In the “old world”, a competitor might be someone who you could readily identify — someone in the local phone book who was on the same page as you or someone who bought ads on the same radio station as you, for the same products and services.
But in a world where customers have swapped the phone book and the local paper for search engines such as Google or Bing, a competitor is someone who ranks more highly than you for the keywords or phrases that define your business.
These competitors might not even be in the same town or country. Of course, you might be lucky. You might have a hyper-local business where you have a monopoly within a certain geographical reach, but even then, you might be missing out on customers who don’t know your business name and are searching for generic phrases.
Understanding how to be at the top of search engines can give you a huge advantage over your competition. The internet is still a relatively immature media and while an increasing number of businesses understand the importance of having a website, not all have understood the importance of natural or organic search, which is probably what brought you here.
In fact, sometimes the largest companies are the slowest to react to new technology, so you may be able to “punch above your weight” and rank more highly in Google and Bing than competition who used to be able to outspend you using traditional advertising methods.
This isn’t new. Sun Tzu, the strategist and warrior said:
“If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”
He also said:
“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”
The phone book of the day is a search engine and understanding your customers and how they find you is a business imperative. If your customers are finding your competitors first, then understanding why your competitors are beating you is the first step to turning around that situation.
More insight into competitors:
Linkdex recently ran a survey in the UK and USA to find out which tools were most important to small and medium-sized businesses when it came to marketing the products and services they sell.
Perhaps to validate the recent increase in online networking platforms, which work on the basis of peer-to-peer recommendation, the most important marketing tool for SME businesses is word of mouth. In fact a massive 81 per cent of the companies polled said that referrals and recommendations were the most important marketing method.
The second most important promotional method for SME organisations was “Google or another search engine”, followed by direct sales teams and PR.
The least important promotional method for the companies surveyed was passing trade.
In terms of trends, 60 per cent said that they would increase spending on email in the next 12 months, 57 per cent will increase spending on social networks and 54 per cent would invest more in SEO or being on the top of search engines.
These new marketing tools will gain at the expense of more “traditional” promotional methods. Thirty per cent of companies surveyed said they would spend less on print advertising and 26 per cent will spend less on directory listings, including the phone book.
The perceptions by companies match the changing ways in which consumers find information about the products and services they want to buy. Evidence suggests that search engines like Google and Bing are the first place people look. As smartphones like the iPhone become more popular and get faster and more powerful, searching on the internet becomes more integrated and immediate.
When these results are backed up by peer recommendation, consumers will trust them more and be more inclined to make a purchase.
It shows that search engine optimisation (SEO) should not be seen as a technical function, but an essential business capability that sits at the heart of the marketing mix. If 54 per cent of businesses plan to spend more on SEO in the next 12 months, then chances are some of those companies will be your competitors.
Making SEO part of your organisation’s workflow and measuring it alongside other key marketing goals can help deliver long term growth. It’s not about search results, but business results.
Back in February I wrote about the growing fashion to buy up multiple keyword-rich domains — like “big-grey-widgets.com”, “small-grey-widgets.com” etc — in the hope of gaining higher rankings on Google. There was some evidence that this type of domain could indeed rank well, without requiring many inbound links. At the time, though, I cautioned against this approach. Google has a history of acting against such practices by de-emphasising the spammy element and wiping out any benefit gained. Since then, we have seen it do just that with links on article sites.
Now it seems that the big G may indeed be preparing to act against spam in domain names. In March of this year, Google spokesman Matt Cutts slipped the news into one of his popular YouTube videos. You can watch the whole video here.
So if you are one of those who bought up a raft of keyword-enhanced domains, now is the time to prepare for their disappearance. If you’ve being considering doing it, don’t bother.
This recurring pattern of action and reaction by website owners and Google does raise an interesting question. What will happen when every ranking factor that could be spammed, has been spammed, and Google has de-emphasised all of them? Theoretically we should end up pretty much back where we started, except that the whole web will be stuffed with spam.
It’s always tempting to look for the magic bullet that will fire you onto the top page of Google, and the potential rewards are obvious. Forty percent of external traffic to websites comes from search (source: Outbrain), and in the UK over ninety percent of that comes from Google. But to build a sustainable online business with rankings that will stand the test of time, you need to provide good quality site content that is useful to your customers; and invest in building a network of links from good quality and relevant sites.
