The 30 minutes competitive research

Every time we receive a quote request, we are also asked by the potential clients to discuss what we will do so to improve their business via organic search or, in general, thanks to our digital marketing services.

If you are serious, you will have not present an “SEO package”, you will prepare a pitch.

The most common mistake I see in pitches – and I saw many because, you know, clients tend to tell you what others agencies or consultants are proposing them – is that we tend to sell ourselves using our jargon (link juice, canonicalization, hreflang, schema.org, DA/PA/TrustFlow…) and not really talk about what matters to them: money and how to beat their competitors.

But, how to do a competitive research without loosing too much time and that is good enough for showing the client that we know their market, what their competitors are doing (and they are not) and so to propose concrete ideas for achieving their desired goals?

What I am going to present you is an hypothetic exercise, which is the best way I found to present you how I prepare my pitches without being “foggy” thanks to my 30 minutes competitive research.

The exercise

An Italian real estate portal – Casa.it for this exercise –  contacted you because they want to “reaffirm their leadership in the market” and improve it.

After doing the happy dance, you must start thinking about the pitch, but do you have the information for creating a good one? Do you know the market?

#1 – Inform yourself about the niche of your client (5 minutes)

Do you really know the Italian real estate niche? No, I am not talking about the technical SEO peculiarities of that niche, neither about how to promote or doing link building in that niche. I am talking about real business knowledge.

Thankfully there is something called Google and thousands of official studies in the web, or even white papers competitors or even our potential client have published.

The most important thing is to use well the “Search tools” option Google offers. Ok, I know it may sound obvious but, let me tell you, it is not so obvious at all.

evoluzione del mercato immobiliare in Italia - Google Search Google Chrome, hoy at 11.40.18

If you have the Mozbar installed in your Chrome or Firefox browser, you can immediately have interesting information you will use later too:

evoluzione del mercato immobiliare in Italia - Buscar con Google Google Chrome, hoy at 11.50.49

Do not forget to look at the Images SERPs, because there you can find charts that can help you understand the state of your client’s industry very fast, apart presenting graphics you may use in your same pitch, like this:figura2-nomisma

Thanks to this relatively simple search, we now understand – and have data to show our awareness of – that the Italian real estate market suffered a dramatic decrease in the volume of sold houses because of the recent economic crisis, albeit the price per square meter did not collapsed so much as it happened, for instance, in the Spanish market.

We know, now, that our client objective is:

  1. To gain as much visibility it’s possible;
  2. So it may obtain as many leads it can;
  3. Because it needs to sell more houses in order to sustain its activity.

In others words, we have real goals and not some SEOish ones to talk about. Links, optimized architecture et al will be only means to achieve those goals.

#2 Discovering and analyzing the competitors (3 minutes)

The search we did gave us already a hint about a potential competitor (Idealista.it), but using Google Search and keywords for understanding which are the real competitors is not the best way to follow.

Much better is using a tool like Similarweb, which offers us the possibility to analyze industry niches per country:

SimilarWeb Pro - Industry Analysis Google Chrome, hoy at 12.51.36

Similarweb is not perfect. For instance, in the snapshot we can see websites like adboost.it that nothing have to do with real estate.

Moreover, Similarweb clickstream based metrics tend to fail when it comes to very niche industries or to websites with low traffic metrics.

However, when it comes to industries like real estate, tourism or fashion where the numbers tend to be high, then Similarweb proved having a stronger correlation with real data than any other tool like Quantcast, Alexa or Comscore.

In our exercise, we discover that Immobiliare.it, Idealista.it and Tecnocasa.it are the competitors to look after in terms of traffic share.

It is important to look also to what the segmented vision of the different channels tell us:

  • Referrals, for instance, tells us that the competitors is able to drive traffic to its own site thanks to offsite marketing campaign or, more realistically in the real estate market, thanks to co-marketing actions like having a houses search box in others websites (i.e.: news sites). Both cases alert us of possible issues (Duplicated content?) and/or opportunities (diversification of the traffic sources);
  • Search informs us about the organic visibility of our competitors and its quality;
  • Social tells us about the ability our competitors have in translating social conversations into traffic. For instance, in our case, we would see how Immobiliare.it and Idealista.it exceed very much all the others brands on this front;
  • Display Advertising is an important view, because – for instance – is telling us that Immobiliare.it is investing a lot in this channel, about 10X more than Tecnocasa.it. Why? Or that Idealista.it is almost not investing in display advertising, but still it is the second most powerful real estate brand in terms of overall traffic;
  • Direct traffic is the thermometer of how much a brand is known. The more a brand in known in a niche, the more it will receive direct traffic… and branding is essential right now in digital marketing and SEO, because it has been proved how much branded keywords may lead a site to rank for the equivalent non branded keywords even if it is not very well optimized for them;
  • Mail, finally, tells us about the ability the competitors have in retaining leads and, eventually, to convert and improve the Lifetime value of their users.

#3 Analyzing the Organic Search Competition (6 minutes)

If you are an SEO, but even if you are a broader digital marketer, analyzing how your competitors perform in organic search is extremely useful, because we can discover things that go further the simple SEO sphere.

For this kind of competitive analysis, I tend to use SIStrix and SEMrush, but surely there are others tools that can offer the same insights.

The reason I like SIStrix is because I consider that its Visibility Index is the closest to what Google Analytics may tell us in terms of organic search visibility of a site.

