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!

Visitors intentions and correct landing pages

One of the most often-overlooked aspects of search engine marketing is building sites and doing keyword research without first considering the importance of understanding the visitors and giving the right information they seek.

For a successful campaign, there needs to exist a website that is designed with a clear path that leads the visitor to conversion and a direct connection between what the visitor is searching for and what he or she finds on the landing page.

We can organize visitors’ searches by their intention in three main stages: generic or information search, navigational or brand search, and transactional or action search.

We need to have landing pages for each step and each page must have a call to action that tries to lead the visitor to the next step. Most marketers send the visitor to the home page or to the action page disregarding the stage of the mind of the visitor. This is one of the main reason the industry-wide conversion rates are so low.

For example, if we are selling a Dell Latitude D420 and we get a visitor looking for computers, we need to send him to a landing page that talks about the benefits of laptops over computers, with a call to action to take him to the laptops page.

Once there, we will try to persude him to research our particular model, and in the model page, we will try to take him to buy it.

If the user was searching for laptops, we need to send him to the laptops page directly, and if he is looking for our particular model, we will take him there and convince him that we have the best price.

Finding profitable niches

Oftentimes what we would really like to do, will not bring the money we need to survive immediately.

What I really love is writing software and solving problems, yet I had to learn the boring part of business and marketing.  I was very lucky that SEO required a great deal of technical understanding and was really fun to do in the early days.

In order to support myself and fund my software business, I started doing affiliate marketing in highly profitable markets such as on-line pharmacy, finance, travel, etc. These markets are extremely competitive, however with the right knowledge and tools you can thrive.  Take for example one of my old affiliate sites http://www.tripscan.com  which ranks organically in the top 20 (used to be top 5 when I was actively marketing it)  in Yahoo for the highly competitive phrase “vacation package” which has more than 50 million competing sites.

The key is to start small and find keywords that nobody else — or a few smart ones — have thought about.  Most people call this “the long tail” but let me tell you that it is longer than most marketers think. Read more