Not so long ago, SEO was easier. When people visited your website, Google was all too happy to reveal the breadcrumb trail of search terms that led them there.
That all changed on Oct. 18, 2011, when Google started to encrypt its information and hide certain keywords from website owners. The tech giant didn’t leave marketers totally in the dark, but the information available now is a far cry from the wealth of knowledge to which we used to have access.
Thankfully, you don’t have to sit back and pout about the change. Your first priority should always be your own website and business. Through several semi-hacks, you can take back some of the data that Google hid from you to learn more about how people end up on your homepage.
A successful SEO strategy requires more than internal evaluations, however; if you really want to get ahead, you need to learn your competitors’ SEO strategies and use the information to your benefit. They might use tactics that could benefit your business or outmaneuver you in your own core competency; if that’s the case, you need to know so you can shake up your strategy.
Uncovering Competitors’ SEO Strategies
You know what information you want to see, but competitors probably won’t just hand over access to their systems and let you take a look. To get the information you need, you have to get creative.
Find alternate directories and indices
Many websites create alternate directories, which contain pages specifically optimized for SEO. Despite Google’s insistence that sites should not build pages for search engines and should instead focus on customer experience, businesses continue to do it. Find your competitors’ indices to see how they’re trying to drive traffic. Check out examples of these indices at DICK’S Sporting Goods and Expedia.
Examine the metadata
You have access to several tools to pull the metadata from any given site. Check out your competitors’ sites to see their meta tags, H1s, etc. Getting insight into your competitors’ website structure, page descriptions, and keywords can help you better understand their SEO goals.
Use workarounds to discover top keywords and user intent.
Tools such as SEMrush, SpyFu, and Moz provide workarounds to show you the searches that could drive significant traffic to a website. Not every tool can show you which keywords actually lead to conversions, but you’ll maximize your dollars spent if you select one that does. Then, turn that tool toward competitors’ websites for even more insight.
Knowledge Is Power
After you dig up some information on a competitor’s SEO strategy, what should you do with it? Use it to your advantage, of course! Here’s how to make the most of it:
Boost Your Web Traffic
When you learn how competitors bring in traffic, you can use that knowledge in your own business to level the playing field.
Are competitors getting traffic from community forums such as Reddit and LinkedIn? Are they drawing visitors from news aggregation sites? What about YouTube or Pinterest? Go there and try using a paid ad, video, or promotional post to snare customers away from your competition.
If you’re really trying to drive site traffic, be sure to provide sufficient funding for your SEO team: Organic search traffic is free, but the tools to boost it aren’t. Invest in a keyword analysis tool and perhaps a content team to drive customers to your site with unique material.
Improve Your Online Reputation
Not everything on the Internet is true, no matter what you heard from that French model. Your SEO team should continually look over search results to ensure the existing online information about your business is accurate.
Most customers’ first interaction with your brand comes via online search. Controlling what they see during that search — or at least influencing the results to be more positive — is a vital part of what SEO can do. Your competition also knows this, and while you shouldn’t attempt to sabotage your competition through online libel, you must be vigilant to ensure they don’t try it on you.
For businesses with hundreds of brick-and-mortar locations, location feeds help keep vital local information such as store hours, phone numbers, and addresses up-to-date. Particularly with Google’s recent Local Snack Pack update, you’ll need to ensure your business’s online presence is positive.
Use Intent Data to Strategize Content and Ad Buys
Search data is no longer just about keywords but about intent. User intent data tells you what people think about your business and what the web tells them you can provide.
For example, Facebook’s advertising platform merges intent and keyword targeting, along with other information, to gauge interest that you can discover through intent-based search queries. Display retargeting responds to the context of pages to display different banner ads based on search keywords.
Knowing competitors’ search data allows you to make educated guesses about their customers’ intentions, which allows you to market your brand more strategically. If you can beat competitors to the punch with content, email offers, polls, and social media, you’re much more likely to convert their customers.
For instance, if you’re a clothing retailer and you discover that visitors to a competitor’s website previously sought information about suit varieties, then your team might decide to create an article to provide that information. Which suit retailer are readers likely to choose? Probably the one that gave them the information they needed.
Alternately, you could seek to purchase ads on various sites about suit sizing. If you know a competitor’s customers are reading those sites, then placing your ads on the suit-sizing pages will keep you top of mind among customers.
A robust SEO strategy isn’t cheap, but it’s a necessary part of online marketing. If you’re short on cash and SEO, reassign members of your team or repurpose your assets to create viable content for new sites to drive more meaningful traffic. Before you make any sweeping changes, though, record a baseline in your analytics to observe whether your new initiatives improve your traffic.
Just because you don’t have administrative access to competitors’ websites doesn’t mean you can’t learn about their SEO strategies with a little initiative. As you discover more about competitors’ organic search traffic, take advantage of that knowledge to drive a greater share of customers in your direction.
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