Saturday, December 24, 2011

Competition Analysis Basics for SEO

you can't solidify your targets until you understand what you're up against. All the keyword research in the world won't help you rank for the keyword phrase “windows” in 6 months with a brand new site. So understanding how to analyze your competitors and get a feel for who you can compete with in a reasonable period of time is paramount to creating a solid strategy. I'll also be flashing back a bit on keyword strategy. In the last article we closed with a list of potential keyword phrases, the idea that we needed to divide our phrases into major phrases and longtail phrases and also a new domain (just to keep things realistic). So where do we go from there? Generally I start at the top. From the highest searched phrases to the lowest – I do a quick analysis of the major phrases to determine the long term goals and the short term. I also like to look for what I call “holes”. These are phrases that have competition levels lower than one would expect when looking at the search volume. So let's use the example I was using in the last article and imagine a US-based downhill mountain bike company. And let's begin with the major targets. The phrases we'll examine for the purposes of this article are the top 10 phrases as ordered by search volume. They are: mountain bike mountain bikes specialized mountain bike trek mountain bike mountain bike frame full suspension mountain bike cannondale mountain bike giant mountain bike mountain bike parts mountain bike reviews So what are we looking for? It's obviously not feasible to do incredibly thorough competition analysis at this stage. I've listed 10 phrases here but in reality there are hundreds to consider and so we need a quick(ish) way to determine the competition levels of phrases. First, let's install a couple tools to help you make some quick decisions. You'll need to install the Firefox browser and the SEO Quake add on. Now when you run a search you'll be able to quickly pull the competitor stats. I like to look at the PageRank, links to the ranking page and sitelinks. Remember now – this is the basic competitor analysis here. Here are the stats for the top 10 ranking sites across the 10 top phrases (I'll leave out the URLs so there's no promotion): Phrase: mountain bike