Anything else is vapour.
Read more about SEO here:
Google is in the process of rolling out its Panda Update, an algorithm change that is set to reduce the value of content farm links. Across the web, you’ll see blogs about why this might be, the changes that will occur in the algorithm and numerous stats and figures documenting the affect the change has already had in the US.
But what do the changes mean to you and me — and, more importantly, to our businesses?
I’d like to start, as all good explanations should, at the beginning. You’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about “content farms” — essentially, these are websites which seek to gain traffic by seeding content which ranks highly for long tail keywords and search phrases. They typically use advertising as their revenue stream and therefore tend to feature a lot of adverts and not much real substance.
There has long been criticism of Google for the apparent lack of policing over these sites, which essentially “pollute” SERPs (search engine results pages) with poor quality content. The Panda Update intends to reduce the value of these pages, thus pushing them down the rankings and providing better search results for Google’s users.
Great news, wouldn’t you agree? Removing bad content and allowing for good quality content to rank higher — happy days!
And you know your website has good quality content, so you can only benefit – right?
Well, not exactly. Even though you’re probably pretty sure that your content is of a high quality, it’s not just the content farms that will suffer from the changes – nor will they suffer entirely.
Here’s what the algorithm change will mean for you and your business:
1. All pages need to be high quality content
The higher the proportion of high quality pages on your site, the better you will rank. So it’s really important that every page of your site is of the highest standard. That means redirecting, or removing entirely, those poor quality pages and replacing them with well-written, useful content that appeals to your end user.
2. Social validation will be more important than ever
Social validation is the trust we have in content or a brand based on what our friends and networks tell us. Google will be looking at how your content is shared and “liked” to ascertain whether or not people thought it worthy of recommending to their friends. You can help this by making social sharing easier (add social share buttons to your site) and by providing useful content that people will want to pass on to their networks.
3. Article marketing will get creative
The Panda Update means the common practice of seeding content through “content farms” will be devalued and sending out the same press release or article across the web will be pointless. Instead, you and your marketing team will need to seek relationships with influential bloggers, guest blog on relevant sites and generally ensure that every activity you do around link-building provides real benefit to your end user.
For Google, this will most likely be defined by the following attributes:
So do keep an eye on your Analytics — and don’t be afraid to cut the pages that just aren’t performing well.
Find out more in our section on SEO — packed with useful information and advice.
One or two clients have reported to me recently that some of their competitors are achieving good rankings on Google using sites with keyword-rich domains, like “motoring-widgets.com”. URLs like this have been favoured for some time by Bing, and by its predecessor MSN. But more recently they also seem to be delivering good results on Google for some keywords, though by no means for all.
As a result, there seems to be a bit of a rush to buy up and populate such domains. Which is perfectly understandable given the pressure to achieve high rankings on Google, and the benefits of doing so. However, I predict that this latest Google gold rush will end in tears, and much time and effort will be wasted for a little short-term gain.
In the past, site owners have used all sorts of tricks to get sites to the top of Google without actually providing the quality content that Google craves. And Google has been equally proactive in blocking them. The meta keywords tag used to be very popular, until spammers started using it to cheat the search results. Today, Google completely ignores it. The search engine also acted to reduce the effect of so-called Google bombing – driving sites to the top of a search with numerous keyword-rich links. Domain spam is a trick of the same order, and it can be only a matter of time before the big G acts against it.
My daughter and son-in-law recently spent a few days in Naples. They were amazed by the sheer number of illegal street traders operating in the city. They all seemed to have spotters watching out for passing police, and as soon as the police appeared, the traders melted into the side streets.
Spammers are online traders of the same order — always having to move on when the search police turn up and change the game. These people invest huge efforts in a quick sell which works for a few months, after which all their investment goes down the pan, and they have to start again. No doubt some people enjoy this kind of life, living by their wits and constantly trying something new. But if you want to build an online business that delivers a dependable living, then invest in developing a site that has bona fide, worthwhile content, and relationships that lead to good quality links from good quality and reliable sites.
Google has made two big announcements recently that could have a huge impact for online businesses. An algorithm change could promote better customer service with the rumoured possibility that positive customer ratings may result in a more favourable search page ranking on Google.
