SEO has changed the landscape of marketing forever. It helped scale Google into one of the biggest companies in history. It carved out a whole new industry worth billions: digital marketing.
In this article, we’ll explain what SEO is, how it can drive more traffic to your website, and ultimately, how it can make you a ton of money.
What Is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. Basically, SEO is the process by which a website improves its ranking on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). Approximately 90% of all Internet searches throughout the world are performed using Google. Other platforms like Bing, Yahoo, YouTube (owned by Google) and more take up the roughly 10% remaining share of Internet searches.
Each search engine uses their proprietary algorithm designed to rank websites based on a number of factors. The job of digital marketers is to figure out how to best leverage that algorithm to increase the page rankings for specific keywords on a website. That’s SEO.
Think of Google’s business model. They want to help you find what you’re searching for as fast as possible, they want the results to be directed to websites that are relevant to your search and they want those websites to provide you with quality answers to your query.
What Factors Affect SEO?
SEO is not an exact science because, outside of Google and the other search engines, no one knows the algorithms they are using. However, Google and its competitors have been very clear on what the ranking factors are:
- Page Speed
- User Experience (UX)
- Links – internal, external, and inbound
On-Page Vs. Off-Page SEO
Digital Marketers focus on both on-page and off-page SEO to increase a website’s rankings. But what do these terms mean?
- On-page SEO:All content and technical tools that enhance a website’s SEO. Content on your website, like blogs, copy on webpages, and images map to specific keywords that indicate to a search engine what your website is about. Technical tools are the actual code on your website, like meta descriptions, alt tags on images, etc. that also use keywords to attract the attention of the search engines. We will get into keywords a bit more in this article. Think of keywords as mini-descriptions of your business. Example: a keyword for a plastic surgeon located in Raleigh, NC would probably use the keywords “plastic surgeon Raleigh”.
- Off-page SEO: All content outside of your website that contribute to your website ranking. Links from other websites, your Google Business Page, social media accounts, etc. are all examples of off-page SEO.
Both types of SEO contribute to the ranking of your website and are important to developing your authority and trustworthiness.
Does SEO Actually Work?
SEO has 200% higher conversion rate than any other online marketing activity, the close rate is 15%, and the average ROI for SEO is around 500%. So yeah, it works. But only if you know what you are doing AND if you are willing to ride out the peaks and valleys as the algorithm changes. Last year, Google reported they changed the algorithm about 3-5 times per day. So it’s important that you outsource this activity to professionals whose job is to constantly monitor the changes, be vigilant in trying new things to increase profitability, and to continuously update your SEO strategy.
How does Google review my website?
Googlebot is the search bot software used by Google, which collects documents from the web to build a searchable index for the Google Search engine. In other words, it’s the algorithm in digital form. It decides whether it “likes” your website or not and how to rank your website.
Googlebot is constantly crawling the Internet to look at every website, its links, content, etc. to determine how trustworthy, fast, and reliable your site is. And that determines how your website is ranked on its SERPs. This is why it’s important to be vigilant and to continuously update your pages, blogs, and links on your website.
Things That Can Harm Your SERP Rankings
Buying Links From Other Websites
Buying links from other websites to increase your rank can be a risky strategy. While links from websites with authentic authority are going to increase your website’s authority, buying links from dubious websites can damage your ranking. Google wants to see genuine interaction between sites. So if you’re buying links, chances are Google has already flagged them as a “penalty site” and you’ll get penalized too.
Google wants to present unique, valuable, and high-quality content for its search results. Adding duplicate content or plagiarizing content will definitely lower your website’s authority and you will be penalized.
This is another form of chicanery that Google has programmed their algorithm to find. If you and another website are continuously sharing links with one another, it’s obvious you are working together to artificially inflate your backlink numbers. Google will penalize this type of activity and you may end up on a banned list.
H1 Head Titles Should Be Used Sparingly
H1 tags help the bots to understand what certain website is about. However, if they’re overused, content won’t look as natural and that method can easily backfire. We suggest using H1 tags for your Homepage and a few other pages that are marked for cornerstone content.
Much like the advice with H1 Tags, we suggest using keywords sparingly and in an organic way. This is how word clouds became so popular. People would just toss out all their keywords on every page as a word cloud and try to increase rankings. It’s another way to get a penalty. Write quality content that focuses on your readers and their needs and the keywords will flow properly.
