|The "My Competitor's Are Doing It!" Syndrome|
At what point do you stop being a follower?
Over the years I've heard the expression "My competitor's are doing it" more times than I care to remember. If your competitors jumped off a bridge, would you follow them? ;)
Okay, so your competitor attached a link exchange directory to their site. Time to run out and do the same.
Okay, so your competitor purchased links from that particular site. Time to run out and do the same.
Okay, so your competitor just launched a Blog. Time to run out and do the same.
Notice a pattern?
Okay, so your competitor just got purged from the index. What? You did too? Bummer!
Why not look at this from another angle. How about doing something that your competitors are not doing? I can assure you, they've left a few areas untapped that would set you apart from the rest.
I'm just burnt out on hearing that phrase. It means nothing to me these days because I have a plan. That plan works. Why should I be a follower when I can be a leader with a little bit of dedication and hard work?
I think following your competitors too closely will not allow you to surpass them, but doing competitive analysis to see what the top players in your industry are doing is time well spent. It's a great indicator of what's been done and how much work it's going to take to get to the top.
Most sites copy some good ideas from other sites, including yours.
After all there is only so many ways to slice up an apple. The trick is to give it a different twist and a look. Original ideas are hard to come by...KF
Within any given industry, most businesses in that industry measure themselves on the same basic things. They attempt to compete on the same things. As an industry matures there is less and less differentiation between the businesses on these measurements.
There is an excellent book called "Blue Ocean Strategy". I suggest it for every business/web site owner. It outlines a strategy which in the end makes your competition irrelevent. It shows you how to create new markets that never existed before in which there are no other competitors... the way Cirque du Soleil took an industry (3 ring circus) with very small profit margins and created a brand new market in which there are no other competitors AND became far more profitable as a circus than any 3 ring circus ever could be.
Very good read. I highly recommend it for the followers in the crowd to teach them to become leaders in their industry.
[edited by: ZydoSEO at 1:13 am (utc) on Dec. 30, 2007]
One of my wannabe competitors just announced his new site layout the other day, 3rd one in a couple of years. Once upon a time he was actually encroaching on my turf and then he 'fixed' his site and slid, 'fixed' it again and slid some more, and this time it looks like he finally dynamited the whole thing as all the page names, hierarchy, every thing changed and POOF! he's a distant memory.
Don't worry, I'm not going to follow suit.
>>>After all there is only so many ways to slice up an apple.
My presentation at PubCon focused on demonstrating there are in fact infinite ways of slicing that apple. It wasn't in my PowerPoint, it was spoken- on purpose to keep it out of blog posts and session recaps.
>>>Original ideas are hard to come by...
Very true. I think it's instructive to jump out of the SEO mindset.
Instead of obsessing about what my competitors are doing, I think about what they're not doing that I am doing.
One thing I've discovered is that my biggest competitors have less flexibility than I do, because they're stuck with corporate overhead and existing business models (e.g., the need to recycle content from print publishing or to rely on user-generated content of questionable quality). In niche markets, there can be advantages to being a mom-and/or-pop business.
One important point that was not mentioned yet: If you follow up ideas of competitors, always ask yourself one question.
How come I can legally nick this idea?
This leads straight into another question: How do I have to alter this idea in order to make it intellectual property?
One example: Travel guides use the same information again and again. Copying ideas is common practice - and most websites seem to ignore that the stuff they have copied from their competitors can be easily copied again.
There is a saying in Austria: Was nix kost' is nix wert (something that doesn't cost you, isn't worth anything). Ideas that are for free are usually just that - worthless.
i think it should not be generalized , its ok to glance a bit at your competition to see what they up to,spying on your competition is almost human nature to do.
I would like to agree with you, but what about Microsoft?
They have proven that all you really need to do is steal the idea or buy the company, then just convince the world that you invented it. All it takes is a good marketing team and a significant number of the public will believe you invented it.
Microsoft has made a living from it (DOS, Windows, IE)
Apple has also made a good living from this with the iPod, there were mp3 players long before but I think lots of people see it as the first. Admittedly there was some innovation there but its more evolution than revolution.
Innovation is always good, but good marketing will steal it from you.
The site that I am responsible for is considered by all the competitors in our niche an innovation since we pretty much redefined how the process of distributing widgets worldwide works back in 2003. The way the information on widgets is served to the site visitors was copied over and over by many whanabees.
One thing I always do is refer them to this forum, always.
