Search competition: Who are you really competing with? - Search Engine Land

Search competition: Who are you really competing with? - Search Engine Land


Search competition: Who are you really competing with? - Search Engine Land

Posted: 29 Jul 2020 07:40 AM PDT

Competition is constant.

No matter what business you're in, there will always be other people competing with you for customers, subscribers, viewers, partners, etc. Even Google technically has competition — maybe you found this article through Bing?

The point is…you have competitors trying to beat you. Do you know who they are?

"Of course, I know who my competitors are!" – You (probably)

But do you know who your search competitors are? Do you know who you're really competing with for organic traffic? It may not be who you think…

Search is a unique channel, where competition can shift and change as the search results themselves change. Also, the only barrier to entry for new competitors is much lower than in other channels — they just need an optimized website.

And finally, search is a zero-sum game where if you're not ranking on page one, you're losing. If a new competitor sneaks up and bumps you off the first page for an important keyword, you're going to feel it in your bottom line.

In this post, I'm going to dive into these questions to help you better understand and identify which brands, websites, people, etc. you're competing with for the attention of your audience so you can position yourself accordingly and win.

Start with known competitors

As you (probably) said to yourself earlier, you know who your competitors are…so they are a good place to start your research. The companies that are traditionally your competitors in other channels are likely competing with you for many keywords as well.

To better understand how they are competing with you in search, you'll likely need to invest in an SEO tool — Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMrush all offer viable options for analyzing competitor keyword rankings.

Using these tools, you can build lists of your competitors top keywords and compare them against your own. As you compare rankings, ask yourself:

  • Are they competing for the same terms you view as important?
  • Are some competitors investing in paid search rather than SEO?
  • Are they beating you in critical search results? If so, what strategies and types of pages are they using? 
  • Are there gaps in your own keyword rankings that seem to be driving substantial traffic to competitor websites?
  • Are there potential opportunities where a competitor is ranking with thin or weak content?
  • Are competitors siphoning organic traffic from you through long-tail keywords and phrases?

You won't truly know how or where these brands are competing with you in search until you analyze their keyword rankings. But analysis goes beyond simply notating which position they're in for a given keyword, instead you need to analyze that SERP to understand why they might be ranking there and whether your site should rank there too. Pay attention to other ranking sites as well, because if this SERP is relevant to your audience, you've just uncovered more competition.

Expand competitive research to 'SERP competitors'

Did you notice some new websites consistently ranking amongst your competitors for the keywords you're targeting? Are media sites or news publications dominating the top spots on many of your relevant SERPs? Do government websites take up valuable real estate for key head terms?

The answer to some or all of these questions will be yes  — I call these types of competitors "SERP competitors" and they are the reason you must dig into the actual search results to find out who you're really competing with for your target keywords.

A SERP competitor could have only one page that competes with you, but if that page is ranking above you on an important SERP, they are your competition and you need to understand why they are beating you.

For example, if we look at the search results for [link building] an important term for my company, we can see this concept:

A screenshot of a cell phone Description automatically generated

While we do rank on this page, there are also a few results above us from sites like:

  • Moz
  • Backlinko
  • Wordstream
  • Ahrefs

These sites provide consultation, paid search services, and SEO tools — none of these are direct competitors to our service offerings, yet we ARE competing with them for real estate on this SERP, these sites are SERP competitors for us.

Like how you would analyze a direct competitor, you need to review SERP competitors in terms of:

  • Content structure (format, length, depth, media, etc.)
  • Number of referring domains
  • Keyword focus and optimization
  • SERP feature optimization (quick answers for snippets, videos for video results, FAQs for "People Also Ask" boxes, etc.)

Understanding how these pages are designed for the specific SERPs you're competing for will help you better optimize your pages.

Become a 'SERP competitor' yourself

While the intricacies and ever-changing nature of search means there is more competition for attention from your customers, it also means there is more opportunity.

If your website is new to the space and your primary competitors are firmly entrenched at the top of the SERPs for your relevant head terms, you need to become a SERP competitor yourself.

While you should still optimize both on and off-page elements for those highly competitive terms, that will be a long-term project and you need to find ways to attract traffic now. Instead of investing all your resources in the long-game, find opportunities where you can compete for specific, long-tail search rankings. Rather than trying to compete with big name brands or domains with thousands more backlinks, you just need to be a better result than the pages in those first ten results.

