Determining and understanding your competitors
Understanding the competition should be a key component of planning your SEO. The first step is to understand who your competitors in the search results really are.
Affiliate and Spam Sites
Affiliates that cheat tend to come and go out of the top search results, as only sites that implement ethical tactics are likely to maintain their positions over time.
Who are your competitors whose efforts you would like to emulate? These competitors are likely to have websites that consistently dominate the upper half of the first page of search results in the search engines for a range of important keywords that are popular and relevant to your target audience.
To assess competitors’ competence at SEO, you need to answer the following questions:
- Are their websites fully indexed by Google and Yahoo!? In other words, are all their web pages, including product pages, making it into the search engines’ databases? A competitor with only a small percentage of its site in Google probably has a site that is unfriendly to search spiders.
- Do their product and category pages have keyword-rich page titles (title tags) unique to each page?
- Do their product and category pages have reasonably high PageRank scores?
- Is anchor text across the site, particularly in the navigation, keyword-rich?
- Are they spamming the search engines with “doorway pages”?
- What keywords are they targeting?
- Who’s linking to their home page, or to their top-selling product pages and category pages?
- If it is a database-driven site, what technology tricks are they using to get search engine spiders such as Googlebot to cope with the site being dynamic? Nearly all the technology tricks are tied to the e-commerce platforms the competitors are running.
- How does the current state of their sites’ SEO compare with those of years past? You can reach back into history and access previous versions of your competitors’ home pages and view the HTML source to see which optimization tactics they were employing back then.
The Wayback Machine provides an amazingly extensive archive of web pages.
Obsessing over rankings (rather than traffic) can result in poor strategic decisions. keep an eye on your visitor and conversion statistics.