Site 1 – PR6, 70,268 page links, 71,177 domain links
Site 2 – PR6, 262,609 page links, 290,281 domain links
Site 3 – PR5, 0 page links, 604 domain links
Site 4 – PR6, 101,136 page links, 206,397 domain links
Site 5 – PR5, 741 page links, 118,791,902 domain links Phrase: mountain bikes
Site 1 – PR5, 33,097 page links, 40,747 domain links
Site 2 – PR6, 42,010 page links, 91,385 domain links
Site 3 – PR6, 262,609 page links, 290,281 domain links
Site 4 – PR6, 101,136 page links, 206,397 domain links
Site 5 – PR5, 25,059 page links, 38,132 domain links Phrase: specialized mountain bikes
Site 1 – PR6, 101,136 page links, 206,397 domain links
Site 2 – PR1, 1 page links, 206,397 domain links
Site 3 – PR4, 2,001 page links, 2,095 domain links
Site 4 – PR5, 734 page links, 738 domain links
Site 5 – PR2, 4 page links, 230 domain links Phrase: trek mountain bikes
Site 1 – PR6, 65,464 page links, 178,712 domain links
Site 2 – PR4, 108 page links, 178,712 domain links
Site 3 – PR4, 127 page links, 523 domain links
Site 4 – PR4, 2,001 page links, 2,095 domain links
Site 5 – PR0, 0 page links, 3,854,233 domain links Phrase: mountain bike frame
Site 1 – PR4, 6,348 page links, 44,535 domain links
Site 2 – PR2, 6 page links, 4,303 domain links
Site 3 – PR4, 196 page links, 523 domain links
Site 4 – PR0, 28 page links, 35 domain links
Site 5 – PR1, 0 page links, 294,361,703 domain links Phrase: full suspension mountain bike
Site 1 – PR4, 58 page links, 178,712 domain links
Site 2 – PR4, 20 page links, 1,729 domain links
Site 3 – PR3, 7 page links, 9,959,894 domain links
Site 4 – PR5, 240 page links, 290,281 domain links
Site 5 – PR3, 0 page links, 294,362,703 domain links Phrase: cannondale mountain bikes
Site 1 – PR6, 62,614 page links, 91,301 domain links
Site 2 – PR6, 410 page links, 91,301 domain links
Site 3 – PR4, 0 page links, 2,056 domain links
S ite 4 – PR3, 3 page links, 80,580 domain links
Site 5 – PR2, 3 page links, 9,959,894 domain links Phrase: giant mountain bikes
Site 1 – PR3, 7 page links, 136,232 domain links
Site 2 – PR4, 2,001 page links, 2,095 domain links
Site 3 – PR0, 6 page links, 6 domain links
Site 4 – PR4, 2,262 page links, 2,392 domain links
Site 5 – PR2, 1 page links, 60,131 domain links Phrase: mountain bike parts
Site 1 – PR4, 610 page links, 2,366 domain links
Site 2 – PR4, 851 page links, 4,303 domain links
S ite 3 – PR4, 6,348 page links, 44,535 domain links
Site 4 – PR5, 4,612 page links, 20,931 domain links
Site 5 – PR6, 4,612 page links, 20,931 domain links Phrase: mountain bike reviews
Site 1 – PR6, 262,609 page links, 290,281 domain links
Site 2 – PR5, 240 page links, 290,281 domain links
Site 3 – PR6, 560 page links, 361,873 domain links
Site 4 – PR5, 0 page links, 604 domain links
Site 5 – PR4, 22 page links, 90,123 domain links Now, I'd definitely look further down my keyword list than this but for the purposes of this article let's assume this is all we have. If that's the case – what do you suppose would be the primary choice(s)? Were it to me I'd go with: mountain bike frame – we have a range of PageRank, a range of links and a range of sites. Basically – we're not up against a wall of high competition and the search volume is solid. full suspension mountain bike – a full range of sites. Higher competition than “mountain bike frame” but we're looking at a phrase that would sell a whole bike which needs to be considered and a slightly higher competition is thus acceptable. So of these two phrases what would I do? Well – if this was all we had to work with I'd select “full suspension mountain bike” as the main phrase and follow that up with “mountain bike frame” as a major secondary phrase and thus a prime target for proactive internal page link building and optimization. So now let's look at whether there are any good longtail phrases. In this industry we'll be looking for specific parts. Since going through all the different types of parts would be a nightmare in an article I'll focus on a couple parts I just ordered recently and that was a new handlebar and and a new rim. To keep things simple I'm going to focus on just a couple brands in the research BUT in reality we'd take the extra time and look into all the part types and all the brands that we'd be able to sell on our site. So for handlebars, here's the long and short of the numbers and competition: Brands researched – origin and easton “easton handlebars” with 1,000 estimated searches/mth with low competition outside of the manufacturer is a great start. Further, when we look up the manufacturer we further see that the ea70 and ea90 Easton models are both sought after as well. When we build our site we obviously want to build a structure and heirarchy that are conducive to longtail rankings overall but what we're looking for here are ideas as to where to put our energies when it comes to content creation and link building. Handlebars looks good by search volume. The average sale per item would be around $25. And now to rims: Brands researched – mavic and sun “mavic rims” and “sun rims” both come in at 1,900 estimated searches but the comeptition for “sun rims” is significantly lower with lower link counts and lower PageRank sites ranking. The average sale here is also going be in the $40 to $45 range. Based on this my first efforts for the whole site wold be “full suspension mountain bike” for the homeapge, mountain bike frame” as a major internal page and I'd focus my first efforts on “rims” (“sun rim” specifically). Now – we'd of course look further than this but what we can see is the direction that we'd go if all we had to go on was the above data. As noted – were we launching this site we'd look into every brand and every part type and research further than the top 10 phrases but that would have made for a book, not and article and let's be honest – it would have been a very boring book unless you were planning on launching a mountain bike site. So now you've done enough competition analysis (remember – it's basic research we're talking about) to figure out what direction to head in. In my next article I'm going to cover more advanced competition analysis. We'll go in knowing what we want to accomplish in the way of keywords and be working to map out how to take the top spots. Until then – get your campaigns sorted out for potential keywords and keep reading … this is where it gets really interesting.
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Google+ and the Potential Impact on SEO

