When working on an SEO strategy, competitor research is something often overlooked. I am the first one to blame. Back in the day, I used to take for granted the brands I worked for where unique, and Google and users would instantly know that. Digging a bit into my psychology, I was actually avoiding looking too much into the competitors and in turn avoiding the temptation of ending up copying what they were doing. This is actually what many brands do, and one of my main goals is to always make my brands different from the competitors. After all, I am a marketer.
But to do that you need to understand your competitors first!
At some point in my consulting career, I realised that any marketer (digital or not) needs to dig much deeper into the competitors that are already doing well.
In this post I will show you what are the main principles of SEO competitive research, and I will give you the example of my client Onacar.
1. Understand your brand properly
It is essential to dig deep into the differentiating elements of the brand you are trying to promote. You need to understand not only what they do but why they do it and how this purpose materialises in the approach of the business. And how this difference adds value.
It is not enough to ask the client ‘what are your USPs?’ and get an improvised answer like “good customer service”.
This will help you later when you are conveying that message and identifying the points of difference you will exploit against competitors.
Onacar offers airport taxi services in several Spanish cities. This is WHAT they do. Now the reason WHY they do it is because most of private hire services in Spain fail to accommodate to the sensitivities and requirements of foreign tourists. They fix this problem by making sure the drivers speak English and the communication before the transfer is flawless.
2. Find niche keywords
It is important to start an SEO campaign by identifying keywords that have some decent search volume but are not too competitive. This can be achieved by targeting niche keywords. But how niche?
I have noticed over the years that the right balance of ‘niche’ is when you search for the keyword and you find one to three companies specialising in that particular service or good on the first page in Google. in contrast, if the first page is littered by undifferentiated websites offering the same thing, you probably are better off looking for more niche keywords.
On the other hand, if you search for a niche keyword and there are no websites specialised on that at all, you either have found a great gap for SEO or probably there are too few people searching for it.
For Onacar, we initially wanted to rank for ‘Madrid airport transfers’ but we realised that we would be competing not only with private hire companies but also with bus companies, train service websites and Tripadvisor discussion boards.
But if you type ‘Madrid airport taxi‘ not only the search is way more specific for the type of service people search for, but also there are fewer companies relevant to that. We also found there are one to three real competitors targeting those keywords specifically.
3. Analyse those competitors very well
You want to select the competitors that are exactly where you would like to be; they have optimised their website for that particular niche keyword and they are reaping the benefits of it, so you know Google thinks they are the most relevant result for the service you offer. But be careful with too authoritative search results. For example, even if Amazon or Wikipedia are ranking for your keyword, they are not your competitor. These guys don’t even probably know they are ranking for that keyword and in same cases, they never intended to. Focus on who is similar to you instead.
Once you have identified your competitors, you want to look at the following:
- Website content: What copy do they have on their website? how is it talking to their customers? what social proof do they use? Are they meta titles ‘robotty’ and ‘tick the SEO box’ or creative and consumer oriented?
- Website functionality and user experience: how easy is it to navigate through the website? how easy is it to access their services?
- Backlinks: what type of backlinks do they have? could you outreach those websites or similar ones and request a backlink too?
- Social Media: What are they doing in social media? do they share the content of the website? do they use social media as a customer service tool?
4. Mix number 1 and 3 in your head
Now that you have all that data, lay out a winning plan to become better than your competitors and get up the rankings by creating and promoting your content. Can you improve on functionality? can you create a guide about why your value proposition adds extra value to your customers? Can you make the process better? Can you improve the meta titles and descriptions so they are more appealing in the search result pages?
For example, Onacar created a blog post about how in Spain, services are mostly child-friendly. This was a result of research showing us this is crucial for anybody who jumps into a car which is not their own with their kids.
The information gained by these points needs to be ingrained in the mind of the marketer to the point that the tactics come from a combination of logical and intuitive forces.
What else do you think is crucial for potent competitive SEO analysis?