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Using Your Competitors for SEO Gain

“If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” – Someone who probably lost a lot

Recently, Anderson Varejao signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors. If you don’t know who Varejao is, don’t feel bad. He plays in the NBA, but he’s hardly someone anyone would consider a star. He’s been a serviceable center whose career has been riddled with injuries.

That said, he was a starter on a team that made the NBA finals, the 2006-2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. Even though that squad ended up losing, it’s an impressive achievement. Varejao has officially played in more NBA championships than the likes of all-time greats Chris Paul, George Gervin, and Steve Nash combined.

Up until February of this year, he remained on that team. And even though he was out of the lineup thanks to another injury, the Cavaliers made the finals again last season… only to lose again, this time to the Golden State Warriors, the team that Varejao now plays for.

Is it likely he’ll play a lot of minutes? No. The Warriors are already stacked with talent, and he is on the wrong side of his career trajectory. Is he likely to win his first championship? Given that the Warriors are on track to break the record for most wins in a season, it looks likely that he will have a ring by mid-June.

This is hardly uncommon in the NBA. Many players join title-contending rosters at the end of their career so that they themselves can win a championship, even if they barely play.

Indeed, teaming up with a bigger, stronger competitor isn’t uncommon in most industries, including my industry of search engine optimization. But at least within that same industry, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

Instead of wholly joining your competitor, you can use them for your own SEO benefits. Here are a few methods that exemplify what I mean.

Competitor Backlink Reports

As we have often stated on this very blog, links are incredibly important for the purposes of SEO. The more relevant, quality backlinks that point to your site, the more likely you are to rank.

The question becomes: what are relevant, quality backlinks? That’s not just a fair question, it’s a complicated one as well. The answer varies in small ways from niche to niche.

Here’s one thing for sure though – if a competitor that’s outranking you has certain links, you want those links.

The more you accumulate the same links that your competitor has, the more you neutralize the effect of those links.

Now when I say you should go after your competitor’s links, I don’t mean you should steal them. If a webmaster is linking to your competitor, I’m not telling you to approach that webmaster to tell them to switch that link over to you. In my opinion, that’s pretty unethical.

What you SHOULD do is attempt to gain a link on the same domain. And in an ideal scenario, get it on the same page if you possibly can. If you can get links on the same pages that your competitors get, you are essentially instructing Google that you and your competitors are on a level playing field.

So how do you figure out where your competitors are being linked? Thankfully, there are a few backlink tools that will provide comprehensive reports on your competitor’s links, including:

Competitor Content

Chances are that if your competitor is outranking you, they are engaged in a content strategy. It might not be to the scale of BuzzFeed or anything, but content is king, and Google is the internet’s unofficial kingmaker.

If you’re not engaged in content, the fact of the matter is that you are leaving a plethora of marketing opportunities on the table.

Of course, I’m also aware that content production isn’t always so easy. If you saw the amount of unfinished plays on my desktop, you would think I have an irrational, yet crippling fear of writing past 40 pages.

What’s even more difficult than content production? Content ideation. The ideas for powerful pieces of content marketing come swift and easy for no one.

That said, your competitor can likely help with your content ideation process.

Now I would never advocate ripping content straight from your competitors. That’s not content ideation – that’s straight up plagiarism.

But consider this quote often attributed to Picasso – “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

That means if you’re doing a bad job, you are just creating a replica of what your competitor is doing. If you’re doing a good job, you are taking ideas that your competitor may have started, but you are expanding upon those ideas and turning the piece of content into your own.

When you do this, make sure you are using your competitor’s most popular content as your starting point. The whole point is that you are trying to capitalize on their success. This isn’t just about helping out the ideation process. You could improve on their least popular content and maybe turn it into something popular. It happens. But let me put it this way: why start from the bottom when there’s a perfectly good head start waiting for you?

Now how do you pinpoint your competitor’s most popular content? Let me introduce you to BuzzSumo.

BuzzSumo allows you to not only thoroughly analyze the content that your direct competitors produce, it allows you to scope out any piece of content that lives in your niche. And it will gauge popularity by a myriad of factors, including amount of backlinks and social shares. For more information about BuzzSumo, check out this great post by Paddy Moogan.

Competitor Onpage SEO

So you’ve built some powerful links on the same pages that your competitors have also built links. You’ve expanded on your competition’s content and created posts that went viral. And you’re still not beating them in the rankings.

What gives?

It’s unfortunate, but a lot of websites don’t really understand how lackluster their onpage factors are. What are some of those onpage factors?

  • Internal linking
  • URL structures
  • Meta tags
  • H1s and H2s
  • Keyword density
  • Etc.

To be clear, Google has never released a list of ranking factors, so everything I just listed is technically the result of case studies and educated guesses.

There are a shocking number of webmasters who don’t understand how important these characteristics are to search engines. So if you’re competitor is still outranking you, it could be because of an onpage oversight.

So how do you identify your oversights? By investigating your competitors. And there are several tools that will help you identify your competitors’ onpage strengths and weaknesses. Here are just a few.

  • Screaming Frog provides a comprehensive list of page titles, for your site and for you competition.
  • SERP Analysis allows you to inspect the keywords that your competitors are using heavily.
  • The Moz On-Page Grader performs a quick site audit, and reports any site’s onpage health using 30 different factors.

Conclusion

We live in the information age, when we have more quantifiable data at our disposal than ever before. We can actually measure factors that were nebulous only a few decades ago. In some cases, only a few years ago.

Because of that, the era of, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” is effectively over. If you can’t beat ‘em, you’re not using your data correctly.

clickbait

Clickbait: Don’t Mislead Your Readers, Content Marketers

It’s estimated that over two millions blogs are published every day on the web.

