SEO competitive analysis and outrunning bears

March 8, 2011

I was performing Search Engine Optimization competitive analysis for a client the other day, and it reminded me of a joke about the assumed futility of attempting to outrun an enraged bear in the woods:

Two campers are hanging around their campsite in the woods, when a huge brown bear suddenly appears out of the tree line about 50 feet in front of them. The bear sees the campers and begins to head toward them slowly, and then rears up on its hind legs, and emits a blood-curdling growl. The first guy throws off his flip-flops, and frantically begins to put on his trail running shoes. His buddy states in a panic, “What are you doing? Sneakers won’t help you outrun that bear.” “I don't need to outrun the bear,” the first guy shouts over his shoulder as he takes off down the trail. “I just need to outrun you.”

How does this apply to SEO? Most website owners are fixated at “beating the bear” in getting a top result in SERP (Search Engine Result Page). If your competitors are on page one of the SERP for a given search phrase, that makes sense. But if the top spots are held by websites that are not in competition, do you need to beat them, or only “the other guy,” your direct competitors?

In the case at hand, our client offers big-ticket scientific consulting services. A potential client for this organization will pass over Wikipedia and Amazon, among others (we will refer to as “search result competitors”), when seeking these specialized consulting services. If there are no viable results on the first page of SERP, the target audience will either review additional pages of results, or do a more refined search. As long as our customer is ahead of their “business competitors” it is ok if “search result competitors” best them.

While it is an admirable goal to get your website to the top of the SERP for your desired keyword phrases, if the phrase is too broad, you are likely to run up against major websites that you will not be able to beat. Make sure you are at the top of the results for phrases that include your competitors, as these are the searches that are valuable to your prospective customers, and the ones they are likely to make after their initial broad searches yield no useful results (i.e. your “business competition”).


David, love the story - great post.

Great information, thank you.

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