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Identifying your True Organic Competitors

Too many people make this mistake in SEO by benchmarking themselves against the wrong competitors. Wrong competitor benchmarking leads to flawed research and bad decisions.

Who your organic competitors are NOT:

  • Businesses that are popular by their brand in your industry
  • The sites whose ads you see most often
  • The few sites you see consistently show up in the Top 10 on Google for a few random searches that you’ve made related to your industry
  • Businesses near your physical location

Those businesses & websites may be competition for you otherwise and should definitely be treated with respect when it comes to general marketing. However, when it comes to SEO, they are NOT your competitors.

As far as SEO is concerned, you will have MULTIPLE sets of competitors for different sets of keywords. The competitors you want to benchmark against will the the sites that are consistently ranking in the Top 10 for ALL your target terms (grouped by keyword themes).

I cannot stress how useful and how important it is to identify your true competitors at the very initial stages of any SEO campaign.

You will only want to dissect the strategies of your ‘true organic competitors’. You would be wasting precious time otherwise.

So let’s get started with identifying these sites that you need to care about.

Objective :

Identify your true organic competitors.

Expected outcome :

After identifying these competitors, you will be able to dissect what’s working for them and eventually outrank them for many of your target terms.

Process :

There are two steps to this process.

Step #1 – Identifying & Grouping Keywords

The process outlined here is brief and does not compensate for a full explanation of the keyword research & selection process. For a complete understanding on how to go about keyword research, refer to the section, “Finding the Best Keywords for your Site.”

You may skip to Step #2 if you already have a list of tagged keywords in your account.

  1. Go to the keyword research tool and enter a primary keyword that you’re looking to target.
  2. Select, using the checkbox, as many keywords as you find relevant. Don’t bother just yet about the difficulty of the keyword or how competitive it would be. The objective out here should be to just select any keyword that you see as relevant.
    Use the various filters available in the keyword research tool to filter the result set. You could use a combination of the column filters or even the inclusion & exclusion filter to quickly narrow down the results.
    Once you’ve marked all the relevant keywords, you’ll then want to tag each keyword with 2 tags: the first tag should be labelled “shortlisted” and the other tag use an appropriate identifier.
    Organic Competitors
  3. Repeat these steps for as many searches as you see fit, till such time that you feel you’ve compiled a large enough set of keywords that you deem as highly relevant to your site.
  4. If you feel you’ve got a sufficient list of keywords to start with (would recommend having at least 200+ keywords), then you could move to the next step. If not, you could then gather more keywords by visiting the Competitor Keywords tool. Out here, enter a competitor url. You’ll then get a list of keywords for which this site ranks. Again, select and tag as many keywords as you find out here. Ensue you use 2 sets of tags, i) as “shortlisted” and ii) a keyword that’s relevant to the set.

Once you’ve tagged a list of keywords, you will find the keywords available in the “Tagged Keywords” section. If required, you can further manage the tags assigned from this page.

Step #2 – Running a Rank Check on the Shortlisted Keywords

From the previous step, we’ve compiled a list of keywords that are relevant to our site. We will now want to determine the top sites ranking for these keywords.

  1. Visit the On-Demand Rank Checker.
  2. Enter your domain in the Domain URL field. You may optionally enter some competitors in the Competitor URLs field.
    Use the “Options” button besides the keywords field to import all the keywords that you’ve shortlisted in the previous step. Refer the animated screens below for the process of importing these keywords.
    Running a Rank Check
    Once you’ve imported the keywords, choose the target location from the search engine locations list. You may select up to 5 target locations if you wish. However, let’s keep things simple the first time around and just select one primary location.
    Refer the screenshot below of how the form would ideally look after you’ve filled it.
    Generate an On-Demand Rankings Report
  3. Depending on the number of keywords you chose, it can take from a few minutes up to an hour to process the rankings for all the keywords selected.
    Once the report is ready, check out the “Competitor Landscape” section. Now the sites listed here are the ones you’d be competing against where SEO is concerned.
    Now not every single site listed out here may be a direct competitor. First you’ll want to do a dual-sort by No. of Keywords and Traffic Flow. – sort the “No. of Keywords” in descending order and then hold the Shift key to also sort the Traffic Flow in descending order. This will give you an overall list of competitors.
    Mark the sites that you would want to benchmark against and eventually beat. You might want to avoid sites like Wikipedia, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube and any other large site that you see as difficult to beat. For every site that you check, tag these URLs as “Competitors”.
  4. Now that you’ve identified your overall competitors, it might make sense to also find the competitors by the different keyword groups.
    So under the same report, go to the “Report Filters” on the top right and filter this report by one keyword group. Refer screens below.
    Generate an On-Demand Rankings Report Filters
    Once you’ve filtered the report, again to the Competitors Landscape section. This time you will find only the sites that are dominating this subset of terms.
    Tag the most relevant urls with the tag, “Competitor – {Keyword theme}”. You want to record each competitor by its theme so that it’s easier in the future to run further analysis reports.

So that’s it. If you complete the steps above, you’d have successfully identified your true organic competitors from an overall perspective as well as for specific keyword subsets.

Using this data, you can now go on to dissect your competitors’ SEO strategies and see what’s working for them.

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