Evaluating Your Competition on Google
Posted on August 15, 2012
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is very dynamic field that relies on the algorithmic changes of search engine providers to determine the course of action they should take with regard to the content and design of web sites. The ultimate way to judge the effectiveness of SEO is by careful evaluation of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Search engines have changed the way we navigate the Internet, particularly Google, and to this end it is crucial that webmasters and SEO professionals understand how to evaluate the SERP quality of their own sites and their competitors.
The first aspect of SEO that should be understood by everyone in the business is that high SERP ranking does not occur overnight. Even though we currently live in an era of real-time social media updates that often get pushed to the top of the SERP for a brief moment, effective SEO strategies are developed and formulated to achieve long-term effects. The idea behind efficient SEO is to constantly rank prominently on the SERP, and this is something that does not happen overnight.
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Examining the SERP of Competing Pages
Even after the major changes recently implemented by Google to its search and ranking algorithm, looking up information on a search engine is a function that is still based on keywords. In the past, keyword stuffing was a dubious SEO practice that actually worked for some websites. After the Farmer and Panda updates to Google's search algorithm, however, the SERP quality of a site should be evaluated by looking well beyond keywords.
Google has become one of the strongest brands on the Internet thanks to the diversity of products the company has created and offered to just about everyone for free. Many of these products serve to augment the placement of a website on the SERP. When evaluating competitors that seem to be using the same or similar keywords, it helps to keep in mind the following Google products:
There are other factors to consider as well. High authority backlinks and domain age are very relevant in today's post-Panda and Farmer times. Getting high authority sites to point or link back to your content is no easy feat, but it may be the most efficient way to getting around the domain age factor.
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Learning to Recognize Bias
Choosing the right keywords remains a key SEO practice, but webmasters should keep in mind that there is some Google bias in this regard. It's also difficult to compete against brands; for example, entering the search term "books" will invariably produce a SERP that will list Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Google Books as top results. These are high-volume keywords that are likely to be subject to brand bias. Evaluating how competitors use variations of limited volume keywords is more adequate for small to mid-size businesses; this means spending considerable time tinkering with Google's Keyword Tool.
The best way to fight brand bias on the SERP is to orient SEO efforts towards building organic search results, and scoping out the competition is only the first step.
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