Evolving Competitor Analysis in 2014 – Understanding the Landscape
In my experience, if you speak of competitor analysis to another SEO you’ll often be met with a subtle yet distinctive looks of disgust – like you are bad at your job or you are being lazy and taking shortcuts to get your clients to rank. Looks that shout “that’s not real SEO”.
Competitor analysis used to be about mining link ideas from sites that rank to get a few quick wins, but I’ve never seen much good come from that. I just ended up spending hours filtering through generic directory listings and blog comments without finding any real gold. Those that were good were out of reach for my clients so this was almost always a wasted effort.
More recently I’ve decided to come back to analysing competitors and evolve it to get a greater understanding of what is working so well for the competing sites and compare that against my client – but not to take shortcuts.
It still comes down to links but not for quick gains. It still looks at keywords but not for an easy win. I’m looking to understand the landscape.
Looking at your client’s domain authority against those that rank well is all well and good but it doesn’t give you any direction. Making sure you have no duplicate content on your site is great but if it’s unique already there are no goals to achieve. Making sure keywords are on the page in all the right places is again just a stab in the dark.
SEO is much more than just links, content and keywords. And it varies for every industry. If you think you know SEO, I can probably give you an industry where you don’t. Even if you do, in a couple of years it won’t be the same.
Competitor Analysis Evolved
I’ve recently taken to breaking down everything I can in a client’s campaign including the following:
- backlink profile - anchor text breakdown, number of links within specific domain authority and page authority ‘buckets’, followed vs nofollowed links, sitewide vs single page links
- keywords – intentions, relationships between the keywords, distribution, usage of similar phrases, topic relevance, prominence of keyword in title and heading tags
- technical – how the site is built, how the keywords are implemented into the page, use of anchor text in internal links
I do this for both the ranking page and the root domain for the client as well as the top 20 competing sites within Google so I can really dig out what I need.
Without this level of information it would be very difficult to draw conclusions as to what the competitors are consistently doing and what’s helping them rank so well but also what’s acceptable within their industry in Google’s eyes – what the landscape looks like.
Does the Landscape Really Change That Much?
In a word, yes.
If you looked at the links within the payday loans industry a year ago – it was unbelievably spammy. But that worked. Everybody was using keyword rich anchor text and pushing links hard, but as everybody was doing it Google assumed that this was natural for that industry and a lot slipped through the net for a long time and people made a lot of money.
Look at it today post the payday loans penalty and it’s a very different story. The industry is the same but it’s the landscape that’s changed. What worked then doesn’t work now.
And every industry’s landscape is different to the next.
There are industries where there are only a small amount of sites where you can actually gain a respectable link. If there aren’t many around then it’s unlikely your competitors will have many authoritative links either.
If that’s the case then I’d question whether link building was really what the client needed and would start looking elsewhere in my analysis and figure out what really is helping them to rank so well.
Understand the Landscape
Performing SEO in one industry can be completely different to the next, but getting an understanding of the landscape you’re working with is important in developing the right strategy for the client, rather than falling back on typical SEO practices.
It’s not about copying your competitors and hoping you’ll be treated the same by Google. It’s about much more than that.
It’s about understanding what Google feels about the industry. Understanding the landscape gives you the learning and direction you need to set goals that will deliver results. It gives you the learning you need to create an evidence-based strategy with clear objectives and deliverables that will help you compete with the guys on page 1 much more effectively.
Do what you can to fit the industry mould and then work over and above to make yourself stand out, using your company’s position within the market where possible to make sure nobody can match what you’re doing.