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One of the most common questions that come up at the beginning of an SEO campaign, when we outline to a client which keywords have been selected and which competitors have been assessed in approaching that selection is:

These aren’t my competitors. This website doesn’t even sell the exact same product/service as us. Why were these chosen rather than my real competitors?

Here is answer…

There is a difference between competitors in the industry and competitors online. When looking at search engine optimization our concern needs to be rankings and relevance. This means that even though Company A may be an industry competitor, if they aren’t ranking as well or as comprehensively as other online competitors, they are less of a priority/focus when assessing what needs to be done to compete for an authoritative online presence.

In online marketing we need to consider the current search results as our direct competitors for a web audience and overall leads.

Assess Online Competitors For:

  1. Ranking Comparison: By looking at where your competitors rank overall, and for certain terms, you can draw useful insight as that information is correlated to what each competitor and your valued web property are doing on-site to achieve those results. Often a revision to information architecture (labeling and layout of navigation), content strategy, and landing page copy will come from this type of an assessment.
  2. Backlink Analysis: An assessment of your online competitors link portfolio is the equivalent of looking at a salesman’s rolodex back in the day. This is gives you valuable information about business partnerships, content strategies and milestones of the business helping you map out just what needs to be done to fill in the gap. More technically, this will also provide insight to the diversity of their portfolio and techniques they currently implement in their link building strategy.
  3. Online Business Model: There are many ways to gain access to top search results. Some businesses go after this goal through brute force in link building, others simply have remarkable product and a clear way of communicating that to potential customers, and still others—as boring as their product may be—implement a sound content marketing approach that drives results. By knowing what your competitors do you can more easily map the estimated time it will take to gain and maintain results and what will be required in order to do so.

Conversely, it is all too often that I see digital marketers forgetting the value an industry competitor, with nearly no online presence, can bring to the table through competitive analysis.

Look at Industry Competitors For:

  1. Outside of the Box: While online competitors give you direct and actionable information for an SEO strategy, the offline or industry competitors will often provide insight taking you a step beyond. The most important thing to realize about offline competitors is that they are still thriving without the internet. Which means they sure as hell are doing something right. Taking that marketing initiative, whatever it is, and molding it into an online strategy will place you leaps beyond what any online competitor is currently doing.
  2. Describe Products/Services: One thing an online and offline competitor typically differ on is how they convey their product or service. Looking at the different ways industry competition explains and promotes their products can allow new strategies to come into play both on the website and within the content strategy.

What are some other considerations you have run into when determining and evaluating these two different types of competitors?