Game Plan: What marketers can learn from strategy games

I was recently interviewed by the nice guys at Distilled— if you are a regular reader of this blog and you haven’t read it yet, Tom asked some really interesting questions — and one of the things I briefly mentioned was that one of my hobbies is playing chess. I’ve been playing the game for about 2 years, and what I enjoy most about it is that it teaches me a lot about competition and strategy.

Checkmate

One of the reasons why I recommend doing competitive intelligence for SEO is that when you truly understand what makes others successful, you can find a shorter path to your own success. I only make great progress, both in SEO and in chess, when I am able to beat stronger players consistently.

Most intermediate chess books suggest that for every move you make, you develop a list in your head of candidate moves. Those are moves that you should explore by playing as many moves ahead in your mind as you can and evaluating the potential outcomes. Unfortunately, when you are starting out this is very difficult and time consuming. Chess experts do this instinctively and do it very fast, so it is usually easier and more interesting to study professional games and try to understand the reasoning behind each move. The idea is not to memorize the tactics, like many do, but to appreciate the strategies and the logical reasoning that led to them.

Again, there are far more ways to failure than there are to success. It is far more efficient to learn from the moves of proven winners than to try to experiment every possible move for yourself. Read more

At last! A Rock-solid Strategy to Help you Reach High Search Engine Rankings

rock.jpgEvery SEO strategy has its good and bad

Search engines have long kept their ranking formulas secret in order to give users the most relevant results and to preclude malicious manipulation. Despite all the secrecy, though, it remains extremely difficult for search engine companies to prevent either direct or indirect manipulation.

We can broadly classify search engine optimization (SEO) strategies into two camps: passive and active. Passive optimization occurs automatically by search engine robots, which scour the web finding and categorizing relevant sites. Most websites listed on the search engine result page (SERP) fall into this category. If it were up to search engine companies like Google and Yahoo, this would be the only type of optimization that existed.

Active optimization takes place when website owners purposefully engage in activities designed to improve their sites’ search engine visibility. This is the kind of search engine optimization we normally talk about when we think of SEO.

Let’s go one step further and classify these deliberate forms of optimization based upon the tactics employed. In general these are: basic principles, exploiting flaws, algorithm chasing, and competitive intelligence. Read more

Can you trust Alexa's numbers?

It is very important to understand that there is no way for external metrics tools such as Alexa, Compete, Ranking, Netcraft, etc. to provide accurate data. Their information is collected from their respective toolbar usage. Alexa has the broadest distribution, but there are still a lot of people that don't use those toolbars or browser plugins. Their data is particularly useful if you are in a technical field: search and affiliate marketing, web development, etc. A large portion of your potential visitors probably have one or more of these toolbars installed.

A while ago, there was an interesting project regarding the efficacy of those metrics. Read more

Competitive research or privacy attack?

I found an interesting tool via Seobook.com. It exploits a “feature” of current browsers that do not properly partition persistent client-side state information (visited links and caching information) on a per site basis.

The tool can identify URLs in your visitor’s browsing history. Aaron suggests this be used to check if your visitors come from competing sites and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

This might not work as Aaron might expect. You can only tell that the visitor visited those URLs in the last n days (n the number of days the user keeps in his or her browsing history). You won’t be able to tell when, how often or how recently those URLs where visited. Read more

Your competitor is your best friend

As I mentioned earlier, for me success is about what, how, and work.  This is my simple formula.

Anywhere my customers or potential customers express their problems and frustrations is a place for me to dig out opportunities.  Forums, blogs, mailing lists, news groups, etc…   Your what should be driven by your customers’ needs.

Most critical for success is how we do it.  What sets us apart?  What is our UVP?  This is where following your best competitors closely, pays off.

Nobody is perfect.  There is always a better way to do things or at least to appeal to another audience.

My approach is not to simply copy what my competitors are doing.  This is the easiest path, but it is very difficult to stand out by just being another XYZ.

I prefer to look at my competitor’s solutions as their prescribed answer to customers’ specific problems.  The key here is that what needs solving is the customer’s problem, and there is rarely a single solution.  My solution is how I would solve it better leveraging my strengths.

Assessing competitive levels

Critical to success is competing where we know we can excel.  This might sound obvious, but many entrepreneurs fail to identify exploitable opportunities.  Don’t get me wrong; I love competing.  There is no problem with dreaming big.  Even if we want to go after Dell or Microsoft, we have to find a really smart plan to achieve that.

Realistically it is wise to start very small and have a clear and smart plan to grow bigger.

I do this with SEO.  I always target niche keywords first — keywords that no other SEO or few others are targeting.  When I conquer those keywords, I move on to the more competitive ones.  This has the added benefit that my relevance profile looks natural to the search engines.

Here is a tip I use to find such keywords.

Google and other search engines let you search for words in the title, url, body, and the text in the links pointing to the web pages.  You can use this information to assess whether there are savvy SEOs targeting that keyword niche.

It’s been well known for a while to SEOs that the link text in the links pointing to a page carry enormous weight.  You can practically rank first page for keywords that are not in the body text if you use the link text effectively.  Many websites that rank high do not contain those keywords in their incoming anchor text.

How competitive a keyword is, is usually measured by the number of sites listed for the keyword search.  For example, a search for “seo” in Google returns 125 million results. Very competitive!

Searching for “allinanchor:seo” returns under 3 million results.  A lot of results but far fewer than the normal search.  A search for “allintitle:seo” returns under 5 million results.

To assess how competitive a search phrase is, I prefer to compare different searches: intitle, inanchor, intext, and inurl.  This cues me as to what extent websites are being actively optimized.  This is my real competition!