Competitive Benchmarking for SEO is an incredible tool that should be apart of every SEO’s process. This article will show you how to overcome any of your competitor’s ranking on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs).
Competitive benchmarking is a means to more accurately understand:
- your company
- your company’s products/services
- your company’s industry
- your company’s competition
- how your product/service exists within the industry
- niche channels that exist within an industry
- how to increase performance
Within any competitive landscape it is important to continually reference our own performance against others. After all, who are you really if not a net comparison to your peers? What does “good” mean without “bad”? Competitive benchmarking also provides justification for initiatives. If you cannot provide data to justify your initiative, then you should rightly question if your initiative is a good idea. If your successful competitor is doing it, then perhaps the company should also be doing it. However the pitfall can lead to a lack of innovation. Innovation can actually be hard to sell. Corporate mentality does not foster innovation. Corporate mentality these days is wrapped in a box and blind to creative possibilities. I think a contributor to this lack of innovation are business schools who describes the building blocks, but do not go far enough in how to put the blocks together creatively. It has always been my contention that the best performance are those who are both analytic & creative. How does one accumulate or learn creative processes? New discoveries are not found by thinking within the box. To step outside the box is to invite error, but to invite error is to invite a valuable lesson to learn from. When you do this a bunch of times, it is similar to exercising a muscle, and from it you sculpt an educated intuition. With this all being said, competitive benchmarking isn’t about doing what the competitor is doing; it is about collecting useful data, understanding it, and then providing an educated plan of action.
When I come into a company and they do not do competitive benchmarking to a granular level it is a red flag to me that they do not understand the landscape well enough to make educated decisions, and they usually confirm my suspicion by poor execution by lack of communication and planning. Lack of communication and planning is systematic of poor data resource. From an SEO perspective it is paramount that competitive benchmarking is apart of your process & regiment. A search on a keyword can reveal who your real competitor is from an online modality. What competitive benchmarking reveals is how your competitor came into that position. The plan work is all laid out. All that is needed is to duplicate that proven process and do it better. Doing it better is where the creative process is extremely beneficial.
Competitive benchmarking for SEO
First you need to have a proper understanding of Search Theory to find the keywords that you want to be found for. You can spy on your competitors and see what keywords they are using. What if you don’t know who your competitors are? A lot of times a client thinks they know who their competitor is, but upon further investigation, the find their real online competitor. Übersuggest is an online tool that can help you with suggestions on any keyword that you input; it will output a small collection. You can also use MergeWords, which is helpful in creating combinations of words. Once you have a premise of how a searcher would try to find your site you can use Google’s Adwords, which is a free tool for Paid Search and gives you the data of average monthly searches, competition level, and an estimate on the Cost Per Click (CPC) for any given keyword. Once you have an idea on what keyword you need to be found on you can do a Google Search on that keyword.
If you were renovating a house would you start on the site structure or the interior decoration? Exactly! Once you find your head-to-head keyword competitor you can “view source“, or you can download a plugin such as SEO Quake for your browser. I prefer the plugin as it is much faster. You want to see if the keyword is used in the:
- Header Tags
- Meta-keywords (very low correlation)
You will also want to know if they have an XML Sitemap (SEO Quake measures this to some degree). Sometimes they might have a sitemap, but they may not have it correctly submitted to the Search Engines. Regardless if they have it properly submitted or not, you will want a properly submitted XML sitemap. It is advantageous to use Mark-up Langauge for advanced SEO, which can come in two forms: Schema VS Micro-formatting. I prefer Schema as do many SEO experts in the field. SEO Quake does not currently do a good job on checking for Schema or Micro-formats on sites. As for site structure you will want to have all aspects done correctly regardless if the competition has their site structure in correct shape, but looking at their structure will give you an idea on what you are up against and how they use the keyword (especially in the title, description, and h1 tag). Remember that back-links will solve any SEO problems.
Content Breadth: You need to know how many articles (content breadth) the competitor has on your keyword. You can use Google’s site operator “site:example.com inurl:keyword”, then you will know approximately how many articles you will need to compete. The best practice is to start with the lowest hanging fruit of the “long-tail” keywords and make your way up to the “head-term” keyword. Internal links on all of the articles.
Keyword Density: Not everyone believes keyword density matters. I believe it is a signal, but regardless of where you fall on this issue you should at least match the content depth. You can easily do this by copying all the text and pasting it into Word; you can even to a keyword find and count how many times it is placed. Keyword density is derived from the number of keyword repetitions / page copy. SEO Quake has a built in function for keyword density.
Back-Links: Google factors the number of external links a page has to determine how it will rank the page. An external link is also weight on the site’s TrustRank. SE’s use TrustRanking to weed out spam and irrelevant content; thus getting an external link from highly trusted domain will result in higher scoring. External links will fix just about any SEO issue. To see what kind of back-links the competition has you can use Majestic SEO; it has a free & paid services. Once you have an idea of how many external links you have to generate you can start to plan an aggressive Reciprocal Linking Campaign. You should also think about creating engaging content with link-magnets. Piggy backing off of relevant forum posts is a lot better than link-begging. Creating link-able engaging content is hard work just as much as it is to drive external links to it. Internal links is key as it is an indicator of well organized structure. It let’s the SE’s know that you know what your important pages are. Sharing your content through Social Media is also key as the SE’s are measuring Social Signals as it factors it into relevancy.
Business Executives and owners will want to know how fast a product will rank. The simple answer is the velocity of how fast a company is able to allocate the necessary resources into creating what competitive benchmarking reveals is how fast a product keyword will rank. Optimizing for search is part science because it is govern on data, but it is also an art because the laws are created by the Search Engines. So you duplicate what competitive benchmarking reveals, but you do it better and this is where the “art” comes into play.