Why Didn’t I Think of That? What You Can Learn from Competitive Websites.

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The Internet allows you to gather an interesting depth of information to compare your online strategy to competitor strategies and to find new ideas to improve your site. When researching the competition, you may find yourself saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

From your research, start piecing together competitive strategies and determine the weaknesses and strengths of your site. Prioritize the weaknesses and improvements you can make right away to improve your organic search rankings. Just as important is to keep improving the strengths you already have to make sure your organic rankings don’t slip.

Identify your competition

First decide what competitors you’ll track online. Limiting your list to between five and seven competitors will keep the results focused and easier to analyze. Make sure you record your findings, then repeat the process every month or so to see how the rankings compare. Since search engine optimization (SEO) is an organic process, the results will vary over time. Your goal is to keep improving your rankings over the competition.

Find the bright ideas revealed in source code

Looking through a competitor’s source code feels devilishly fun the first time. Here in plain sight, you’ll peek into bits of your competitors’ online strategies. To reveal code, follow these steps:

  • Find a competitive website and go to the home page.
  • Right click on the page and then click on View Source or click on View on your toolbar and click Source. A box of HTML code will pop up and in there you can find the meta description and meta tags for the page. It’s a bit difficult to decipher at first, but if the page has this information, it will be in the first few lines of code. Meta description describes the web page and meta keyword tags are words and phrases the competitor has chosen as clues for search engines to determine a web page’s relevance and rank when a prospect conducts a keyword search.
  • Do the same for one or two other pages, particularly those with a high search rank, to determine if your competition is optimizing individual pages and make note of the meta tags and descriptions used on each page.

Did any of your competitors use keywords that you surprised you? Were there keywords you hadn’t thought of that make sense for your site? How do they use the keywords in page content? Can you get a sense of how their online strategy differs from your strategy?

Review your own source code to see what improvements you can make to influence your organic ranking.

Compare page rank

In addition to how well a competitor ranks in search engine results, you can also find other website data from Google, Alexa or SearchStatus. For quick access, add the Google and Alexa toolbars on your computer to monitor your page rank information with your competitors.

  • Install the Google toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com/T6/intl/en/index.html. Once installed, you can modify the tools you want on the toolbar. The one you’re interested in for this exercise is PageRank.
  • Install the Alexa toolbar at http://www.alexa.com. Alexa provides a wealth of information for sites including traffic trend data, inbound links, keywords, related links, and links to old versions of a site.
  • Install SearchStatus for Firefox and Mozilla from www.quirk.biz/searchstatus. SearchStatus is a one-stop shopping toolbar allowing you to view Google PageRank, Alex data, indexed pages and more.

The information gathered from these toolbars is for comparative purposes, not for absolute information. Alexa traffic data accuracy is often suspect and Google PageRank is only an estimation based on several variables. It is conceivable to have a high PageRank, yet still have low traffic to your site.  For your competitive research, the absolute numbers are not as important as trending information over time and the discrepancy between your figures and those from competitive sites.

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