Low-Competitive vs. High-Competitive Sites
Your chosen keyword space directly impacts the scope and what kind of SEO strategy you will need to implement for success. Websites that sell to a national or global market in a competitive industry need a different SEO strategy (and overall marketing strategy) than a site that caters to a local or regional market, or for a product in a niche category.
For highly-competitive sites that target keyword phrases that are shorter, more generic, and that command higher PPC bid, Google gives much more weight to off-page link factors. For local and niche sites, on-page SEO factors like keyword phrases used on relevant content, can be weighed as much or even more than off-page link factors.
I have seen sites that cater to a local audience rank very well on a number of different keyword phrases having only a handful of incoming links. Conversely, I have seen giant, content-rich, well-optimized sites that sell nationally rank nowhere for ANY search terms until they have a ton of incoming links.
With this said, every site needs to do both on-page optimization as well as have an active link-building campaign. However, if you are going after short, generic or competitive keyword phrases, I strongly suggest you do the following:
1. Start optimizing your site for as many different more-specialized permutations of your best keyword phrases as possible and build content pages around each one.
2. Start getting very serious and persistent about your link-building campaign. Your competitors know this and that's why they are busy getting hundreds if not thousands of links to their site over time. Just don’t obtain your links too quickly.
To clarify the differences between a "low-competitive" and "high-competitive" sites and to further illustrate the type and amount of resources that may be involved to obtain satisfactory ranking results, here are representative examples. Note that these are generalizations for comparative purposes only:
Keyword phrase: “Redmond Reflexology Services”
On-site factors keyword contribute heavily to rankings. Often all that is needed is a handful of links and solid SEO methods used on the site. Most competitors won't even know what SEO is. Good rankings can be achieved with relatively little effort within 3 months.
An equal combination of on-site factors and off-site factors contribute to good ranking. For such sites, 100 or so quality links are needed (this is a generalization). About half of your competitors will know what SEO is and of those that do, a fair percentage will be doing a good job at it. Good rankings can be achieved with moderate efforts within 6 months to a year.
Keyword Phrase: “House Plans” or “Limo Service”
On-site factors contribute little toward ranking, unless you have a large site, in which case they count for some. Such sites need an aggressive link-building campaign and typically have hundreds or thousands of incoming links that use effective anchor-text strategies. Most if not all of your competitors will be using SEO tactics, some quite aggressively and spending a fair budget on it. Good rankings can be achieved only with steady, continual, focused efforts after 12 to 18 months, and assigning (and paying) a dedicated SEO person for it. Most if not all will use PPC advertising like Google AdWords to augment traffic, especially in the near-term.
Keyword phrase: “Seattle Plastic Surgery” or “Seattle Dentist”
Keyword Phrase: “Used Cars” or “Discount Travel” or “Home Mortgages”
Such markets are ripe with spammy, black-hat techniques and on-site factors count for extremely little. For such sites, a very aggressive link-buying, link-building strategy is needed, along with analyzing exactly what the competition is doing and copying their methods. Such sites have many thousands of incoming links. Tactics used need to be monitored and changed in case of penalties applied. All of your competitors will be throwing lots of money on every trick in the book because so much money is at stake. Good rankings may never be achieved unless you are ready to spend the time and money for it, are dogged, and be willing to take risks. All will use PPC advertising like Google AdWords to augment traffic and spend a lot of money (like $100K or more a month) doing it.
How To Reverse-Engineer Your Competition
Do you have a site in a competitive market and want to determine how your top-ranked competitors are doing so well. This involves reverse-engineering the linking structure of the top 3-5 sites in your keyword space and emulating what they are doing right. Here is how to go about doing it:
1. Use Yahoo's backlink command, or software such as SEO Elite (http://www.seoelite.com) find every site that is linking to the top 3 sites in your chosen keyword in Google.
2. Obtain links from those exact sites that your competitors are getting links from. This takes time so be patient.
3. Use the same anchor text that is pointing to the competition’s sites for your own incoming links. Try to duplicate the percentage of different anchor text variations used – this is important.
4. Look at the page titles of the #1 site and duplicate them for your site. You don't need to do this for all your pages, just your most important ones - home page, important category/product/service pages.
Why reinvent the wheel? Your competition has already figured out how to rank well, so you should emulate their strategies.
Bear in mind that site age and link age is a factor, so even if you duplicate your competitor's link-building strategies 100%, it is going to take time for you to rank well as the new links to your site won't be as good as the old links that your competitors have.
How Much Competition Do You Really Have?
Some people are confused about the true number of online competitors for a given keyword phrase, particular when using keyword research tools or looking at the number of returned pages in Google. Many such "competing pages" are what are called "accidental competitors" - they aren't necessarily trying to beat you in search engine ranking, they just happen to use the term somewhere on a page.
If you want to get an accurate number of other sites that are optimizing their pages for a given search term, follow these steps. Open Google and follow these steps using your keyword phrase:
1. Type in allintitle:"your keyword phrase"
and see how many pages are displayed in the search results. These are pages that use the exact phrase in the
2. Next, type in allinanchor:"your keyword phrase " and count the results. These are sites that have incoming links that contain these keywords - the next important step to boosting one's ranking.
3. Next, type in allinurl:
"your keyword phrase "
and count the results. These are sites that use the keywords either in their domain name or in a file name. Although by itself not an important factor, Google does give slight weight to keywords used in domain names and file names.
4. Now combine everything by typing:
intitle:"keyword" inanchor:"keyword" inurl:"keyword"
to see how many sites do all three things together. The resulting number is an accurate indication of how many true competitors you have that are doing SEO for their site for your given keyword phrase.
Using Pay-Per-Click to Augment SEO traffic
Every year it is getting harder to rank well in Google, as well as Yahoo and MSN. This is due to the following factors:
1. More new sites are coming online all the time.
2. More sites are incorporating SEO tactics.
3. The search engines are devaluing tactics that used to work fine in the past.
4. The search engines are more aggressive at penalizing sites that use black-hat and spammy tactics, and often unfairly penalize legitimate sites as well.
All the more reason you may need to implement a PPC strategy like Google AdWords. A targeted Google AdWords campaign is an ideal way to supplement your website traffic anyway, and is crucial for new sites in the Sandbox. For more information, see my book The AdWords Edge at http://www.adwordsedge.com.
After all, you are in business to make a profit. I use AdWords all the time because the advertising much more than pays for itself and the traffic is immediate.