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Competitor Research is vital for SEO success

If your friend jumped off a bridge would you jump too? This old age expression keeps getting thrown at me almost on a daily basis. And when it comes to SEO my answer is always the same: Yes I would. Now before you phone any suicide helplines on my behalf or ask for a police escort to stake out my house let me explain. The sites that are ranked on the first page of Google for a search term you are trying to target are there for a reason. Either their on-site content is perfectly targeted towards the term or their Off-site SEO is highly authoritative or as in almost all successful SEO campaigns both occur. Therefore the most rational step of SEO and Social Media is Competitor Research.

 

Let’s take the two following examples:

 

Example 1: You own a shoe site and you want to target the term ‘shoes online’. Now you type into Google the referred key phrase and you write down all the URL’s that rank in the top 10. These are now your competitors but you don’t do any background research. Then you tell yourself you have a couple of grand stashed away and go pour all into hundreds of directory listings, a press release, a forum poster that spams a gazillion of shoe forums and buying sponsored Facebook posts and Twitter Feeds.

 

Result: 6 months later it dawns on you that you are broke and after all your time and effort your site still doesn’t rank on the first page of Google.

 

Example 2: You own a shoe site and you want to target the term ‘shoes online’. Now you type into Google the referred key phrase and you write down all the URL’s that rank in the top 10. These are now your competitors and you do background research on them. You copy paste each URL into a backlink tool one by one and realise they all have only one backlink, the same backlink: A blog comment on a very high ranked shoe blog. With regards to the Social Media none of them have more than 10 Facebook likes or Tweets. You gain the same backlink as your competitors by commenting on the shoe blog and grow organically your Social Media backlinks with minimal effort to a higher or at least an equal standard compared to your competition. Now you take 5 percent of that couple of grand you had stashed away and spend it on a few directory listings, small press release and sponsored social media promotion.

 

Result: 6 months later you still have money stashed away and after minimal time and effort your site is ranked first on Google.

Now of course the above examples are extreme versions in comparison to real life cases. However the concluding facts of the story remain the same:

Originality and uniqueness are very good traits to have in life but when it comes to SEO one should not try to reinvent the wheel. Don’t spend any time, effort or money on gaining backlinks and promoting your Social Media without knowing what the top ranked competitors have done already. This does not only apply to money, time and effort but also to the Off-site SEO strategy one must pursue. If your competitors have strong backlinks from press sites such as the BBC, NY times; instead of pouring money into directory listings and time on blog / forum commenting, spend it on press releases. If their Social Media Presence is stronger than their backlinks do the same. If their backlink anchor text is strongly focused around the targeted term, do it too (yet beware that over 50% of all backlinks should be of a broad or brand anchor text). Don’t worry if you feel like a copycat because this is just in the beginning, once you’ve matched the competition then you can hit the other lacking areas hard and you can be as original and unique as your heart wants to be when promoting your site.

 

In a nutshell you should never forget that especially when it comes to SEO it pays off to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

 

This post was written by Aires Loutsaris, The Open University’s SEO Manager, the biggest university in the UK.

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