There was a time when competitors were a universally hated element of SEO. If you worked hard to get ranked highly for a certain keyword, and some random competitor beat you to rank higher, you’d feel that your hard work was all for nothing. In a digital world with finite space, competition generally means less traffic and higher time and costs to achieve certain results.
Fortunately, today’s Internet is much roomier, with less finite space to worry about. Accordingly, competitors aren’t the nasty, plague-like things they used to be. In fact, if used correctly, competitors can be a good thing for your SEO strategy.
Here are seven reasons why:
1. Free content ideas. It’s hard to come up with new content ideas consistently, especially after a few years of running a consistent blog, and especially if your industry isn’t a particularly exciting or fast-changing one. The emergence (or existence) of a competitor means a gateway to free content ideas for your blog. Of course, it’s unwise to simply visit your competitor’s blog and start copying their strategy from the ground up. Instead, use their content strategy merely as inspiration or direction for your own. Find a way to put new twists on topics they’ve already covered, and think about what topics they haven’t covered. Opportunities here are plentiful, so keep your eyes open and let your brain run wild.
2. Link mirroring. Manually building links isn’t the boon for an SEO strategy that it used to be, but there’s still value in selectively targeting link sources (especially high-authority ones). Accordingly, you can use a link research tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to find out what other sites on the web are linking to your competitors. Armed with that information, you can try to mimic or mirror the type of link profile your highest-ranked competitors enjoy, or adjust your strategy to serve a more perpendicular space. As with all these strategies, try not to copy your competitors’ strategies directly. Instead, use the information to fuel your own unique campaign. If you know what your highest-ranking competitors have, you can devise a strategy that’s even better.
3. Follower cultivation. When it comes to social media marketing, audience is everything. You’ve probably already developed a decent following of your own partners, vendors, and customers, but your competitors have too — and there’s probably little overlap. You know your competitors’ followers are interested in your industry, at least marginally, so try reaching out to them with some content of your own. Naturally, a substantial percentage of their followers will express interest in your brand as well, giving you an instantly bigger, relevant audience. You can even work together with your competitors for a mutual benefit.
4. Brand differentiation. When you engage in an SEO strategy, you publish lots of content, optimize your website, and engage with customers on social media frequently. All of this is publicly accessible, telling information about a company. You can monitor all these areas to learn more about your competitors’ brands; you can learn their target audience, their target niches, and their principle strategies in the digital sphere. From there, you can find new ways to differentiate your own brand, making you a more unique and more attractive competitor for your shared audience.
5. Weaknesses to improve. You can also use this information to prod for weaknesses in your competitors’ SEO and digital marketing campaigns. For example, if you notice your competitor has a handful of nasty reviews preventing them from ranking in the local 3-pack, you can step up your efforts in local SEO. If you notice they aren’t involved on LinkedIn in any meaningful capacity, you can take advantage of that blue ocean opportunity. Step up your efforts wherever your competitors are weakest, and you could see faster results with reduced competition.
6. Strategies to avoid. This tactic is a little trickier to put into practice, but it can be valuable if you do it right. You’ll have to watch carefully for the execution and performance of your competitors’ strategies. At a high level, this means monitoring their rankings compared to how their strategy has changed — this would take a tremendous amount of effort, so I’d advise starting at a lower level by watching to see what forms and types of content are performing best for them. Either way, you’ll learn key strategies to replicate and key strategies to avoid in your own campaign.
7. Guest posting and relationship building. Last but not least, don’t underestimate or write off the potential of working with your competitors directly. Offer them a guest posting spot on your own blog, and see if you can get one on theirs. It will help you both out in the long run, and could give you more opportunities to guest post on other industry sources. You can also pool your resources on social media, greatly expanding both of your social circles and increasing the likelihood that your content will be seen and shared.
When you hear that one of your closest competitors has just launched a new SEO and digital marketing strategy, don’t panic. If anything, this is a better opportunity to get a leg up on them. Learn what you can from their tactics, sneak in where their guard is down, and remember the bottom line of the SEO game — getting the greatest amount of overall visibility. Don’t let temporary setbacks and ranking battles obscure your vision for winning the brand visibility war.