Scoping Out The Competition
When you're checking out your competition on search engines for how they rank for certain phrases, it can seem a little like a covert operation. It isn't, really, but it's kind of fun to think like you're some kind of spy, looking for clues.
Because that's what you're doing: looking for clues as to why your competition is ranking highly for search terms/phrases/keywords that you'd like to rank highly for. I mentioned in a previous post about how some keyword research tools will give you an idea about how your competition got ranked so high for certain keywords. Now, we'll get into the nitty-gritty, manual way of doing it. This way will allow you to see the SEO side of things in action, first hand, and in context.
Sticking with the example of a purveyor of purses, you would first start performing searches for the keywords/phrases/terms in your list you made. Let's say that, at the top of that list is "tattoo-themed purses." Click on the first result. Count the number of times the phrase you searched for appears on the text of the page. (This is the keyword density.) Let's say it's three times. Look also for variations of the words/terms/phrases. Maybe instead of "purse," the site uses the word "handbag." That gives you another term to add to your list to search for and possibly optimize for., if you haven't thought of it or run across it already.
Next step, right-click anywhere on the page. Hopefully, they've not blocked right-clicking. Once you do this, select "View Source" from the list. Near the top of the HTML coding, you should see some kind of META keywords there in the header. While Google doesn't rely on the META keyword, description, or content tags, some other search engines do. But what you're looking for here is more keywords. What do you find there? Most likely, if the page is the first in a search results list, there is something in that META header section. Some e-Commerce software - like the kind Crescent Moon Design Studio uses - even allows you to add unique header META information for each product, which is an awesome benefit for SEO.
Continue to go through your list, searching for terms on different search engines. Are the results the same? Do the same pages appear throughout the different search engines? In our example, just doing a brief search, I found that the results pages varied WIDELY between Google, Yahoo!, and Bing!. The top results from Google were - with the exception of one site that appeared on both Google and Yahoo! SERPs for "tattoo-themed purses" - completely different from Yahoo!. Meanwhile, over on Bing!, you can see that there are several results that appeared both in Google's SERPs as well as Yahoo!'s, but, strangely, the one site Google and Yahoo! had in common didn't appear in Bing's list. That one site? Linked to a site map on both Google and Yahoo! SERPs.
You might be asking yourself, "Why the disparity?" Different algorithms, some say; different SEO practices by the sites' owners, say others. But that's not really why we're looking at this stuff. You're looking at all these different pages in different search engines to find more keywords and to see how their content works. Because no site ranks well without good content. Some sites may be flashy with Flash-based everything, but, unless they have a text version lingering around somewhere, they probably aren't doing very well in SERPs. And they may even be asking themselves why.
And the reason is that search engine spiders have a lot of difficulty reading Flash; sometimes, not at all. And, if a search engine spider can't read your page because the text is buried inside a Flash code, it'll move on, maybe without even indexing it. Nobody wants that.
While you're doing this, stick to just the first page of results; many customers won't go any farther than that when searching for something. If you feel you must go farther into the SERPs, don't go a whole lot farther than page 3. Hardly anybody looking for something will go that far; they will have typed in something else by then. Read the content from the pages from those sites that appear in your searches for your keywords ony our list. How many times does that keyword/phrase/term appear on the page that ranked in your search?
Next time, we'll talk about the beginnings of copywriting for your site's SEO. We'll discuss keyword density, writing for customers, and inserting keywords into your text.