Tip: there is a list of resources for competitor research at the end of this article – jump there if you just want the quick & dirty.
Finding your marketplace competition and your digital competition require two different strategies and, frequently, have two different sets of results. Who you compete with on a shelf or even an ecomm page is different than who you compete with for web traffic. This is important because, as a businessperson, you want to keep an eye on your competitors at all times. There are a few reasons for this.
If you put effort into building SEO for your website, you are hoping to obtain organic traffic. Organic traffic is traffic that you don’t have to pay for (as opposed to pay per click or paid ads). You may make a sizable investment in SEO, which could include hiring a specialist or DIYing it with keyword research and copywriting.
Who Your Website Competition IS:
Part of any good keyword research process is mining competitor data. It’s important that you define your website competitors. To get you started, here are the basic criteria for someone who directly competes with your website:
- They rank for the same keywords as you do
- They attract the same customer demographic as you do
- They have a similar level of traffic
Who Your Website Competition is NOT:
That’s all fairly straightforward. The more difficult concept is understanding who your website competition is not. In SEO consultations, I frequently have to wrestle outdated ideas about competition to the ground. This is because, ideologically, we are conditioned to identify competitors solely within our own industry. The internet has changed that.
Now, competitors can literally be people whose industries don’t overlap your own at all. Your competitors are, as detailed above, the people who rank for the same things as you do. Let me illustrate.
If you are trying to rank for the term, “contact management,” you could be in competition with a variety of businesses. You may compete with:
- Digital personal assistants
- Software startups/CRMs
- Marketing companies with email services
- Etsy sites where people hand paint planners
Do you see the challenge? Keyword analysis and implementation is ultimately about perception. What is the average intention of someone typing in that search phrase?
What You Can Learn From Competitor Research
The first report from an SEO analysis is usually annoying and a bit fear-inducing for my clients. This is because they:
- Are ranking for random things they didn’t plan on
- Don’t understand that organic traffic happens whether you influence it or not (ie, if you haven’t put in any time to SEO, you will rank for random phrases from a randomly well-performing blog post you wrote seven years ago)
- Don’t understand their competitors
So let’s revisit in the example above to consider some ways you can learn from competitor research.
Scenario One: Choosing the Right Keywords
Say this company is actually about lifecycle device management. In other words, they buy tablets in bulk, program them in a customized way and distribute them to a business for a profit. Then, they monitor and manage those devices. One of the activities they perform is retrieving contact management system information if a device dies. So, if that device has been logged into the company’s CRM, any info saved on the device itself can be recovered.
In actual assessment, it would be evident that the company isn’t really about contact management at all. If you are going for the term “contact management,” but that is a third-tier activity to the core of your company, you need to consider your time spend and focus on that keyword. This is when you start making hard but good decisions about what you actually want to rank for. Remember, Google will reward you for accuracy.
Scenario Two: Ranking for the Right Industry
Diving deep into online competitors can illustrate issues with your brand voice. We all want to be Zappos and Google and Amazon. But we don’t all do everything. And to present your company in a way that is more modern, more global, more broad than it actually is will hurt you in search.
In other words, if you make barrier cable but are a second generation owner and want to modernize, you may be tempted to write things on your website about “thought-leadership” and “change agents” and “revolutionary.” But these words are worthless to your actual business. When you do keyword research and competitor research, you will see who ranks for similar words or phrases. This will help you understand if you’re even in the right industry.
While it’s good to update and be inspirational, even aspirational, filling your website with unrelated copy so that you compete with unrelated businesses isn’t making you any money. No matter how much vision you have, you have to keep the literal lights on.
Scenario Three: Pay Attention to Changes
Last scenario. You want to rank for “contact management” because you are, in fact, a start-up providing CRMs to a niche in the marketplace. You write a website, chock it full of meaningful and relevant keywords, and watch your organic traffic grow. However, six months in, a company with a multi-million dollar budget comes into the marketplace. They are literally called “Contact Management.” They trademark (it’s a pretend scenario). They invest five million dollars the first year in creating a massive digital footprint that eclipses your website (and thousands of others).
What does this mean? In addition to being a bummer for your company, you would need to change your strategy. Digital competition is not a one-and-done exercise. This is not looking to either lane beside you and then running a competitive race. You have to be agile, observant and adaptive. If you take your eye off of the ever-changing dynamics of the marketplace and competitor websites, you’ll lag behind.
You have to tag and track your competition because it could change daily. It. could. change. daily. Every one of your (good) competitors are paying copywriters and investing in SEO. This consumable content will be filled with good keywords that aim to outrank you. You have to do the same.
Long story short: there is no easy answer or final word on website competitors. This is a malleable, ever-changing industry. You have to be adaptable, willing to learn and willing to take on the new challenges of staying current and competitive. Your website will need constant updates, whether from blogs or pillar content. Consumable copy is essential to creating a competitive edge.
Some companies will have to claw their way to the top, methodically taking out competitors one by one. I’m not hyperbolizing. I do this. I go into a brand, identify their top 10 competitors, and write copy specifically targeted to outrank them for keywords they feature. Not evil. Just the nature of the game. And you have to learn to play well if you want to (sometimes) win.
Competitor Research Tools
Bonus, here are some tools to research competitors: