Obviously, I’m a proponent of search engine optimization (SEO), but I admit there’s one frustrating weakness to the strategy; if a competitor outranks you for one or more crucial keywords, your traffic and leads could plummet. Not only that, all the traffic you lost will now be going to a competing brand.
So what should you do to prepare for, and fight against, the prospect of inevitable SEO competition?
Understand the Threat
Your first job is to understand the threat. Before you can do anything with your newfound competition, you should know where it’s coming from, and what it’s going to take to handle it.
- Keywords. First, look at what keywords your competitor is using to outrank you. This can tell you a great deal about the competition, including what they’re trying to target, how specific they’re focusing, and whether their tactics are sustainable. For example, are these head keywords or long-tail keywords? Are these broadly scattered, or related to only one area of the business?
- Audience. Next, see if they’re targeting the same audience as you. If they work with a different niche, or provide different services, you may be able to coexist. If not, you’ll need to start thinking about how you can differentiate yourself.
- Goals. Does this competitor appear to be trying hard to boost their rankings, or was this a natural occurrence? Gauging the motivations of your competition can help you plan accordingly; for example, if they’re working hard to achieve a certain ranking, they may fight back even harder if you attempt to directly compete with them.
- Strength. You should also consider how strong your competition is, evaluating how many links they have pointing to them, how long they’ve been in the game, and what level of resources they have access to. If they’re especially powerful, you should consider differentiating yourself, rather than provoking a standoff.
Once you have a grasp on the nature of the threat, you’ll have two major options on how to proceed. You can either differentiate yourself, eliminating the problem by removing yourself from the competition, or outperform the competition, fighting back to unseat your opponent.
Differentiation is a good strategy if your audiences are significantly different (or can be significantly different), or if your competitor is too strong to deal with:
- Select new keyword targets. If your competition has taken up space on a single category of keywords, you can select a different category of keywords to target. For example, if you’re both bookstore/cafes, and they appear to be targeting keywords related to the café side of the business, you could adjust your strategy by writing content that focuses on the bookstore element of the business.
- Opt for a different niche. In a similar vein, you could adjust your campaign to focus on an entirely different niche. For example, let’s say you’re a marketing consultant, and one of your top competitors has gotten a lock on mid-size businesses. You could adjust your keyword sets, content, and even your overall direction to focus on small-size businesses. It’s a big adjustment, but one that could provide you many more opportunities.
- Narrow or broaden your scope. Of course, you could also simply broaden or narrow your targets. Keywords range from high-volume, high-competition to low volume, low-competition based on how common and how specific they are. If you’re seeing increased competition at one level of this continuum, you could switch to another to avoid the threat.
Outperformance is a better strategy if your competition is at your level, and if you don’t have much wiggle room in your targets:
- Mimic and expand your competitors’ link profiles. Links are still the gold standard for SEO success, and your competitor is probably working with the same set of external publishers that you are. Use a link discovery tool to analyze your competitor’s inbound ink profile, and see if there are any external sources putting them over the top. Obtain any links they have which you don’t, and add some extra so you can get the edge.
- Produce better content. Better content is going to affect a ton of SEO factors, including attracting more inbound links and improving user satisfaction. Of course, “better” is a subjective term here; write content that better serves your users’ needs, is more detailed, is more rich with visual media, and is packed with original research. If you can, produce this content more frequently as well, and syndicate it to increase its potential reach.
- Double down on contested keywords. If there are some keywords that you and your competition are hotly contesting, double your efforts on those specific keywords. You can hold your position easily in uncontested areas, so it might be worth the extra effort to take a stand on the higher-competition ones.
Competition doesn’t have to ruin your campaign, or compromise all the hard work you’ve put into your strategy. Competition is inevitable; the most successful SEO strategists are the ones who account for and respond to competition, not the ones lucky enough to never deal with competition in the first place.
The more experience you get, the less frustrating the competition will be, and the more tools you’ll have in your arsenal to deal with it when it comes up. Until then, stick with the basics, and dominate your niche the best you can.