Maux has worked with enough clients to know that spending $600-700 per month might work wonders in SEO for law firms that are small or in very non-competitive markets.  Expecting the same results in more competitive fields is a mistake that can quickly sink the hopes of even the most devoted marketing teams.

Ultimately, the amount your company needs to budget depends on what your competition is up to.  Now, while we’ve never shied away from calling up our client’s competition to see how they answer their phones, what their hourly rates are, or who they refer their clients to – they still get awfully suspicious when we start asking about the size of their internet marketing staff.

Who would have thought that could give it away?

We’re going to look at 4 main areas to to quickly see if your competitors are taking steps to SEO their website and give you an idea of what efforts might be needed on your end to kick up the returns on your internet marketing efforts:

  • Keyword Focus and Possible AdWords Campaigns

  • Content Strategy

  • Backlinking Strategy

  • Social Media Efforts

Are they writing content?

Spending the time to craft relevant and timely content is a large (and much needed!) expense in a SEO campaign.  A company might just focus on their on-site blog, but in the long run you’ll want to be pushing your content off-site in order to make sure your stepping up the standards of any backlinking you might focus on.

This step is one of the quickest – we want to look at two things:

Do they have a blog?  Is it updated often?

This step is easy – type their URL in and see if they maintain a blog or they regularly published articles or pages.  Blogs should make this step easy as they list the last date they were updated in the most recent post.  Take a look at what kind of content they are putting out.  Is it spammy?  Is is full of images and videos?  Use this as a base when determining what kind of content you want to create as well as how often you need to write.

Are they publishing content off-site?

Finding content published off of their main site might be a little harder.  We mentioned in a previous blog post how great a tool Google Alerts is for lawyers, and you can use a similar trick to locate where your competitors are publishing content.  Set up Google Alerts for your competitors URL, and for the names they publish content under – you’ll get an update whenever they push out content.  You’ll also know exactly where they’ll be publishing so you can go ahead and mirror those links they are getting when you start your SEO efforts.

Are they seriously linkbuilding

Example of positive link velocity - but be forewarned - these tools lose accuracy the smaller a site is.

Example of positive link velocity – but be forewarned – these tools lose accuracy the smaller a site is.

The continual building of backlinks to your website is a cruicial part of SEO, and there are plenty of free tools to give you a taste of what your competition is doing.    A popular tool is ahrefs.com.  Don’t let the name throw you off – the domain is a testament to how a link is coded in HTML.

The next step is to type your, or your competitors domain into the tool.   Select the “*.domain./*” option and click “Explore Links”

 

 

To keep this under 5 minutes there two things to look at:

  • is the graph moving upwards

  • how many root domains are they getting links from

  • how many root domains do they have

Our personal favorite is ahrefs.com.  What sets this free tool apart from others is the measurement of “link velocity”. What we want to determine here is “how fast is my competition building links”.  AHrefs.com gives you a monthly timeline of backlinks your competitors built so you can see how much time and money they are spending on these efforts

Keyword Focus & AdWords Budgets

Examining your competitors website can also lend you some nice insights into their strategy.  I typically check out a few areas of their site code in order to see what keywords they want to optimize for and then check out their actual organic results for that term to see if they’ve had any success

Theres 2 tags you really want to hone in on are meta keywords, descriptions and title tags.  These require a bit of code-hunting, but are quite easy to locate.

Honing in on your competitors keyword focus

Meta Descriptions, Title Tags, and Meta Keywords for a fairly popular legal website

Meta Descriptions, Title Tags, and Meta Keywords for a fairly popular legal website

  1. Visit the URL of your competitor’s homepage in your Internet browser of choice.
  2. Right click on your competitors website and select “View Source” – this will pop up an additional tab that should display the source code of your competitors site.  The image to the right displays what a typical screen might look like and what these codes should look like.
  3. It’s from these codes you can determine what keywords, a site owner might be focusing their SEO campaign on, as well as how seriously they are taking their on-site SEO.  If these are optimized across their entire site, chances are they spent some time optimizing their on-site campaign.

Are they running AdWords – how much are they spending?

Another tool to quickly estimate a competitors Google AdWords budget is SpyFu.  SpyFu allows you to compare two websites and lists possible budgets a competitor is running, as well as what keywords they are focusing on.  What you want to look for is two things:

The existence of running AdWords campaigns/budget estimates

Screencap of the estimated budget of a certain legal-centric website

Screencap of the estimated budget of a certain legal-centric website

Right when you reach the homepage of spyfu – type your competitors URL into the text box at the top of the page.  You’ll be served with results similar to the image on the left – what this shows is an estimated SEM budget based on the type, number, and frequency or ads that appear across Google’s AdWords network.

The keyword reach of your site vs. your competitors

Keyword Overlap Venn Diagrams from SpyFu.com

Keyword Overlap Venn Diagrams from SpyFu.com

The second area you want to inspect is your site’s keyword reach vs. your competitors.  For this analysis select “Kombat” from the top of the menu screen on SpyFu.com and enter the two URLs you want to compare.  You’ll be served with a venn diagram of the two sites compared which display the “keyword reach” each site as well as any overlaps between the two.

This is a great way to focus in on the keywords your campaign might be lacking, as well get an idea of how many keywords a competitors site is considered relevant to.  As this is a quick overview – the one take away we want to see is “is my competitors circle larger than mine”.

Social Media

Here we just want to get an idea of how active they are across a few networks – the most popular being Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

The easiest method to locate these pages to to first check their URL – chances are if they have a page they are promoting it there.  If you’re unable to find these pages on their main URL, instead try using some focused queries in the Google search bar.

If you were a pizza company looking to find some competitor pages just use (and ignore the brackets)

  • [“Name of Competing Pizza Store” + google+] to locate the google plus page.
  • [“Name of Competing Pizza Store” + twitter] to locate the twitter account.
  • [“Name of Competing Pizza Store” + facebook] to locate the facebook page.
Now social media isn’t for everyone (just ask personal injury attorneys) but for those industries that can build a viable community you want to look at a few things:
  • Are they updating those pages often?
  • How many friends/likes/followers do they have?
  • Are they pushing offers out to their crowd?
There’s no baseline for most of these statistics – it depends entirely on your industry.  Taking a look at a few competitors can help you understand what some reasonable exceptions might be within your field.

So are they, or aren’t they focusing on their SEO?

We could easily spend hours delving deeper into your competition.  Once we start bringing them under the magnifying glass is when a lot of the more “interesting” strategies come to light.

Working with clients Majux has found extensive blog networks, paid  and reciprocal linking circles, and even some law firms taking steps to “hide” additional content they have been publishing in order to help get their sites ranked amongst a wider range of keywords.   Some of these strategies might have been implemented during a “simpler” time, when such practices were the “gold standard” for SEO, but nevertheless they all point to the existence of an SEO campaign.

To sum up: we want to see if your competitors are indeed building.  Revisiting the 4 main SEO processes above you can draw some quick conclusions based just on the existence of a couple of these practices.  If you see a competitor continually updating content or a positive linkbuilding graph you can be pretty sure they have some sort of SEO program in play.

Social media tends to be less of a factor, but companies who take the time to build these communities often understand the value of maintaining an optimized site.  What’s important to remember is that each industry is unique and ultimately you want to adjust a SEO or SEM budget to match (or even beat) what your competition seems to be spending.  It’s rare these days to find an industry that hasn’t been penetrated by an properly SEOed site, so be sure to keep these areas in mind as you craft your strategy.

Happy hunting.

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