Checking out your competition, one SERP at a time

Do you know what your competition is doing, right now?

“I don’t care,” you may say.  “I’m too focused on making money to worry about them.” And in a way, you have a point – you shouldn’t look to your competition as a way to determine your entire marketing strategy.

But — and here’s a reality check:  No matter how good you are, your prospects are checking out your competition. Every time they visit your website, they are measuring it against all the other competing sites they’ve seen. If you don’t know what your competition is doing, how can you do it better?

Real-life example: As a reaction to the economy and competitor advertising, Starbucks Coffee Company changed their entire marketing campaign to focus on providing “value at a less expensive price.”  Now, Starbucks offers special “coffee and meal” pricing in an attempt to compete with McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. This helps them maintain their market share (and helps prevent people from going to a less-expensive competitor). Researching their competition and current trends helped them form their new pricing model.

Once upon a time, before the Internet, “research” meant time-consuming and grueling work. You’d have to call your competition, pose as a prospect and beg for a brochure (praying all the time that you wouldn’t be found out). The library would be your new best friend, as you spent days combing through trade journals, newspapers, and articles.

Now, much of that information is just a web search away. Instead of calling for a brochure, you can simply check out a website. Rather than heading to the library, you can do a Google News search. What took days now takes hours. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s how to do it.

Your first mission is to review your competitors’ websites. To get started, go to your favorite search engine and type in general search phrases that relate to your product or service.  Voila!  In less than a second, you can quickly review your top competition.

It’s not enough to notice the sites on the SERPs (search engine results pages.) Be prepared to spend some time clicking into the sites and making notes. Things to notice are:

  • Do you like the writing? Why or why not?
  • Would you want to buy from that company? Why or why not?
  • Who is their target market? Is it the same as yours?
  • What do they offer that you don’t? Conversely, what do you offer that they don’t?
  • Does the site “feel” authoritative? If so, why do you think that is?
  • Are there articles, blogs or product reviews?
  • Is the company profiled on review sites like Yelp? What are their customers saying?

Consider doing a quick SERP competition check ever six months – more if you’re in a fast-moving industry. The more you know about your competition (and how they’re changing their site,) the better you can strategize your ongoing content campaign.

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