SEO & Competitive Intelligence

June 7, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Yo, yo, we’re back. This time we’re coming live from the off-the-beaten-path room which means it’s all the way in the back, is freezing, but comes with a killer view of the harbor.  I promise to do my best to pay attention and not start lovingly outside at the waves. Troy isn’t actually renowned for its shoreline, you know? It is, however, the birthplace of Uncle Sam. So there.

Time to get to business. Up on stage we have Seth Besmertnik, Mitul Gandhi, and John Straw.  The last time I liveblogged one of these fellows I apparently made him sound “mean” by sharing some of the jokes he shared. That makes me sad. He’s not mean. He’s just clever. I promise to behave myself this time. Honest.

Up first is Mitul.

Why Competitive Intelligence?

When you speak to SEOs, they find the most common uses for competitive intelligence are in the areas of finding keywords or links that competitors are using. There are tons of resources out there to help you do that. There’s no dearth of sources but there is an act of actionable information. But competitive intelligence is not limited to those areas.  You can answer questions like:

  • What did my competitors do to change rankings?
  • How active are my competitors in SEO?
  • How are they going after certain terms?
  • Which tactics are most effective?

Tracking competitive intelligence is tough. There are too many things to track, too much noise in the data, the data is too late and it’s too dependent on the the researcher and the tool. It makes us focus too much on the effect and not on the cause.

To help us be better, Mitul shares five steps to effective competitive intelligence.

1. Research True Competitors

Here’s where the blinders are usually in place with most companies. When you think about Walmart, they think their competitor is Target. Everyone has that one competitor that they think they’re most fighting with. Online, this is not true. You have competitors you may not even realize because they’re search competitors.  You want to identify competitors at every level – site, category, product/service, etc. Online anyone can be ranking for the keywords you’re going after.

2. Eliminate Noise

Now that you know your competitors, resist the urge to go to your favorite keyword research tool and go after all their keywords. Researching a single competitor can be misleading because it gives too much data, no context, is specific to the competitor and you’re prone to errors in their approach. Instead, you want to leverage the wisdom of the crowd.  Find the intersection between the keywords your competitors rank for and the competitors you are ranked for.

3. Monitor the possible causes

Things like:

  • What is the competitor doing onpage?
  • What is the competitor doing offpage?

Rankings may have changed because of something you did, something your competitor did, a new linking relationship, etc.

4. Track Effects

Tracking your KPIs closely, not just your rankings. Track traffic patterns, organic click through rates, etc. Set up thresholds.

5. Learn, Test, Implement

Timing is important. Things change very quickly in SEO. If you’re using old data, you’re missing out on a lot of the granularity and a lot of what you could be doing. CI provides a starting point for additional opportunities.

Things to Note:

  • CI without human review can lead to MADness – Mutually Assured Destruction
  • More competitive the industry, the better the CI works.
  • Words with keywords, backlinks and more

Next up is John Straw.

We like to talk about competitive information, we have lots of meetings about competitive information, but we don’t do much with the information we get. When the JC Penney scandal broke in Feb, they decided to examine the changing backlink structure of it and several competitors through time.  They looked at how they would arcitecht competitor data sets. Stay with me because this data is really pretty cool.

Competitive Data: What You Need

They looked at fresh links – links that recently appeared or recently dropped. They filtered those by influence, relevance and by links to other competitors and curated it by blog, wikis, forums, directories, social, PR sites and article sites. This will give you a good view of your competitors SEO strategy. They used Majestic SEO to get this data. They needed to look at the content of the page to find out the truth about what was going on. They signed up for the API for Magestic. They crawled content and links. They used math and decision algos to curate the data. They recrawled every 30 days.

He shows the backlink structure curated into its component parts – breaking down links by their types and where they’re from. This shows you the SEO strategy for the companies you’re looking at. Sears is really big in forums, Macy’s is big in blogs and JC Penney is pretty average across the board.  That was in February.  A few months later they found everyone was growing their link structure. Macy’s had grown it in blogs, Sears in forums, again.  That’s the top level. They wanted to deep dive into the data. They wanted to look at JC Penney’s data  to see how they refound love in the Google algorithm.

They saw that in the past four months, JC Penney’s had a very specific campaign to get links from .edus. They’ve acquired 220 edu links in 4.5 mouths to regain Google’s love.

They wanted to start classifying the different sites. There are many factors on a page that can help you classify it. When classifying a blog, you might look for:

  • Comments
  • RSS Feeds
  • Post archive
  • Lavels and tags on post
  • WordPress-based
  • Hosted on a blogging platform such as Blogger or Tumblr

Next up is Seth.

When it comes to SEO, there’s your business competitors and your SEO competitors. How do you discover who they are? How do you learn from trends? How do you use that to prioritize your time?

Building a competitive database – you need a lot of data to figure out who your competitors are and how to manage this.

  1. Keyword Selection: Your consistent keywords you’re always managing
  2. SERP Extraction: Not just getting rank data but understanding who are the domains who are actively participating in the SERPs for your keywords
  3. Saturation and Avg Position Calculation – frequency in which domains are showing up for your keywords.
  4. Competitive Categorization and Trending
  5. New Competitor Alerting

How to understand who your real competitors are.

800 keywords x 100 positions – 80,00 site/keyword/position data points.

Across those 80,000 listings you’re going to look at the companies that have the highest saturation. Apply another filter where you’re applying some sort of rank metric on top of this – top 10, top 30, etc.   Generate a report that tells you the domain name, the percentage of saturation and the average rank. That will show you the companies who are really, really competing with you.  SEMRush will give you a similar report but it doesn’t include the keywords you think are important, it’s more of a generic dataset.

Once you know your competitors, you have to typecast them.

  • Direct Competitors: Other companies with similar metrics. Traditional competitors, SEO driven competitors, affiliates, retailers, manufacturers, family sites.
  • Indirect Competitors: Review sites, newspapers, magazines, Wikipedia, Users groups and forums, social sites, etc. These sites are taking traffic away from you.

Understand your competitor’s momentum

Competitor trending: Follow ranking shifts of competitors to identify aggressive movement either positively or negatively.  You can learn just as much from the people doing poorly as the people doing well. Find strategies that DON’T work that you’re also employing.

New competitor alerts: Look at top three pages and identify new competitors that did not exist in previous time interval.  You don’t want to be caught off guard when a new site comes on board, whether it’s a new site that just popped up or if it’s an established site now taking SEO seriously.

Lots of good data!  Time for lunch. We’ll be back with you in a bit.  Go grab a cookie or something.


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