Search engine optimization (SEO) has been a mainstay of digital marketing arsenals all over the world for more than 20 years.
It all sounds great, but many newcomers encounter a major problem when they attempt to launch an SEO campaign for the first time: competition. New business owners often find a cavalcade of companies like theirs that have spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars ranking for their target keywords.
How can you hope to rank with such aggressive competitors?
Why Competitors Are a Problem
First, let’s explore why competitors are a problem in the SEO space.
While the web itself is practically infinite, ranking opportunities are finite. For a given query, about 25 percent of peopleclick the first link that appears in search engine results pages (SERPs), and the number of people clicking each link declines sharply with each subsequent position. Almost nobody looks past the first page, or the first 10 rankings.
If one of your competitors is ranking at the top position for most of the keywords relevant to your business, you’re instantly at a disadvantage. The best you can hope for is second place, which gives you markedly decreased traffic – and dethroning your top competitor could take an insane amount of effort.
Two Ways to Solve the Problem
With SEO competitors, there are basically two approaches that have the potential to solve the problem:
- Brute force. Option one is to attempt to dethrone the competitor. This can work out if you have only one or two major contenders in your way, or if they don’t have much of an SEO strategy in place. But for the most part, it’s time consuming and expensive in a way that outweighs its benefits.
- Differentiation. The alternative method is to differentiate your brand somehow. The goal here is to basically remove yourself from the competitive equation; you’ll no longer be competing directly with your biggest rivals.
The Brute Force Approach
The brute force approach is viable, but its big flaw is the amount of momentum necessary to overcome an entrenched competitor. In the words of Link.Build, “[even] a $2,000 per month budget may not be enough to move the needle in a competitive niche.”
In a best-case scenario, you’ll be spending months, if not years, and thousands of dollars to trounce your top competitors – and they may see you coming and increase their budget even further to retain dominance in this space.
That may be worth the time, money, and effort if you’re in a valuable niche or if you have reason to believe your competitor has a critical weakness – but for most brands, it’s easier to differentiate yourself.
Why fight when you can claim a new space that’s all your own?
With the right set of differentiation techniques, you can conquer a totally different set of SERPs.
- Target audience. Have you considered targeting a different audience than your top competitor? A new demographic can give you a critical keyword targeting shift that allows you to avoid them entirely.
- Target keywords. What about target keywords? If you add more keyword variants and long-tail keyword phrases, you may be able to avoid a direct confrontation. Concise head keywords tend to be hotly contested, while long-tail phrases can be collected with minimal effort; the only downside is reduced search volume, which can be balanced with the acquisition of a greater number of long-tail targets.
- Type of content. You might be able to get an advantage by offering a different type of content. You can do a deeper dive with more thorough writing, or choose to produce a different medium altogether (like videos or podcasts).
- Range of publishers. Where are you publishing your offsite content? If you manage to get featured in publications from different niches, or if you just have a wider range of publishers at your command, it could strongly benefit you.
- Geographic location. Local SEO allows you to withdraw from the national competitive landscape and focus on beating businesses in your home city, which is usually much easier.
- Secondary marketing strategies. SEO shouldn’t be your only marketing tool. If competition is tight, consider adding and emphasizing more secondary marketing strategies, like social media or email marketing.
Aggressive competitors are always going to be a problem in SEO. In a truly open, “blue ocean” industry or niche, you’ll have a much easier time ranking than you would in a market rife with competitors. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely out of luck. With the right strategies, you can get the edge on the competition – and beat them at their own game.