How to Use Competitors to Your Advantage in SEO

by Jayson DeMers

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a powerful strategy, enabling you to get your website in front of thousands of monthly searchers–but it’s also a sensitive one. Because users often go with the first thing they see in search engine results pages (SERPs), all it takes is one competitor outranking you to completely stifle your potential.

But what if you could use your competitors to your advantage, rather than letting them climb over you?

Competitive Strategies

There are actually distinct strategies you can use to take advantage of the fact that your competition exists. Rather than serving as an obstacle or an annoyance, these strategies turn your competitors into boosts for your SEO campaign.

1. Optimize product reviews.

First, you can work on optimizing product reviews for SEO. Reviews affect SEO in a number of different ways. For example, getting better reviews for your business can help you rank higher in local search results. Earning detailed, positive customer reviews for products can help you rank for target keywords relating to those products. Reviews can even appear in SERPs directly if you use the correct micro formatting. Take a look at how your competitors are using reviews in their current SEO campaigns; are there any opportunities for you to one-up them, with more or better reviews for your business or products? Work to outperform your competition here, and you’ll easily earn a higher slot.

2. Optimize for competitors’ brand names.

You could also write articles or optimize specifically for your competitors’ brand names, like how Printing Center USA recently wrote about Kinkos pricing. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to outrank your competitors for their own brand names, but you could earn a competing spot near the top of the search results. This gives you some degree of control over new users’ expectations for that brand. Don’t write attack pieces or your own reputation could come into question, but don’t be afraid to point out some of their shortcomings; it’s a valuable opportunity to improve your visibility and relative reputation.

3. Write comparison and industry articles.

You could also write an extended comparison guide or list of companies like yours, like how the Creative Ham publishes a list of advertising agencies. The idea here is to provide valuable information to users who might be looking for companies in your industry–and of course, you can throw your own name into the mix. Write up honest details about each brand, including pros and cons, and let your readers decide for themselves. You’ll get tons of new visibility in search engines, so there’s no need to be pushy about advertising your own services in the article–you might even turn people away if you do.

4. Monitor and mimic link building strategies.

You can also use a tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer to perform a detailed analysis of your competitors’ link building strategies. Pay attention to what links they’ve built, where they’ve built them, and how they’ve grown over time. You can adopt this strategy for yourself, mimicking their lines of development and earning similar growth in domain authority and reputation. It’s an easy way to catch up to a competitor ahead of you, and spot weaknesses that you can take advantage of with a simple twist to your existing tactics.

5. Track and differentiate niche keywords.

Keywords are another key area of SEO where you can easily gain an advantage. Pay attention to what niche keywords and long-tail phrases your competitors are optimizing for, then pick a group of keywords completely unrelated to them for your own strategy. Oftentimes, there’s an entire open field of subtopics and keyword phrases that are untapped by the competition. If you swoop in to pick them up, you’ll be in the clear to rank without contest.

6. Work with your competitors directly.

Finally, don’t discount the possibility of working with your competitors directly. In this scenario, you could work together to produce a piece of collaborative content, drawing on both your resources to create something you can both benefit from. Because you’ll have similar areas of expertise and a mutual desire to succeed, the power you can draw from this can be extremely beneficial to both of you.

Finding the Balance

These strategies can all help you get a competitive edge, outranking your competitors for valuable keywords, but don’t forget that your primary goal is to make your end users happy. It’s not worth writing a post about a competitor if it’s not going to matter to your target demographics, nor will outranking a competitor matter if your content is gimmicky and subpar. Prioritize your user experience first, then work on building a competitive advantage.

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