Look for tangentially related topics to your business, where the search volumes might not be as high, but the topic still intersects with your audience and can bring relevant visitors. As you research topics, look for search result pages with the following:

  • Poor results in terms of answering searcher intent
  • Poor results in terms of formatting, aesthetics, number of ads on the page, etc.
  • Pages with few or no backlinks ranking
  • And suboptimal keyword targeting by ranking pages.

These are opportunities for you to rank a page on your website and earn organic traffic while you build towards better rankings for your head terms. Secure these opportunities again and again, and it will add up to meaningful results for your website.

Recap

As a business, you'll always face competition, and the first step to overcoming these competitors is, obviously, identifying them. However, in search it's not always obvious who you're competing with for attention and visibility. 

Assessing what your traditional competitors are doing in search is critical, but it's only part of the picture. You need to suss out SERP competitors, or those who compete with you purely through search rankings, as well and analyze how they are winning in search.

With a complete picture of who you're truly competing with, you'll have the knowledge and understanding necessary to succeed in organic search.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.



About The Author

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Specialist at Page One Power. Along with his column here on Search Engine Land, Andrew also writes about SEO and link building for the Page One Power blog. When he's not reading or writing about SEO, you'll find him cheering on his favorite professional teams and supporting his alma mater the University of Idaho.

Amazon SEO Isn't Google SEO: 6 Differences That Matter - Business 2 Community

Posted: 02 Aug 2020 06:09 AM PDT

Did you know that Amazon has surpassed Google as the go-to search platform for shoppers looking for products?

This may come as a surprise to many readers. (I've certainly never heard anyone use "Amazon" as a verb.) Yet the data backs this up.

When customers have a specific product in mind, more turn to Amazon search than Google.

If you're porting over your SEO "best practices" from on-site product pages to Amazon product pages, you'll struggle. This post covers the key differences to help you thrive on both platforms.

The fundamental difference between Amazon and Google search

Anyone who's been in SEO for a while will tell you that understanding the core goal of a search engine is critical to a sustainable SEO strategy.

Yes, in-the-moment tactics can boost rankings. But their use shouldn't come at the expense of aligning your site to what search engines want to reward.

So what's the main objective—and ideal user experience—for Google and Amazon?

  • Google wants to answer questions. You run a search. The first result is exactly what you're looking for. You either get an immediate answer or click through to a site, with no need to return to the SERP.
  • Amazon wants to sell products. You search for a product, and the first result is the perfect match for your needs. In one or two more clicks, you buy—with the post-purchase experience reinforcing your initial choice.

Comparatively speaking, Google's task is more complex. Take outdoor grills as an example.

Google needs to help people compare the use cases for gas versus charcoal grills, to find great recipes for grilling, to understand different techniques (e.g., low and slow vs. searing).

And it needs to answer all those questions with limited data—its visibility into the user experience declines after you leave the SERP.

grill search result page on using Google.

Consider the range of intent: Shopping ads, local restaurants, barbecue techniques, and local retailers. Amazon's algorithm manages a smaller set of users—those with the intent to buy a product online.

Amazon, on the other hand, is there to help buyers make a purchasing decision. Every click or scroll is trackable within their ecosystem. Even after a purchase, Amazon knows whether a return was necessary or how buyers felt about the experience (through reviews).

Grill search results when using Amazon. Amazon's algorithm needs to solve a far narrow range of user problems and gets to use far more data to do it.

From those fundamental differences flow all tactical differences—the ones that require tweaks to titles or affect how you promote your ecommerce products on other sites.

Of course, not everything requires reworking.

What doesn't change

Yes, Google and Amazon's search functions are not the same. No, not everything is different:

  1. Keywords still matter. They're the primary way that search engines match user needs to web content. You need to know how users think and talk about your product, and how to communicate that knowledge clearly but naturally on key parts of your product pages.
  2. Click-through rate is a proxy for relevance. If no one is clicking your link on Google or Amazon, that's a sign that you're not relevant—either because the content visible on the SERP isn't compelling (e.g., low-quality images, typos) or the search engine misunderstands your page. In either case, you won't last long on Page 1.
  3. Hardly anyone goes past Page 1. The lion's share of clicks—and revenue—goes to those who show up near the top. That trend is only accelerating. The more you trust the quality of the search engine (i.e. the better it gets), the less inspired you are to dig through subsequent pages. (Who isn't already a bit suspicious of sites or products on Page 4?)

