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I Spy… Stealthy SEO Competitive Analysis Tips & Tricks From #SESSF

As promised, aimClear is kicking off live coverage of #SESSF, welcome and please stay awhile :) . Day 1 of this year’s Search Engine Strategies Expo hit the ground running today in the lovely (and a lot cooler than we thought…) city by the bay, San Francisco! A packed room, a whole lot of coffee, and A LOT of eager minds gathered to hear Google’s own Avinash Kaushik as he delivered a fantastic opening keynote on Business Optimization in a Digital Age. From there, attendees amped to channel Inspector Gadget headed to Spy vs. Spy: Competitive Analysis with TPG Media Director, Justin Freid, and Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge, moderated by Engine Ready CEO, Jamie Smith. Read on for a full recap.

Jamie began by asking the audience, “Why did you pick this session?” Silence, until one audience member shouted out, “Sounded interesting!” Jamie walked up to the attendee and said: “We reward participation,” handing said audience member a $20 bill. AHHH if only… Jamie posed the question again – the entire crowd raised hands. <Insert laugh track.>

OK, back to business. How do you win the battle of competitive intelligence over your competitor? You have to be a tiger, Jamie said. You need the knowledge of the competitor on both the paid and organic side. Simple enough, right?

Hmmmm… let’s see…

First up was Justin, who offered tips and tricks that utilize a better understanding of what competitors are using. Justin posed, “What if I told you your competitors are not very smart?” Audience eyes opened and boggled like an 80s cartoon character. He continued, “What if I told you you could figure out your competitor’s digital marketing strategy?” Eyes opened even wider.

So, what was this dude talking about? Well, it’s all about tags, URLS, page modifications, and paid research tools.

Justin asked how many in the audience had gone to a competitor’s landing page, viewed the source code, and searched for tags? He noted, that’s fine (if you have the time, understand HTML, and/or have an intern to do the grunt work…) but that process can take very long and isn’t necessarily a good use of your time.

Justin recommended Ghostery, a tool that reveals which pixels fire when you land on a page. This gives an idea of what ad partners and tools are being used.  So, how can this help?

How would you like to find out…

  • What software your competitors are using to run campaigns?
  • What partners your competitors are advertising with? (An opportunity for you to advertise with the same people, and help prioritize budget spend!)
  • What your competitors consider a conversion? (Actually see when a conversion pixel is firing and find out what those micro conversions are!)

Who wouldn’t want to NOT have to dig through code to find tracking pixels or conversions tags? In layman’s terms: WHO DOESN’T LIKE TO SAVE TIME?!

Per Justin’s presentation, “Yo dawg, I heard you optimize your account structure – so I went ahead and put it in your URL for everyone to see.” :) Having proper account structure for ad campaigns can really affect performance for what you actually get. Looking at the URLs, you can see the campaign name, target and specific naming convention. This is an easy, quick way to get an idea of how your competitors are organizing their ad campaigns. See where they are making money just by clicking on a couple ads. (NOTE: Not every tool will do this, Google Analytics will, and some paid…)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could keep an eye on your competitor’s home page? Find out if they are adding new links? Well you can, with a tool Justin highly recommends – Copernic. Keep track of the changes your competitors are making to develop high ranking pages – look at their changes in content, anchor text alterations, HTML, tags, etc.

And don’t forget about landing pages! Was the call to action changed? Was a new button color utilized? Has a form been shortened? These small changes matter! All you have to do with this cool and effective tool is enter in pages and track pages on the internet however often you want; the tool will report back to you what those changes were and when they were made. Pretty cool, right?

Have you ever asked yourself what keywords competitors are using? How much are they spending? What is their call to action? Sure, these thoughts have crossed many marketers’ minds at some point in time… consider looking into paid search competitive research tools such as SEMRush and Spyfu.

Spyfu is a combat tool that helps you find out what keywords competitors are using – use this to figure out where there are opportunities that your competitors are not bidding on and where you can target customers. Go after people outside of the direct target and bring your new ad group ideas back to the table (your boss or client).

Hungry for more? Use Spyfu to look at ad text: find out what calls to action are being used, pricing, sales, how brand heavy competitor creative is, and more.

