Search Analytics & Competitive Intelligence

OK, SMX Advanced London Day 2 is underway!

We start with Search Analytics & Competitive Intelligence

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Executive Editor, Search Engine Land

Q&A Moderator: Cameron Cowan, Product Manager, Omniture, An Adobe company


Karl Blanks, Chairman and Resident Rocket Scientist, Conversion Rate Experts — Out sick
David Sottimano, SEO Consultant, Distilled
John Straw, Founder, VP Business Development, Linkdex

@cjsherman @dsottimano @johnstraw

Chris gives the intro. In the old days things were more of a black box. You did what you could and watched the results. Now there’s so much more you can know about everything. You may not be watching your competitors, you can be sure that they’re watching you.

David Sottimano from Distilled is up first.

Your CEO will ask you: Why aren’t we #1?

And you can cite all the reasons: our competitors have more links, better content, etc. But does the boss care? You have to be able to say “this is why, this is what we have to do.”

His first gig he came out with a report. Lots of stats. Nothing actionable. So he decided he was never going to do that again.

So he tried something different.

Needed an actionable process: “If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must the greatest prodigality.” — Ben Franklin [Wow, even the Brits quote him]

Identify your competitors. Not the offline ones. The ones competing for your SERPs. Then educate your boss.

You know what’s funny? Wikipedia is your competitor. Amazon is your competitor. Not necessarily who you’d think about that you compete with offline.

He’s got a spreadsheet:

You need 3 things:

  1. Keyword list: what you have, what you want
  2. Rankings: you & top competitors
  3. URLs ranking for each keyword

Dump it into Excel, for you and your top competitors.

Look for sections of the website.

They found that their competitors success was coming from their Q&A section.

He did a formula giving 40% weight for #1 ranking, 8% for #5, etc. (based on AOL data).

Why are we not #1? They have amazing Q&A. We need that.

Now we go back to being SEOs. Now we can deep dive. Use tools like SEOMoz, Majestic.

Tell your boss we need Q&A or other UGC, optimized and exposed to search engines.

Do try this at home

  • Find SEO competitors — use
  • Get high level data – break down the sections
  • Answer the question – what are they doing better than me
  • Deep dive for data
  • Use data to build your own, better feature

OK, nice presentation. Now … we wait for tech issues … and we’re back, with John Straw.

We’re talking about getting intimate with your competitors. Need to really understand them.

Asks 3 questions:

  1. Do you get regular competitor info (About 80% of the hands go up)
  2. Is it actionable? (40% – 50%)
  3. Are you actioning it? (20%)

OK, “Chris, I think we have an industry problem. We all talk about competitive information but we’re not really doing anything about it. I think because it’s too hard. Getting it is hard. Acting on it is even harder.”

Start with Open Site Explorer. Gets a show of hands, many people say they’re using it. [Rand Fishkin’s spirit has been strong at this conference].

MajesticSEO is also great. Fresher. Nearly as large as Google. Free-ish. But only reports link data.

John’s company worked on creating the biggest web map recrawled to curate the data into something meaningful.

Their mathematicians took a huge dump of the web and came up with graphs as to how their competitors are using blogs, news, wiki, forums, and social.

Says they have a record of developing internal technology and then providing it to the public domain.


Sign up for APIs for Majestic & Moz. And then do lots of complicated stuff. Classify each site as a blog, wiki, etc. Use recursive partitioning. Yeah. Not quite sure whether he’s trying to really explain and he’s just too fast for me, or he’s trying to show how mere mortals can’t do this. Probably a little of both.

And our third speaker is out sick, so we’re off to Q&A.

Hmm … anyone? Anyone? Here we go …

Q: Should we build our own tools?

John: “I just spent a lot of money building tools to provide to the SEO community so they wouldn’t have to build their own.” So no.

David: There are certain things I could never do. What John built is out of my reach. But you need to be able to do some quick things yourself. Leave the serious stuff to the big guys.

John: The market place is changing. SEO used to be stand alone, now you’ll be working with the rest of Marketing. You’ll need to share the info.

Chris: We’ve been talking about tools. What about the people. We have these highly placed people that have power, but they don’t always seem to have the ability to understand what you’re doing.

David: You have to take a Sales approach. Who is your client or boss. Are they ego-driven? I know this sounds manipulative, but to get things done, do it. At the end of the day we’re sales people. More introverted. Talk to your sales people [that’s what the other Distilled guy said yesterday]. Figure out how to get things done. Saying “you need a blog” isn’t enough.

John: These are cultural issues. The culture comes down from the CEO. The more educated CEOs get it, understand it’s about the path, not just the output. In some places all they care about is the competitive info so they can say “this is why we’re losing.”

Q: What are some good crawler tools?

John: Those aren’t too difficult to build. The trick is building them in a way that’s scalable. We’ve spent tens of thousands of pounds [that’s a lot of weight] building efficient crawlers. There’s lots of stuff out there, a whole load of scripts.

David: Justin Briggs had a good post on SEOMoz last night, check that out. [Hmm .. he may mean this post from Casey Henry: Raising the bar on data sharing.]

Q: You often run into crawling limits with Google. What do you do?

John: How do I answer this … we know a company that has access to lots of proxy servers … [I guess that’s one way to do it].

Chris: Matt Cutts is actually listening in [laughter … as though Matt .. or the relevant people at Google not being here in person means Google could never know what’s said here]

Chris: Yesterday Google announced that they’re changing the news algo to remove most of the blogs

Q: Subdomain vs Subdirectory. If a client needs a whole new section to a site which way do you go?

David: Depends. If Distilled didn’t have a blog and someone else did I’d have a blog folder. To make it easier for everyone.

John: Best advantage of a subdomain is much easier to use a different CMS on it, and you have control of that area.

John: We have a section that finds non-branded anchor text. It’s amazing how big this link buying thing is. “Beach holidays in Spain.” We found hundreds of sites with exactly that anchor text linking to one particular site. Coincidence? Google knows this. It’s hard for them to deal with this.

Q: We want to show a report showing importance of each keyword to our business.

David: I tried to do this. Look at your conversions. Use the AOL study, or eye tracking studies. It will still just be an educated guess.

John: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Everybody has very different numbers. You need to stick with one metric over the years so you can track trends.

Chris: And there are attribution issues. You don’t want to just look at the last click that led to the purchase, a previous click may have set it all up.

John: We map against PageRank for want of any better metric. It’s the only thing Google will tell you. We used Majestic Link Map, then applied Alexa data on top of that, and got an interesting view from traffic perspective. So if a site is authoritative is it also popular? Alexa also lets us see where a site is getting its traffic from (geographically).

Q: What features does Screaming Frog offer that Xenu does not

David: Better for seeing things like is your Analytics code on every page, checking page elements … It’s better optimized code for SEO purposes. Don’t take my word for it, try it, it’s free.

And we’re out of questions and finishing early. See you soon with Keyword Research Ninja Tactics.