Who is Your Competition on the Web?

A team of rescue swimmers congregates at the beach in a circle. There are 3 women and 10 men. They all have almost black wet suits on.

Who are your competitors? You think you know.

Yet your offline understanding of competition does not work on the Web!

You don’t know or realize though! Let me explain.

Who Do You Think Your Competition is?

When business owners contact me for some type of SEO services I usually start with niche keyword research.

To understand their business model, market and search objectives I also ask them to name a few competing sites.

Usually when they refer to their competitors they name a few businesses from the same industry

  • who sell the same products or services as them.
  • who cater to the exact same audiences (like other SEO blogs).
  • who serve the same locale (like Berlin, Germany in my case).

This might be true for the offline world!

On the Web there are much bigger competitors. Who are they?

This is for many search engine results the most common list of competitors:

  1. Google
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Mainstream media
  4. Amazon
  5. Ebay
  6. Content farms
  7. Shopping search engines
  8. Corporate bloggers
  9. Spammers
  10. Your conventional competitors

Your actual competitors who sell the same stuff you offer do not have to be at the end of this list.

It depends on the niche, keywords and how competitive they are.

Other small businesses are by far not your most important competition.

Besides, your industry peers are not necessarily just rivals.

You can work together for the benefit of all parties involved. I’ll explain below.

Embracing Outgoing Links and Social Media Shares

That’s one of the main differences between SEO and SEO 2:

in old school SEO people believed that they have to hoard PageRank and never link out.

Under no circumstances were you allowed to link to directly competing sites.

When blogs and social media finally arrived in business circles most sane people have abandoned this approach.

These days the SEO industry has a whole community of its own.

The SEO community is highly interlinked both by hyperlinks and real life links between humans.

Also most SEO specialists are heavy users of social media and sharing links by their peers all of the time.

and all kinds of other social media outlets have been embraced by the SEO practitioners early on.

Your most dangerous competition are the big guys!

As you see in the list above at least nine of these mentioned above are big guys.

Google is the elephant in the room you directly compete with.

It’s not just search, it’s the attention economy.

Google is grabbing more and more so-called SERP real estate for itself and its services.

Ads Bury Actual Results

Many users won’t even notice your organic search results. Why?

They will not even notice you as that would require lots off scrolling and ignoring all kinds of competing SERP features above your organic listing.

They click a Google ad or one of the myriad of their other properties and services.

You can’t compete with Google! You can try to buy your way into Google ads.

Yet when Google chooses to display their other services on top of yours you lost.

You have to focus on a keyword Google hasn’t usurped completely yet.

A huge competitor is also Wikipedia, the greatest content farm of all!

It successfully poses as a non-profit while earning money “by donations” and not paying their contributors.

Wikipedia will outrank your site in most cases even when it’s ridiculous.

Search for [film] or even [films] and Google will serve you a Wikipedia entry which explains what a film is on top.

It’s worse than that! Wikipedia will give away the whole plot of a movie with a proper spoiler alert!

Additionally Google will show content from Wikipedia and other sites on top the actual results.

This way there is no need to even click a link to third party sites anymore. The responses on Google suffice.

Mainstream Media Has Overtaken Blogging

Another even more disturbing competitor is mainstream media.

They do not only cover news anymore these days. They are frantically searching for SEO opportunities as well.

This way they also that they rank on top for commercial queries like [iPad].

Amazon and Ebay are also almost everywhere and either you join them or you risk obscurity for many keywords and phrases.

Many people have written about content farms and the Google quality update aimed at curbing their prominence in Google results.

Even though Demand Media’s eHow and About.com by the NYT have lost reach due to the “Panda” update the NYT still thrives.

Shopping search engines have been hit hard by Google updates but they are still competition you have to watch closely.

Price comparison sites are often at the forefront of modern SEO.

You need to know what they are doing to be able to cope with changes.

Corporate blogs and industrial strength spammers seem like an unlikely couple to mention together.

Yet they are both more important than you online.

Try to rank in the technology sector and industry leading blogs will make you humble.

You can’t compete with the teach giants TechCrunch, The Verge or The Next Web out of nowhere.

Tech blogs owned by large corporations have whole teams of writers frantically covering the latest gadgets.

Try the same thing in the pharmacy business online and you’ll face a huge onslaught of spam

infested sites and hacked pages redirecting you do the spammer’s shops.

Spammers are faster than the search engines and they’ll always find a loophole.

While they might disappear on one day they will reappear on the next with another site or hijacked blog.

How to Compete with Giants

Now, how can you compete with all of them?

There are two ways to do so. The most common one is:

If you can’t beat them, join them:

  • pay for Google ads
  • contribute to Wikipedia
  • send out press releases to journalists
  • set up an Ebay and Amazon store
  • toil on content farms
  • guest blog on a-list blogs
  • buy links like Google does.

There is also a new way, the SEO 2 way:

Joining forces with other bloggers or peers, sometimes your actual competitors.

You can outrank the big guys by working together with other bloggers.

I have done that in the past by joining a group of bloggers determined to help each other.

Yet I always preferred the intuitive SEO 2 way of cooperation.

It’s been called mutual aid prior to the Internet.

I link out to my peers or “competitors” and they link back to me.

Not all of them do, but some of them do and some even give back more than they get.

Why? It’s because once you give and get a few times you stop counting.

You just share resources as in real life with friends and family.

Cooperation not competition is the only way bloggers and small businesses can compete.

Then they compete mainly with their real competitors from big business and big media, big Google included.

Yet most people prefer to fight each other. This benefits nobody.

At the end of the day not even the billionaires running the real competition.