Wait. You mean I shouldn't let all my TESTING be done by competitors? *grin*
While I get the OP and agree with the intent, there's no recipe for success this simple. ( okay there is for US but not for a newbie reading this ) You can't go by in life without making decisions, which means that even if you're unprepared you'll need to know when and who to learn from.
Let's look at it in a practical way.
There are two things you need for a website.
One is content... which can be information, a service or a product line, and the other is infrastructure ( this includes hosting, SEO, SEM, ecommerce, you name it ). Note on both: NEW usually means a new COMBINATION / PERSPECTIVE. Unless you are a godlike deity and are able to create new dimensions at will.
I'd say if you have an original idea for *either* you're all set to compete in the short run. But get ready to have your stuff copied ( either your content/idea or link campaign/navigation ) and surpassed by someone who had the resources to invest in the *other* aspect as well.
If you want to evade this, you'll need to cover every aspect.
If you had an idea for content but don't know SEO, or you can code like there's no tomorrow but meet very few people to know what the public wants... ie. you have no idea on how to do it, you have to look at your competition. There's no school to learn these things from.
This is called market research.
Learn from their gains and mistakes. Let them test every aspect of SEO and every take on the theme, and know long term success when you see it. Forget what's mainstream, utilize only what seems to be ideal. You mean no one does what you had in mind? Then you'll be a pioneer. Make sure you don't lack in either department otherwise you'll end up in someone else's 'creative idea pool' with a negative paycheck on the table. Don't invent stuff for others, have your ... uh... creativity covered.
Your competitors are doing it?
Wheee... lucky you. Now look at their results, and keep monitoring them until it becomes obvious that your instinct ( that you should do it as well / OR they should have fallen out by now ) proves to be right on spot. Find their weaknesses, find the new market within the market. Find a new segment, a new way to target it, or a new layer in your purse to do the same but do it *better*.
And that's that.
I can tell you there's no 'we made it' on the net anymore.
There is however 'we are doing it'.
Which means constant awareness of your surroundings.
And reacting to a change in the environment.
Looking at what your competitors are doing is indeed addictive - but one must retain a bit of objectivity in doing so. Also, one mustn't get lost in the details when it comes to the SEO game, as in its essentials, it all comes down to a few key elements: namely keywords and (relevant, inbound) links to targeted content. All the rest should be treated as eye candy and cruft. What should most decide what "tricks" you use is the result of your studies about what the (type of) ~customer~ wants and how he behaves in a website; this will bring you the most solid, longest-lasting results in the end.
I have a nice story to tell: as a client for a photo-rental place I had heard about only through word of mouth, I happened to come across their website one day: completely in Flash (which is why I could never find it before when looking for "photo equipment rental (city)". After three seasons of trying to reserve equipment through the website - that didn't even contain the object I was renting - I said a word to the business owner. After making a few pointed critiques about the weaknesses of his website - and a few examples of what a functional website could do for him - he gave me the job of redoing it. The first thing he did was point me to the site of his direct competitor as an example of what he wanted.
I had a hard time convincing him that that wasn't the best route to take - especially since the site in question also had little content because it was full of streaming video and linkcruft. Instead, since he was in a hurry, I began by building him a website that assured that every single item in his catalogue would appear in SE results as a 'hard link' with both his business name and location beside it - a "trick" both legitimate, "legal" and useful. When I began he was but a single blank page at the bottom of SE results, but two months later he is #1 in his category today.
Aside from (legitimate and targeted) ad campaigns and requests for legitimate links (from interested and relevant parties) this is the basic of basics as far as SE is concerned. Yet even that is tied into the logic of customer behaviour: What is he looking for, and what are his chances of finding it on that site? If the answer to that question is not obvious, all the tricks in the world won't help you, and even worsen your case.
To risk straying off-topic, I'd like to add that customer behaviour within your website is just as important as anything SEO: if they are content with the website, and find easily what they are looking for, they will remember it - even if your client's prices are higher than his competition's, because a clear and coherent website can become citable if the parlayer is certain that a listener can find X product there.
Lastly, a webmaster should determine what is or isn't useful to potential customers: as a photographer, this job was made easy for me as far as the photo rental company was concerned: A blog? No way. I'm there to rent equipment. A directory listing of "other services"? Same answer. A series of "photographer tips" and equipment reviews? Same answer, and in addition to the fact that I know of many other good-quality sites doing exactly that, and in addition to the fact that doing such a thing would do a lot to generate content and keywords, honest reviews would not be in the interest of a company renting all sorts of equipment.
