At today’s Farsight 2011 conference, Google and Bing squared off as Google alleged that Bing was copying its results in order to improve the relevance of their own queries. In a heated discussion, Matt Cutts accused Bing of using their toolbar data from Google queries as a model for their own results. Essentially he was saying that Google is the smart kid in the classroom and Bing is copying its answers.
This revelation involving high level espionage sheds light on a very common phenomenon in SEO and PPC affecting businesses of all sizes: competitors spying on your work and when they see results, implementing your ideas. This process doesn’t involve coded messages, drop-boxes or secret agents, often its simple observation.
For instance in PPC, advertisers continually test ads to find what works and when a business notices their competition using new set of terms or different phrasing, they will often implement it into their own test ads to see if it generates results. Mathematically this would eventually lead to all competitors writing the exact same ad but in most pay per click categories, just 25 to 50 percent of competitors do aggressive testing.
In search engine optimization where new link building and ranking techniques are copied as quickly as they are discovered, having a unique strategy and executing it well can put a significant gulf between you and your competition.
One of the first examples that comes to mind is from my experience in the asbestos litigation industry. In 2007 a new site emerged branding itself as an “awareness center” in an attempt to build an emotional and authoritative connection between itself and visitors. It also helped to develop a marketing strategy that softened their message from “Hi we’re lawyers” to “Hi we want to help and educate.”
By early 2008, another industry leading site began branding itself as a “Mesothelioma Cancer Center” in order to develop a unique angle for link building and present itself not as a resource but the resource. This branding approach of defining your site as a center is now an industry standard and if you Google “mesothelioma center” you’ll see a variety of sites and branding variations.
Sites that developed this kind of branding saw incredible gains in link building because this allowed them to approach link targets not as lawyers but as community activists wanting to spread the word about asbestos exposure and cancer. Subsequently they ranked well for mesothelioma related keywords because their new marketing technique resulted in quality edu and organization links.
In a matter of months, the organic marketing techniques for a billion dollar industry took a complete 180 degree turn.
I brought up these examples because site owners need to learn that being unique in an online market has a very short lifespan. If you develop a new strategy that you believe is going to work, trying it out in bits and pieces will signal your competitors who can quickly improve on your work and beat you to the punch. You need to have your strategy ready and keep in mind that if / when you see results, your competitors won’t sit on the sidelines.