Building an SEO strategy is an important part of creating an effective digital marketing plan. A strategy allows you to focus your efforts to create a greater impact and ensure that your SEO tactics build on each other. Without a solid strategy, you may end up missing important details or lacking cohesion in your content, which will confuse Google and cause you not to rank as high on search results pages.
When I’m getting started building a new website, there’s a simple trick I like to use to begin crafting an SEO strategy: sizing up the competition. You’ll be surprised to find that a good deal of the initial work has already been done for you—by your competitors. When I’m building an SEO strategy, I do some simple research to see who my competitors are and how they’re succeeding, then I use that information to begin building my own strategy.
Start your research by examining your competitors’ websites. Which websites are ranking at the top of the search results page for your market? If they’re at the top, they’re doing something right, which means you can learn from them.
You can easily find your competitors by searching for a relevant query to your business. Start by searching your business type and location, such as “physical therapist in Miami.” Whose website shows up at the top of the search results page? They’re your top competitor.
One caveat to this is that businesses who spend a lot on advertising, such as billboards and TV ads, may not be the best to learn from in terms of SEO even if they do show up at the top of the search results. Their popularity may skew their ranking even if they’re not practicing the best SEO strategies throughout their website. If the top few results are big advertising spenders, move on to the next couple of search results to learn from.
Once you’ve taken note of the top few search results, you have a pretty good picture of your competition. If they’re ranking at the top of the results, that’s where you want to be. You can begin to build your strategy based on what’s working for them, so it’s time to start analyzing so you can reverse-engineer their strategies. Make a list of the top three, and focus on them.
It may seem overwhelming to look at a website and try to determine what’s making it rank well. I recommend using a web-crawling tool to start, which can give you insight to the workings of the website, including things like keyword rankings and backlinks. Choose a tool like Screaming Frog SEO Spider, Ahrefs, or Semrush, which can give you the information you need.
To help you understand how the websites are working, take note of the following information about them:
- How many total pages do they have indexed on Google?
- How many organic keywords are they ranking for on Google?
- What is their estimated organic traffic?
- What is their estimated branded and non-branded traffic?
- What is their domain rating?
- What is their total number of referring domains, and which have the highest and lowest domain ratings?
- What are their top pages, and what are the associated ranking keywords for each page?
Use the information you get from the crawling tools to answer the questions above, which will allow you to make more informed decisions about your own SEO strategy. Compare the results to those of your own website—where do they look different? How many pages do you have indexed on Google compared to your competitors? The more pages you have indexed, the better you’ll rank. (However, note that if you have an abnormally high number of indexed pages, it could mean that you’ve been hacked, or that you have a technical problem that needs to be fixed.)
The best way to keep track of all of this information is to create a spreadsheet. Place their information in one column and yours in another to compare details like pages indexed, keywords, and traffic. Make note of each specific keyword, because you can use this information to compete with them. If your competitor is in the top spot on the search results page for a keyword you want to rank for, and their webpage contains 3,000 words, you can one-up them by writing an even better page with 5,000 words. Using this method, you’re able to make your way to the top of search results pages even for more competitive keywords.
Think of this strategy-building as the foundation for your website. Just like in architecture, SEO needs a strong foundation to build on. However, the advantage with SEO is that you can make adjustments to your strategy as you go. If you discover something isn’t working well, you can change it. By putting in the work now to research and develop a strong strategy, you’ll set your website up for success in the long run.