Ever click on a link on a website and you get a 404 Page Error? Google does not like links that are broken or outdated. There are many tools and plug-ins that can run checkups on your website links. Make sure your check them regularly. Broken links will lower your page rankings.
Slow Page Loads
Remember what we said about Google’s main objective? Part of it is to provide FAST results to searches. If Google sees that your site takes too long to load, they don’t want to send people to your website. So, you need to make sure your pages load quickly.
What are the benefits of SEO?
Simply stated, SEO practices will make your website, sales team, company better. It’s a process that incorporates every aspect of your company – distilled into keywords to get your website ranked higher on search pages.
Excellent User Experience
As we discussed earlier in this article, Google wants to present results with the best user experience. SEO methods ensure your site will create an excellent user experience to lead your prospects into the ultimate customer journey.
A better user experience means fast website page loads, quality content, and content that is easy to find. It means a site that is a loving entity, constantly updated with new and informative information.
Awesome Lead Generator
SEO is a great passive lead generator. You don’t have to make cold calls, you don’t have to knock on doors, or email a huge list of prospects to get leads from SEO. It’s simple, the better you are at positioning keywords that prospects search for on the Internet, the higher your ranking on search results pages. And that means prospects are more likely to click on a link to your website.
Dramatic Cost Savings
Sure, you pay someone to manage your SEO. But unlike all of the other online and offline marketing & advertising techniques, this one is free. It’s just pure effort. The result of which is passive lead generation.
Other lead generation activities like cold colds, email marketing, door-to-door sales, or PPC ads cost time and money. SEO frees up your sales staff to pursue hard leads and close sales, not prospects.
Increases Brand Awareness & Authority
Brand Awareness can be defined as the extent to which your audience recognizes your brand as an authority in your industry. When people consistently see your company name in search results, it creates a natural awareness of your brand.
If you are presented as one of the top search results consistently, then in your prospect’s mind, you are one of the top players in your industry. You have authority. You’re considered a thought leader.
Attracts Mobile Users
A good SEO strategy incorporates making your website mobile-friendly. Over 50% of all searches on the Internet were from phones last year. This means fast page load speeds, organizing information in a way that enables people to find information quickly and a modern design. It also signals to younger users that you are a forward-thinking brand that is geared towards the future.
Improves Website Speed
Speed matters to search engines and their rankings. A good SEO strategy ensures your website page load speeds are fast.
How Does SEO Make Me Money?
We’ve put together a nifty infographic for you discuss the Top 5 Ways SEO Makes You Money:
How Do You Develop An SEO Strategy?
Step 1 – Who are your competitors?
It all starts with a solid competitive analysis. The competitive analysis will give you insight into how your competitors are attracting customers, what keywords they use, and the content they develop. Some insights you can borrow to use for yourself and some insights will indicate niche opportunities in which you differentiate your brand, and therefore, flourish.
Also, doing the competitive analysis speeds up the SEO Strategy development process. You’re basically cobbling together data that’s already out there, modifying it to fit your needs, and improving it to give you an advantage.
The other benefit to the competitive analysis, is that it enables you to develop a strategy to steal customers from your competitors. You’ll have great insight into their strengths and weaknesses. Why not use that insight to your benefit?
So, Step 1 – make a list of your competitors. You’ll need at least 5 competitors (preferably 10) to effectively build out your SEO strategy.
Step 2 – Segment your competitors
Here’s a simple and effective way of segmenting your competitors:
- Business competitors: Those who seem to dominate your industry, local area, have brand awareness, etc.
- SEO Competitors: Those who are listed in the top 5 organic search results.
- PPC Competitors: Those who are listed in the PPC ads in search results.
Step 3 – Data collection
There are a whole host of tools available to grab your competitor’s SEO data. The key is that you don’t need to pay for any of these tools. The most effective we’ve found that was free is SpyFu. SpyFu enables you to search for any domain and see every place they’ve shown up on Google. Every keyword they’ve bought on AdWords, every organic rank, and every ad variation.
The free version will give you limited reports, so if you want to pay for one month and get the full-blown reports, it’s only $39 for unlimited reports for one month.
Here’s the data you should collect:
- Organic keywords
- PPC keywords
- Who are their organic competitors?
- Shared competitor keywords
- Adwords history
Collecting the above information will help you to develop your own keywords and PPC ad strategy.
Now, using the keywords you collected from SpyFu, enter them into a Google search. Look at the results pages to collect more data:
- Meta Title/Snippet
- Meta Description
This will give you an idea of how they are describing the keywords and presenting them in search results.
