The second day of SES San Francisco saw an informative presentation on SEO Competitive Analysis by a panel of eminent professionals in the field. The essential tips on keeping tabs on your competitors were given by:


  • Chris Boggs, Director, SEO, Rosetta


  • Michael Hayward, CEO, ROI Labs
  • Taylor Pratt, VP of Product Marketing, Raven Internet Marketing Tools
  • Richard Zwicky, Independent Consultant

The first speaker to take the stage was Michael Hayward. His mantra- 'Create A Reverse Marketing Plan'.

Being a marketer and working for B2B and B2C companies, he has realized that SEO is the highest leverage tool in the digital marketing kit, as it provides a high ROI. He said that in order to keep up with your long term goals, you need to understand your competitive marketing strategy and its impact on the long term goals.

With the example of a fake Canadian airline, he tried to explain the concept further. So here is the strategy that he advises:

1. Understanding the Competitor's Landscape: The first thing to do is analyze your competitor's website. Look at the source code and check out meta data, tags, descriptions and see what they are focusing on. Then question yourself- “What  are they trying to do here?”

2. Studying the Competitor's SEO- Where are the efforts going? What keywords are they using? Are they the same keywords that you want to work on?

3. Studying the Competitor's PPC- Are they targeting the keywords that are different from them all? See if there was any you missed or they missed. This analysis will let you work out exactly what you need to target and how.

4. Studying the Competitor's Social Network- See what spaces your competition is active in.
Understanding this is really important if you want to know how your competitor is interacting with real customers. What tactics are they employing to get to the customers.

  • Facebook Study: See the number of their followers. Make a note of what content are they customizing on Facebook. If they are giving out any offers, or discounts on services.
  • Twitter Study: What is the follower to following ratio? If they interact with customers- are there any complaints. Make sure to sign up for their email newsletters-so as to get in their email database.

5. Studying the Competitor's PR materials- Your next move is to get into their PR materials, and read what they are saying about themselves and their services.

Then take a marketing plan format and explain what their plan is. Doing a reverse marketing strategy on all competitors would take too long, focus on one. The idea is that once you know your competitors strategy you can create a strategy that takes advantage of their weak spots. Also doing this increases the value of your pitch to your company.

Hot Tip- Researching competitors is like free consultancy on what works and what doesn't work!

The next speaker was Taylor Pratt from Raven Tools. His piece is on competitive analysis. He said that competitive analysis is like free advice on keyword ideas, content ideas, usability ideas, etc.

Taylor broke competitive analysis into two types: Quick analysis and In-depth analysis. Both involve looking at the the top 10 results for a targeted keyword. And as far as keywords are concerned, you have to look at them with two goals in mind:

  • How strong is the competition for a targeted keyword
  • An understanding of what your goal is with the keyword.

Taylor recommended a keyword research tool. Then he started off on the analysis strategy:

  • Analyze the SERP for the keyword
  • Judge whether there are many advertisers
  • Make a note of the age of domain
  • Number of links to the page & domain.
  • Next you need to determine your rank potential. Is it 3, 6, and 12 months till you are number one? He gave the following metrics-
  • 'Search volume x Ranking Volume (ctr %) x Conversion Rate = potential value of keyword'
  • Back link profile analysis: Study the links of your competition. Types of links: forums, association, The conferences they are sponsoring, blogs they are guest posting on, what strategy are they using to acquire links.
  • Using – Build your own analysis tool and make your own custom algorithm-
  • Run your competitor's site through your algorithm.
  • Study the on-page SEO of the competitor. Where are their target keywords- are they focusing on any ranking term- what is their SERP? How are they optimizing their navigation? What are the calls to action?

Taylor's session had these top takeaways:
Before deciding on a keyword to target, try to determine value of the same.
Spend quality time evaluating key competition

Additional resources:

The third speaker and last speaker of the session, Richard Zwicky took the stage and spoke about the changing market scenario. From 1997 when there were a 100 search engines, to 2011 where there are majorly 2 search engines. But there is the whole social network now. So there are more and more signals to monitor.
This are the strategies he recommended:

  • Know the market place
  • See competitive opportunities
  • Selecting the best opportunity
  • Extracting value

With Facebook and Twitter in the market, your analysis has to change accordingly. To make your place in the market, you need to displace your competition. And the way to do this effectively is to study them. If they have written a blog, then you need to verify the author's authority- who wrote it- why did they write this-where is this applicable to? Analyzing this helps you to understand what your competition is aiming for.

The session ended here, and opened for Q and A. But we have more coverage on SES San Francisco 2011, Day 2 coming up. Stay tuned.


Navneet Kaushal is the Editor-in-Chief of PageTraffic Buzz. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet is also the CEO of SEO Services company PageTraffic which is one of the leading search marketing company in Asia.