Although you can only join by invitation at this point, you've no doubt heard of Google+, Google's latest attempt to join (or, in time perhaps, completely overtake?) Facebook and Twitter as a must have social networking tool. In the months before Google+ was launched, Google also began implementing the "+1" button as a usable option for users to signify that they enjoy a particular site or page in an attempt to gather as much raw data as possible about the popularity and social value of sites and content before Google+ was rolled out for the masses. Preceding the Google+ and +1 button was the introduction of real time search, which was able to incorporate search results from Twitter, blogs and Facebook. Google, it would appear, is realizing the immense value of social media and the impact of social media on web search. Search will continue to have a social element infused into it as the addition of the +1 button will change search results, as will live feeds from Google+ pages, much like Facebook "likes" and Twitter "tweets" are currently affecting search results by influencing user decisions due to their value as endorsements of certain sites and content. Google definitely wants websites to implement the +1 button in their pages so that they can track and measure changes in click through rates. The +1 button will also be included on all SERPs as well as all Google+ feeds. What this means is business owners and marketers must ensure that a positive customer experience is, perhaps more than ever before, their primary focus in the hope that as many users as possible will +1 their site, and in doing so, endorse their business (and by association, reputation). While it is plain to see that the introduction of the +1 button was merely a precursor/trial balloon for Google+, the potential impact of the +1 button on search could be the bridge between all of the social oriented sites and tools and ways of doing things on the web and the subsequent influence on search results. Recently, Rand Fishkin, head of SEO Moz, decided to test some theories on the subject of social sites influencing search results. He shared a number of un-indexed URLs via Twitter both before and after Google had unceremoniously aborted the real time search results feature. Fishkin repeated the process, only this time he used Google+. He then requested that his followers on Twitter and Google+ to share the post, with the only caveat being that they were not to share it outside of the originating site. What this yielded in terms of hard data was that even though Google has dropped the real time search, re-tweeting and tweets are still assisting page indexation. As for Google+, Fishkin's test page ended up ranking #1 on Google within a few hours. This illustrates the fact that Google+ can also help pages get indexed, if not quite as quickly as Twitter. But perhaps the most interesting concept presented by Google+, and one that could potentially have a significant impact on SEO, is the "Google Circles" feature. The "Circles" feature is interesting because it grants users the ability to share whatever they choose with specific groups, or Circles, of people. As Google+ users build their Circles, they will subsequently be able to see the sites that users in their circles have +1'd in Google's SERPs. This has enormous potential - users will be far more likely to make a choice or purchase based on the recommendation of people they have invited to their Circles - people who they know and whose opinions they trust. Most users are going to be far more likely to trust the recommendation of someone they know rather than the recommendation or review from a stranger. Over time, Circles will become much more defined as more available user data is integrated into them - using that data to effectively market could be potentially powerful SEO strategy. Basically, Google has taken the ideas behind some of their social media competitors more influential and successful features in an attempt to make search more about real people. Google+ and the +1 button are enabling users to influence online activity, and, as such, they will have an effect on search results. Many experts are already proclaiming Google+ to have no impact on SEO whatsoever, citing Google Wave and past attempts by Google to get in on the social side of the net as indicators that this new attempt will also fail. While it is far too early to make any kind of definitive statement as to the long term usefulness or impact of Google+ and the +1 button on SEO, citing past failures as the basis for an argument as to why Google+ is going to fail as well is short sighted at best. The fact of the matter is, social factors are already intertwined with search, and this is likely only going to become more prevalent as these sites are expanded and the way we interact on the internet continues to evolve also, not less so. Whether or not Google+ ends up revolutionizing or merely co-existing with established SEO methodology remains to be seen, but the enormous potential of these features and their long term impact is fairly clear - site ranking methods are changing thanks to the +1 button and this will likely end up creating an altogether new method of SEO in the future.
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Understanding The Canonical Tag

Since the Panda updates from Google earlier this year, duplicate content has become an issue that no website owner can afford to overlook. While the update was designed specifically to target low value sites, content farms and scraped content, its paramount imperative was to reduce the amount of duplicate content that resulted in mass amounts of spam-ridden search results. As a direct result of the updates to the Google search algorithm, many thousands of both legitimate and nefarious sites were penalized with a significant drop in rankings and traffic.

Duplicate content can include the textual content of a website, scraped content from other sites, or similar content on multiple domains. Duplicate content issues also arise from dynamically generated product pages that display duplicate content throughout different sorting features. Google sees these pages as duplicate content.
Of the tactics available the 301 redirect and the more recent canonical tag, are the primary weapons in a web developers arsenal to help combat the problems associated with duplicate content. Unfortunately many aspiring webmasters do not always have a clear understanding of what they are, or how, or when each method should be employed.

What is a 301 Redirect?

In most cases a 301 redirect is used when you move your domain to a new webhost. The redirect tells search engines that your site has moved but still allows you to preserve your rankings. The other common usage of the 301 is to specify the preferred url of your domain.Typically you can go to either or< they are the same url but the search engine treats them as different urls. The 301 redirect allows you to specify the “proper” domain and retain the strength of the sites ranking so that it is not split between the two. 301s is that they were only designed to work at the domain level and did not address the duplicate content issues that were arising from have multiple dynamically driven pages. 301s also require that you have access to the web server hosting your site in order to implement them and an understanding of the syntax used to describe the parameters. Introducing the Canonical Tag

Prior to the introduction of the canonical tag, duplicate content was simply ignored and people used link building practices to game the SERPs in order to determine which would be the first to be listed. However, this had the negative systemic effect of inundating the SERPs with webspam which made it increasingly difficult to get quality, relevant results when performing web searches. As a result, Google introduced the canonical tag in early 2009 as a way to resolve some of the major duplicate content issues faced by the search engines.

The canonical tag was designed as a page level element in which you edit the “head” of the HTML document and edit the parameters. The canonical tag is a very simple one line code string that is treated in very much the same way as a permanent 301 redirect. It ensures that the PageRank, backlinks and link juice flow to the “proper url” and is not split between domains. It is fully supported by Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.

Another scenario is which you may want to use a canonical tag is when you have web pages that produce “ugly” urls (, due to advance sorting features, tracking options and other dynamically driven user-defined options. You can specify that the clean url, or the “proper,” or “canonical” version of the url, is at “location B.” Search engines will then index the url that you have specified and regard it as the correct url.

*This example tells the search engine that the “correct” version of the Blue Widgets page is located at the www version and not the non-www version of the page.

The main difference between a 301 redirect and the canonical tag is that the later only works within a single domain or subdomain; that is you cannot go from domain A to domain B. This has the added benefit of alleviating problems associated with 301 hijacks and similar attacks.

Introduction of The Cross-Domain Canonical Tag

In December of 2009, Google announced a ( rel="canonical" link element that was also going to work across domains; thereby allowing webmasters of multiple sites with similar content to define specific content as fundamentally sourced from a different domain.

A simple scenario in which the cross-domain tag would be used is If you have three related domains, on three separate urls and all featured the same article (or product descriptions, etc). You can use the cross-browser tag to specify the page that is the authority (or preferred page). As a result, the specified page will collect all associated benefits of Page Rank and Link Juice and will not penalize you for duplicate content.

In essence the new tag performs the exact same function as the 301 redirect but allowed for a much more user-friendly method of implementation.

During the release and subsequent promotion of the canonical tag, Matt Cutts stated that “anywhere from 10%-36% of webhosts might be duplicated content.” According to Cutts, there are several effective strategies to combat the problem of duplicate content including:

Using 301 redirects
Setting your preference in Google to the www or non www version in Google’s Webmaster Tools ( )
Ensuring that your CMS only generates the correct urls
Submiting a sitemap to Google. They will try to only use those urls in the sitemap in an effort to pick the “best url”
301s Versus rel=canonical?
Some people have concerns are over how much link juice will they lose if they use a 301 instead of a canonical redirect. There is very little difference in the relative amount of page rank that gets passed between the two methods.

Matt Cutts from Google addressed the problem by stating:

”You do lose some (page rank) but the amount is pretty insignificant. This is used to try and stop people from using 301s exclusively for everything within their own site instead of hyperlinks.
Watch the full video where Matt discusses the issue:

The canonical tag is most appropriate used when you cannot get to the server’s headers to implement the 301 directly as a web technician is typically required to implement the 301 for you.

The Hack
In the video above Matt addresses the question of relative strength loss between using a 301 Redirect and a rel=canonical tag. In a recent blog post (, Beanstalk SEO's CEO, Dave Davies discusses a possible exploit of this “relative strength loss.”

Matt Cutts sent out a Tweet on May 13th stating, “A recent spam trend is hacking websites to insert rel=canonical pointing to hacker's site. If you suspect hacking, check for it.”

The conclusion is that there is a viable exploit of the rel=canonical tag and that by inserting the tag into a page can be a very effective strategy; on par with 301ing the page itself but even “better” in that it likely won't be detected by the site owner.

