Check Your Search Engine Rankings, Why Your Competitors in Organic Search Might Not Always Be Who You Think They Are
Don’t drop names with Google…
Outside of search, you might be able to throw a big brand name around and get somewhere. Unfortunately, the search engines don’t necessarily care. That’s one of the reasons you’ll see all types of websites ranking for highly competitive keywords. Actually, I’d argue that some smaller online businesses can easily outmaneuver larger websites and companies in SEO. When it comes down to it, the engines care about quality content, a good user experience, relevancy, and popularity. In other words, create outstanding content that can be easily crawled and indexed, optimize that content based on keyword research, make it easy for your visitors to find and use your content, and if those visitors find that content valuable, you might gain important inbound links (AKA votes). If that happens, subsequent rankings can follow… BTW, you’ll notice I didn’t mention that you need to be a big brand or a multi-billion dollar company to do this. That’s part of the reason blogs have become so powerful. They give the small guy a voice…and that small guy can often outrank large companies in the SERPs. Empowering, yes? Scary to large businesses and big brands, you bet.
Seriously? That’s My Competition in Natural Search??
Yes, I hear this often (with a few other words that I cannot put on my blog!) Once you run a position analysis using competitive keywords (based on keyword research), you and your client can clearly see who owns the SERPs for those keywords. Sure, the rankings can change over time, but you have a snapshot of which sites are ranking at that point in time. Then, you can take the next step and perform a competitive analysis to help you determine what type of content ranks, how the websites structure their content, and which sites link to them. Remember, quality and relevant inbound links are the lifeblood of SEO.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Note, since search engine rankings change often, you might not see the same exact results that I did during my test.
HD TV’s are obviously hot, so let’s check out a competitive keyword like flatscreen tvs:
This is a great example. There are only 2 manufacturers in the top 10 (Samsung at #7 and Westinghouse Digital at #10, which isn't visible in the screenshot above). More on Samsung in a minute. The rest of the sites include reviews, news stories, a buying guide, an e-commerce website, etc. I’ll bet if you walked into LG, Panasonic or Samsung and asked who they compete with in natural search for a keyword like flatscreen tv's, you would hear the other big brands and not the sites in this list. Note, Samsung was pretty smart with creating the page that ranks on their website. Someone at Samsung (cough, cough, SEO guy), understood what people are searching for and provided that content on Samsung.com (Pagerank 8...) There are other good things about this page that I'd like to cover, but that’s for another post. :)
Any wine drinkers out there? Imagine you owned a winery and had an award winning cab? You would probably want to rank highly, right? Let’s see which sites rank for the keyword cabernet sauvignon:
Wow, I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur, but I don’t see any popular wine brands here (other than in the shopping results, which I'll tackle in a minute). You have Wikipedia (big surprise), about.com, an article about Obama, and then a spattering of other wine-related educational pages. Needless to say, this list of websites is probably not what a leading winery would expect to find ranking for cabernet sauvignon.
Enter Universal Search: Also, in the middle of the page you will see shopping results listed. This is Universal Search in action, where Google is mixing additional types of results within the organic rankings. More on this below, but you should start to think about all the different ways you can rank in organic search beyond traditional webpage content. For example, video, images, news, shopping, local, etc.
HD Video Camera
HD Video is all the rage, let’s take a look at the keyword HD Video Camera:
Very interesting. There’s only one big brand in the list (Canon at #4). The rest of the list includes reviews at cnet, an announcement from camcorderinfo.com, two YouTube videos (more on this in a minute), some news results, and then amazon.com. Again, if you walked into Sony, Panasonic, or Canon, do you think they would guess that they are competing against YouTube videos? Probably not. On that note, you can see Universal Search in action here again, with two video thumbnails in the organic results (at least at the time of my test). One is from Tiger Direct and the other is from Chris Pirillo! Great job Chris, you outrank major manufacturers of HD video cameras. :)
So, if you haven’t started thinking about Universal Search and the impact that it can have, just take a closer look at the screenshot above. I think you’ll change your mind. There's also a news result right under the video thumbnails. Both the video results and news results are powerful, especially since they have thumbnails associated with them. If you are interested in learning more about optimizing your video content, then check out my post about Video SEO.
Fuel Efficient Cars
Based on the spike in gasoline prices during 2008, let’s check out a search for fuel efficient cars:
Holy smokes, there’s not 1 car manufacturer in the list. Not 1. I highly doubt that Ford, Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, and GM would take me seriously if I walked in and said that they compete with a government agency, a green publication, and a newspaper in natural search! That said, you need content on your site in order to rank... I was shocked to see several car manufacturer websites without a single occurrence of the keyword fuel efficient cars. I had to check a few times to believe it...
You will also see another example of Universal Search in the screenshot above. Google is providing news results mixed in the organic rankings (in the middle of the page). This is just another reason to start thinking about all of the ways to rank in organic search (and the different types of content you can optimize). All of your digital assets come into play with universal search.
So, are you ready to conduct a position analysis?
OK, I think you get the point. Performing a position analysis is an important step in understanding your actual competition in natural search. I would begin the process by identifying your competitive keywords via extensive keyword research and then determine where you rank against your competition for those keywords. Then, once you know the competition, you should complete a thorough competitive analysis to see how you can strengthen your organic search power and increase your search engine rankings.
Good luck and be ready for some interesting looks as you tell people who they really compete with in natural search. :)
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