two horses racing with jockeys

We get to solve SEO and PPC problems for a wonderful group of clients and we couldn’t ask for a more a diverse set of projects. Sometimes the challenges for an online business are totally original and require cooperative problem solving but in many cases roadblocks are largely due to shortcuts or assumptions made along the way. We’re all guilty of getting into a rut sometimes, and today we’re going to talk about a common mistake made by businesses of all stripes: paying too much attention to the competition

In our context–as a Colorado SEO company–we see this issue come up during planning sessions for both SEO and SEM, but it’s an issue for offline marketing as well. Let’s start by stating outright that competitive research and analysis is smart marketing and can be a valuable asset during online strategy creation. However, when it comes to chasing a single competitor or ignoring the data in favor of analyzing competitor’s strategy, we sometimes have to remind clients to ignore the competition, and look at the data.

Here are two examples of the pitfalls of becoming too focused on a competitor rather than choosing achievable online marketing goals and working toward them.

In the midst of an SEO audit we got on the topic of how to rank well organically for a set of general terms related to the client’s products. While we had some sharp analysts in the room and they had clearly done thorough competitive analysis, they were paying lots of attention to messaging and taglines, while overlooking the relevant data: rankings.

Putting aside the arguments about messaging for a moment, we reviewed the rankings and showed that none of the competitors were ranking for that family of keywords, meaning that statistically speaking, all the strategies being debated were irrelevant. By ignoring the competition’s messaging and starting over, we constructed copy which spoke to the selling points of their products and included keyword-rich phrases which helped them rank for their desired terms.

Now for a PPC example: Toward the end of an account rebuild, we got hung up on ad copy. The focus of the debate revolved around examples written by competitors, which placed the emphasis on discounts and special offers. Given that the company wasn’t price competitive and relies on quality rather than price, discount-based ad copy didn’t seem to be the right fit. In the end we agreed to run separate sets of ad copy in concert and let the users decide. As the data came in, it became clear that while discount-related ad copy brought in more clicks, it also led to very few conversions. Through A/B testing the ads we established that while an offer may bring new users to the site, their overall messaging is more effective when we focused on quality rather than cost.

So what does this mean for your online business? Ignore the competition…or at least take a hard look at any assumptions being made about competitor’s tactics or successes. Getting your messaging right is more important than assuming that your competitors are succeeding and deserve to be emulated.