We’ve all been in that situation; you know the one – the keyword that you just can’t seem to get ahead with. That competitor that should not outrank you..is…and its driving you crazy.
It took me quite a long time to realize that chasing competitors can be a waste of time. There’s so much work to do to improve your own website – wasting energy on a competitor that dogs your every step takes time away from actions you can perform to increase your conversions and make their presence a non-issue. Constantly obsessing about a position that flip flops with someone else or where you can’t break into the top 20 can lead you down the road to Crazytown really quickly.
That being said, I DO review what my closest competitors are doing once or twice a year, or if a new competitor starts creeping onto my radar. I try very hard not to obsess, but I do review and understand their strategy and practices as much as I can and have that information filed away for the record. I also like to compare where my competitors are year over year and see if they’re steadily improving, vastly improving, or doing absolutely nothing to compete.
What factors do I think are important? That’s a question better answered by your niche and market, but there are some great tools and tips to get you going. I’ve attended a few conference Competitor Analysis sessions, they’re always packed full of ideas. Some are great; some are destined for the Crazytown file. Either way I’ve pieced together a list of metrics to watch and measure each year. Here they are:
Top 20 Keyword Rankings – SEMRush.com will tell you how many top 20 keyword rankings you and your competitors have. You won’t be able to see all of those keywords unless you pay for a subscription, but I don’t find knowing each and every keyword helpful. By watching my business and analytics & PPC accounts, I have a pretty good idea. This is the only report I find extremely valuable in SEMRush, so I don’t feel paying for an account is worth it.
Social Media Network and Engagement – Each year I review how active my competitors are in Social Media. I look at how their Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and Google+ are integrated into the site and how much their visitors use that integration. I then look at their individual profiles and see how active they are in that area. Many times you’ll find the profile exists, but the competitor does absolutely nothing to engage with their audience. That’s an opportunity for you.
Page Speed – a fairly new factor within the last few years, page speed is rapidly becoming not only something that can affect rankings, it can affect your site’s usability. A session at SMX Advanced in Seattle in June 2012 indicated that 40% of visitors will leave a site that takes longer than 3 seconds to load. That’s not very much time – and that’s a lot of visitors. Paying attention to how fast your pages load can make a big difference in your bounce and abandonment rates – especially if you’re running an ecommerce site with a shopping cart. I take 3-6 pages on my site and measure page speed with the Page Speed Online tool from Google, then I find similar pages on my competitor’s sites and measure their speed and compare. Am I faster, slower or about the same? The page speed tool also gives suggestions for improvement. This is something I recommend looking at for your site more often than once or twice a year. For your competitors? Once or twice a year is fine unless you make some significant changes to correct slow pages or if you move to a new platform or website and want to see how you stack up.
Anchor Text Profile – I use the Open Site Explorer tool from SEOMoz to see what anchor texts I use and my competitor use. I look for unnatural keywords here and diversity of anchor text. Your incoming links should be varied and relevant. The words those links use to link to your site should be descriptive and valuable to your Keyword Matrix. That being said – if your #1 keyword is sending a disproportionate amount of links to your site – it looks unnatural and needs to be remedied. I’d say its pretty natural to see your number one anchor text be http://www.yoursite.com or something similar. If you or your competitor have a top keyword phrase as your #1 anchor text and it far outdistances your domain in count, you’ve got a somewhat unnatural linking profile and should give adjusting your strategy some thought.
Unique C Blocks – This one is somewhat obscure. C-blocks are defined as the 3rd set of numbers in an IP address. Many link networks and link farms are hosted on the same or very close in number IP addresses, which generally means the A, B, and C-block will be the same. The industry defines these types of links as coming from the “Same” C-block or from “Unique” C-blocks.
You can see the C-Blocks linking to any domain within the Open Site Explorer tool as well as in RavenTools. Make sure you look at your numbers as well as your competitor’s numbers domain-wide and see how you stack up.
Local Search Engagement – For many niches and geographies – local search is extremely important. I can’t write this article and not mention having an owner-claimed and up-to-date local business profile. Unfortunately, as of this publish date, Google is changing how local pages are handled and moving their administration under Google+ and nobody knows quite how it’s going to work. Once we get it figured out, stay tuned and I’ll go over how to see how you’re doing in a separate post.
Size of site –Bigger is better when you’re looking to rank for a wide variety of keywords. The size of your site can be a factor when it comes to outranking a competitor. Knowing how large their site is in relation to your own can help you plan for growth or maintenance on your pages. Don’t become complacent though, a good site is constantly changing and growing with updated and new content. I use the simple “site:” operator with my domain as well as my competitor’s domains to see how many pages Google is giving me credit for.
These factors can vary dependent upon niche and competitiveness of terms and geographic locations. It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t obsess over a competitor’s position. They may out rank you, but deliver information slowly, poorly or not at all, and that’s an opportunity for you when the visitor bounces back to the results and clicks on your listing instead.