Who is Your Competition on the Web?
Usually when people refer to their competitors they name a few businesses from the same industry who sell the same products or services as them. This might be true for the offline world but
on the Web there are much bigger competitors. Who are they?
This is for many search engine results the most common list:
- Mainstream media
- Content farms
- Shopping search engines
- A-list bloggers
- Your actual competitors
Your actual competitors who sell the same stuff you offer do not have to be at the end of this list, it depends on the niche, keywords and how competitive they are. Nonetheless they are by far not your most important competition. Besides, your industry peers are not necessarily just rivals. You can work together for the benefit of all parties involved. I'll explain below.
That's one of the main differences between SEO and SEO 2.0: In old school SEO people believed that they have to hoard PageRank and never link out at all, not to mention to competing sites. When blogs and social media finally arrived in business circles most sane people have abandoned this approach.
These days the SEO industry has a whole blogosphere of its own which is highly interlinked both by hyperlinks and real life links between humans.
Also most SEO specialists are heavy users of social media and sharing links by their peers all of the time. Twitter, LinkedIn , Facebook, Quora and all kinds of other social media outlets have been embraced by the SEO practitioner early on.
Your most dangerous competition are the big guys, as you see in the list above at least nine of these mentioned above are big guys.
Google is the elephant in the room you directly compete with. It's not just search, it's the attention economy. As Aaron Wall correctly points out Google is grabbing more and more real estate in the SERPs.
Many users won't even notice your organic search results before they click a Google ad or one of the myriad of their other properties and services. You can't compete with Google, you can try to buy your way into Google ads but when Google chooses to display their other services on top of yours you lost. You have to focus on a keyword Google hasn't usurped completely then.
A huge competitor is also Wikipedia, the greatest content farm of all that successfully poses as a non-profit while earning money "by donations" and not paying their contributors. Wikipedia will outrank your site in most cases even when it's ridiculous. Search for [film] or even [films] and Google will serve you a Wikipedia entry which explains what a film is on top.
Another even more disturbing competitor is mainstream media. They do not only cover news anymore these days, they are frantically searching for SEO opportunities as well so that they will rank on top for queries like [iPad].
Amazon and Ebay are also almost everywhere and either you join them or you risk obscurity for many keywords and phrases.
Many people have written about content farms and the Google quality update aimed at curbing their prominence in Google results. Even though Demand Media's eHow and About.com by the NYT have lost a bit after the second part of the update called "Panda" hit them they still thrive. Demand Media, owner of eHow, has stunned experts with its recent numbers.
Shopping search engines have been hit hard by the latest update but they are still competition you have to watch closely. Price comparison sites are often at the forefront of modern SEO. You need to know what they are doing to be able to cope with changes.
A-list bloggers and industrial strength spammers seem like an unlikely couple to mention together but they are both more important than you. Try to rank in the technology sector and a-list bloggers will make you humble. You can't compete with giants Engadget, Gizmodo out of nowhere. They have whole teams of writers frantically covering the latest gadgets.
Try the same thing in the pharmacy business online and you'll face a huge onslaught of spam infested sites and hacked pages redirecting you do the spammer's shops. Spammers are faster than the search engines and they'll always find a loophole. So while they might disappear on one day they will reappear on the next with another site or hijacked blog.
Now, how can you compete with all of them? There are two ways to do so. The most common one is:
If you can't beat them, join them: Pay for Google ads, contribute to Wikipedia, send out press releases to journalists, set up an Ebay and Amazon shop, add articles to article directories or other content farms, guest blog on a-list blogs and buy links.
There is also a new way, the SEO 2.0 way: Joining forces with other bloggers or peers, sometimes your actual competitors. You can outrank the big guys by working together with other bloggers. I have done that in the past by joining a group of bloggers determined to help each other but I always preferred the intuitive SEO 2.0 way of cooperation. It's been called mutual aid prior to the Internet.
I link out to my peers or "competitors" and they link back to me.
Not all of them do, but some of them do and some even give back more than they get because once you give and get a few times you stop counting. You just share resources as in real life with friends and family.
Cooperation not competition is the only way bloggers and small businesses can compete with their real competitors from big business and big media, big Google included.