Now, go to your competitor’s website and obtain the following information:
- How did they structure their website – pages, links, etc.
- What are some of the blog topics they use?
- What is their overall brand identity?
- Where can you improve upon what they’ve done?
Alright, at this stage, we have a very reliable list of top 5 direct competitors. Of course, you can extend this up to 10 but let’s stick to 5 for now.
At every stage of SEO competitive analysis, you need to remember that our goal is to eventually end up on the first page, preferably in the top 3 results for as many important business/industry keywords as possible.
Many marketers usually try to avoid competing with industry leaders and obviously high-authority websites. That may be a great idea in the short run, but in the long run, you’ll need to take them on because there’s really no other way of capitalizing on important keywords.
A very effective way of dealing with this problem is identifying relatively less competitive long tail and LSI keywords and search terms. We’ll get to the keyword part of SEO competitive analysis in a bit.
So, at this stage, our focus is on pitting our 5 competitors directly against one another and see what sort of link profiles they have. This is a very, very important step because backlinks are one of the most influential ranking factors. More importantly though, studying the link profile of SEO competitors gives us a clear idea of how to create an effective link building strategy.
Step 5 – Analysis Using Ahrefs
To analyze all 5 SEO competitors together, I’m using Ahrefs Domain Comparison Tool. It does pretty much everything we want done here for us. For the sake of better data handling, copy + paste all these results in the competition analysis Excel template we are building (as a new sheet). Note that Ahrefs doesn’t let you export these stats automatically.
For now, let’s focus on the most important parameters. If you know how to read into every aspect of link profile analysis, you can perform that audit for each domain separately. (We’ll be publishing a detailed guide for link profile analysis soon).
Step 6 – Domain Rating
Domain Rating is the proprietary method that Ahrefs uses to attach a numeric indicator to a domain’s SEO ‘value’ and ‘authority’.
Moz uses a similar algorithm to come up with what they call ‘Domain Authority’.
Domain Rating is an important metric in the sense that it boils down many SEO parameters into one number to give you an indication of how authoritative a particular domain is. This number, by no means, is the final call – as Google has pointed out. A good SEO strategy aims to increase the domain rating over time in order to push the pages up the rankings.
So, at the first glance, we can guess that our domain has a pretty good chance of taking all of these SEO competitors on by developing a systematic SEO strategy.
Step 7 – Referring Domains
Referring domains are the domains that link back to the domain in question.
Having your backlinks spread across a large number of referring domains adds a natural touch to your link profile. So, in general, having a high referring domain/number of backlinks ratio AND a high number of backlinks is a great combination to have.
Ahrefs also lets you export the domain rating data for all referring domains that link back to your SEO competitors. You can export this data and calculate the average referring domain rating, too. Adding this to the overall analysis will give you the benefit of knowing exactly what the quality of backlinks is for your SEO competitors.
As far as link building goes, just building a large number of backlinks DOESN’T work (mostly because not all backlinks are made the same).
A backlink is essentially a reference – a vote of confidence, if you will – from one website to another. So, if your referring domain has no authority of its own, there’s no real value attached to the backlinks you get from that domain.
The point is – looking at backlinks as a ‘number’ doesn’t cut it. You need to add a referring domain rating dimension to this.
I do this with a simple tweak.
Here’s what you need to do to get a better view of backlinks to your SEO competitors:
- Conduct a referring domain analysis for EACH of your competitor (as discussed).
- Export the data to an Excel sheet.
- Ignore every other column – just focus on referring domain rating and the number of backlinks the website is getting from that particular domain.
- The logic is simple. We want to arrive at a custom metric (I’m naming it ‘DR-Backlink Factor’ for the sake of convenience).
So, the DR-Backlink Factor = [sum (referring domain rating x backlinks from that domain)]/total number of backlinks.
Trust me, it’s no rocket science – just some basic statistical analysis. Using the same method, we can get the DR-Backlink Factor for all competing domains.
Step 9 – Putting Everything In Context
At this stage, we have the following – the domain rating, referring domains, backlinks and the DR-Backlink factor for all competing domains.
The question is – how do we combine these all together to get a better idea of the task ahead of us?
The DR-Backlink Factor already combines referring domains with backlinks – so that’s out of the way.
Now, we have to couple the DR of the individual domain to the DR-Backlink factor. Here’s how:
- Calculate the average DR of all 6 domains (5 competitors + 1 target).
