We all know that, before we optimize our pages for the search engines, we need to find out exactly how sophisticated the competition is, or isn’t. Our goal is to determine what the top ranking pages are doing within our keyword categories so we can look for weaknesses while quantifying their strength. Then we duplicate their efforts before going one better in order to achieve our success in the rankings easily! One problem is that, ordinarily, such competitive analysis is time consuming. Another problem is that the time consuming analysis needs to be repeated again and again for each site and each competitive keyword. Then, when compiling each metric one by one, it’s the kind of task that can make you want to tear your hair out (is that why so many SEOs are bald? …just wondering).
9 critical competitive data points and delivers an overall site strength score.
In other words, in one click, and all at once! …we learn:
- Domain Registration Date: This refers to the age of a site. The older the site, the more of an advantage in the rankings it will have. Google likes sites that are aged. If the site’s ‘birthday’ is a year or two old, the site has a slight ranking advantage over a newer site within this data-metric. Older sites tend to have developed more links over time and inherently are more trust worthy than a brand new domain name. If you click the date displayed, the SSI tool will display the WHOIS data for the domain name.
- Google PageRank: This refers to the Google Toolbar PageRank that rates the importance of a Web page in the eyes of Google on a scale that runs from PR=0 to PR=10. This metric is important because it tells you how valuable a link coming from a site may be. It also gives you a good idea of Google’s opinion of a site. Note: The Page Rank displayed is for the URL that you entered. It’s not limited to the home page.
- Google Cache Date: This metric tells you exactly when Google last crawled a site. A recent date is indication that Google thinks the site is important. On the other hand, if a site’s cache date is a month or more old, then Google probably thinks very little of the site’s overall importance. Very important sites are crawled frequently, even with moderately popular sites some URLs are crawled daily. Unimportant sites are crawled sporadically, perhaps every couple weeks or once a month.
- External Backlinks: Exactly what this appears to say. Although you shouldn’t expect this number to be perfectly exact, it will most certainly be relatively exact. Basically, if one of the sites you are analyzing is showing 19,576 links and the other site is showing 610, there is a significant difference of inbound links between the two sites. If you click on the Backlink result, you’ll expose a link to Majestic Site Explorer’s Backlink summary report. On this site you can observe the URL’s total links, and the links that have been discovered in the last 30 days as well.
- External .edu Backlinks: Since .edu domains are restricted to accredited institutions of higher learning (typically U.S. Colleges and Universities), Google often trusts these links considering them less likely to be commercially oriented. One way to boost a site’s ranking is to collect links from .edu domains. The more .edu links the better.
- External .gov Backlinks: Likewise, .gov domains are restricted to U.S. government entities. Google also tends to trust these links. One way to boost a site’s ranking is to collect links from .gov domains. The more .gov links the better.
- Referring Domains: This value reflects the number of different domains that are linking to the site. The higher the number, the better. More unique links from different referring domains than from the same domains. A site that has 1000 inbound links from 500 Referring domains is typically going to be far stronger than a site that has 1000 links from 10 Referring Domains.
- Referring .edu Domains: The number of unique .edu domains linking to the URL entered. This value works the same way as the Referring Domains Entry, except this is only the value for .edu domains.
- Referring .gov Domains: The number of unique .gov domains linking to the URL entered. This value works the same way as the Referring Domains Entry, except this is only the value for .gov domains. As you test the strength of sites using the Site Strength Indicator, you will also notice a Total Score is assigned to the site being analyzed.
Here’s the scores explained: 0 – 19: This site has a very limited search engine presence and is getting far less search traffic than it could if it increased its optimization. Building quality links is often the quickest way to improve search engine rankings. 20 – 39: This site has made some progress in achieving rankings, but is still far below achieving its potential. Targeting long-tail keywords is your best bet for traffic at this level. Link development should still be continued at this level as well. 40 – 59: While there is still a lot of work to do, this site is on the verge of breaking into the arena of major search engine presence. Creating some viral buzz could be enough to push it into the big leagues. A site at this level should have enough traffic to also take advantage of UGC (User Generated Content) such as comments, reviews, or forums to further enhance its ranking. 60 – 79: This site is a powerful presence on the Internet. In a small to medium niche it’s likely dominating, but can still be beat with the right optimization. 80 – 100: This site is among the most powerful and authoritative sites on the Internet. If this is your site, then congratulations! If it’s your competitor’s site, they’re going to be very tough to beat. The Total Score ratings, explained above, give you a pretty good idea of how easy or hard it will be to supplant a site that is ranking on the first page of the search results. Let’s suppose, for example, we want to place the site: www.homeschoolviews.com somewhere on the first page of Google’s search results for the keyword homeschool. Let’s take a look at the sites that are ranking #’s 1 through 10. We want to see if any of them are beatable in the rankings based on their lack of overall strength.
