Eli Schwartz

Competition and competitors are always a touchy subject in any business strategy, but things could get really heated in the digital marketing realm. Unlike in the offline world where attacking a competitor costs a pretty penny and is very visible, online there are many areas of opportunity to unseat a competitor without breaking a sweat.

In the bucket of fair competition, websites can create and promote head to head comparisons, bid on a competitors brand name or call out their competitors in their paid marketing. But, then there are there are the dirty tactics too like negative SEO attacks, snitching on competitors to Google, clicking their ads to drive up their marketing or scraping their content.

All of this adds up to really nasty competition to a site which in many cases is just a faceless entity. This aside, I think many sites approach competition the wrong way with regards to SEO. While websites might think of their competitors as those that have similar product offerings to them, for SEO it is really any site that is targeting the same search terms for whatever purpose.

Who is the competition

In this sense, Wikipedia is just about everyone’s competition even if Wikipedia isn’t selling any products. Similarly any other site that is providing information that might satisfy a user’s query intent should be added to the competitive set. All sites that are in this competitive set should monitored or at least observed on occasion to see how they are growing and any specific tactics they are using to drive growth.

Learning from the competition

Rather than focus on destroying competition, I think it is best to learn from competitors. If there is something that is working for them learn how to do it better. If they are generating traffic from a specific query set but not effectively answer the query’s intent, this is an opportunity to create better content.

Content

In the same vein, if a competitor has created content within a specific topic but left open large gaps in their coverage of the topic, this is an opportunity to do it better. A competitor might have a broad approach that can be better capitalized on with a far more narrow strategy. For example, a pest control product site might be able to beat a competitor by having detailed how to’s on using a product rather than general awareness content.

Links

Observing how and why a competitor receives links is another great strategy for growth. Provided that a competitor is accruing links in above board fashion, trying to understand the intent behind why someone might link to them can lead to even better ideas on where to find new links for your own site. If a competitor is using illegitimate link tactics this might be reassuring that they are probably similarly weak in other areas of the business.

Tools

To dig and learn from competition, I use three primary tools.

  1. Google search – search their site on Google using site queries (site:domain.com) to see how they come up in Google. Observe how many pages they have, title tags, meta descriptions, rogue pages they probably did not want indexed, images and content strategy.
  2. Backlink tool – Any tool will suffice, but I like Ahrefs. Use this tool to dig into their backlinks, top keywords driving traffic, recent trends on performance and any similar sites to them you may not have been aware of before.
  3. A crawling tool – Any cloud or desktop tool will do, but this is where you really learn about how their site is structured and any deeper learnings you could not find on Google yourself. Note, that many sites do not appreciate being crawled for this purpose, so do this at your own risk.

For SEO, competition is not a bad thing at all and it is innate in how search works. Even if you are the only one that has ever offered your service you will inevitably face competition since there will never just be one result on Google. Use competition to shorten your learning curve and develop better strategies. Viewed in this light competition should be welcomed not avoided.