Definitely a…
Where to Start?
Generally, where you start will be determined by where the biggest gap is between you and your competitor.
At the same time, you will need to consider what resources you have available as well as which elements get picked up the quickest.
If you compare your site to the top-ranking sites in your niche, you need to take honest stock of what they have as their strengths and what you have.
Hopefully it’s clear that by this I don’t mean, “They’re a big faceless company and we’re a mom-and-pop who really cares for our customers.”
Google doesn’t care how nice you are (unless those folks leave reviews).
But let’s take that quasi-debated topic off the table and just say, “Reviews are great for CTR, trust, and conversions, so whether they’re a direct ranking factor or not doesn’t change that you should pursue them. And remember, even if they are a factor in some cases, they won’t be (or at least not as important) in others.”
For reference on reviews, since I opened that can-of-worms, Local SEO Guide did a solid analysis of 200k local businesses and basically collected the data to determine the common elements. Room for error, but the scale was large enough to warrant paying attention to the findings.
But back to the point …
To begin your journey, you’ll generally need some tools. Something that will give you a feel for what you’re up against.
There are many that can do the trick, some better than others and some that may be unaffordable for many.
So, to keep things approachable I’d suggest either Ahrefs or the even more “reasonably priced” SpyFu.
Personally, I use both and a few others but as I serve clients – I need all the data I can get. You may not.
SEMrush gets an honorable mention for being a more robust toolset that you’ll find handy further along and when you get to link building you may want to look at Majestic.
For this article, I’ll use Ahrefs in the examples.
So, the first thing you need to do is get an evaluation of what mountains you need to climb, and hopefully find that a few are molehills.
Finding the Mountains
To give us a working example I need a site and obviously am not about share a competitive analysis of a client or the such and on the tangent of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d pick a card company.
So I jumped to page 4 for the query “valentine’s day cards” and decided I’d put myself in the place of https://www.notecardcafe.com/ and imagine that I wanted to have that term. And isn’t it a fun coincidence that they too should start SEOing for the holidays – 2021.
This is a bit of a narrow view.
No campaign should revolve around a single term. That’s a recipe for disaster. But it works as an example.
For those following along at home, I’m purposely ignoring following the likely rabbit hole of examining what I find when I enter their domain into the tool and am presented with:
Rather than chase that distraction we have two choices:
Option 1: Shotgun Research
We can head over to the Competing Domains tool, which looks at the domains with the largest numbers of shared keyword rankings:
And treat the top sites here as our major competitors.
Order the list by the number of keywords unique to your competitive target and you’ll likely find yourself against the heaviest hitters.
Option 2: Sniper Approach
In option two we simply pick 4 of the sites ranking in the top positions for a few queries we’re hoping to rank for.
For simplicity of example, I’m going to pick the latter. Also, I suspect that Note Card Café may not have the budget to go toe-to-toe with Hallmark.
And on that tangent, when selecting the sites you’ll be using as your SERP competitors, you do not need to simply pick the top 3 or 4.
Look through the list of the top sites and pick the ones that are in your scope.
If you see Hallmark and WendyAndBobsValentinesShop.com sitting near each other, it’s probably more useful to look long and hard at how Wendy and Bob pulled that off than Hallmark with a link profile that looks like:
And so, we’ll head over to the Domain Comparison tool:
Enter them into the tool and you’ll be presented with:
The mountain is very clearly laid out.
Here we can see the links, a very topical view of the link profile, indexed pages (though I find it humorous that Ahrefs has no indexed pages for Note Card Cafe – we can pretty quickly grab that from Google with a site:notecardcafe.com and discover they have 1,750.
Time To Prioritize!
We can see the mountains. They have overwhelming gaps in links and content.
While we don’t need the same volume of links because not all links are equal, and we don’t need the same number of pages, we just need great and focused ones, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.
I’m going to leave the specifics of the strategy to future articles in this new SEO for Beginners Series, where I and others will dive into specific techniques for content and link strategy. Step 1 is to understand where the gaps are.
What we have above however is only a core understanding of the weight.
It would be difficult to say whether content or links are more important and the results of your data may be different but links take longer to build and longer to get picked up and pass their weight so when all is equal or the content need is lighter, start with links.
If You Need Links
As noted above, there will be more articles coming in this series that will dive into link strategies but to get you started and since you have Ahrefs I would suggest starting:
Where you’ll be presented with the opportunity to enter the competing domains as link targets, and exclude domains that link to you:
Resulting in a list of domains that you know link to multiple related site, stand a higher-than-average change of positively impacting rankings (they are linking to the top sites), and that I’ve found to generally be easier to get links on than most other strategies.
And if nothing else, you’ll know what links you’re up against.
Important: Just because a domain is on this list or has high DR or DA or whatever metric you’re looking at does not make it a good link. When you get to the site, if the pages are poor, or the links don’t make sense, leave. Fast.
And If You Need Content…
If you see you need content and you need to get started on it right away and just can’t wait for articles to follow I would highly recommend you start by reading How to Develop an Effective Content Strategy by Alexandra Tachalova. It is based on many of the same principles we’re talking about here as it too is based on competitive metrics.
Hopefully, it will help hold you over until more of the questions and strategies are discussed in the coming weeks and months.