When developing a search marketing plan, you must factor in what your competition is doing online. Do you know what they're doing?
Competitive activity can influence everything, from how much budget you should allocate to paid search to what keywords are feasible to use in SEO (define) efforts. Understanding your competitive environment will help you develop the most appropriate strategies to get the most value from your search marketing budget -- no matter how big or small.
Consider some key (and free!) tools that will help you get insight into your competitors' search strategies and activities. These tools should help answer the following questions:
What Are My Rivals Spending?
There are typically two types of budgets for search: organic, or SEO (define), and paid search, or PPC (define). SEO budgets are typically made up solely of agency fees, while PPC budgets include both media and fees. It's difficult to intuit the amount a company pays its search agency; however, there are some tools to obtain a rough idea of paid search budgets. You can extrapolate these budgets to get an idea of overall search spending.
What to check out: SpyFu.com provides estimates of paid search spending, including exportable Excel files that enable you to perform some forecasting and analyses.
How Visible Are My Rivals in the SERPs?
How many pages a site has indexed, or its saturation, is one indicator of search engine presence. Another, more important indicator is whether those pages actually come up when a relevant search is performed. Instead of manually typing in each term you are interested in and scanning the pages for your competitors, use a tool that tells you whether they have a top presence for the keywords you're considering.
What to check out: We Build Web Pages's Top Ten Analysis SEO Tool enables you to enter a search phrase and see the top 10 sites that are ranking for that term, and compare your site in terms of a variety of key SEO factors, such as inbound links, and URL age.
What Are My Revivals' Inbound Link Strategies?
Inbound links are one of the most important ranking factors for organic search these days. However, it's just not enough to know how many links your competitor has; you also have to know which sites are linking to them. A tool that gives you a list of the backlinks reported by the top engines and includes hyperlinks to the results is a helpful starting point. You might not be able to tell how they got the links, but it's still good to know the types of sites that are linking to them.
What to check out: Marketleap.com's Link Popularity Check lets you see how you rank against your key competitors in terms of external links across Google, Yahoo, and MSN. It enables you to specify your industry so you can get a relative rank of how you're doing in your particular space, not just against a handful of competitors. Tip: use the Search Engine Saturation tool after for a quick report.
What Advantages Do My Rivals Possess?
You can't figure out why a site comes up for every single search you perform. Sometimes something as small as a popular blog or a prominent Wikipedia link can significantly enhance a site's ability to rank well. But it could take some digging to figure out exactly what that small thing is. Make use of tools that provide a snapshot of key SEO metrics that tend to influence positive rankings, such as links from educational institutions or industry associations or a site that's been around for awhile.
What to check out: SEO for Firefox plug-in enables quick access to information whenever you perform a search. When it's turned on, you'll see a wealth of information underneath each link, including directory listings; links in del.icio.us, Technorati, and Wikipedia'; rankings for Compete and Alexa; and inbound links from .edu and .gov sites.
Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.
Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.
June 5, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT