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How to Reverse Engineer Your SEO Strategy

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“The beauty of SEO is that, instead of pushing a marketing message onto folks who don’t want to hear what you have to say, you can reverse-engineer the process to discover exactly what people are looking for, create the right content for it, and appear before them at exactly the moment they are looking for it. It’s pull vs. push.” – Cyrus Shepard, Founder of Fazillion 

The digital world is increasingly cluttered and cacophonous with every passing hour. Each day, a myriad of new sites, services, and competitors come into existence. Because of the exponentially competitive nature of virtual business, standing apart from the expanding crowd can feel like a herculean feat.

What many don’t understand, however, is that creating carbon copies of what your rivals offer won’t get you anywhere; and complete originality will likely have a similar effect. In reality, it requires a blend of both. As Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

When it comes to search engine optimization in 2018, one of the best methods to climbing the SERPs is to reverse engineer your strategy by investigating and analyzing what your top competitors are doing so that you can weave similar strategies into your own blueprint. 

If you’re tired of having the competition stand on your brand’s shoulders in the SERPs, then check out this 4-step guide to reverse engineering your SEO efforts.

1. Establish Your Rivals

Identifying your main competition might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but when most brands conduct this research, they end up leaving all sorts of information uncovered. 

While you probably have a good idea of who your direct opposition is (as they probably offer near identical products/services), you are likely less versed in who your indirect and perceived competition is. In fact, you might not even know what these phrases mean.

Indirect competition are the brands who offer comparable products/services and vie for the same customers as you; but, these folks also offer goods that fall outside of your niche. 

For instance, shoe stores would identify other shoe retailers as competitors. But, they might fail to list superstores such as Wal-Mart, who also sell footwear. 

To uncover your indirect competitors, begin conducting keyword research to uncover which businesses are contending for space on Google. Since your target audience is typing various keywords into search engines to find offerings like that of your brand’s, this is a good place to start. Additionally, you can use tools like Conductor Searchlight to establish which websites are ranking for a keyword important to your business.

Your perceived competition, on the other hand, is a bit harder to establish. These organizations might not sell similar goods as your company, but they compete for your audience’s time and energy just the same. As a small example, companies like Kodak now must compete with every smartphone company on Earth, despite occupying a wholly different industry. The best way to sniff these brands out is with social listening services like Mention or Keyhole.

Once you have established your top direct, indirect, and perceived competition, it’s time to conduct your analysis.

2. Assess On-Site Content

Content is the most influential driver of traffic today. Because of that, you should go through your competitor’s sites to identify their most shared pieces. You can use a tool like BuzzSumo to assist with the task.

By establishing what content performed best for your competition, you can get a read on which topics and types of content will resonate with your audience.

Be sure that you analyze the content itself, too. You need to identify areas where you can do better, go deeper, and be clearer. The content you create based on this research needs to top what you already found, not copy it.

3. Study Technical SEO Components

Combing through your competition’s technical SEO elements can help you easily identify overlooked aspects of your own site. Start with scrutinizing some of the most basic elements. See if they are tagging titles appropriately, using keywords in a fruitful manner, optimizing visible meta data, maintaining site speeds with pages featuring multimedia content, etc.

After assessing the surface information, dive a bit deeper. Are they leveraging Accelerated Mobile Pages? Have they implemented HTTPS?

It is important to figure these things out because if your site is using less advanced code, it can be challenging to play catch up. It is vital to become familiarized with how to implement advanced SEO techniques if you aren’t already versed on the subject. If you don’t have the bandwidth for this, consider employing a technical SEO professional to help bolster your efforts.

4. Audit Backlinks

Backlinks are still an influential aspect to climbing the SERPs, so it is necessary to study who is linking to your competitors. 

There are a variety of ways that you can obtain information on your rival’s link building tactics. One of the most critically-acclaimed tools for such a job is Ahrefs. Through this platform, you can uncover all links pointing to a given site and even pinpoint sudden spikes in the number of inbound links; this allows you to determine if the fluctuation is the result of a recently launched campaign. 

This is important information as it’s a definitive indicator that they are producing something that is proving popular with consumers. Find out what that thing is so that you can create something similarly appealing.

Additionally, take note of who is pointing at your competitor’s site, as well as their industry, and any other idiosyncratic information. Use this to your advantage by reaching out to them with your own valuable content offerings to see if they would be interested in linking to your site as well. 

But remember, your content needs to be better than what your competition is producing; this is the key to toppling them in the SERPs. 

Reverse engineering your SEO strategy by breaking open your competition’s is an incredibly valuable strategy to creating a more sufficient blueprint for your brand. 

Start by identifying the key players in your niche and around it; then dig in and see what they are doing right. If you utilize this methodology appropriately, you’re likely to see a meaningful rise in your site rankings.

Do you think reverse engineering is an ethical strategy? What other tools are great for competitive analysis?

About the author


Tina Courtney

Conscious online marketer, web executive, and multi-faceted writer Tina Courtney has been creating and fostering online innovations since 1996. Tina has assisted many clients in maximizing online production and marketing efforts, and is a staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney and JDate, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, influencer marketing, community management, lead generation, and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, and accomplished life coach.  Learn more on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Visit My Google+ Profile