Tips Tricks and Traps of the SEO Trade
Discussions regarding acceptable and unacceptable SEO practices often devolve into a polarized conversation that splits into two groups: White hat vs. Black hat SEO practices. However, we think it’s a silly conversation. That’s because, unless you are doing something illegal (which we do NOT recommend!), we think the more productive discussion should center around: What works vs. what doesn’t work & Safe vs. dangerous SEO tactics As an SEO, you need to know what SEO tactics are working. This is especially true if your competition is using it. Never mind that somebody out there is crying ‘black hat’ …that, alone, should be irrelevant to you. If it isn’t illegal, you can expect that your competition will use it against you to gain a competitive advantage. Bank on it! The REAL question should be: Is the SEO strategy safe? In other words, will your site be penalized or banned if you get caught applying whatever specific SEO strategy to your Web site’s pages? If the answer is YES, then the advise you to refrain from implementing an ‘unsafe’ SEO strategy. Example: Let’s suppose that you learn, while conducting competitive analysis of your competition, that they are hiding keywords under their images to artificially boost relevancy in the search results. They are also hiding links that direct spiders toward topically unrelated pages for indexing and PageRank purposes. And, as far as you can tell, it appears to be working due to the fact they are ranked on the first page, in the top ten of the search results. In addition, all of the pages their hidden links are pointing toward are indexed and ranking well too. Now, because you have carefully studied our Advanced SEO Tutorial; The Top 10 ‘On-Page’ SEO Spamming Tricks to Avoid Like the Plague! …you know for sure that Google does NOT approve of such a tactic. It clearly conflicts with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines which specifically states that hidden text or hidden links should be avoided—including text behind an image. However, one must consider that there isn’t anything illegal about hiding text or links behind an image. So, if your competition is using this tactic to compete, then you at least need to know about it. Now you have some options to consider.
- Ignore it and take the safer SEO tactical road hoping that Google will eventually discover the “cheat” and penalize your competitor’s site accordingly.
- Report your competitor’s guideline infractions to Google and hope that Google evens the playing field by penalizing your competitor. (Don’t hold your breath).
- Match your competition tactic by tactic (regardless of Google’s acceptable use guidelines) knowing full well you’re engaging in an unsafe (although not illegal) SEO tactic.
So, what’s our recommendation? We prefer choice #1. Although, we realize you may choose choice #2 for reasons that are entirely understandable. We do not recommend choice #3 for the simple reason that there’s no guarantee whatsoever that Google will refrain from penalizing your site while leaving your competitor’s site unscathed. Yes, we know—unfair! …but it happens and there is no easy way to predict what Google will actually do in such circumstances. You also need to know there is something called ‘white-listing’ a site. In essence, that’s when a site is considered so trustworthy by Google that they never assess any ranking penalty regardless of whatever SEO tactics such white listed sites may be using. Typically, such sites belong to brand name companies like Microsoft, Nike, Amazon, and so forth. So, if you’re competing against one of these so-called brand names, then be aware that they may be operating under a less strict set of rules. Yes, we know—again, not fair. But it is the way it is. Make your adjustments and move forward. Here’s the point. The Profession of SEO is full of tricks and traps—and you absolutely must KNOW what each of them are in order to compete on the big stage. That’s why we have devoted an entire Advanced SEO Tutorial to the Top 10 ‘on page’ SEO tricks that you absolutely positively need to know about if you are to successfully analyze what your competition is doing to achieve top rankings. When you are ready, be sure to carefully study:
What’s In a Name?
As you’ve no-doubt deduced by now, choosing the right Domain Name can be critically important! Not only does Google currently give preference to keyword-rich domains, so do people when they’re choosing which link in the search results to click. Another critical truth to factor into the equation is that you should AVOID changing the domain name of an established site. Once a site (domain name) is established and ranked within the search engines, it is NOT advisable to switch the domain name. That’s because switching from an established domain to a new domain can be a tricky process at best. At worst, you will lose all of your investment in time and effort that you’ve spent promoting the site. In essence, you could find that you are literally starting over. Not good. This can often put your site at a ranking disadvantage for upwards of six months to a year. What’s more, Google places a high value on old sites—the longer a site has been around, the better. In fact, two of the most important ranking factors in Google are:
- The quality and age of your incoming links (i.e. the importance of the linking page combined with the length of time the link has been pointing at your site).
- The age of your site (the length of time your domain name has been online).