The second announcement is a new partnership with Twitter to display the social networking site’s paid advertisements within Google’s own search results. Here’s what these changes could mean for you.
As with all things Google-related, the search engine kingpin is being decidedly ambiguous on the subject and although they have publicly stated that positive merchant ratings could be taken into consideration when deciding on rankings, they have yet to actually admit they are definitely using ratings as a ranking factor.
But Google does appear to be closely monitoring customer ratings and feedback and there is a high likelihood that the Google algorithm has been updated to include merchant rating when populating SERPs.
One online store publicly revealed that they had previously been manipulating customer feedback to improve search engine rankings. Basically, the website owner fuelled negative customer response and it is alleged that the sudden tirade of comments and feedback led to the website gaining greater online exposure and an increase in its search engine rankings.
The new algorithm may have changed that that. Whether these tactics did improve the retailer’s ranking is debatable. But Google took notice and admitted to an algorithm alteration. Now the website in question appears to have slipped down the rankings since the algorithm change.
Google has suggested that they were concerned about beneficial ranking results from negative feedback and that any recent algorithm alterations were intended to provide a better customer experience. However, there is some speculation that Google is now monitoring positive merchant ratings as well using various sources such as: actual website feedback, consumer websites, and Google Checkout.
This is a positive move if true. If the Google algorithm now includes a feature that monitors and rewards websites receiving beneficial consumer feedback it is great news for any online business providing quality service. If a reputable online business can see an improvement in their search engine rankings due to positive consumer feedback, this will provide a real incentive for businesses to increase their level of consumer service and satisfaction.
Social networking behemoth Twitter has finally bowed under pressure to monetise the site. It has been on the cards for a while now and Twitter has responded and decided to fill its cash coffers by means of paid advertising.
Promoted tweets are similar to Google Adwords. Promoted tweets will appear at the top of Twitter searches and already some major companies have signed up to appear on Twitters search pages. There is also an opportunity to purchase slots in Twitter’s Trending Tweets feature. At the moment, this new feature is being trialled in the US (it was rolled out in April last year) and has already attracted some major players. The plan is to offer this monetised feature to the UK soon (possibly early this year but no actual date has been confirmed).
Twitter comments already feature regularly within Google’s search engine pages. The recent emphasis on providing relevant, up-to-date, real-time content within search results has led to a massive increase in the amount of blog, forum, and social media posts featuring in top positions in SERPs.
Google has realised the potential of Twitter’s Promoted Tweets monetisation and both market leaders have joined forced to create an advertising golden team. Google will now feature Promoted Tweets from Twitter search results on its own search result pages. The format will be very similar to how it already displays its own Adwords listings, except the Promoted Tweets will be clearly labelled as Ads by Twitter.
The two companies will share the revenue earned form these paid promotions.
Any business with an effective online presence campaign should already be using the power of Twitter for marketing and consumer interaction. Many businesses are running successful Adwords campaigns and have seen the success they can achieve. Now, not only can a business generate extra interest from Twitter users, any Promoted Tweets they have in place stand a great chance of appearing on the first page of Google for their specific keyword(s). It is almost a two for one offer.
Twitter has already had talks with many interested companies working the UK market and some of the more prominent businesses showing real interest include: Sky, Vodaphone, Sony, O2, Ladbrokes, LoveFilm, and Capital One.
Google introduces new features at fairly regular intervals and keeping on top of these changes can be crucial to maintaining a positive online presence for businesses. These new developments could be very important for many businesses looking to increase their target audience and online visibility.
Any online merchant should count customer satisfaction as their number one goal. But with the possibility that Google is monitoring and potentially using these consumer ratings to determine search page rank, positive customer opinion is now more important than ever.
Using social media as an influential marketing tool is nothing new, but while Facebook and other social networking giants already provide a platform for paid advertising, Twitter has never offered this prime opportunity. But with Promoted Tweets they have finally offered marketers a much-welcomed advertising platform and it should be available to UK business very soon. With the news that Promoted Tweets will also be featured in Google search results, it is a very exciting prospect indeed.
Daniel Offer is a partner in the Facebook messaging application Chit Chat for Facebook