Identifying your search engine competition is certainly worth your time, but a few false steps can cost you both time and effort. We'll walk you through some of the best ways to identify your competition and time-savers for researching them.
As an online business owner, it’s essential for you to understand your position in your particular marketplace. Your position is largely defined by your competition, target market, and branding strategy. Without a clear understanding of your position, it will be difficult to craft a successful marketing strategy. To start on the right track, we’re here to lay out the steps to define and research the first element: your competition.
Identify the competition
Identifying your online competition is not as simple as choosing the biggest online brand in your industry. More than likely, you’re direct competition is not massive brands like Gap, Best Buy, or Petsmart. Instead, you are most likely competing with online stores that operate in a more defined niche market.
The best way to begin pinpointing your competition is to Google popular key terms related to your store. When performing your searches, it’s best to use the private browsing feature in order to generate unbiased search results. Type in five to 10 of your top key phrases and make note of at least three stores that continually appear in the search results.
Also, pay attention to the Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads that also appear. Is there a store that appears in the organic results and in PPC ads? If so, this a strong indicator that the site is a leader in your niche.
Besides entering in key terms, another strategy for finding similar websites to yours is by inputting “related: www.yourURL.com” into the Google search bar. Google will present you with sites that it feels most directly parallel your online store.
Research the competition
Once you feel you have a good list of competitors, take the time to visit each site and answer the following questions as if you were their customer:
- What’s my first impression of the site?
- Does it look trustworthy in appearance?
- What’s their unique selling point?
- What language or copy is the site using?
- What products does the store feature?
- Is their purchasing process simple?
Write down your answers for each of these questions. Note whether the tone of your answers is positive or negative. Also, try and easily identify an area where your store clearly differentiates itself. This is vital is determining your marketing position against the competition. The goal here is to not over-extend yourself. It is easy to get burned out by constantly researching keywords and competitor sites; by taking the time to properly identify your competition in the previous steps, however, and by concentrating on first impressions, you will save yourself both time and mental anguish.
Beyond visiting your competitor’s sites, there’s a number of online tools that help you dig deeper into your competitor analysis.
1) Open Site Explorer from Moz allows you to analyze the domain authority, link profile and social media interaction levels of multiple websites at once. This is a great tool to see how you stack up against the competition in key online metrics. The free model for OSE is limited and if you want to upgrade, the cost is $99 per month.
2) Alexa.com is a mostly free tool that will provide you with the global rank of any site, an estimate of the site’s back links, the site’s top keywords and more.
3) SpyFu is a paid tool that allow you to see what you’re competition is spending on PPC ads, what keywords they’re targeting in their ads, and the campaigns that worked for them and the ones that didn’t.
While a few of these do require an investment on your part, the information they provide outweighs the cost especially when it’s used to gain a competitive advantage.
After you’ve thoroughly researched each of your competitors, you will have a better understanding of the market and where your store falls within it. Ultimately, the goal of this process is to help you better define ways that your store fills a need for customers that your competitors don’t. Focusing on what your store does best in your marketing strategy will go a long way in beating your competition.
Are you looking for more ways to get the most out of your day, especially in light of the holiday season? Earlier this year our Senior Content Strategist, Lea Elaine Green, wrote an article for Entrepreneur.com, which outlined tips for budgeting your time during your vacation days. Her advice will be as true in the winter as it was in summer, so be sure to check out her work on vacationing, entrepreneur style.
-Russell Benavides, Search Marketing Specialist