SEO Basics #1: Getting To Know Your Competitors

Good morning everyone and welcome to a brand-new series on my blog, SEO Basics. I’ve been doing SEO since the good ol’ days (1995 to be exact) when all you had to do in order to beat your competitors was to repeat a word a few more times than them. Well the game has changed a lot since then, and in fact, it changed dramatically this year when Google introduced its now famed Panda update. I used to write about SEO a lot more on my blog and frankly, I miss writing about it! So I decided it was time to add this to my weekly regimen, so here we go!

One of the most important, yet most overlooked concepts in SEO is getting to know your competitors, and understanding if you have the resources to compete. This is a step that many people miss and pay for greatly a year or two later when they’re still not ranking the way they’d like to rank for their target keywords on Google. Nothing I’m going to talk about here requires you to spend a dime on expensive SEO tools, and honestly it’s not a major time commitment either.

Step 1: Search for the 2-3 keyword phrases you want to rank well for on Google
The first thing you want to do is find-out who your competitors are. If they are other sites or companies with similar budgets or manpower then you should be able to learn from them and share the coveted first page of Google. If, however, they are much bigger companies with six-figure SEO budgets, you probably won’t be able to compete. Let’s take a look for example at a term like “Laptops”


As you can seethe top three spots are dominated by Google Adwords Ads. Below that the next three lines are dedicated to the big brands in CE. After that is Best Buy, and then shopping results for Laptops. What you’re seeing here is the above-the-fold space, where you want to be if you want truly meaningful traffic for the term. If you want to be above-the-fold for the term “laptops” you’ll have to beat Best Buy which has a six-figure SEO budget and a serious head-start. Probably not going to happen…and if you take a look at it’s parked, I’m sure they are waiting for someone like Best Buy to buy the domain since really nobody else would have the budget to get this domain ranked above them!

Step 2: Make sure the keywords you are targeting actually have meaningful search volume
The next thing you want to do is make sure that the keywords you are targeting actually get search traffic. I can rank #1 in Google for “Westwood Sushi Restaurants” however since nobody is searching for it – that’s not much of a win. On the other hand ranking well for something like “Westwood Restaurants” could get me over 1,000 visitors/month, not a huge number but meaningful. Take it a step further and focus on “los angeles restaurants” and I could be 4,000 or more visitors/month – you get the picture.

Okay, but how am I determining how many people are searching for the keyword phrase I am targeted? With the Google Adwords Keyword Tool of course – one of my favorite tools on the planet! Using this tool I can simply enter the keywords I am targeting and then change “Match Type” to exact, and I will see how many people are searching for this keyword phrase each month.


As you can see – I can easily see how many searches this term receives each month and how much advertiser competition there is. Typically I try to stay-away from terms with less than 1,000 searches/month unless the CPC is very high which means that sometimes I can make decent money with a few hundred visitors. I also try to stay-away from terms with more than 10,000 searches as these more often than not, have major competition from people with SEO budgets much bigger than mine…but I’ll find that out in step one anyways!

Step 3: Understand the Link Profile of your Competitors
Once you have determined that you can actually compete in the space, and there’s enough searches to make it interesting (by interesting I mean you can actually make some money) then it’s time to start really getting to know your competitors. This means understanding not only who is linking to your competitors, but which sites are passing-on the most powerful link-juice. Google likes to rank sites that have lots of highly-reliable sites linking-into them rather than a zillion links from low-quality spammy sites – makes sense doesn’t it?

Well you can easily determine who is linking to your competitors, and which links are the most valuable by using the Open Site Explorer, one of the many tools offered by SEOMoz. To find-out more about your competitors link profile all you have to do is enter their domain name into Open Site Explorer and – viola!


In this case I’m looking at, a competitor I can’t beat but sure is darn interesting to look at. As you can see they have 18,287 root domains linking in and a total of 185,456 total links. Below this you’ll see the pages that are linking in listed by their Page Authority. You can see that a link they have coming from Business Week’s Special Advertising Sections is passing-along some nice link juice since it has a Page Authority of 74.

This is a tool you can use to understand what links are most valuable for your competitor. In many cases popular news sources are some of the best ways to build a strong link profile. This doesn’t mean that you’ll pay-off the news source, instead, do something great and hopefully they and many other people will write an article about your product, service, or site! Of course on sites smaller than you’ll find some related directories and blogs that can provide valuable links and this is usually a great place to start when beginning your link-building campaign.

That’s it – you are now armed with the three steps you should follow to understand your competitors. You can now be more data-driven in understanding who you are competing with, how much traffic you could get if you rank well for a given keyword phrase, and what links are giving your competitors the biggest boost. Thanks for reading and tune-in next week for my next SEO Basics article.


Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton