NEW: Chris Thomas

When you’re working on optimising your website, it’s a pretty good idea to see what you’re up against. Here’s how…

Competitor research – know thine enemy!

Chris Thomas

When you’re working on optimising your website, it’s a pretty good idea to see what you’re up against before you head down an expensive search engine optimisation path to nowhere.

Even when it comes to niche, there’s very little chance your product or service is going to be the only one competing for top spots at search engines.

And given that paid search costs are on the rise, SEO is really starting to look more and more attractive to business in terms of long-term return on investment. So it’s doubly vital to get competitor research right.

The idea is to evaluate the top ranking websites for your chosen key phrases and make a decision about whether it’s worth taking them on. If you don’t perform this crucial step, you might as well set fire to $20 notes as fast as you can light the matches.

To give you an example, we had an interesting case last year where one of our clients wanted to rank top three for a particular keyword.

We looked at the top 10 at Google, and knew straight away it was going to be a tough assignment. We were up against five top ranking government websites. They were, in delicate SEO parlance, 1000 pound authority link pigs. Impossible to beat without at least couple of years of serious SEO.

Our keyword research showed there were lots of other highly targeted key phrases worth optimising for. Today the client is ranking top three for nearly all of them.

So here are the steps to undertake before finalising your keyword research and starting SEO.

1. In-bound links
How many other websites link to the top ranking website(s)? The best way to find out a rough estimation is to go to Yahoo and type into the search bar: If there are many hundreds or thousands of links, you might want to think twice about taking them on, or at least consider an optimised link building campaign.

2. What’s their PageRank?
PageRank isn’t the be-all and end-all of SEO, but it does provide an indication of the quality of the website’s linking to your competitors. If your competitor has a high PageRank (say five, six, seven and up) it’s likely they’re linked to from other authority websites. Again, could be tough to beat.

3. Have they optimised or are they there by accident?
Do your competitors share your chosen keywords in their title tags, meta data and on page text? If they do make sure you’re doing the same.

4. Domain age
Check to see when a domain was first registered. If it’s been around for quite a few years, Google will give it real credibility and often reward the website with a higher rank.

5. Sub pages: Don’t be fooled!
Sometimes you’ll find low PageRank sub pages rank very highly. They’ll have very few direct in-bound links and look to be “easy beats”. But beware. Check the PageRank and link count of the home page first, as you’ll often find it is passing authority down the line and helping deeper pages with the site rank highly.

I’m an old school SEO guy; I like to manually evaluate the competition. However, there some really neat tools around which make the job much easier. One of those is “SEO for FireFox”. You can download SEO for FireFox here, and the screenshot below shows you what you get once you install and turn it on. Pretty nifty.

Chris Thomas blog

Chris Thomas heads Reseo a search engine optimisation company which specialises in setting up and maintaining Google AdWords campaigns, Affiliate Programs and Search Engine Optimisation campaigns for a range of corporate clients.

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