Who Is Your Website's Biggest Competitor?
by Steve Shaw | February 16, 2011
"Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak." - Jay Leno
Have you ever noticed that you only do your best when in hot competition with others?
For example, competitive runners tend to achieve their best times when running against competitors. They might be an excellent sprinter, but the odds are they will not run their personal best on their own. It's usually the competitive nature of the race that makes them excel.
The quest for a higher search engine ranking can work in the same way. When you are trying to get a higher ranking for your site you are not operating in a vacuum. You have competitors, and you need to play like you want to win.
Your progress is not only dependent on your own marketing efforts but also those of your competitors. It is likely that other websites will outrank you if their marketing is more consistent and focused.
With website rankings, there is of course a constant jockeying for position. You can however research your competitors and use that information to your advantage. This article will show you how.
You are no doubt already aware how important link building is to your search engine position.
Links tell search engines how popular your site is. Also, links to your site with specific words in the link also help them understand what your site is about.
Imagine you are in the dog training niche. A link to your site with the text, "how to train a dog", tells search engines your site is about dog training.
Conversely, linking to your home page with the text, "home", is of little help to the search engines. (If you have links like that on your site, I'd encourage you to make them more descriptive!)
So links are crucial to where you rank. But before you plan and start a link building campaign, first gather some information on your competition.
How Can You Tell Who Your Competition Is?
Simple. Just do a search for each of your keywords in Google.
What site is at the #1 position?
Unless it's you, that website is your top competition. Repeat this search for each one of your main keywords.
Focus on just 3 main keywords for which you will track the top competitor. You will have only 3 competitors to track, but you will still get a good idea of your progress.
What I would recommend is to set up a spreadsheet and list your competitors. Use the spreadsheet to keep track of them on a monthly basis.
What Type Of Information Should You Keep Track Of?
Now that you know who your top competitors are, it's time to investigate further.
So what information do you need to understand how your site compares to your competitors?
1) How many backlinks does the competing website have?
You can do a backlink check on Google by typing "link", a colon, and then the URL into their search engine. The results will be a list of sites currently linking to their site. At the top of the page you will also see the total number of backlinks.
However, Google's publicly available backlink information is far from adequate. I find it far more revealing and helpful to instead use Yahoo! for this purpose. You can use their Site Explorer functionality available here:
Enter the URL of the website you want to research into the field at the top. Then click the Explore URL button.
You'll see an Inlinks button at the top where it also shows the number of links.
After clicking the button you can then filter further. For example, you can choose to exclude internal links (that is, links coming from the same domain). You can also include links going to all the pages on the site, not just the home page.
Once you can see their backlinks, you can find out how they are getting them. For example, you can click through to some of the sites that are linking to them. You will then begin to see opportunities to build up your own backlinks too.
2) What is their search engine rank for the keyword?
For the initial month at least of course, their ranking is #1, or you would not have selected them to research further.
But what will be interesting is to see how their rankings fluctuate over time.
For example, a site at #1 can easily fall if they are outdone by another site further down the rankings.
With my own sites, I regularly have #1 positions, only to see them drop back a few days later. In fact, they rarely hold any specific position for more than a few days at a time. Instead, they go up and down regularly. That's perfectly normal, and to be expected.
If you are consistent with your link building campaign you will probably climb the rankings. Obviously, your site also needs to be genuinely valuable regarding the keyword you are trying to rank for.
Who knows, it could be you taking over the #1 position sometime soon!
3) What is their PageRank?
PageRank (PR) is a tool Google uses to reflect the authority of a web page. The rankings go from 0-10, where 10 is the best (and unobtainable unless you're Google!).
A website does not need to have a high PageRank to hold the top ranking for a keyword. In fact, many times sites with lower rankings hold the top position.
But why is this?
Remember, it's all about competition. The top ranking website may have a PR2 (page rank 2), but the other competing sites may have lower still.
Of course, there are many other factors that go into determining who has the top rank. One of the most important is relevancy to the actual keyword in question.
I don't therefore tend to concern myself with PageRank too much. However, it is helpful to know how the other site scores, especially in comparison to your own. You can then investigate what they are doing differently. With that information, you can start to incorporate what they are doing into your own activities.
With all of these indicators, it's nice to get an idea of what you're shooting for. What I would strongly recommend is to track your own progress too. You can then measure your results over time and have some data for purposes of comparison with other sites.
You may also see additional competitors over time you want to start tracking too. By all means, add them in.
By measuring your competitors' stats against your own, you can start to improve yours. After all, it is very difficult to improve something unless you start measuring it. Seeing your progress over time also helps keep you motivated to reach the top of the rankings.
Steve Shaw is the founder of SubmitYOURArticle.com, the web's leading article marketing service, used by thousands of small business owners worldwide to build traffic, leads and sales for their websites. You can grab a free report on how to attract sustainable, dirt-cheap, long-term, targeted traffic to your website at http://www.submityourarticle.com/gkic
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Chia-Li Chien, CFP®, CRPC, PMP; helps entrepreneurs to creating business value that transforms their world. She is the author of Show Me The Money and columnist for WomenEntrepreneur.com & Fox Business online. She is available for consulting, speaking engagements and workshops. She can be reached at http://www.chialichien.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.