Davies continues by posing the following statement: “The next question we need to ask ourselves is, “Is this an issue now or just a warning?” implying that Google is certainly aware of the hack and will be analyizing ways to detect and penalize those that are planning to attempt this hack.

Article Take Aways:

The Panda updates have made the issue of duplicate content a priority for site owners to address.
Always use 301s whenever possible. They are more widely supported by search engines and can follow a 301 redirect. This also means that any new search engine that comes on to the market will have to support them as well.
301s only work at the domain level (ie. Pointing to
301s also require that you have access to the web server hosting your site in order to implement them
The rel=canonical tag is a more user-friendly method to accomplish the same task as a 301.
The cross-domain Canonical tag works almost identical to a 301 direct.
The canonical tag is a user-friendly version designed to work within the site’s HTML head section.

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Facebook Beith Not The Devil

Social media is not going away, and nor should it. For all the nay-sayers out there who deem Facebook as the work of the Devil, just remember social media has always existed. Since the beginning of time, in fact. It was called word of mouth. The baker told the butcher about his latest new blend of grains, the butcher told the housemaid, the housemaid told the tailor, the tailor told the constable and gradually everyone knew about the fabulous new compilation the baker was using in his breads. Now, with the evolution of technology social media has become more than just status updates and shared links to videos of cats snuggling with dogs. The business world has finally begun to see the benefit of this techno-word-of-mouth phenomenon that has 500 million (active) users tweeting their every thought. Social media is a marketing tool. On one side of the fence it is a means for the baker to put the word out about his new grain blend. On the other side, it is the opportunity for the butcher, housemaid, tailor and constable to learn of the baker’s activities and pass along the information. Therefore it makes good business sense for companies to use Yelp, Twitter, Facebook et all as their voice to the consumer. Not long ago there was an article released by the American Pediatric Society warning parents about “Facebook Depression”. Parents were directed to watch their Facebook-friendly children for signs of depression stemming from either too much exposure to social media, or negative interactions taking place there. Undoubtedly there were a lot of parents observing their teen’s behavior a little more closely after that article hit the cables. Alongside the warning was the explained “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO. Apparently adolescents are glued to their laptops and smartphones 24/7 waiting for the tiniest signal from a social media outlet, just so they don’t miss out on Justin Beiber tickets. What parents seem to be missing the point on is FOMO is natural. What three year old has not had a temper tantrum at bedtime? The teen version of FOMO is just the same, only on steroids. Parents, it’s all part of growing up. Didn’t you ever go way too far on the side of punk and stick a safety pin through your nose? The difference now is technology, and the corporate world has noticed. The music industry has always paid close attention to the demographics of their followers, but now it is so much easier to obtain and use that information. Your teen is not only drooling at the mouth for tweets from peers, they are also watching for the latest news on celebrities, musicians, fashion icons, gaming news and probably dozens of other subjects parents would shudder to hear of. Young people with after-school jobs have the most disposable income of any demographic, and business executives know that. Your grumpy 15 year old may not be saddled with Facebook Depression, but there is a pretty good chance he or she is probably sulking over not having the latest Toms or missing out on the Halo release. That doesn’t mean every parent needs to confiscate the internet. Nope, in fact let it be. This is a learning experience. Adolescents are moody, demanding, boundary pushing kids still trying to figure out who they are. Let them continue on the journey, they will thank you for it later. Of course the caveat to all of this is good parenting. We still need to be aware of our children’s activities and who their friends are. The internet, not social media in particular, is acting as a vehicle for speeding up the learning process for kids today – in both good and bad ways. Accept their use of social media as a means of skill building, but it will take a sound parental influence with a good sense of boundaries to know how to spot dangerous behavior. Social media is not going away. It is here to stay because no other form of communication gets information out to the masses as quickly. And since we are all social beings with an insatiable need for information, social media is our drug. Embrace it. Use it to your advantage. Make Twitter work for you instead of the other way around. Feed your Google+ profile through to Twitter, re-tweet industry related blogs you follow, Bump your contacts to build up your network, Yelp about favorite restaurants. All this in an effort to get traffic with your name pinned to it, flowing. Use social media to be more involved with your teen’s activities. They can hide, but they can’t hide from the web. Their obsession with social media is your ticket to knowing what they are up to. In the end, you will love the fact that social media is not going away. PSD to Drupal
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