Let see what it tells us about our hypothetical client (Casa.it) and the competitors we individuated before:

SISTRIX Google Chrome, hoy at 17.22.19

The Visibility Index graphic is a like a painting: you can read many stories behind the simple lines… and in this case the stories are very interesting also for our hypothetic pitch:

  1. Immobiliare.it, the competitor that seemed being the hardest to win, is clearly living in an SEO emergency state since Panda 4.0 (pin C in the graph), and it was not able to solve the penalization, which became more severe after the Phantom Update. This may explain why – as we saw before – it is investing so much in Display Advertising.
  2. Casa.it, our “client”, has become the leader in terms of Visibility Index, but it does not seem that it earned this status because it did something special. It became the leader because Immobiliare.it had fallen.
  3. Idealista.it is the real estate portal that in reality has the biggest chances to become the market leader in Italy in the next future, because – on the contrary of all the others – is the only website that steadily grows since November 2014. Our “client”, then, should look and analyze what Idealista is doing so to justify that growth. Does Idealista have a better architecture? Does it have a better link building strategy?
  4. Tecnocasa.it Visibility is flat, which suggests us that SEO maybe its not something they really care about…

With SIStrix, then, we can easily discover gaps in the architecture of our potential client. For instance, we can see how Casa.it is composed by a quite complicated (and absurd) system of subdomains, which maybe would need to be consolidated:

Panoramica - casa.it Google Chrome, hosts

We can discover this kind of information also with other tools (eg.: Similarweb > Website Analysis > Website Content > Subdomains) or with a simple advanced search on Google.

#4 Keyword Competitive Analysis (4 minutes)

Keywords matters, we should not have any doubt about it, and rankings too, not by themselves obviously, but because indicators of a healthy search visibility.

In our preparation for the pitch, we should also note, again, how Idealista really should be considered as the Competitor, because – and this is something we can easily discover with the Domain vs. Domain tools by SEMrush, it does not do almost any Adwords:

casa.it (by adwords) * immobiliare.it (by adwords) * idealista.it (by adwords) Google Chrome, hoy at 18.12.57

The Domain Vs Domain tool is, obviously, extremely useful for discovering how much our “client” and the competitors are overlapping in organic keyword competition:

casa.it (by organic) * immobiliare.it (by organic) * idealista.it (by organic) Google Chrome, hoy at 18.20.56

#5 Competitive Link Analysis (7 minutes)

We can use whatever of the main link analysis tools for this quick analysis.

In my case I tend to use Open Site Explorer:

  • because metrics like DA/PA somehow have become a standard;
  • because of the usability of its output;
  • because it includes the Spam Score both at subdomain and domain level;
  • because its “Compare Links Metrics” section presents us also useful social media shares metrics.

#6 Competitive Content Analysis (5 minutes)

One of the less talked features of Buzzsumo is the “Domain Comparison” one.

This feature – as it name says – allows us to compare two domains knowing:

  • Article Metrics (how many Buzzsumo analyzed, total shares and average shares);
  • Average Shares by Network;
  • Average Shares by Content Type;
  • Total Shares by Date Published;
  • Average Shares by Content Length.

In this exercise I compared Casa.it, the “client”, with Idealista.it, the “Competitor”, and I was able to understand very fast that:

  1. Casa.it is publishing less but have better shares average than Idealista.it;
  2. Both sites see in Facebook their main Social Network;
  3. That both rely strongly on List kind of articles;
  4. That they most successful day for posting is Thursday;
  5. That Idealista.it has more shares for long-forms than Casa.it, which seems telling us that Idealista.it is more proactive in producing studies, while Casa.it relies more on short and – maybe – easier to produce clickbaits.

Social shares, though, doesn’t equal to earning links, as the same Buzzsumo and Moz study proved. And this is not different for Casa.it.

However, if we have seen from the .csv of the backlinks of our competitors we downloaded that they have links from big sites, it is surely important to see what kind of content types are the most successful in those big sites themselves.

For instance, Idealista.it has inbound links from the important news site Repubblica.it, and Buzzsumo is telling us how long-forms and studies published there tend to have an important volume of shares, which matches with the information we had about Idealista.it having good volume of social share for long-forms:

repubblica.it - Content Analysis Google Chrome, hoy at 19.51.56

#7 Social Media Competitive Analysis (5 minutes)

This is the last analysis we need for preparing our pitch call with the “client”.

Be aware, though, that I am not talking about Social Media as a Social Media Marketer would do, but as an SEO or Content Marketer. In other words, with this analysis I want to have a first glimpse of the so-called influencers and people/brands that can help amplifying the “client” campaigns and website.

For this analysis we can use tools like Followerwonk, Klear or Impactana, but we should remember how the main Social Network for all the sites in this niche is Facebook. Moreover, we should know that Twitter is indeed used in Italy, but where the influencers really are is Facebook.

Therefore, we should spend 3 of the 5 minutes in performing searches in Facebook using some the great suggestions David Mihm shared at Mozcon this year.

Conclusion

30 minutes, or little more, is enough for retrieving useful information with which you can inform your pitch, written or by voice.

Hopefully, you have snapshotted all the researches you have done, so you can use them in your documents or look at more quietly or use for informing and making deeper competitive research you will perform later… because, yes, doing so your probabilities of winning the client are bigger than just talking about link juice and architecture.

About Gianluca Fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli is an SEO and Web Marketing Strategist, who operates in the Italian, Spanish and English speaking countries market. He also works regularly as independent consultant with bigger international SEO agencies.