SEO can be difficult to learn and harder to master, but higher search engine rankings and ROI are often closer than you think. Luckily, your business isn’t the first to struggle with the intricacies of SEO, and learning from those who have already tried is an effective way to simplify things.
By comparing your business’s SEO strategies to those of your competitors, you can see what’s working for them, as well as what spaces are open in your market. Different keywords can lead to drastically different results, and companies often fail to do the research necessary to determine what tactics will have the greatest impact.
Focusing on Keywords
Keywords are the most important part of an SEO campaign, so it’s important to make sure you’re starting off with the right ones. Of course, they need to relate to your product or service, but some keywords are more competitive than others.
Depending on your niche, your competitors may or may not already have invested extensively in SEO marketing. If there aren’t many businesses targeting the keywords you’re interested in, you’ll be able to improve your ROI and overtake the competition with less time and money.
The first step in researching your competitors is making sure you know exactly who they are. An easy way to start this process is by finding websites that rank higher than yours for keywords you’re trying to target.
Combine these with any other businesses you’re aware of that compete in the same niche. This set of companies makes up your main competition on search engines, and these companies should be your focus as you research new SEO strategies.
There are, of course, seemingly infinite tools available for SEO research. Basic options like Google Keyword Planner are simple and will help you get started, but there are more advanced programs available for those looking for an edge.
A large portion of the data relevant to your keyword research is more obscure and often passed over by businesses that don’t see the potential results SEO can bring. A program like KWFinder, for example, provides a wide range of information you can use to your advantage, including difficulty, trends, backlinks, and more.
Each program has its own benefits and drawbacks, but if you don’t have access to the information you need, you’re starting off at a significant disadvantage. With such a wide variety of tools available, it’s important to make sure you’re equipped with everything you need.
Compare and Contrast
No matter how much you focus on search rankings and keywords, there will always be room for improvement. To create a realistic picture of your business’s current position in the SEO landscape, start with a SWOT analysis—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Your marketing strengths should be areas in which you already hold advantages over competitors. If other businesses are less invested in SEO, for example, you may have an advantage with respect to keywords that are vital to your customers. Research itself is a strength, as it allows you to use your resources as efficiently as possible.
Weaknesses and opportunities are where you’re able to target specific areas for improvement. While it’s easy to be discouraged by large competitors with more money to spend on ads, there are almost always paths to success, even when the competition is just as invested as you are.
Even if you’ve targeted a specific keyword, you’ll often find that other businesses are ranked higher for that word, as well as others related to your audience. This is often an easy weakness to identify and improve, as you’ll be able to use the available data to determine what you’re doing wrong. By adding content, editing existing content, acquiring more backlinks, or something else entirely, you can make up ground on the keywords that matter most.
If you have the right tools, you can also identify keywords other businesses are ranking for that yours isn’t—one of the simplest problems to address. Without that information, you’ll simply be guessing which keywords are important, as opposed to using data based on what customers are actually searching for.
Soft Target Competition
After identifying your top competitors and qualifying them based on size and the nature of the competition (whether it is direct or indirect), it’s important to progress into discovering specific strategies that can beat them. To start, use Google to identify the big players within your niche.
From there, progress to using tools such as Alexa or similarweb to find medium to smaller sized competitors. These sites will give you a range of statistics about your site as well, but they also offer a function called “similar sites,” which will show you your competitors. At this point, pick the most relevant competitors and create a spreadsheet to track their strategies in order to beat them in the most effective ways possible.
For each competitor, you should pull key metrics such as domain authority, link sources, and new referring domains. These statistics can be discovered using tools such as Ahrefs. Furthermore, you should also look into their average monthly visits, page views, bounce rate, traffic sources, and traffic demographics. Other tools such as Buzzsumo, SpyFu, and Ahrefs SEO toolbar can be used to assess the success of your competition’s ad copy, PPC, and awareness among key demographic groups.
Once you’ve accumulated this information, it is important to combine it with the keywords that you reverse engineered earlier. At this point, you must assess which keywords are going to present you with the highest ROI and focus on them. After whittling down your list, you should have about 10-20% the number of keywords as when you began. From there, you should zero in on your organic keyword decisions and form keyword clusters—the most effective way to maximize the value of organic keywords and phrases.
Once you’ve gone through the main keywords, you’ll have an idea of where you can improve and where you’re ahead of the competition. The next step is implementing new strategies based on this information, as well as continuing to monitor the landscape and stay in front of new trends as they develop.
The implementation of these tactics and strategies should be organized through the different phases of the selling cycle. Consumers move through four stages on this journey: awareness, consideration, conversion, and loyalty. Each stage should be approached with a different SEO strategy.
Consumers move through three stages of awareness: unawareness, problem awareness, and solution awareness. At this point, your potential prospects are only using informational keywords. These are keywords that don’t have a commercial intent and, because of this, people mistakenly ignore it. Though immediate revenue potential does not exist with this type of keyword, it provides a channel to connect with your customer at one of their first potential touch points.
As awareness increases, the competitiveness for keywords increases. During this stage, you should be developing keywords that predict problems that your product and/or service will solve. These keywords will relate to content such as long-form guides, thought leadership articles, expert interviews, and entertaining educational content. Furthermore, the updating of existing content and the production of new and improved content will enhance your abilities to drive traffic to your content and turn prospects into leads.
During the consideration stage of the selling process, consumers will either be considering your product or considering product comparisons. Here, navigational keywords should be the focal point of your SEO strategy. Just as they did throughout the stages of the awareness segment, keywords become more and more competitive as we advance through from one stage to the next.
However, a competitive advantage can be gained through the use of 3rd party review sites such as Yelp, Zomato, and Quora. Keywords can also be found using a variety of formulas which include, but are not limited to, “[Product name] features,” “Best [Product category],” and “[Product name] reviews.”
You should also make sure that your business has a strong presence on all relevant review sites. This is also a place where your competitor research will come in handy as you can utilize it to display product comparisons on your page, which show that your product/service is superior to that of the competition.
The conversion stage of the selling process uses both commercial and transactional keywords. This is a major opportunity to convert your prospects into leads and customers. These keywords can be discovered by utilizing search queries that display an intent to purchase. These phrases can include, but are not limited to, “buy, price, shipping, and coupons.” When implementing your strategy, utilizing these keywords is essential, as is improving your product page ranking within the buying keywords and building a list of buyers.
Retention and Loyalty
This stage is often neglected by many, even including SEO-oriented business, but it is a fantastic opportunity to upsell your customers, minimize your return rates, and turn your customers into advocates for your brand. Optimizing your processes here can have extremely lucrative returns; the Pareto Principle states that 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.
You can ensure that you keep new customers in the fold by predicting keyword phrases that consumers will use to troubleshoot problems and maximize your product’s use. You can find your keywords, as well as your competitors’ keywords, by looking through sources such as Facebook, Twitter, review sites, customer support tickets, and comment sections. Last, cross-selling is another possibility that should be explored during this stage.
Business is all about competition, and optimizing your business’s SEO can give you quite the competitive advantage. By knowing how to conduct competitor research and implement some changes based off of these findings, you will be better equipped to help your business both survive and thrive in our modern, interconnected marketplace.
Though these concepts can be difficult to learn, practice and persistence will help lead to a future in which your business has an optimized SEO strategy that reaps substantial returns on investment for you.
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Ronald Dod is the Chief Marketing Officer and Co-founder of Visiture, an end-to-end eCommerce marketing agency focused on helping online merchants acquire more customers through the use of search engines, social media platforms, marketplaces, and their online storefronts. His passion is helping leading brands use data to make more effective decisions in order to drive new traffic and conversions.
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