When is the last time you evaluated competitive best practices? If recently, then you've probably been reminded just how valuable the exercise can be. If it has been a while, here are some easy steps for evaluating the competitions' online strategy. While only focused on their internet strategy, the exercise can be extremely enlightening and can also infer “overall” business strategy.
Natural Search & Paid Advertising Rankings – Go to either Google or Yahoo and enter the most competitive/most likely keywords that your customers would use if they were to search for your products or services using a search engine. We'd recommend entering at least 3-4 of the top keywords. After searching under each term, bookmark the top 3 companies listed in both the natural search engine and paid advertising results. As FYI, the top paid advertising rankings are the first 3 at the top of Google and Yahoo and are in the shaded area called “sponsored links” or “sponsored results”. The top 3 natural results are found just below the shaded area on the left side of the page. Once bookmarked, note whether any of your competitors are ranking in the top 3 for both the paid and the natural rankings. If so, they're probably a recognizable name and should be evaluated thoroughly (see how below). If the name isn't recognizable, you won't need to write it down because you'll soon be reminded often enough who they are because they're on the cusp of being a big time player. Next up, step two.
Evaluate Sites – Go to each of the sites that you bookmarked and do the following:
Found in the very top left corner of your browser above the URL or the “back” button.
- Page titles – Found in the very top left corner of your browser above the URL or the “back” button.
- Headers – Headers are typically the bolded text in the body of the website.
- Content – Note whether the terms you searched for are liberally sprinkled in the content.
- Keywords – Note if there is a pattern of the keywords used.
- Links – What words are linkable within the site?
- Page Descriptions – Right-click anywhere in the body of a given page and then click “view source”. You'll see a bunch of code. Toward the top but about 4 or 5 rows down, look for a line that starts with "<meta name="description". Note the description in parenthesis.
For those sites that ranked high in the paid advertising results, analyze the following:
- Consistency – Over the course of a couple of days, research using the same search terms to see if the original top 3 consistently come up. The goal is to create a list of the top 3 that consistently come up in the paid advertising results so replace your original bookmarks if they were “one hit wonders”. This is important because bidding the highest for the keywords isn't the only way to get to the top of the listings. Google for instance has a “click through” component in their algorithm. If an ad is clicked on often, the bidder can lower the bid and still come up high in the rankings. What this means is, sites that come up often are probably paying less than the others because they're doing something right. Let us find out what.
- Note ad description – How effective is the ad in relation to what you searched for.
- Site structure – Click on the ad and note where you land on the site. Most search engine advertisers create ads and link them to the appropriate pages. The best of the best are in genius ad creators and then structure the pages to leverage the ad they've written. There is a big difference in the two and this should be noted.
- Natural Search Engine Rankings – Note how the paid advertisers' site structure compares to the sites that came up in the top 3 in the natural results even if the paid advertising sites weren't in the top 3 of the natural results. If you are, or plan to be a paid advertising participant, it is a good idea to identify a few players that do a great job with both in order to compare the “great advertisers” with the “great natural rankers” along with your own site.
- Link Backs – In addition to site structure, a big part of what makes a site come up high in the natural search results is the quality and traffic volume of the sites that link to it as a resource. A great site for uncovering this information is a site called Alexa found at http://www.alexa.com/. At the very top of the page you'll see a field that says: “find sites about”. In that field, enter the 3 sites from the natural search results and then familiarize yourself with the type of information provided. Specifically, checkout the area called “sites linking in”. It's a couple of lines about the main graph area toward the top middle of the page. You'll almost assuredly find some high profile sites linking to the URL you're evaluating. From there, consider how these top ranking sites may have obtained those links.
- Assimilation – Given all the information gathered from the steps above, it is now as simple as putting together a plan or a set of plans for replicating what the best of the best is doing. It will take some time, but it will be time well spent. We can't encourage you enough to do this exercise every six months or so as significant results will follow.
Get Help! – If this is overly confusing and doesn't make a great deal of sense to you, we encourage you to find someone in the organization with some tech savvy and/or seek professional help immediately. If this isn't being done, there is a lot of opportunity being left on the table.
If this is overly confusing and doesn't make a great deal of sense to you, we encourage you to find someone in the organization with some tech savvy and/or seek professional help immediately. If this isn't being done, there is a lot of opportunity being left on the table.
CyberSense can also help you with assessing what web strategy and search engine marketing approach to invest in. Contact us for a consultation on your existing competition as well as your new marketing strategy.