- Calculate the numeric deviation for each domain from the average as N = (DR-AVG DR)/AVG DR
- Calculate the final Domain Performance Power Factor as DPPF = (1+N) x DR-Backlink Factor.
It might sound a bit complicated – but trust me, it’s not. Our ready-to-roll SEO competitive analysis template does it all for you in an instant.
Note: The domain rating for each domain already takes into account the quality of the backlinks – but we don’t really know what the algorithm Ahrefs uses for this. So, adding your own little touch to the proceedings helps make things clearer.
A More Basic Alternative
If you don’t want to keep things a bit simpler, just compare each factor (domain rating, referring domains and backlinks) individually. This will still give you a fairly good idea of where your or your client’s website stands in comparison with the 5 SEO competitors you’ve picked.
Competitor Link Profile Growth Analysis
Another dimension to add to your SEO competitive analysis is the rate at which your SEO competitors are building/acquiring links.
These analyses give you a great insight into what the strengths and weaknesses of your SEO competitors are. For example, from our target’s (artistsweb.co.uk) point of view, we could construct our link building strategy so as to overtake Bond Media first by mimicking their link profile and then taking on the next competitor in line.
At this stage you should have a complete picture of the target website AND the competing domains.
You can use these stats to outline your link building strategy as well as your content strategy. As we have already discussed, developing an SEO content marketing strategy is an intricate combination of SEO and quality content. So, you’ll need all the directives and inputs it takes to be able to boost your SEO through content. We’ll get to the content part of SEO competitive analysis in a bit.
Every insight you get into your competitors’ link building strategies is worth its weight in gold from the SEO competitor analysis perspective. Our end-to-end competition research services integrate all aspects of link profile analysis to chalk out the path of least resistance (and highest ROIs) for your clients.
Competitor Keyword Analysis
Now that we have a handle on where our target website stands in terms of links and domain authority, we can now move towards analyzing on-page factors.
Creating great content is extremely important – but putting it in front of people is equally important.
If you are the kind of website that just puts content out there hoping people will find it someday, let me break the bad news to you – it NEVER happens. Every content asset you create needs to be streamlined in terms of utility, shareability, linkability and – of course – visibility. That’s where keywords come in.
It’s funny how people know that keywords are important, but they just don’t know how to find the ones that WORK.
For example, if your website is brand new, you’re not going to do yourself any favors by running after broad, industry-wide keywords. Similarly, you will get nothing out of focusing on keywords with little relevancy or thin search volumes.
As a part of SEO competitor analysis, here’s what a good keyword should look like for you:
- It’s relevant to what you do.
- It’s backed by decent monthly search volumes.
- Your competitors are not really focusing on it.
Competitive keyword analysis helps you find keywords across categories (broad, phrase, LSI and exact – what have you) that are proven to have a solid searcher intent behind them.
Remember – competitor keyword analysis is just the start. There’s much more to keyword research. Our advanced keyword research services are geared towards covering any and every base in this context so that your content assets keep bringing in organic visitors on a daily basis. To know more, tell us a little about your requirements, and we’ll come back to you with a fully customized proposal.
Reverse Engineering Keywords
If you don’t have a content strategy in place, it’s good to know what your competitors are ranking for before you start creating content assets. An efficient round of keyword research is exactly what a new website needs to buff up their content assets in the long and the short run.
There are many tools out there that let you find keywords relevant to your website and business. We usually recommend starting with the most robust of them all first – Google Keyword Planner.
Since we are talking about SEO competitive analysis here, we’ll need to tweak the approach just a little bit.
At this point, we have in hand 5 top competitors who are, no doubt, doing great in terms of their content marketing strategies. So, we can extract a great deal of information just by looking at the keywords they rank for.
Here’s how to do this:
- Enter a competitor domain in Ahrefs dashboard.
- You’ll get the ‘Overview’ of their performance. Now, click on the ‘Keywords’ tab.
- This will give you the complete list of keywords that particular competitor regularly ranks for in the region you’ve selected. For now, go with your local Google website – you can start tapping into international traffic once your content assets go live.
It’s good enough to be used as a seed keyword when we develop a full-blown content strategy. Repeat this procedure for all competitors and you’ll have a great set of keywords – reverse engineered from the scratch!
Finding Content Gaps
Ahrefs, as I have said many times before, is pretty much ALL you need to chalk out a great SEO strategy – and that, of course, includes identifying and capitalizing on content gaps.
What’s A Content Gap?!
