This week, I’m going to tell you why I personally don’t care about ‘competitive SEO’ and why you shouldn’t either. I never have and never will.
Apparently I’m not the only one that’s been saying this. Well, OK, ‘don’t care’ is probably too strong of a phrase but really, I just don’t care about if Company X is ranking one spot higher than client Q on a certain keyword or phrase. I also don’t care if your competitor is getting a million times more traffic than you are.
I can hear you already saying “But…but…if we aren’t number one for everything in the world everyone else wins and we’re losers and we’ll go broke and no one will ever love us!”
Stop that. I mean, I get that but on the other hand, I don’t. It’s better if I explain. And also, stop that.
“Make Me Number One on Google!”
If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard this, I could buy Google and make everyone number one just to make people stop saying this.
Honestly, with SEO, you’ll never be ‘number one’ on Google no matter what you do. Why? Because Google doesn’t rank organic results the way they used to for most search terms, at least the ones businesses usually care about. That number one (and two and three) slot is going to paid Google Adwords ads. So if you really want to be ‘number one’ on Google, you need to go do SEM and maybe you’ll have a shot.
Also, another thing to know right off, there’s no such thing as ‘number one on Google’ in terms of Organic traffic in 2017, anyway. We’ll get into the reasons for that later but the fact is there’s just no such thing anymore.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about realistic organic search in 2017 and why competitive analysis based on what we can see (whether keyword positioning or overall traffic) means next to nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Anatomy of a Competition Freak-Out
To really understand why competition reports are, in my opinion, next to worthless, we have to see how the chaos usually happens. Let’s go down the road of a ‘OMG MY COMPETITION!!!’ panic attack.
Mike has an eCommerce business that sells Cell Phone parts and Accessories. Phones, cases, screen protectors, you know, things like that. Mike’s doing alright but he’s new so he doesn’t get many sessions per day yet and the ones he gets don’t seem to be converting that highly. He wonders if it could be a competitor “eating his lunch”, as they love to say in the ‘competitive analysis’ world. He goes online and lo and behold, ‘Bob’s House O’ Cell’ is getting triple the traffic Mike is!
What gives? He’s got the same great deals as Bob, generally the same products and the same services so why is Bob completely blowing his traffic out of the water?
Get the Marketing and SEO departments on the phone! Mike needs someone to yell at because someone is not doing their job! Something must be done about this!!!
Jim’s optimized his site for a particular keyword. He’s tried to build his entire content strategy around certain keywords and phrases and he was doing alright for a while. Suddenly, he takes a look at his monthly or biweekly keyword ranking reports and he’s starting to slip in positions in keywords he used to be strong in. So the next thing he does is he runs keyword ranking positions reports on his competitors and guess what, they’re catching up!
Someone get the Marketing Department in here! Fire the SEO team, they’re obviously slacking! Something must be done about this!!!
Bad Data Leads to Bad Decisions
Do you see what the problem is yet?
No? I’ll explain.
A lot of times, in the race to be ‘number one on Google!’, people are losing their minds over incomplete or flat out wrong data. What’s more, they go and make marketing and sometimes even entire product inventory decisions based on this terrible data or bad interpretation. Now we’ve got all kinds of problems at multiple levels.
I’ll say that again: Most of time, your competition reports are wrong, wrong, WRONG.
But OK, for the sake of argument, let’s say your data is accurate. How do you know you’re not interpreting it wrong?
Let’s go a step further. Let’s say your data is right and you’re even reading it right. How do you know that this data is even worth anything?
What do I mean? Exactly what I just said.
Let’s take the issues in order:
Stop “Eating My Lunch!!!”: The ‘More Traffic = Better Traffic’ Theory
In the first scenario, Mike was losing his mind because Bob was getting triple the organic traffic. He also assumes that simply because Bob is getting all that traffic, he’s automatically taking away his customers. I mean, it stands to reason, doesn’t it? You sell the same things so if they’re not coming to your store and they’re going to another, they must be spending money there, right? Wrong.
You can Rush all the SEMs, rank all the things and every other competitive analysis you want but, realistically, unless you’ve got some kind of corporate espionage thing going on where you have a guy inside that other business telling you all of your competitors goals, KPIs and everything else, you have no idea what that traffic is actually worth to that business.
So Bob has three times the traffic going to his site than you do to yours? So what? This doesn’t help Bob if all that traffic is worthless.
What do I mean?
