Lee Odden

In Search, Your Competition Isn’t Who You Think

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO

SERPS Competition“Who are your competitors?” asks the Online Marketing consultant to the new SEO client. “Company XYZ and 123” says the VP of Marketing. The consultant goes to Google and does a few searches on the key solutions offered by the client’s business. Company XYZ and Company 123 are nowhere to be found in the search results.

This situation happens a lot in the search marketing world. Companies tend to see competitors solely as who they bump up against when going after new business, or who prospects say they are also considering. But in the search world, the competition extends beyond other companies in your industry. It also includes any kind of content or information source that appears in search results wherever prospects are looking.

Accounting for the fact that search results or SERPs can vary by your location, logged in/out status and other settings, let’s say that a search for the new SEO client’s key topics reveals that the “competition” in search results includes lesser known players who have invested smartly in good Search Engine Optimization as well as entries from 3rd party information sources like Wikipedia, Videos from YouTube, News items from Google News and a smattering of Government and University websites. That’s not the competitive mix the sales team is thinking of, but content that can attract prospects away from discovering and consuming your marketing content is potentially a lost sale.

If your search competition isn’t your competition in the industry, what do you do differently?

Understanding and tracking the landscape of search results can reveal numerous opportunities to gain visibility on the first page of Google while the brand’s SEO effort optimizes, socializes and builds links to achieve it’s own top organic search visibility. While it always makes sense to pay attention to industry competition, if those same companies are not your competitors within Google search results, don’t get distracted. Focus on the SERPs!

How to gain benefit from other people’s SERPs:

For example, let’s say the search results distribution is as follows:

  • #1 – Wikipedia entry
  • #2 and #3 are industry competitors
  • #4 and #5 are news stories on the topic
  • #6 and #8 are blog posts
  • #7 is another industry competitor
  • #9 and #10 are articles from a Universities.

If the company has a page on Wikipedia already with citations on the topic in question, then there may be a potential edit possible on the page for the search term citing the brand’s blog or more likely their contribution to research published in a mainstream media publication (or similar). Companies are not supposed to edit their own pages. Also, if your company doesn’t have top shelf, third party citations, move on.

The news story pages should be checked as well as the blog posts to see if commenting functionality is enabled. If so, the brand marketer might add a highly valuable comment with a link back to the corporate blog or to a specific piece of useful content about the subject that they’ve published. The objective is to create awareness and for relevant referring traffic.  Example: Someone searches on a keyword phrase, they visit the article page, see your comment and click on the provided link and are now on your website. All without your website itself ranking well for the target phrase.

Further, on the blog it may be worthwhile to see if there’s a guest posting opportunity. If the blog has a post that’s already doing well on the topic, another compelling post on the topic may have an opportunity to do well also. You might even consider hiring the blogger to write an article for you and you can give them the OK to cross post to their own blog, as long as they link to the version on your own site.

The University articles are trickier, but imagine one of them is rather out dated. It’s possible that the brand marketer could create an updated version of the article following the same writing style and include an author bio or credit that links back to deeper resources on the brand’s blog or resource center. This has to be very non-commercial.

These are just a few ideas to get mentioned on the pages that already show well for important industry search terms, ie your “search competition” while the SEO effort works to Optimize and Socialize brand content to rank well on its own.

Understanding the difference between Industry Competition and Search Competition is key to taking effective SEO strategy. The things a brand marketer can do with their SEO program to gain visibility on competing, non-commercial web pages can attract direct traffic as well as provide signal that will be useful in building top visibility for brand content in search.

Have you ever had challenges with defining the competition in an online marketing effort? Have you encountered brand marketers that refuse to accept the difference between search results competition and industry competitors?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Avatar Paul Kozar says

    I would go one step further and see if some of the top informational sites would be interested in linking to your affiliate program if you have one.

  2. Bravo! I can’t tell you how many times I started a conversation with my clients with, “you know, your competition may not be your competiton…online that is.” Glad to know that industry vs. search competition is a topic well worth exploring.

    • It is indeed and the conversation is applicable to other areas too – especially when it comes to social media and networks. Online competitors there may be very different than offline competitors.

  3. Excellent topic!  The difference between search competition and industry competition is such a big point that many marketers miss.  Many of the strategies, driven by this understanding, can also help you in growing your rankings and directing traffic.  

  4. Very informative article.  Thank you.

    Hopefully online marketing jobs don’t dry up in the wake of this ongoing economic collapse.  The Dow dropped, what, 512 points today?!  It’s starting to feel like 2008 all over again.  Ever wonder what’s really going on?  I think I know.

  5. This difference between competition and search competition is quite interesting. If you are a ‘niche’ business the chances are your search competition and your competition are one in the same, but you may find companies from other regions or countries are beating you for certain keywords or phrases, which I doubt will be stealing any business from you by competing for your clients, but are certainly hindering your chances of going up the SEO rankings. A great way to battle this is to invest in SEO tools such as SEOmoz and track the rank of your competitors for keywords and start to combat against them and see how you can start to rise above them on the search engines. This will increase traffic to your website and generate more conversion and therefore hopefully more leads, which will counter the business you may lose by your physical competition. Easier said than done, but that’s the state of play it seems guys. All the best with your marketing!

  6. I like this article. I am a new reader for this blog. I hope, I can learn more and more with this blog. Thank you very much.

  7. Avatar Sydney @ Social Dynamics says

    Silly me, I naively thought the competition can only be against people on the same industry. But I quite get it now that it transcends industries, especially when it concerns the SEO landscape. Thanks for the clarification!

  8. I am in the Online Marketing team of the company and we have the real Marketing team in our office. They have a different set of competitors and I have a different set.
    Great post! I always used to ignore the Wikipedia page, but surely from now on I will be careful. Thanks.

  9. Thanks for sharing! 

  10. Avatar Cadavis2 says

    I am a marketing student and found this blog to be very helpful in my research.
    Thank you!