Competitor Analysis Part II: Exploiting Weaknesses

In our previous article we looked at some of the ways that a business might learn more about its competitors. Our goal was to discover ways in which we could improve on competitor's optimization strategies in order to have an SEO advantage. This time, we're going to have a look at a number of more specific techniques through which those weaknesses can be exploited.

Content

Content lies at the heart of any online strategy. Fortunately, many companies have limited budgets and expertise in this area, and that leaves them open to being overtaken by a smart competitor.

A blog is one of the easiest, although certainly not the only, ways to get quality, fresh content onto a site and attract links and traffic. But it's not enough to have a vague idea of what potential customers might want: businesses need to have a precise conceptualization of what their customers are going to be searching for at different points in the purchase cycle, and produce search engine optimized content that meets those needs.

That doesn't mean low-quality content stuffed with as many keywords as possible; it means awesome, compelling, readable content on subjects that are going to be useful to customers – that's what they are searching for, and that's what search engines like Google love to give them.

Take a careful look at your competitors’ sites and identify content failings in two main areas:

Topic

Imagine you run a small online book store serving a niche market interested in vintage cars. There are an almost infinite number of ways you might frame content to bring traffic to your site. You need to narrow down the options.

You notice that your major competitor in the next town over has a fantastic blog with weekly in-depth articles focused on the mechanics of vintage automobiles – she's a retired engineer. This competitor consistently ranks higher than you for your core search term “American vintage cars”. Her site is well established with a huge amount of expert material. It's going to be difficult to tackle her head-on with the same type of content.

However, you know from researching your market that most of the people who buy vintage car books are not mechanically inclined. They are much more interested in history and they are nostalgic for particular eras. So, you decide to focus your blog on historical articles detailing the lifestyles of the people who drove vintage cars, with extensive illustrations taken from public domain photographs of the period and links to the books you sell that expand on the article content.

You make sure that you optimize your content for keywords phrases like “history of vintage cars”, “early twentieth century automobiles”, “cars in forties movies” and so on.

You're tapping into a lucrative search market that your competitor has missed.

Type

It's almost a cliché these days that there are three main types of search: transactional, informational, and navigational. People want to buy something, learn something, or go somewhere. You can split these main types into more specific subgroups and you can also categorize searches according to the purchase cycle. The point is to find out which type of search your competitor isn't providing content for, and satisfy that need.

Different types of content serve different needs. Some businesses focus directly on the hard sell, which might be fine if all your potential site visitors were making transactional searches and had already decided that they wanted to buy and from where they wanted to buy it. However, for a searcher who is just mulling the possibilities and looking for information, the hard sell is off-putting. It might work for second hand car dealers, but the Internet is a different medium with different expectations and social pressures. Perhaps your competitor focuses on the hard sell, and you focus – for the time being – on informational content that help clients learn about the possibilities without trying too hard to sell to them.

Both of these examples are very simple scenarios. In real life it can be much more complex to identify opportunities, but the basic principles will still apply.

Link Building

Great content and social media strategy is the single best way to build links, and in the perfect Web of Google's fondest dreams, that's how everyone does it. But the reality is that there are other ways to get the incoming links to your site that are necessary for ranking well.

You have to be careful though: Google really doesn't like some of the more sneaky ways of building links: basically because they rely on trickery, are dishonest, and make it hard for Google to provide a good service to its users. Google pays some very smart people a lot of money to figure out how to avoid being tricked. It's a safe bet that so-called “black hat” techniques will work for only a short time, if they work at all, and you'll eventually have to do the work again, or even undo what's already done because you've been penalized. It's tempting to give Johnny Blackhat a bunch of cash and have him go spamming forums and comment threads with his bots, but it'll bite you in the behind eventually.

These techniques are firmly on the white-hat side of the eternal battle of SEO good and evil, even if some of them seem a little sneaky.

Guest Blogging

Once you've identified where your competitors incoming links are coming from, you can look at what sort of sites they are from, identify related sites, and offer them some of the great content that you've established you can produce on your own blog. Again, always be on the lookout for opportunities that your competitor has missed: higher authority sites that they haven't got a link from, for example.

Capture their Broken Links

This one is a bit sneaky, and it's not always applicable, but it can come in handy sometimes. We discussed in the last article how to examine your competitors inbound links. In many cases, a site will have linked to your competitor incorrectly, or the competitor will have moved content. In any case, some of those links will be broken. Webmasters hate to have broken links on their site, and they might be grateful enough to give you a link if you let them know, especially if you create some content that can replace the content that was originally linked to. There's a great guide to using this technique on Search Engine Journal.

Linking out and sharing

Once you know where your competitor has links from, you can begin to cultivate relationships with those and similar sites. One of the best ways to do this is to link to their content, and let them know you've done it. Perhaps you might create a list of resources that includes many of links sites in the niche you are targeting. Site owners love to be included in these “best resources lists” and they will often return the favor or publicize the list to their readers.

Sharing their content on social media is also a great way to build relationships and eventually get links.

There’s a superb list of link building techniques at Point Blank SEO.

These are just a few of the many ways you can get ahead of your competitors. If you have some favorite tips and tricks, we'd love to hear from you in the comments.