What I ~could~ do to improve the customer experience was to make the distance between carrot and stick as short as possible - and even this earned visitor "brownie points" for the website. One of the most important things to remember about the web is that it's easier to talk and trade links (through conversation) than it is to actually visit an actual store - but your website could be an important first impression of your services even before anyone does.
I suppose all I've done is outline a basic business sense, but without that you'll never be ahead; should such a lacking move a webmaster/site owner to copy his competition, he'll be even farther behind.
[edited by: Josefu at 2:48 pm (utc) on Dec. 31, 2007]
Hmm, let's see... things my competitors do that I do NOT:
Negotiate product pricing - on a retail site which is not intended to be a flea market. Ew ew ew!
Minimal SEO - as in no unique metas, page titles, etc. Once again, ew ew ew!
Not validating their code - my homepage was flawless until G mucked up the new analytics code... and I'm too lazy to plug in the fix. Still better than the other guys, though.
My competitors are pretty far behind in a lot of technical things. That's why a site launched under a year ago (mine) is steamrolling over them en route to the top of sales, traffic, etc. The only ideas I've gotten from them are along the lines of, "they aren't doing *x* at all, so I'll do that really well."
Concentrate on subjects that are, or can be, your hobbies, and then you have the seed of almost guaranteed success. If you enjoy reading, do a site on that; eating?, do a site on that etc etc. Your interest will grow even more as you research more. Then, corny as it may sound, it will be easy to do it your way. And yes, it will also become clear that the apple can be sliced as many ways as there are people in the world. We are all unique, and so will our sites if we follow our own interests.
At the same time you will have a great experience making a living out of your hobbies. Ignore your competitors, if they are successful they are ignoring you. Passion, it's all about passion if you want to make money AND enjoy yourself.
However, there is one very valuable concept I get from looking at competitor's sites. I ask my self "what are they missing?" And then, I try to fill that need.
Competitive analysis is essential to obtaining an edge.
The Japanese rarely innovated anything, yet stole the electronics and motor markets in the 60 / 70 and 80's by combining the best of everything they saw, which opened gaps which they could occupy and defend. So the combinations of the best gave them an edge, or new ground. But the edge has to be identified and carried home to a goal, then held.
So, ironically , imitation led to innovation. Look, combine , imitate and perfect.
In this vast cyberspace, few things are the same in combination. But they can come together to form a uniqueness which is appealing to the consumer , business process or bottom line.
Cyberspace is also very fast and competitive cycles are dynamically short. Rest, and you'll be swallowed.
Lastly, as I can see so clearly in incrediBILL 's example above :
|One of my wannabe competitors just announced his new site layout the other day, 3rd one in a couple of years. Once upon a time he was actually encroaching on my turf and then he 'fixed' his site and slid, 'fixed' it again and slid some more, and this time it looks like he finally dynamited the whole thing as all the page names, hierarchy, every thing changed and POOF! he's a distant memory. |
Don't worry, I'm not going to follow suit
Never loose site of the winning structures that underpin "innovation". Evidence of these benchmarks will only ever come from existing practices - but advantage can come from a minor refinement or redefinition of the same, provided it's executed to perfection and fully understood.
incrediBill's example shows me the perfect example of how not to follow your competitors who are failing. Focus on the winners.
[edited by: Whitey at 9:09 pm (utc) on Dec. 31, 2007]
>> Focus on the winners. <<
Sure, but you need to pay attention to the losers too, so you know what not to try, at least as they implemented it.
As far as focusing on the winners goes, you need to decide what your own goals are before that will be most productive.
Focusing on someone who's in it for the long haul might not be the best plan if your own goals are only short term.
Even loser websites can have some positive aspects - the importance is being able to tell the difference between what's good and bad - also good and bad for you. I think pageOneResults' comment was also implying that those who copy others don't have that skill.
|I think pageOneResults' comment was also implying that those who copy others don't have that skill. |
I feel this is a very good point. All the comments so far are excellent, thank you!
Many do not have the skill to look at website and determine the good and the bad, including myself although I think I may have a better understanding of things now than I did a few years ago. ;)
We have a plethora of invalid metadata elements out there that have been copied over the years.
We have the link directory concept which is a bit dated in today's marketing environment.
