Know your competitors, Part 2: Identify Hidden Lessons

Knowing your competition helps you create a well-rounded marketing strategy. That’s why it’s crucial that you know every threat — no matter how strongly they stand out in your mind. Sometimes a competitor isn’t the biggest; they’re just the most memorable. It’s important to watch out for less-recognized names who could be pushing harder for a share of your audience.

Cartoon picture of a chicken and a hawk

That’s why, in Part 1 of this article, we explained how watching the full competitive landscape helps you guard against all kinds of threats. Now with Part 2, we’ll help you learn from insights that would have been hidden away with the usual first glance at the competition.

That means finding the giants when you enter a new niche as well as finding domains that get more out of their ranks. They might not rank for the most keywords, they are ranking often for the most valuable keywords.

Watch for the chart cloning I’m going to show you later in this post, too. It’s new to SpyFu and helps you compare changes from one time span to another or compare metrics like clicks vs. number of keywords.

 

1. Understand who really dominates the niche

This is your giant-finder. It might seem simple on its own. Many industries have brands that boast major recognition. However, that’s often limited to major industries and, as we learned in part one, you want to be cautious since “top of mind” competitors don’t always equal “the strongest competitors.” Case in point right here.

Monster.com has been a job listing giant for years. They’ve been advertising during the Super Bowl for at least 15 years, so they have been the name to chase in this niche. However, when it comes to the site that ranks on top keywords in the job hunt niche, Indeed.com has been a (surprising) dominator. All it takes is searching one industry-related domain (strong or not) to learn if the niche you’re researching has a powerhouse site (and who that site is).

Top organic competitors for a domain

Indeed.com has jumped ahead during the past 12 months, but I can also adjust the time setting (zoom) to look at a tighter window or the longer, bigger picture.

I would have guessed that Monster.com dominated for a long time, and Indeed.com just started emerging over the past year. You can mark that assumption as “completely wrong.”

More than 5 years ago, Careerbuilder.com loomed over everyone, getting more SEO clicks only to fizzle its reign (at least with online presence) before Indeed.com came out ahead more than 2 years ago.

Competitor five year change in ranking history in SpyFu

 

2. Emulate a domain that has focused and valuable SEO.

Most people would seek out competitors that rank for a high number of keywords, but you know something wiser: quantity doesn’t necessarily rule here.

Many of those keywords on their long list could easily be irrelevant, throw-away keywords. (Linkedin.com ranks for “ako” and “capital of Spain” to name a few.) If you’re going to look for a domain whose SEO delivers meaningful traffic, skip the keyword count and look at who is ranking on valuable keywords.

Fortunately, that’s an easy task on the chart.

Lets go back to using the job search industry and use monster.com again to get its competitors. Remember this doesn’t mean we’re emulating Monster.com. They’re just a way to get started; you could use any domain in the industry.

When we did this in step 1, we used the default metric “SEO Keywords.” This time, click the Monthly Value setting to see the chart takes on new meaning.

View monthly value for ranking history

This view shows all of those clicks in equivalent dollars. More competitive keywords would command a higher cost per click in AdWords, and the same idea holds here.

When we find keywords that draw higher costs on the PPC side as well as more activity and searches, we consider clicks from these keywords to be more valuable to domain than other keywords would be. Every organic keyword gets an assigned SEO value. Total up the clicks these sites get from how they ranked, and we can see a domain’s changing SEO value each month.

Domains that create more value

Again, Indeed.com rises above the others. However, there’s more to uncover. We started this hunt to find domains with focused and valuable SEO. Those can easily be the giants (like Indeed.com), but remember that having a tight focus (read: ranking for fewer keywords) could keep a valuable domain tucked away from our view.

With a monthly SEO value hovering over $9 million each month, Indeed.com creates plenty of value ahead of its competition where they’re closer to $1M to $2 million a month. I kept that target in mind and scrolled down to the full list of Top Organic Competitors to see if I could find any other competitors reaching Indeed.com’s levels.

Monthly value of clicks shown in SpyFu for domains

Blammo. With nearly the same number of keywords as Monster.com, Glassdoor.com creates $10.6M each month from its rankings. In all fairness, it’s not as close of a competitor to Monster as the others are, but we’re looking for new ideas in the industry, and this one suits exactly what we’re hoping to find.

Clicking the checkbox next to the domain adds it to the top chart.

Now I can see Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com as two strong domains that create more value overall from their organic content. It’s not a race to see who ranks for more keywords. The goal is to capture relevant and valuable traffic, and these domains show a better list of keywords to aim for.

Just a little more about Clicks vs. Value

In this particular set of competitors, there’s one shift from clicks to value that is so strong, I wanted to see it side by side against the first chart. If you clone the chart (using the widget on the right) you can experiment with different views and compare them against each other. Cloning is also a good clean slate. Remove domains from the chart and change multiple aspects without losing your place from where you started.

Clone ranking history charts using SpyFu

Let’s leave the top chart set to “Monthly Clicks,” showing the traffic that these domains get from ranking where they do on their keywords. The next chart is our sandbox.

I’m choosing “Monthly Value” so we can see a clearer example that ranking on many keywords isn’t the big end goal.
Cloned chart showing number of SEO clicks and SEO Value

The green line represents Indeed.com in both charts, and they’re showing an identical time frame. See how the domain’s clicks hold steady in the top chart while its value — from those very clicks — drops?

No doubt that Indeed.com is still an industry powerhouse in SEO, but it helps us assess their huge keyword list a little differently. We could guess that they are ranking on irrelevant keywords…maybe? But then they would have to be getting a lot of clicks from them, because their monthly clicks didn’t fall the way that value did. Hmm…

It would be fair to say that they consistently get many clicks from their relevant keywords — far more than their competitors do on the same keywords. Remember, the number of clicks holds steady. This probably means that Indeed.com tends to rank in higher positions across a large portion of their keywords. They’re getting the bigger share of clicks. But then the bottom falls out and those clicks lose value. Drastically.

It could be that keywords across the industry took a dip in value. Maybe Indeed.com just shows it more dramatically because of how it flattens other domain tracks on the chart. It’s worth a look. Back to cloning!

Startroopers standing with their weapons

Just in case it’s a battle of scale that is skewing the chart, I’m removing Indeed.com from my second cloned chart. This way I can sort of “zoom in” on the competing domains to see if they also took a value hit in July 2014.

Finding a drop in rankings using SpyFu ranking history

Blammo again. It looks like they all fell, and Indeed.com’s big numbers had been masking that. Our suspicions about an industry-wide drop in keyword value seems to be confirmed. It’s likely that certain job trends shifted, or people just stopped searching for certain category of keywords that they had before.


Learn from Competitors and Trends

Keep comparing competitors. Change views, change time periods, and change who’s on the chart. Even with a new chart you can start from scratch and add your own domain in a PPC or and SEO view. (Hint: this could help)

Adding domains to compare history

Anyone can find a competitor. You’re going to find the big answers that happen between the lines.