Compared to having an old and established site, your domain name is often way down the importance-list of ranking factors. So, given a choice between a great domain name and a site that’s been aged, we’d advise the latter—the older site over the choice domain name. Although, it is possible to efficiently and properly move sites, (something we’ll discuss in the next lesson) our general advice is to *not* change a domain name unless you absolutely have to for legal reasons (such as a domain name containing someone else’s trademark) or if the new domain is absolutely so amazing that you can’t pass it up. Otherwise, we advise that you stick with an established domain name if you already have it up and running with incoming links and indexed content. But if you are starting fresh, then you should make every effort to get the best, most keyword-rich, domain name possible. The ideal domain name exactly matches the primary keyword or short (2 or 3-word) keyword phrase you’re targeting. Examples of such domain names might include:
However, in most cases, these keyword-exact-matching domain names are no longer available on the primary market. They are already being used (or held) by other businesses or professional domainers people whose business it is to buy and sell domains for a profit on the secondary market. (Note: domain names are not case-sensitive. We’ve capitalized letters in the above domains to make the keywords within them easier to spot.) This means that really good domain names are usually not available for cheap from a domain registrar, but instead, must be purchased directly from someone who already owns the domain. Oftentimes you can contact an owner of the domain directly via the domain’s WhoIs info or by using contact info on the site (if it exists). To check the WhoIs info (the background information on who owns a site), use a site like domaintools.com: http://whois.domaintools.com/. There you can simply enter the domain name for which you would like to check for availability. You can also buy already registered domains on domain auction sites. Some of the best include:
- https://www.tdnam.com/ (GoDaddy.com’s Domain Name Aftermarket)
Bear in mind, however, that many times these resale domains can cost several thousand dollars to purchase. And, while having a domain name that exactly matches your most sought after keyword can definitely help boost rankings, it’s not absolutely essential to building a high ranking site. Instead, you might choose a short, catchy name that will be easy to market, both online and off. Just a few well known examples of domain names that have been turned into globally recognizable brands include Amazon, eBay, Google, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and del.icio.us (now, delicious.com). Besides being easier to build a brand around, the shorter name also provides the advantage of being easier to market through other media, such as radio, print, or television. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a domain that uses your keywords and is short and catchy. If so, grab it! You’ll have the best of both worlds. The drawback to the short, brand-able domain name is that, since it lacks keywords, it supplies absolutely no search engine ranking benefit. From an SEO perspective, it does nothing for your site’s rankings. Your other option is to buy a domain that incorporates your keywords but doesn’t exactly match the keyword phrase you’re targeting.
Examples might include names like:
While you may not get the often significant rankings boost you’d get if your domain exactly matched your most sought-after keyword, using a domain name that incorporates your keywords in some variation will still contribute to high rankings for the following reasons: Whenever another site links to you, you want them to use your keywords in the visible text of their link (the anchor text). Having your keywords in the anchor text of links pointing to your site is one of the most important aspects of high-ranking pages. Most of the time when other sites link to you they will typically use your domain name as the anchor text. If your domain name already includes your best keywords, that makes it natural for them to use your best keywords in the anchor text. It also saves you the trouble of having to track down those links and request the site to change the anchor text—a task that is awkward at best. In regards to visitor click-throughs, having your keywords in your domain name can make a big difference. When browsing through the lists of links on search engine results pages (SERPs), our studies have shown that people are far more likely to click links that contain the keyword they are searching for in the domain name. Even if your competitor provides otherwise similar-to-equal enticements, if they’re lacking the specific keywords in their link, their link is more likely to be passed over. This selective click-through behavior especially pertains to web users who access the net via slow Internet connections. Because of the sometimes excruciating delay between clicking and page loading, users on slow connections tend to study each URL more closely. They look for keywords and evaluate beforehand whether or not a link appears to be worth the time investment it takes for a page to load on a slow connection. As long as your keywords are somewhere in your domain name, search engines will generally assume your domain is relevant for those keywords. The exception to the rule: excessively long and/or multiple-hyphenated keyword-stuffed domain names. For example, a plastic surgeon specializing in breast enhancement in Beverly Hills might consider registering and using this as one of her domain names… www.cosmetic-surgery-breast-enhancement-beverly-hills.com At one time, such a domain had a boosting effect on rankings. But that effect has since been radically diminished in respects to domain names with excessive dashes and characters. As you can see, the above domain name has 49 characters including five hyphens (dashes). Too many characters and too many dashes make this domain name look unnatural or spammy from the SEPOV. Therefore, we recommend no more than one hyphen at most—preferably none; and to create the shortest domain name possible based on what’s available and what makes sense to your potential site visitors in relationship to your business. In a perfect scenario, your best domain name is typically your primary keyword or keyword combination. Whenever that isn’t possible, at least try to get your most important keyword inserted somewhere into your domain name. The other drawback to domains with hyphens is that they’re harder for customers to remember. They can also be more difficult to convey by word-of-mouth since people have to say “cheap dash art dash supplies dot com” instead of just “cheap art supplies dot com.” When we purchase domains names, we often buy both versions; with and without dashes separating the keywords. By purchasing both versions, you can keep these alternative domains out of the hands of your competitors. It’s also a good idea to register common misspellings of your domain name, especially these days when annual domain fees are so affordable; about $10 a year at GoDaddy.com. Misspelled and other alternate versions of your domain name can then be redirected to your primary domain name so that anybody who inadvertently goes to the “wrong” URL will still end up in the right place (don’t worry, we’ll cover URL redirection in the next lesson). However, you should avoid registering domains with double–dashes separating keywords, like: www.art–supplies.com Not only does this make it even harder for your customers to remember your domain name, but search engines may not even index your sites that use double dashes in the domain name. The reason why is because this strategy has been abused in the past. Overall, buying the .com, .org, or .net version of a domain name that exactly matches your primary keyword phrase is one of the most effective strategies for building a potentially high ranking site from the ground up.