A content gap is the apparent ‘need’ that your content aims to serve. Barring a few categories like news and updates, the best performing content assets are the ones that are aligned with what your customers/visitors are looking for.
We’ve often found that working with content gaps becomes much easier when you have an ongoing content strategy.
Here’s how you can find potential content gaps using Ahrefs.
- Enter the target domain to generate the ‘Overview’ in Ahrefs.
- Click on ‘Content Gaps’ (the left menu).
- Enter competitor domains (as shown below).
- Set your filters carefully.
- Export the data and add it to the SEO competitive analysis file for a quick reference.
Competitor Content Analysis
There are many downsides to having to work in a competitive industry or niche.
But, there’s the proverbial silver lining – you can almost always be sure that your competitors have got their content game heading in the right direction.
So, besides reverse engineering keywords and locating content gaps, you can understand a whole lot more by studying what sort of content they create in order to bring people over to their websites.
Understanding, analyzing and dissecting competitors’ content assets can play the role of a bright lighthouse when you’re building a brand-new content strategy. Not only do you get to know what content wins clicks, you also get an insight into how to effectively market such content. Here’s how it works.
Overview Of ‘Top Pages’:
- Generate an ‘Overview’ report for the competitor domain using Ahrefs. If they are using a subdomain or a specific URL prefix for blogs (blog.website.com/content or website.com/blog/content), use that as your baseline.
- Now navigate to the ‘Top Pages’ tab from the left menu. Export the details.
- This will show you what content assets are ranking for what keywords. This should be enough to give an instant idea about two things: a. If there’s enough room to overtake these competitors through a robust content strategy, b. What content assets generate the best returns in terms of organic traffic.
Overview Of The Linkability Of Competitors’ Content Assets:
- Generate the overview as usual for each competitor domain.
- Navigate to the “Best By Links” tab (Pages > Best By Links).
- Export the results.
- Repeat the same procedure for “Best By Link Growth” function.
- Repeat for all competitors.
Overview Of Social Signals:
The last part of content analysis is all about how your competitors’ content assets perform on social media.
- Generate the overview from the Ahrefs dashboard.
- Navigate to the ‘Top Content’ tab (Pages > Top Content).
- Export the results.
Traffic Analysis (Competitor SEO Template)
At this stage, here’s what you’ll have: a detailed insight into link profile, content, keywords and social media marketing.
It’s possible to end your competitor search right here because you’ll already have all the data you need to reverse engineer an SEO strategy (on and off page).
I, for one, prefer to go one step further and analyze competitors’ traffic channels too.
- Traffic channels paint a clearer picture of theresults of your competitors’ SEO strategies and content marketing campaigns. This adds a new perspective to your competitor SEO template.
- You can clearly see what their strengths are and where they lack. Having this knowledge is invaluable because it can create some ‘quick win’ opportunities for you.
- If you can find certain traffic sources that are performing exceptionally well for multiple competitors, you can set them as benchmarks for your particular industry. For example, if you run an e-commerce business and you see that Pinterest drives a ton of traffic to your competitors, you can put Pinterest at the forefront of your social media strategy.
Using SimilarWeb For Competitor Traffic Analysis
At this point, Ahrefs falls just short because it mainly deals with organic traffic.
You will NEVER be able to get precise traffic details for any website other than your own, and hence, we’ll be using the next best thing out there: SimilarWeb.
SimilarWeb is a premium traffic analysis tool that runs extrapolation tests to come up with pretty accurate traffic stats for any website. You’ll need a premium subscription to access all the details, but a free trial is just about enough to get you started.
Direct Traffic – Are they doing a lot of offline advertising? (Here’s more about what direct traffic really means to a webmaster).
Email – Non-existent in this case. I’ll make a note in my SEO competitive analysis sheet to build multiple email campaigns.
Referrals – About 5%. Much of this comes from backlinks (as we can cross-check in Ahrefs). This gives us a good idea of potential link building partners.
Organic – Over 65% – Good on them! If done correctly, we can emulate their organic search performance, too.
SEO competitive analysis is the foundation of every good SEO campaign. It not only guides your campaign in the right direction, it keeps the overall marketing expenses down, helping you get more out of every marketing dollar/pound spent.
At TARGET MARKET SEO, competitive analysis is an integral part of our end-to-end digital marketing services. Each service we offer – from link building to local SEO and content audit to digital PR – integrates one or more elements of fully customized competition analysis reports to add that much-needed competitive edge to proceedings.