It’s 2011. Do You Know Who Your Competitors Are?


“Who is your competition?”

It’s one of the first questions we ask prospective clients. It sounds easy enough to answer, but you’d surprised. Through this one little question we’re able to learn a bit more about the client and their space, get an idea of who they feel they’re up against, and then determine whether or not their idea at all matches reality. Sometimes it matches pretty well and other times, well other times their idea is simply adorable. ;)

One thing we all know for sure is that times have changed. It used to be that your competitors were the businesses in your area that sold the same product or performed the same service as you. But thanks to the Internet and to the way many search engines display information, this is no longer the case. In order to outwit your competition and dominate sales, you first have to understand who they are. Because you can’t be out for blood until you know whose blood you’re out for, right?


Below are the five types of competitors you’ll have to consider and plan for.

1. Brick and Mortar Competition

Typically, these are the competitors you have a pretty good handle on. They’re the faces that you fake smile at when you run into them at the local grocery store or whose weekly fliers you slyly throw in the trash so that others can’t see them. If you’re Staples, your brick and mortar competitors are mom and pops like Joe’s Office Supplies, as well as local chains of OfficeMax, OfficeDepot, etc. They’re the stores that both sell a similar product AND that are located in your area. But you know these guys.

2. Competition That Ranks For Your Keywords

Thanks to the Internet, it’s not just the local companies offering similar services that you need to worry about. You also have to be aware of your search competitors – the businesses that are stealing customers by ranking for the keywords you want to be found for. Thanks to the Internet, it doesn’t matter that Jenny’s Computer Depot is a one-woman shop run out of a basement in Idaho, if Jenny is ranking on the first page for your search terms when you’re banished to the second, she’s probably stealing your customers and your retirement fund.

For example, let’s go back to our Staples example.

If you’re Staples and you want to rank for [hanging file folders], your competition isn’t just the brick and mortar guys that exist 15 miles from your storefront.

Thanks to the Internet, you’re also up against:

  • Amazon
  • The Container Store
  • Smead
  • Sams Club
  • Walmart
  • And many, many others

There doesn’t need to be a Container Store within 200 miles of your storefront. If their Web site is showing up above yours in the search result, that’s a direct competitor. And you need to create an SEO plan handle that.

[While I was doing some research for this post I stumbled upon TopRank’s recent post entitled In Search, Your Competition Isn’t Who You Think where Lee Odden gives some great tips on how to overtake your search competitors. I’d give it a read.

3. Competitors Whose MEDIA Ranks For Your Keyword

Did you see that Shopping One Box listed above the results in the last screen shot?  No? Well, here it is again.

Meet your other competitors – the businesses who go through the side door while everyone is trying to push through the front. This is a big reason why it’s so important to not only create digital assets related to your brand, but to optimize them for search. Because with the engines looking for this content and placing it directly into the search results, it creates a new kind of search competitor. One where you either have the goods to compete or you don’t. Obviously, this doesn’t just apply for Shopping results, you’ll also want to look at businesses stealing your search thunder via News, Blogs, Images, Video, etc. If someone is ranking above you, you want to know about it.

4. Companies Google Says Are Your Competition

If Google’s the one ranking your business against your peers (quite literally, actually), then it makes sense to understand who Google things you’re similar to, no? Just some food for thought:


5. Share of Buzz Competitors

Thanks to social media, there’s also another nagging competitor to think about – the businesses who are embarrassing you in the Share of Voice department. These are the businesses that sell similar products or services as you but who seem to be involved in every darn social conversation. People are tweeting their stuff, sharing it on Facebook, and referencing them 24/7 while your brand pretty much bobs up and down in the sea of obscurity.

Am I trying to intimidate you by showing you just how much competition there is out there today? No, I’m not. But it’s important that you’re aware of it. That when you take a look at your competition or create systems to help you monitor their actions that you’re looking at the right sites and in the right direction. Because times have changed and you need to make sure you’re focusing on the proper SEO strategy to help you succeed in a land where customers have more options and more distractions than ever before.

Your competitors are no longer just the names you’ve always know; your competition is anyone who gets themselves in front of YOUR customer’s line of sight.

Your Comments

  • Mike Roberts

    And #5 reminds me of why I get annoyed every time the management feels that social media is far less important than ranking position 1 for every keyword under the sun when we already rank extremely well for our niche.

  • Rufus Dogg

    Sometimes, the worst competition are your own customers who are looking for ways to automate what you do or DIY what you provide. You need to keep an eye on them as well and always be in front of them.

  • Nick LeRoy

    I’m always talking to clients about the types of competitors that they have. Most of the time they refer to their brick and motor competition. As while its important im always explaining to them that they have ‘online competition’ gunning for their targeting keywords. With a little clarification clients are able to give me a list of sites that they routinely find showing up in Google for the terms they want to rank for.

  • Michael c. Craven

    Dear Lisa-
    Great Post! It is so true our world has totally changed with the internet, some good and some bad. As a Chicago divorce lawyer I realized I needed a blog, ( to compete with other divorce lawyers in Chicago. We all need to be aware of who is our competitor in this new world.
    Michael C. Craven

  • Justin Dupre

    Very timely and relevant post. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Matt

    It’s amazing to think how much this changes. As a primarily virtual company, the brick-and-mortar part of the equation doesn’t factor much any longer, though it’s not hard to think back to a time when all we cared about was the place across town with radio ads. It’s a completely different world now.

  • Ken Jansen

    Hi Lisa,

    This might be beyond the scope of the post, but here goes, say I was a real estate guy and I had unique photos of subdivisions. I know enough to make the file name say the subdivision and the city its in. LOTS of duplicate subdivision names around the country btw, so the city is important. Should I also put my name in the file name abc-sub-in-xyz-city-photo-by-yours-truly? There are at least a half dozen agents around the country with my same name so I was wondering if that was a good idea. Guess I may owe you starbucks card for this one as it is more than a comment. :) I don’t doubt that some of my photos will end up hot linked into some competitors sites so it might be good to identify myself as the photographer too I suppose. Did I put you to sleep yet? Dear Wifey says I need to learn to summarize.

    Thank you.

  • Henry Louis

    The competition in the online space can be categorized as Web Competition, business competition & content syndicators. We more oftenly come across web competition & content syndicators. For a few businesses most of them would be business competitors only. Everyone should be considered while looking out for competition to attract more business online.

  • Ken Jansen

    So I did a little bit of testing. Adding a tagged image made a big difference. a newer page with very little content was not showing up in a long tail search. I drove out to the subdivision, took a photo of the monument, loaded it, tagged it, posted it. a few days later SEOMoz shows me I showed up for the first time in the top 50 (for that term) at #7 on web search. On google image, my photo came in #1. It might be a case of QDF since it is an older subdivision and the internet was not abuzz with subdivision websites and interactive maps etc. Anyway, thanks again for the advice. My lovely wife and I have been taking a lot of photos in the last week, thinking that you were correct and this was a good ‘ah-ha’ moment.