Author: Heidi Schmidt, Digital Marketing Specialist
Competitive intelligence is one of the most important aspects of search engine optimization. Relying on Google’s public-facing comments and press releases to determine what factors to consider when optimizing a page is rather arbitrary and often not a reflection of what’s actually happening. Trusting the evidence straight from the source has a much more significant impact on improving ranking positions in any industry, and here’s why: if Google tells you they don’t factor in a certain element on a page or behind the scenes when they are determining who to position near the top, but the sites ranking near the top are all optimized for that factor, it is logical to consider this optimization strategy for your own site. Improving the technology, experience, and content of your page based on what you know ¹**Google wants to see is a much more valid and effective way to move the needle.
Some general categories to consider when reviewing competitors and optimizing a page include helpful content, search term optimization, E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness), backlinks, and site architecture & depth. I’m going to break down Google’s public intent, Google’s true behavior from an intel perspective, and my own personal experience with each of these categories.
Google began rolling out the “helpful content” updates in August 2022, followed by a second iteration in December 2022. This one is serious, ya’ll. Copy on a page truly needs to be useful to readers and Google is getting better at recognizing this. Businesses generally want to provide useful products and services to their customers, so reflecting that same conviction in your internet presence should be a top priority since everything and everyone is digital nowadays. This factor holds a lot of weight, and it is evident in the results I have seen since 2022. Here are some things to consider when writing new content for a page:
Do your research. Pick a keyword. Find the close variants. Focus on these search terms for your page optimizations. Each page should focus on a singular target term, ideally the most important and descriptive term for your product or service that has the most substantial search volume. Including close variants of the target term will help support the optimization. As mentioned in the helpful content section, you’ll optimize for these keywords after the content you’ve developed is helpful and finalized. It is much easier to avoid over-optimization by sprinkling in the intent at the end, rather than focusing on the keyword intent throughout the writing process. There are at least 20 specific keyword elements and placements to look for in your competitive analysis (meta data, headings, frequency, structured data, image alt tags, font enhancements, etc.). Search term optimization generally holds significant weight in ranking factors, but the sub-components vary in importance.
This category overlaps with helpful content in some ways, but I like to consider it as a separate value item with its own optimization components. Google claims this doesn’t impact direct ranking signals, but competitive intelligence often suggests otherwise. These principles describe Google’s definition of a quality page or website and help ensure you are relevant according to their algorithms. Experience may be represented by testimonials about your service or product. Expertise can be represented with a direct quote from an expert on the topic. Authority is going to be achieved with helpful content (your page will become a knowledge base for the topic if it is truly helpful to users). Trustworthiness has many factors such as current information, site security certificates, backlinks from other trusted sources, and [debatably] quantifiable user experience.
Backlinks are one of the more valuable elements and arguably the most labor intensive, time consuming, and difficult achievements in SEO. If you want Google to trust your website, you need to have links from other ²**websites Google already trusts. Here are some factors to consider for a healthy backlink acquisition strategy:
Be consistent with your strategy. Find permanent, dofollow links from websites with trust and a strong domain presence. Create a plan for outreach and stick to it. Schedule article research for various topics to find links for all your important pages. Avoid PBNs (personal blog networks) and do not purchase bulk backlinks. PBNs & bulk backlinks may seem helpful in the short term, but will ultimately cause more harm than good.
Depending on your business, this category can hold some weight in your ranking ability. Regardless of the industry, you want to make sure the architecture of your website makes sense and is organized so Google can follow the structure. The depth of your content and pages will play a role in this if your pillar offerings allow for subtopic pages or sub-offerings. Service area and location pages can also contribute to the depth of the site and how Google perceives the framework.
The summary of these factors and general weight on rankings is an abbreviated version of the first part of the insight and tools you need to properly execute competitive intelligence. Part 2 of this series will cover the process of identifying your competitive landscape, gathering your intelligence, and how to use the data from your findings.
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