With a number that prodigious, it’s no easy feat getting your publications to stand out in front of a large audience unless you’ve already established yourself as a notable leader in your industry.

Because it’s such a struggle for most content marketers to get their work noticed on a wide scale, it’s no wonder that they’re tempted to experiment with an array of tactics to try to get more eyes on their material.

You’ve undoubtedly seen some of these strategies in action; Newsjacking is a big one that we’ve talked about on here. Another major one that you’ve most likely witnessed, and the one that guarantees the most eye-rolls when done in an inapt fashion, is clickbait.

What is clickbait?

If the term is new to you, clickbait is any type of content that is designed to draw in as many clicks as possible. This is usually implemented by creating headlines of a sensational nature so that users feel compelled to click on the article, video, infographic, etc. to see what it entails. This can be done by using:

  • shock-value (You’ll Faint When You See What a Doctor Found Inside This Man’s Stomach)
  • mystery (You’ll Never Believe What Your Favorite 90’s Celebrity Looks Like Now)
  • emotions (We Dare You to Watch This Video Without Tearing Up)

As you can see, clickbait headlines are often created to peak your interest while being extremely vague as to what they’re referring to. After all, if they revealed what you want to know in the headline, what incentive would you have to click on the actual article?

What are the advantages of using this marketing tactic?

Using clickbait may sound deceptive, but it does have its advantages. Marketers use attention-grabbing, scandalous headlines with the intention of:

  • Increasing page views on a piece of content. This is the main reason content marketers use clickbait. With how rapid online-users pump out content on a daily basis, it makes sense that publishers will deploy any method in order to attract more readers.
  • Generating more social media engagement. Social media platforms are the perfect breeding ground for clickbait. It exists all over the web, but websites such as Facebook and Twitter are where this type of content truly takes flight. After all, social media is designed for users to be able to scroll through a variety of postings until they see something that grabs their attention, and clickbait headlines are written for the bored skimmer.

Should you use it?

Well, there is no doubt that clickbait can increase page views. Let’s be honest; who out there hasn’t let their curiosity get the better of them and clicked on an article simply because it promised to blow their mind?

As for actual social media engagement, though, clickbait seems to be most effective for the websites who are dedicated to showcasing the weird, horrific, astonishing, and beautiful snippets of the web. If you take a look at the most viral Facebook publishers of November 2013 according to The Whip, Buzzfeed and Upworthy, two of the top websites known for their use of sensational headlines and random news stories, came in at second and third place. Fast-forward to a similar study based off of 2015’s accumulated data, and you’ll see that Buzzfeed has claimed the throne of the most distributed publisher.

That being said, it doesn’t work for most brands and industries, and as for the ones that it does do the trick for, the type of content that is most successful is generally designed for those who are looking for short-lived entertainment. The average length of viral videos is under two minutes, and the type of content that goes viral plays towards users’ emotions, whether it be provocative, heart-tugging, astonishing, or humorous.

Clickbait is also most effective when the headlines match the content of the piece, but far too often the headlines are frustratingly misleading. To clarify, let’s take a look at one that works:

clickbaitgood

Yes, it applies the overused “You Won’t Believe…” headline, but it does allude to what the video is about in the title, and it highlights a natural phenomenon that most of us have never known about before. Because of this, there most likely won’t be many people who feel duped after clicking on the video.

Now let’s analyze one that will leave most readers shaking their heads:

badclickbait

This is an example from a financial advice website. Now if the writer revealed how someone can make an easy million dollars, that fact might actually be mind-blowing. However, the article goes on to list basic facts about money, one of them being that the majority of Americans experience financial stress. I don’t know about you, but most people wouldn’t find this fact particularly  earth-shattering.

The point is that most readers who click on the article will feel that it pales in comparison to the headline. The facts may be informative and even interesting, but the truth is that they won’t leave many people awestruck as the title suggests. This is why clickbait is not for the majority of industries, and using it could compromise the integrity of your brand.

What are the drawbacks of using clickbait?

Clickbait may bring you a quick surge of page visits, but the long-term effects could be unfavorable. If you lure readers to your content with a beguiling headline, here are a few of the likely drawbacks:

  • Loss of trust with your audience. Readers are much more aware of clickbait than they used to be, and your content marketing strategy will be more credible if you don’t try and trick your readers into clicking on your posts. In most niches, it’s commonly looked at as a cheap marketing ploy, so unless you have the luxury of running one of the few websites whose job it is to highlight strange universal occurrences or unlikely animal friendships, your content will be much more respectable if you stop telling readers they won’t believe what you’re about to say.    
  • Everyone’s doing it. The truth is that there are few content professionals who haven’t experimented with clickbait, and online users are building up a tolerance to the inticing titles. When every article is promising to leave you shocked, it’s pretty understandable if curiosity starts to wane and consequently, page visits don’t stack up rapidly.
  • Higher bounce rate. When a headline purposely misleads online users, it won’t take long for readers to realize the actual content is underwhelming. When this happens, most users will exit that page right away in hopes of finding something that delivers the value it promises to. To prevent disgruntled users, the heads of Facebook have previously stated that they aim to start tracking the time spent on a piece of content and valuing that over how many clicks it brings in.
  • Less likely to earn links. If your content does have a high bounce rate, you most likely are missing out on some natural links being built towards your website. Online users are likely to link back to something that’s useful and informational, but if they are distracted by your use of deceiving story titles, they won’t be encouraged to give you the credit you may have earned if you were more straightforward in your approach.

Closing Up

Clickbait may work for a minute portion of industries and websites, but for the most part, you’ll go further with your content marketing efforts if you build your reputation on being trustworthy, sincere, and most of all, valuable.

That being said, the use of sensational headlines to form a wider audience isn’t new in the world of content, and at the end of the day, it’s up to you if you want your brand to more closely resemble the National Enquirer or The New York Times.