SEMRush is PERFECT for any new business meeting. Find out how much your competitor is spending, what it will take to be competitive, and how many visitors they are driving each month. This tool will also tell you who else is ranking for your target keywords… an easy and quick way to identify who the competitors will be and who will get in the way of you being successful. It will also tell you who in your ORGANIC RANKING is your direct competitor.

Key takeaway from Justin’s presentation:

SEO and SEM are more than ranking for keywords or buying traffic. They are about making your clients profitable. Getting an idea of what your competitors are using is going to help your clients be successful. BOOYAH!

Next up was Jim Yu, who covered best practices his team has learned working with various brands.

Brands are spending more time on SEO (driving more conversions, traffic, revenue), Jim noted. Competitive is SO important in SEO because the winner ultimately takes the most, and in order to be the best you have to maneuver over competitors.

Jim offered a framework to beat out the competition:

  • Discover competitors
  • Analyze competitors
  • Improve Share of Voice
  • Measure Value of SEO Opportunity

In SEO, you take the top money making keywords and track who you are competing with (direct AND search competitors).

Define competition by measuring the Share of Voice – group keywords together and look at a market segment level. With that specific market segment, find out who the search competitors are. Understand the SEO strategy on how they are leading.

So, how do you calculate Share of Voice?

  • Count # of listings in top 10 results
  • Identify a group of related target keywords
  • Run the keyword through a Google keyword tool
  • Take the top 10 ranking pages for each keyword
  • Convert search volume to visits by multiplying by click through depending on rank
  • Optimize all
  • Summarize by domain

Eyeball competitors keywords strengths and weaknesses  – this is a good way to use framework to understand from an SEO perspective. How are they leveraging to go after the keyword footprint?

Take the next step – find out how they are performing in these areas. Be sure to look at all the blended search results – where there’s a huge opportunity right now! For example, if you work in retail, you want to understand location and customer saturation. If you are looking at video content, then you want to understand keyword category and keyword-by-keyword – ultimately, where those search results are showing up.

Per Jim, more inventory is moving toward blended results – see if your competitors are going after those market opportunities. Take advantage of it!

Also, be sure to understand and track universal search results – keep track and an eye on competitors as well.

Another opportunity from an organic search perspective – SOCIAL! Due to the ever-changing algorithm, there is a major opportunity to build early advantage with social (similar to link building way-back-when) by leveraging and building an audience and driving engagement. Push out your deep webpages that are saturated in SEO. Build a base now and there will be a bigger advantage. According to Jim, roughly 20 percent of brands are using social to drive search rankings.

In the end: the social engagement side is really helpful in driving torso keywords (not head-terms) into the mix. Drive more consistent engagement and use that as leverage over your competitors.

Don’t forget to evaluate your competitors SEO and social efforts! An easy way to understand competitive landscape for this is to track social signals for top ten pages on search engine results. Correlate social signals with competitor’s rank, track closely, and watch it evolve over time.

Beyond that – there are a lot of core SEO strategies to improve Share of Voice. Understand competitive strategies and spot opportunities:

  • What pages are ranking and for which keywords?
  • Are these keywords relevant to your business?
  • If yes, are you tracking these keywords?
  • If no, track and optimize these keywords!

Find backlink opportunities by tracking number and quality of competition’s links:

  • Understand link quality.
  • Who is linking to your competition?
  • What is the authority of these domains?
  • Should you get a backlink?

Drill down further into their link strategy:

  • High level link targets
  • Identify link strategies
  • Discover backlink opportunities – do you have links for each type to these hubs and domains?

Understand competitors’ on-page tactics and on-page strategy. Key on-page factors include title, meta description, headers, and body.

Jim wrapped it up with these last three (must-know) points on understanding the value of your market and opportunities you can uncover:

  • Quantity SEO value – forecast the money impact of SEO prior to project start.
  • Make a business case for SEO and make SEO investment based on forecasts.
  • Prioritize keyword opportunities and focus on the opportunities that will help meet business goals!

Phew…I think that about covers it! A great first #SESSF track with a couple of great presenters, thank you both. Can’t wait for what is in store next. Stay tuned for more live coverage of #SESSF from yours truly (@MollyCRyan) and @gretchenegeberg.

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