Most business owners judge their online marketing success by how well they are placed in search engine rankings in relationship to their competitors. They figure that if their website is above their competitions’ sites for their coveted keywords, all must be well in “search engine land”. There’s a bigger picture, however, that often gets overlooked.
While good search engine rankings are a good indicator that your marketing team is doing its job, looking solely at the relative position of your website compared to other businesses can be misleading. While you have been tracking your own success progressing from “oblivion” to page 10 to page eight to page three to page one, what has been going on with your competitions’ search engine placements.
Your competition, by the way, isn’t just other companies in your industry that are vying to increase customer share. Your competition is any document, media, press release, blog, website, or other content that can be found by keyword search where you want to be. It doesn’t have to be another company. For example, if you sell lawnmowers and you can’t seem to get to page one on search engines because lawn care services, blade sharpening services, grass seed companies, and lawnmower tech manuals clutter up the rankings above you, that’s your competition. None of those listings sell lawnmowers, but that’s no consolation when your sales suffer due to their positions above yours in the rankings.
As far as your direct competitors are concerned, though, if you ignore what they are doing on the search engines you may get an unpleasant surprise someday. Here are a couple of things to watch out for as you focus on your own marketing efforts:
- Be aware of broad spectrum media. If your content and search engine optimization are good, you might be in the fortunate position to rank very highly in the search engines for a variety of your keywords. Your website may find a cozy place on page one, nestled into position four or five on the page. Perhaps it oscillates positions four to six on page one, but you’re pretty confident that your position on page one is secure so you feel no need to engage in a search engine marketing campaign. Meanwhile, one of your competitors decide that this is their year to boost sales. They hire a competent marketing firm that begins posting on social media, publishing articles, blogging, and creating many fresh new pieces of Web content. Before you know it you’re surrounded! Not only do their blog posts and articles dominate the real estate on page one, but their link popularity drags their website up the ranks along with all the other content and now you find yourself bumped onto page two. Uh-oh, what happened? Now when someone looks for what you sell, they have ten choices– all your competition— that each take a would-be customer to your competitor’s website. Suddenly, your site is invisible to the public because you were unsuspecting and unaware of what your competition was doing.
- Be aware of momentum. Momentum is a force created by an object in motion. Search engine momentum can be up (positive) or down (negative). Positive momentum happens when an effective marketing campaign generates lots of good content and the search engines begin to take notice of solid, relevant, quality material published on the Web, connected to your website. Like a hot air balloon, your content begins to rise. The upward trend has momentum, so even if there’s a break in the action, the upward trend can continue for several weeks or months, just as with the hot air balloon if you shut off the burner. The balloon will rise until the air inside it begins to cool and the balloon reaches equilibrium. At that point the balloon begins to sink. Downward momentum results. If you let it sink at an increasing rate, it takes time to arrest the descent and start climbing again once you turn the burner back on. So it goes with your marketing campaign. If you’re doing well and decide to coast for awhile, by the time you level out, negative momentum has already begun and you’re behind the power curve. It takes extra effort to recover to positive momentum again– to overcome the downward trend (force) in search engine rankings. Translated to your competition, once you detect that they have achieved positive momentum, they are already positioned to push your website down in the rankings. If you decide to respond with an advertising campaign of your own, you’re behind the power curve and it takes a lot to overtake them. It’s better to be consistent and steady with your Internet marketing, rather than “sprint and drift”.
- Be aware of inertia. Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to stay at rest or for an object in motion to stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. In search engine terms, your website’s inertia is the tendency for it to remain where it is in the rankings if you do nothing to promote it. The longer you do nothing, the harder it is to get it to move. That doesn’t mean it won’t get pushed downward by other rising content. Consider your competition’s marketing efforts as the “unbalanced force” that acts upon your website to push it downward. You website won’t build positive momentum without some kind of action taken by you. So if your competition rises to a place where you once were, as more and more of their content rises to page one, your inaction will help to keep them on top while you continue to sink downward.
- Be aware of strategic obfuscation. Obfuscation is obscuring or confusing the meaning of something, making it harder to identify. Strategic obfuscation is doing it willingly to manipulate the perceptions, decisions, or choices of others for self-serving purposes. In a business environment, strategic obfuscation is sometimes used in Internet marketing to hedge on a competitor’s share of Web traffic. It can take the form of “cyber squatting” (registering and using a domain name with bad faith), trademark infringement, or any number of other fraudulent or “dark gray area” techniques in advertising. For example, let’s say you own ABC Hardware Store and your competitor owns XYZ Hardware Store. You own ABC-Hardware.com. They own XYZ-hardware.com, but they also buy XYZ-hardware.net and ABC-Hardware.net. Their .com domain gets pointed to their website, but they use both .net domains to point to two separate blogs, each promoting their hardware store. When a customer wants to buy a bag of bolts online, they don’t particularly care where they buy it. To them a bag of bolts is a bag of bolts. So by marketing their products under a domain that would otherwise reasonably represent you, they step on your business. Is cyber squatting illegal? Yes. But it’s time consuming and expensive to fight. Other, less obvious methods of strategic obfuscation include your competition doing an analysis of your website, then creating content on their site to include your branding and trademarks. They can even do it “innocently” by citing “We will honor ABC Hardware store coupons and sale prices” or using ABC Hardware in their website’s meta-data. When a person searches the web for “ABC Hardware Store coupons”, guess who probably comes up: XYZ Hardware Store due to the exact-match content. Is it identity theft? Is it identity impersonation? Not necessarily. If XYZ Hardware Store in fact honors your ABC Hardware Store coupons, it’s just a statement of fact and fair advertising. You would have a tough go of it to prove otherwise.
Just when you thought the Internet was a level playing field, now you must keep your head on a swivel and watch what your competition is up to. Their website promotions might stealthily and insidiously overtake your own success if you don’t keep an eye on them in your rear view mirror. The best way to avoid getting swallowed up from behind is to remain proactive in your marketing activities. Don’t take success for granted, and definitely find a trustworthy, reputable marketing provider to develop and execute a progressive white hat search engine strategy for your business.