Most business owners start with a pretty good idea of who they are competing against before they even set up shop. This is valuable information that can help you overcome a deficit of knowledge that you may not even know you have. Just as competitor knowledge is valuable for offline businesses, a business owner must also have intimate knowledge of those who they are competing against online as well.
You need to know who is the leader in your industry, and then do what you can to find out how they achieved it.
You need to know what keywords they are ranking for and whether those are bringing in good business or not.
You need to know how they are reaching and speaking to their audience and whether that is getting the best returns or not.
This research gives you a good idea of what sites you’ll be going up against as you optimize. Look at the sites that are in the top positions to see if they are in fact sites that are in your same industry. Often times what you think is a good keyword will produce results that are completely different from what you expected. It may very well be that your audience is performing different searches than you thought they would and/or the search engines analyze that phrase differently than you had expected.
If the results on keyword searches are not what you thought, start looking at additional keywords. Your keyword research will give you a lot of keyword options, but it won’t give you the searcher’s intent. Searching and actually finding your true competition will tell you if any given keyword is a good one.
Once you start seeing your competitors coming up in the search results, you can start getting a sense of how competitive you’ll have to be to out-perform them. Are you looking at average sites with very little name recognition and financial marketing investment? Or are you seeing the giants of your industry that have deep pockets funding their online marketing efforts? Knowing this information can give you a pretty good idea of what you’ll need to invest to surpass them.
Once you know what you are up against for all the most-searched terms, you have a choice to make. Will you compete on the same level as those with the deepest pockets and largest marketing budgets? Or will you compete on a more manageable level with other sites within your range?
If you’re one of the big guys with deep pockets, then by all means… go for it! If not, and unless you’re ready to invest big with little short-term payout, don’t try to be a David up against a Goliath. A good strategy is to begin your efforts on a more manageable scale that will ultimately start bringing in returns sooner rather than later, producing quality results and increased sales.
You can then use that foundation, having built your site up and achieved a status as an industry authority, to work yourself up to the more competitive keywords. The investment over the long term is usually about the same, the difference is how quickly you start bringing in quality traffic and increased sales.