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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.

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it." — Margaret Fuller
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