Your Competition Doing SEO or Search Engine Marketing?
With the growth of the web, more and more companies are beginning to realize that a storefront is not all that is required to compete. Many more traditional businesses are getting online in a big way, increasing competition and reducing the amount of available screen space in SERPs
The problem sometimes is that these companies do not know how to distinguish their online competition. In this article we look at some easy ways to determine who your online competition is. I meet clients all the time who are getting into a website for the first time because they realize the potential. They have already built a successful business selling to people locally and now want to expand their reach.
Usually there is a short but steep learning curve as they begin to realize that what they do in their store or other business may not work online.
For example, there are real estate agents who rely on their reputation to sell homes, but get them online and they are just like the other thousands of agents hoping to catch your eye.
Similarly, a more traditional marketer will look at the other competitors in “brick and mortar” terms. That means they think their competitors are the people down the street. They don’t realize there’s a whole slew of new competitors they haven’t even heard of before. Ones that already own the online space they want to get into.
How to identify your online competitors
This is an ongoing process but generally the first place I like to start is with a broad term and a search engine like Google. If you’re a retailer, take a product name and do a search for it. You see those top sites there? Those are your online competitors. You can perform this same search on other search engines (probably a good idea) to get an idea of what the other engines consider as your competitors.
You should also perform this search for a few of your products. You will likely find that there are many many different sites competing with you in your market areas.
Also, you can do searches for more specific terms, throwing in geographic modifiers if needed.
For example, if you sell “blue widgets” then search for “widgets” but also search for “blue widgets.” You should even do a search for “your location” “blue widgets.” You may be surprised who shows up in this type of local search for your product.
At this point it isn’t worth questioning why some sites appear in the search results. I can almost guarantee that you will find sites there that shouldn’t be there. Especially in the regional searches. They could be there perhaps because the engines like to have at least some representation for the search query. So they are matching pretty broadly from their database of known sites.
But that doesn’t mean that you should discount them as your online competition. The fact is, the search engine placed them there for a reason, so you must be aware of that and prepare your online marketing strategy around it.
Also, if you are considering any sort of paid campaign be sure to do the same searches on Google and Yahoo! this time focusing on who’s paying for those listings. Again, even if you don’t agree, these are the sites that are paying to be there, so they ARE in fact your competition.
Knowing your Online Competition
Merely identifying your online competition is one thing. It’s much more important to understand them. Learning their strengths and weaknesses can help you make a better site. One that is more competitive and in the end could become a large sales generator for you.
So while you are performing those searches I told you about above, be sure to click on a few of the links and look at the pages you are landing on.
Get a feel for them and decide “is this right for my customer?”
You should also browse a few pages as your customer. Noting things you like and don’t like about the site. Try to purchase something (no you don’t have to actually buy it, just take it to the point of checkout) – is the purchase process easy to figure out? Do they offer specials or rebates during the process? Again, note the things you like and don’t like.
Search, View, Critique, Repeat
Repeat this process on a few of your competitors and you will soon develop an idea of what it takes to compete in this space.
Try and be as objective as you can about all the sites. Don’t look at them from your own point of view necessarily, but look at them from the customer you (and they) are trying to attract. Remember, in this competitive intelligence gathering stage you can save yourself lots of time and money by getting the design and process right the first time.
Other sources of online competition
Sometimes a search engine isn’t the best place to find your competition. This is because, depending on the industry, some sites perform better in other places such as directories. Therefore you should also exhaust these sources.
For example, some B2B sites tend to get more leads and sales from specialty directories such as Business.com than search engines.
What I’m saying here is, you have to get into the mind of your customer to figure out where they are going to find you and your competitors. Then you need to go there yourself to see what the competitive landscape looks like.
If you get stuck at this step it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask some of your customers: “If you were going to find this product or service online how would you do it?” If they will answer you, get them to answer with as much detail as possible. For example, don’t settle with “I’d use a search engine” instead ask them which one. Ask them what words or phrases they’d use to find it. How many times would they go back to the search engine before they felt they had enough information to buy?
Getting this type of input from your non-online customers can also help you define who your online customer is. At least it gives you a starting point and allows you to put a face to the image that is your “target customer profile” allowing you to build a better site with which to compete online.
Rob Sullivan of Text Link Brokers is an SEO Specialist and Internet Marketing Consultant.