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When Push Comes to Shove!

Mar 15, 2008
How much traffic and potential revenue are you losing each month to your online competition? It really doesn't get any more simple than that.

All idioms and cliches aside, when friendly competition escalates into an all out hostile takeover for a competitive keyword and push comes to shove in search engines, the winner boils down to the one who employs the most comprehensive and engaging SEO Strategy.

In many ways, just like a healthy game of chess, SEO similarly has multiple elements in common. Particularly the tactical strategies that occur behind the scenes which all depend on a delicate balance of intricacies that if rushed or forced to mature before their time, can leave you vulnerable to penalties and mistakes.

A strong opening (in the rankings) can be neutralized if your competitor sacked to many pieces and then makes a mistake (in the end game) and as a result has to concede to checkmate.

SEO, Like a Good Game of Chess, Requires a Solid Strategy

Just like a fundamental chess strategy is making sure that each piece is working in tandem with others (the knight protect the bishops, the rooks protect the knights, the queen is augmenting a pawn who has 2 major pieces pinned down). Think of your pages, your links and your marketing and advertising in this fashion, each must work in tandem with the other in order to have the most impact and minimize risk.

For example, I have seen numerous instances where making the slightest change to a title, removing a pivotal keyword from a page or some otherwise seemingly random event that may at the time have seemed insignificant, unravel the most decorated page in a site which resulting in the page plummeting 20 to 30 positions upon re-indexing.

Similarly if links were passing juice and then were lost, there goes the foundation for a high ranking position. With so many pitfalls possible, there is a reason why SEO's insist on (1) backing up data and (2) tracking their results and tactics and (3) making changes slowly over time just in case something breaks (or works better than expected).

Looking below the surface (is like thinking 6 moves ahead)

Sometimes the effects of any change occur subtly outside of the range of visible cause and effect correlations and until you truly understand which components are functioning in unison, you have to be careful not to upset the natural balance of your site and it's relationship to search engine algorithms.

There is enough change as a result PHD's beta testing of new search engine algorithms. So make sure your not delving into short-term fixes (on a whim) when you should be concerned about long-term goals. Strategy is not an afterthought, since search results do not just magically appear in the top 10, somebody, somewhere (either through a singular or concerted effort) have invested time in nurturing the site to get it to where it is now.

As battles are fought on a daily basis for millions of keywords, you can be on top of the world for months in the top 10 search engine results and then rest on your laurels and be passed by a cunning competitor with a completely unique optimization strategy.

Determining what that strategy is and how to counter it (by building links, creating more content or just waiting) is the key. The last thing you want to do is invoking a penalty for excessive over-optimization, which can occur if you act to fast, build links to aggressively or break the search engine guidelines.

Know When your Strategy is Working and When to Retaliate

Once you hit the top 30 or top 20 results for a keyword for example, you should slow the pace of link building (at least in exact match) for those terms.

In the beginning what may have taken 50 links per month (tactfully created) may only require 6-10 links to maintain and defend a flanking attack from the competition.

Finding a viable solution to augment market share is one of the deciding factors that will determine technique that with prevail (such as adding 5 new social bookmarks to the page each month from different sources) or building links to those links instead of your pages directly.

Sometimes the best action is not to act, but knowing when, how and why is what distinguishes those who constantly hover in the upper echelon of extremely competitive terms (like a laser beam) vs. those who diffuse their efforts (like a flashlight).

So the next time you start obsessing over keywords as they rise and fall in the sea of the rhythmic ebb and tide of search. Just remember, do you set the tone and act or are you reacting to a false alarm or a trap. Just like a faint, a fake or a deliberate gesture designed to captivate your attention, sometimes you have to look for the subtler motives of how and why your competition is taking the steps they are.

Just like a good game of chess, the opening move can determine the outcome of the end game, you just have to be patient enough to assess the circumstances before making snap judgments so you can determine which path is the most likely candidate for success.

Defending the Castle - Your Traffic Bearing-Keywords

Once you acquire a competitive term, you have to maintain it, take that by 10, 20, 30, hundreds or thousands of keyword combinations and it is a tall order for any individual or group to administer. For example, I may write 5 pages of content, just to augment 1 page in the rankings.

Naturally, to a novice they look at the smoke and mirrors, but the true result of the optimization occurs in 3-4 months (and does not always leave such a clear trail regarding the origin of the link juice).

Know your Enemy by Assessing their Strategy

Everything leaves a trail, but just how committed are you to finding it? An initial assessment of the competition would include factors such as:

1) How many links are pointed at the home page proportionately to other pages in the site?
2) Is there a theme in the footer links to determine a footprint of global link density for specific key terms?
3) Are the h1 tags consistent with the title?
4) How many links are on the page?
5) Are the links optimized? (with keywords or click here non-SEO link structures).
5) How many pages are in the site?
6) Are there sub folders?
7) If so, are they interlinked or do they use a unique form of capping internal links through the use of no-follow? Are the sub folders keyword rich, etc.?

It's not any one component you are looking for, but rather a combination of components that can determine which SEO technique or ranking strategy a site is using to prominently acquire a higher ranking position (compared to others in the same niche). For this reason, you must constantly experiment to determine which optimization strategies when coupled yield favorable results.

This is the true basis of SEO, which is not being afraid of change and figuring out how to fix something when it's broken, instead of never taking a chance on a new technique.

The Value of Adding Layers to your Offense - Optimizing Adjectives & Modifiers

In closing, another thing worth noting is the use of strategic modifiers to increase traffic. With all the focus on trying to keep up with the Joneses and targeting the two word (most competitive phrases in your niche), so many companies often overlook optimizing the phrases that could yield the highest returns.

Did you know you can increase website traffic exponentially from just adding a few unique modifiers by adding words like; rates, pricing, new, leading, top or the word best) to your keyword repetior. The great thing about modifiers is, so many overlook them when optimizing a site.

Other money phrases (keywords that are used when consumer are ready to purchase) for consideration are (affordable, deals, rates, pricing, packages) that can draw leads to your business like flies to honey. Save yourself about 2 years of trying to figure out why you have traffic but sales are slouching, just think like your consumer and put the content on your pages you would expect to see if you were in a problem solutions based scenario and trying to cut the fat quick.

What it really boils down to is this, if you have keywords that yield results, then you defend them, if you have keywords that are just for vanity, either let them go or see if there is a way to bridge the gap and tie them in to other keywords that have traffic.

With so many ways to make an impact online, you could potentially call checkmate and force your competitors to recede from the throne of the top 5 positions above the fold using local search, press releases, guest blogging, article marketing, performing an internal link audit or optimized site redesign, re-optimizing your existing pages with fresh content, building links, creating a contest or viral marketing campaign, you just have to take your time, plan your moves carefully and make sure that each strategy supports the next.
About the Author
Jeffrey L. Smith is an seasoned search engine optimization expert and founder of SEO Design Solutions SEO company. Jeffrey has been involved in internet marketing since 1995 and brings fresh optimization methods and search engine optimization services to businesses seeking organic search engine placement.
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