- How do you know that all this traffic isn’t coming in on irrelevant search terms and immediately bouncing off the site? How do you know that this potentially high bounce rate isn’t actually sending ‘this site has a bunch of irrelevant trash pages’ signals to Rankbrain and will end up actually hurting his site?
- How do you know this traffic is converting? Is all this new traffic coming from overseas thanks to scraper sites or low quality bots? Is the majority of this traffic going to his ‘How To’ blog articles or other non-converting pages?
- How do you know how much manpower hours & cost he spent building the site vs. the ROI he’s getting off the traffic coming in? I mean, we don’t know if Bob wrote all the content for those pages that he’s ranking for himself and it took him 5 days or if he paid someone a few grand to do it for him, right? Well, if Bob paid a guy 500 bucks for his content and he ended up only getting about $100 in sales off of it, that’s something we’d need to know before we go and try to be like Bob, wouldn’t it?
- Are you doing PPC ads and Bob isn’t? Are your PPC campaigns driving traffic to your site instead of your organic results? What about social media activity? Maybe Bob’s not doing social either and you’re getting a few hundred sessions per day just from that. Have you stopped to think that his organic traffic is higher than yours is because you’re seeing much higher PPC and Social traffic than he is? Maybe all of his traffic is just organic so you are really either ahead overall or breaking even. Basically, you’re not seeing the whole story here.
- Are the pages on Bob’s site that he’s pulling in this traffic for even relevant to you? What if he sells “Bob’s Brand Cell Phone Screen Protectors’ and for some reason people are going wild for them? Are you going to start selling ‘Bob’s Brand Cell Phone Screen Protectors’ too? Going to write a ‘hit piece’ about how they’re garbage? Sure, it would be nice to know what’s working for Bob so you can replicate it but really, how do you know this isn’t just a flash in the pan?
Basically, more traffic doesn’t mean better. Without knowing exactly what Bob’s goals and business plan were, how much he paid, time he invested and what his KPIs were, we’re really just guessing here and guessing is not a good look in business.
Keyword Ranking Reports: What Year is This?
In the second situation, we’ve got a few old school ways of thinking here that need we need to address.
First of all, Jim is still trying to optimize his site around specific keywords and phrases. When I see this, the first thing I do (after sighing really loud and facepalming) is to see if they have done a few other things that used to work but don’t anymore like:
- Going only for exact match keywords
- Keyword Stuffing in their content
- Still using the Meta keywords tag (not so much for anything other than I get a better idea of what I’m dealing with here)
After that, I give this standard speech:
“Yes, keywords are important to know and you definitely want to pick a few you want to optimize for but not for the reasons you might think. Keywords, these days, are really just helpful guides for ideas on what relevant topics to write useful, audience-focused content about.”
Yes, traditional keyword optimization for Google is going the way of the dodo. If you’re still chasing exact match keywords in 2017, stop it. If you think ‘keyword density’ is still a thing, it isn’t. Rankbrain is going to give you a really bad wake up call. It is all about relevance and being actually helpful. That’s it. Make your site relevant to searchers. In fact, since you love keywords so much, your keywords should be ‘Searcher intent’.
Why did I just go off on a Rankbrain tangent in an article about Competition analysis? It’s because it goes into my theory of why Keyword Ranking Reports are useless and yet everyone freaks out about them. I’ll just bullet point this for clarity:
- First thing’s first. Nearly every single reputable SEO and SEO firm has come to the agreement that keyword ranking reports are completely useless. Yes, they’re good for certain things but not what most people think.
- You won’t rank on ‘page one’ of Google because that’s not a thing anymore. Google’s Personalization and other factors that go into the SERP these days make it so what is page one for me will probably not be page one for you and it definitely won’t be page one if you live in another part of the country. You’re chasing a ghost.
- Google does not like your Rank Checking Bots and it violates their guidelines. I can’t say that part any more clearly. The thing you are using to check your ranking is a violation of Google’s guidelines. How can you rely on that?
- Keyword Positions are vanity metrics, pure and simple. They don’t tell you if you are increasing or decreasing actual overall quality traffic to your site, let alone if it converts. They don’t tell you if your competition is actually increasing or decreasing their actual traffic either. Even if they did. They don’t tell you what actions people are taking once they got to the site. What’s the point?
In Our Next Chapter:
We’ll stop here for now and in our next chapter we’ll pick it up with how to properly interpret your data, what Keyword Position reports actually are good for in 2017 and what metrics you should be concerned with in order to grow your business and ensure that you’re getting the high quality organic traffic that you need.