Domain Names that Please Customers and Search Engines
When designing your site, striking the right balance between a site that search engines like and a site that your customers like can be tricky. Unfortunately, choosing a domain name falls directly into that same tricky category. Here are a couple of guidelines to help you choose: If your intention is to build a long-term online business that will be marketed through a variety of online and offline media, then go with a short, catchy, trademarkable name that you can easily build a brand around. OR If your intention is mainly to get ranked with the search engines, then go for the keyword-rich domain name. Regardless of your exact approach, getting your keywords into your domain name will always boost your search engine ranking—particularly when your domain name exactly matches the keyword or keyword phrase you’re targeting. Even if your company name is your domain name, such as PlanetOcean.com, it’s still a good idea to register other relevant keyword-rich domain names pertaining to your goods and services whenever you find them available. For instance, we also own… This gives us the option of setting up specialized sites that place our services in the paths of people who are using the search engines to locate our specialty product or service. It’s like buying online ‘real estate’ for the future. There’s always a good chance the time will come when you’ll want to develop these vacant ‘properties.’ This strategy also keeps these choice domain names out of the hands of future competitors, making it harder for them to enter your market.
Choosing a Domain Extension: .com? .net? .org? .biz? .info?
When researching possible domain names, you should see what’s available in the .org or .net categories. These are given equal billing with search engines and it may be easier to find the domain you want if you target those extensions. You are likely to find they are generally more available to register, or else can be purchased from the owner for a cheaper price, than the .com version. If you’re outside the U.S., or targeting a market outside the U.S., country-specific domains such as .co.uk or co.in are also a good choice. Such domains will typically give you an advantage in ranking for queries performed by people in those countries. However, be aware that the advantage that .com holds over all other domain name suffixes is one of adapting to your visitor’s habits. People tend to assume that a site’s URL will end in .com, regardless of the fact that search engines typically don’t care one way or the other. In other words, if you don’t control the .com version of your chosen domain name, you could be losing the so-called type-in traffic (i.e., traffic that ensues when a searcher simply types their search directly into a browser’s address bar). If you can’t secure your chosen domain as a .com, then you may want to choose a different domain. Whoever controls that .com is going to end up getting some of your traffic. However, if your goal is primarily to rank in the engines, and you don’t mind that some traffic might bleed off when people inadvertently enter .com by mistake, then .org and .net domains are just as good, ranking-wise, and they’re generally easier to obtain. If your business is not based in the US, then it also becomes important to acquire a country specific domain name extension. For instance, if your business is based in the UK and you want your site to be found within Google UK’s “pages from the UK” search feature, then you must have either a .co.uk domain extension, or else your site must be hosted within the UK. However, even if you do have the country-specific extension, it’s still important that you also control the .com to avoid losing type-in traffic. You can then forward the .com version of your domain to your country-specific domain. Occasionally you’ll see domains with the .info extension. Our advice is to avoid this extension because it’s been heavily abused by search engine spammers. Such .info domains can be registered for as little as $0.99, making them a prime target for spammers looking for cheap, disposable domains. You can still build a high ranking site on a .info domain, and some people do—but our experience is that this domain-extension has been tainted from the SEPOV and is best avoided. An additional note about domain extensions: There is evidence that Google gives a ranking advantage to domain names with .edu or .gov extensions. However, these extensions are only available to recognized educational institutions or US government entities, respectively, and are off-limits to most of us (though they are extremely valuable sources for incoming links).
In this lesson you learned:
- The importance of having the right domain name.
- How to choose the right domain name.
- The importance of choosing domain names that appeal to both customers and search engines.
- How search engines view the different domain name extensions in respects to rankings.
Congratulations, you are close to completing the book portion of this SEO course. Only two more lessons to go! …now you’re ready to learn how Web Site Architecture effects your ability to rank well in the search engines.