DIY SEO #8:Determining the Competitiveness of Your Competition

Determining SEO competitionSEO is like a race that never ends, but it does have winners.  You never really stop SEO, but you do have a goal, the #1 ranking.  So, in that sense, you are racing to get to the front.  Knowing who you are up against in this race is crucial to creating your SEO strategy.

Imagine a race where the runners are running across the US, sea to shining sea.  The race has been going on for several days before you come along and decide you want to run.  As you start the race, you check to see where the other runners are along the race route.

A Point In Time
As you look at the positions of the other runners what does it really tell you?  Just their position.  You don’t know how long ago they started running or how hard they are running.  You may see someone who is 50 miles ahead of you, but if they are only walking a few hours a day, you could easily catch up in a few days if you really work at it.  On the other hand, you may see someone who is only 10 miles ahead of and think I can easily pass them…until you find out that they started only a couple hours ago and very fast runners in great shape.

A few steps ago we looked at our competition to get an idea of how strong they are.  That gives us a picture of the race right now.  However, as in the example above, it doesn’t tell us how hard those people are working on the rankings of their website, if at all.  If a website has 10,000 inbound links, that number of links isn’t very impressive if they’ve been around for 10 years.  On the other hand, if the website was started only a few months ago, then watch out.  They are going to be some tough competition.

competition researchHow engaged is your competition?
You need to get a good picture of what you are up against so you can decide what SEO strategy to use.  So, pick out several keywords and one at a time do a search in Google or Bing.  For each keyword, pick a few of the websites in the results to review.  To get an idea of what your competition is doing, we’re going to look at a few factors:

1. Is their site optimized?
The first thing we will do to figure this out is use a browser that shows you the Title tag of the page you are on.  Then navigate around their site a bit and see if their Title tags are different for each page and using keywords.  If not, then they aren’t very well optimized and you can proceed to number 2.  If they are, then we’ll continue on checking the optimization.

Select a few pages on their site and read through the content of the pages.  Are the same keywords in the Title tag of each page being used in that page’s text, especially in page titles and paragraph headings?  If not, then the site is only minimally optimized.  If so, then let’s do one more check of the optimization.

On those same pages you just read through, look at the source code.  You can do this by right-clicking in your browser and clicking something like “View Source” (the exact wording is different in every browser).  Check to see if headings are using H tags.  Also, do graphics have alt tags with keywords in the text?  If they have these things as well as optimized Title tags and text, then this site is well optimized which tells you they are probably actively engaged in SEO.  If not, then they are still moderately optimized.

Note: As you check the source code of the site, keep an eye out for black hat SEO tactics.  Are they keyword stuffing, have hidden text, or is there evidence of their being part of a link farm?  If you see black hat SEO tactics being used, you have the option to report them to Google or Bing.  Some people might not feel comfortable “tattling” on their competition, but then again, do you feel comfortable with your competition “cheating”?  It’s your call what you want to do.

Is Your Competition Link Building?2. Is your competition link building?
This is every bit as important, if not more important than checking to see if your competition is engaged with on-page SEO.  A good link building campaign can trump good on-page SEO.  So, you need to see if your competition is actively engaging in link building and, if so, to what extent.

Let’s start by looking for signs of a link building campaign.  Look around their site.  Do they have a blog?  Do they have an affiliate program?  Are they offering online tools, white papers, books, or other resources for free?  These are all signs of a link building campaign.

Next, let’s see how many inbound links they have.  You can do this in Google by searching “”, where you switchout “” with your competition’s domain name.  Keep in mind that Google doesn’t give a full list of the inbound links, just some of them, but this can give you an idea of whether a website has millions, hundreds of thousands, or just hundreds of inbound links.

Another good tool for this is MajesticSEO.  They give you a more complete number of inbound links.  The two things to know about MajesticSEO is 1.) they do charge to check the inbound links of a site you don’t own and 2.) they aren’t Google, so they may have found links Google hasn’t or vice versa.  Yet another source you can use for checking links is Open Site Explorer from which is free, though not as comprehensive as MajesticSEO.

If you’re check of the total number of links reveals that the site has millions of inbound links, then they have an active link building campaign, they have a phenominal product/service to which people love to link (which has the same effect as a link building campaign, or they have been around so long they are probably way ahead of 99% of their competitors.  In any case, they will be tough to compete against.  If they have less than 1 million links, check the age of their domain name by doing a whois search.  If they are averaging more than 100K/year, they have a a strong link building campaign.  If they are averaging between than 10K and 100K links per year, they are doing reasonably well with their link building campaign.  If they are a averaging less than 1K links per year, then they don’t have an effective link building campaign.

Social Media3. Is your competition socially engaged?
This is easy and quick to check.  Look around their site.  Do you see links to Facebook and Twitter on their site?  Do you see invitations to follow of become a fan?  On some pages (possibly just blog pages) do you see buttons to like, share, or retweet the page?  If you see no signs of social activity, then you’re done.

If you do see signs of social activity, visit the site’s Facebook and/or Twitter accounts.  Are they regularly posting to the accounts?  It is all broadcasting or are they engaging and interacting with people?  If they are posting regularly, then they are at least moderately socially active.  If they are engaging and interacting with people as well, then they are very socially engaged.

Let’s tally the votes.
Now that you’ve gotten the competition info for several key competitors, take a moment to put the information together and get a complete picture of each of your competitors separately as well as all of your competitors as a whole.  We’ll address what to do with this information in a future step.

Tip: If you have a little trouble with the information staying abstract, you can score each competitor on a scale of 1-10.  Give 1-3 points for SEO, 1-5 points for link building, and 1-2 points for social engagement.

Additional Tips and Notes:

Today’s Tasks:

  • Search some of your keywords (both competitive ones and moderately competitive keywords) and find several competitors (at least 10, but the more the better).
  • Check each competitor’s site to see how much SEO they are doing, if any.
  • Check each competitor’s site for evidence of link building campaigns and do inbound link research to determine how much link building they are doing, if any.
  • Check each competitor’s site to see how socially engaged they are.
  • Total up the data for each competitor individually and all the competitors together.

Photos by shaggy359easylocum, and Eric M Martin

How competitive is your competition?

Did you find any surprises?

SEO’s, do you look at anything else when determining the strength of the competition?

DIY SEO #7: Keyword Competition Research <- DIY SEO: Main -> DIY SEO #9: Determining Local Competition

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