And a whole bunch of other things that Webmasters copy from one another. Don't get me wrong, we imitate by nature and there is nothing wrong with reviewing a website to see what makes it tick. But, that shouldn't solicit a knee-jerk reaction and cause a Webmaster to go and start making changes based on what they see.
For most websites, beauty is only skin deep. Once you get under the skin, you can really tell allot about the person(s) behind the website. But, how do you know that what you are looking at is the "cause" of the "effect" that you think you are seeing?
When it comes to SEO, the "My Competitor's Are Doing It Syndrome" really comes into play. That's why we have a proliferation of link directories out there. That's why the meta-revisit element is still discussed today as being a viable piece of metadata, can you believe that? Yes, other countries feel strongly that the meta-revisit helps with the indexing of their websites. ;)
Linking is another area. If you are out there chasing the same damn links that your competitors are chasing, don't you think you've just been profiled? All of you are sharing links within the same network of sites, wouldn't that be somewhat easy to detect?
The reason I brought this topic up was I still see many falling prey to changes they've made based on what their competitor's are doing. Heck, I have one story where a person followed the URI structure that Matt Cutts uses on his Blog, you-know-the-multiple-hyphenated-file-names-that-may-contain-upwards-of-10-15-20-hyphens type stuff? Well, their site tanked months ago and hasn't recovered since. Even with the 301s, they still have not come close to recovering their pre URI change traffic. Believe it or not, the structure they had previously was just fine. They felt that if Matt Cutts does it, then they should do it and it would improve their rankings for all those keywords in the file names. Ooops...
On a side note, the multiple hyphenated file name structure is totally against protocol.
|On a side note, the multiple hyphenated file name structure is totally against protocol. |
A plain-language filename like "chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.htm" or "whatsitville-four-star-widgets.htm" is descriptive, easy to type or say out loud, and (just as important) easy for the site's owner or editor to identify when the page needs updating. It sure beats a long string of letters and numbers that only a database can recognize.
Few months back I had same thought. So I started to do things differently and I see good result.
My competitors setup link exchange directory to their site, purchased tons of links from tons of different websites, and spam article directories to death with their re-wrote articles.
I thought I am wise to not to follow them.
I was wrong, more and more people who mimic the 'strategy' pop up in my target SERP and kick me off the spots.
Wise webmaster follows his heart and soul; wise business man follows what works. ;)
[edited by: tahiti at 5:15 pm (utc) on Jan. 2, 2008]
|The "My Competitor's Are Doing It!" Syndrome |
I think where a lot of people get a bit frustrated relative to this issue is when they try and adhere as closely as they can to the “guidelines” that get radiated from Google. This is especially true when trying to decipher through all the Googlespeak about linking. So you take the highest road you can relative to linking tactics and end up sitting at say # 9, and yet an individual who has employed an extremely aggressive linking tactic (one you feel strongly would not pass the MC test of what constitutes a good linking practice) basks in the glow of a # 1 ranking.
|At what point do you stop being a follower? |
Follower of exactly what, or whom, is my question.
What's even worse is the "My competitor made this change and now he's #1 on Google. I have to do the same thing."
One of the hardest things to make clients understand is that cause and effect are not so cut and dried. Chances are that the competitor amme numerous other changes at or around the same time and the one item the client points out may have had very little (if anything) to do with the results.
In fact, in many cases the results were achieve IN SPITE OF that change, not because of it. Or the change did indeed cause the results, but the results may not be long-term, especially if the change was black hat.
Sometimes I think this is just a cop out. "I shouldn't do it just because my competitors are doing it"...
One of my main competitors has most of his links coming from link farms and most of the sites which link to his site have the word "enlargement" as part of their domain name. His site is completely unrelated to the "enlargement" area but he's still doing great in the SERPs.
We can sit there going "eventually he'll get banned" but he isn't getting penalised at all and hasnt for quite some years. I don't actually think Google is going to do something about it - remember that most of these sites are also running adsense. I sometimes think it's time to stop wasting effort beating them and joining them. But I don't.
The reason for not doing is is that I'm thinking 5 years ahead and they're thinking 6 months max. It's nothing to do with me not joining in because it's below me or because it's not working. It's just different priorities.
I outrank my local competitors, so I pay little to no attention to what they're doing. But I do try to get some basic ideas from companies that rank well for more generic keyword searches.
I can honestly say that a few of my most effective SEO techniques were fairly original, something I tried on a whim that had noticeable results. Even if a competitor catches on, its often too late for them to catch up.