So where do the two search engines diverge?

Keys to winning Amazon SEO (that experience with Google won't teach you)

1. Single use of keywords is sufficient—as long as they're relevant.

As long as the keyword is applicable to the product and appears in the listing title, there's no need to litter the description and bullet points with the term.

Titles

On Amazon, most experts recommend including the product, material, quantity, brand, and color in the title, something that would be overload on a Google search result.

(The maximum character count before a title is truncated is 129 characters on Amazon compared to about 60 on Google.)

Consider the difference between All-Clad's product pages and product listings on Amazon:

All-Clad cookware in Google search.

All-Clad pans on Amazon.

It's easy to see some of the keywords added to Amazon titles and how those might target user searches: "non-stick," "dishwasher safe," "hard anodized."

That's why keyword research is paramount—not just for the obvious product name but for high-value descriptors. Indeed, keyword research is commonly listed as one of the most important factors for visibility on Amazon search.

Despite the availability of numerous tools to help sellers identify the most lucrative keywords, there's no simple way to do it. Yes, you should start with a tool to build the initial dataset for your research, but the legwork doesn't end there.

Entering your product's primary description into such a tool generates a seemingly impressive list of related keywords. But this isn't an exact science.

Competitor keyword tool for Amazon listings. (Image source)

Each brand must decide which keywords have that special mix of relevance, high search volume, and low competition—those with the potential to generate sales from organic search alone.

Product descriptions

Speaking of product descriptions: Amazon prefers bullets over walls of text. For users, it's easier to scan a listing to see if a product has the desired features, especially on mobile devices.

Product description image of a speaker.

And, for Amazon's algorithm, bullets are a semi-structured way to imbibe information, which helps the search engine compare similar items (and rank them more effectively).

In the example above, separate bullets cover aspects like construction materials, battery life, and microphone capabilities.

Backend keywords

Remember meta keywords? Google once allowed webmasters to dump a laundry list of (supposedly) relevant phrases into the source code, hidden from users. As you might expect, it wasn't long before:

  1. Webmasters abused the privilege.
  2. Search engines got smart enough to figure it out on their own.

Amazon is still playing catch up, allowing sellers to include "backend keywords," such as related terms, common misspellings, and even foreign-language versions.

These are freely visible in the source code if you're looking to do some competitor research:

Black and Decker keyword in source code. The meta keywords for a hand drill.

This may also be an opportunity to port Amazon learnings back to your ecommerce site. If all the top-ranked products share a subset of backend keywords, they may be worth including in your copy, too.

2. Optimize for the user (no, really).

Google has always pushed webmasters to optimize for the user—to match intent and solve user problems. The challenge, of course, is that "optimizing for the user" doesn't always optimize for Google.

Recipes are an obvious example. Does anyone really want that 1,000-word personal history above the ingredient list and procedure? No. Does it give more context to search engines—and a potential reason to rank it higher? Yes.

Because Amazon has end-to-end analytics and is interested in sales, however, sellers can focus on copywriting that persuades users to buy.

Image showing the important components of an Amazon listing. (Image source)

That rationale applies to other aspects of your Amazon product listing, too:

  • Include great images because they will help you sell the product, not because Amazon ranks listings with X number of images at Y resolution higher.
  • Encourage honest (but mostly positive) reviews because they motivate people to buy, which, in turn, will cause Amazon to rank your listing higher.

Amazon can skip right past the superficial metrics in a way that Google can't, and sellers benefit from it.

Too often, on Google, the inverse is true: We optimize for the micro-conversion of an organic visit—even though winning it sacrifices some of the post-click experience, negatively impacting engagement and conversion.

3. External links are valuable—if they result in traffic.

With Amazon's A10 update to its algorithm, traffic from external sites is given increased importance.

This may appear to overlap with Google's affinity for backlinks, but there's a crucial difference. Amazon focuses on referral traffic—valuing only the the links that drive pageviews.

