It’s Marketing 101—define your competition. So who are your online competitors? Better question—who are your real online competitors? Let’s say you own a small IT consulting business that caters to the Boston area. Is your competition really companies like SAP or Oracle? Sure, you may offer similar products as SAP and Oracle but that doesn’t mean they are your direct online competition. SAP and Oracle are multi-billion dollar, global companies that cater to the needs of other global enterprises; meanwhile your IT consulting business targets small to mid-sized businesses in the Boston area so they aren’t really eating into your profit potential. But what if you were measuring your SEO success against the likes of SAP and Oracle (or whoever the giants of your niche are)? Chances are your web presence looks pretty sad compared to the online competition, right? But that doesn’t mean your SEO isn’t working—you’re just comparing yourself to the wrong thing!
When you aren’t realistic about your online competition it skews your perception of what “success” looks like and oftentimes has you spinning your wheels in so many directions at once that you don’t actually get anywhere. For instance, a college student looking for part-time tutoring gigs and decides to create their own website to do so is, in theory, competing against sites like Care.com for leads, but they will never have the online reach or presence of a site like Care.com. If they compare all their SEO efforts (number of inbound links, social presence, content marketing efforts, etc) to Care.com they will always come up short. That’s why it’s so important to know who you real online competition is—so you are grading yourself on the right scale. You wouldn’t expect a high school student to effectively compete with a PhD candidate on a biology exam, would you? Even though the two are studying the same subject (competing in the same niche) they exist in very different worlds.
It’s also important to understand that your offline competitors may not be the same as your top online competition. For instance, one of my client’s sells industrial restaurant equipment and offline their brand is one of the most recognized in the industry. They’ve been around for over 60 years, attend every major food service conference, have had their products featured on a number of cooking/food-minded shows and so forth. But online was a completely different story. They may have been crushing their offline competition but their online competition (which included small, no-name brands from overseas) was completely dominating the search engines. The power of your offline brand can definitely help your online brand but there is no guarantee that it transfers over 100%. That’s another reason it’s so important to be honest about who you real online competition is—you might be competing with a whole different set of companies and they might be better at it than you.
If you don’t understand who your real online competition is than you risk running your SEO in the wrong direction or measuring it against the wrong standards. Don’t be afraid to go back to your original marketing and business plans and see if your “competitors” really are your top competition.