This makes total sense:

  • Google is looking at links from other sites as a mark of authority.
  • Amazon is looking at links from other sites as a source of leads.

Calls to action on such external links are far more important for Amazon than they are for Google.

An ecommerce site trying to boost their rankings on Google benefits most from links that appear on credible sites, even if they drive limited traffic. (Yes, Google's Reasonable Surfer Model suggests that, "The amount of PageRank a link might pass along is based upon the probability that someone might click on a link.")

But Amazon retailers must earn links that get clicked. Whether it's "do follow" or "no follow" doesn't matter. External links that drive traffic to Amazon create another pathway for online shoppers to buy something from them.

Amazon will reward sellers who do that.

4. Internal PPC traffic is less influential than it once was.

With Amazon's A9 algorithm, people who spent more on internal ads seemed to rank higher organically. With A10, the effect has lessened.

Paying for your listing to appear in the Sponsored Products, Display Ads, and Headline Search Ads may still influence your search result position. But, thankfully, you don't need to build an organic strategy around it.

(Google, by contrast, has maintained a firewall between paid and organic listings.)

Image of cooking knifes in Amazon.

There are reasons beyond Amazon SEO to run paid campaigns.

Seller authority is paramount for Amazon (more below.) Retailers new to the platform need to illustrate their conversion potential and credibility to be "picked up" by the search engine, and PPC is one of the most effective ways to kickstart this process.

Once it happens, however, the importance of traffic generated via Amazon's PPC campaigns falls off in terms of search visibility. PPC, in other words, is a paid tryout for the organic listings.

5. Click-through and conversion rates are critical.

Amazon's search engine places massive weight on these two metrics. They indicate the percentage of people who:

  • Click your listing on the SERP;
  • Purchase the product the page is selling.

The good news is that sellers can tweak the content that has a direct impact on these ratios. The bad news is that they can't hide the content that they don't control.

Click-through rate

Amazon sellers who aim to improve their organic click-through rates have limited options. The main components of an Amazon SERP are the product image, title, price, and customer ratings, with the last item (generally) out of sellers' hands.

As the most visible component, the product image is critical to grab attention. Test ways to make the most of this element.

Image of mugs in Amazon search. A hit of bright color can catch the eye on a dull SERP.

The same goes for the product title. It's arguably the second-most visible component of the search result and needs to catch the eye while also containing the necessary keywords. Finding this balance is crucial.

Conversion rate

Compared to optimizing for click-through rate, there are more customizations available to a seller to optimize for conversions.

Fortunately, there are many excellent online resources on how to do so. Typical strategies include:

On the flip side, things like out-of-stock notices can hurt conversions (and rankings).

Remember, Amazon wants sales, but not all sales are created equal. If Amazon earns a higher margin for a given product, that's a better end result for them—and a reason to showcase that product in search.

6. Seller Authority remains pivotal.

Seller Authority is assigned even more importance with the A10 update, meaning that retailers who exhibit a history of customer-focused behavior are given a significant boost in their search engine rankings.

Seller Authority is determined by numerous variables:

  • How long sellers have been on Amazon;
  • The percentage of customer returns;
  • Overall feedback from customers on their products.

Amazon sellers can and should (subtly) motivate customers who had a positive experience to leave good reviews. Getting this right has the twin benefits of providing social proof to drive conversions (an important ranking factor) and contributing to Seller Authority.

The choice for or against Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) shifts responsibility for several aspects of Seller Authority. With FBA, sellers send their goods to Amazon, which sends them to buyers. From Amazon's perspective, they can:

  • Ensure consistent delivery times;
  • Manage returns and overall customer service.

That, in theory, ensures a more consistent customer experience, which has obvious benefits for Amazon and possible knock-on benefits for the seller. But it also limits the customer data provided to sellers and has some other negatives.

Conclusion

SEO strategies to help pages rank on Google diverge from those that are effective on Amazon.

Amazon's objective is to serve search results that generate a sale in as short a time as possible. Sales velocity is their primary concern, and the logic that drives their search results is designed to support this.

Mostly, this is good news: On Amazon, you can focus more on making your buyers happy and less on the needs of an esoteric algorithm.


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