14 Aug 2011

Nature vs. Nurture – Old Sites, Exact Matches, Branded Sites, and You

Nature vs. Nurture, it has been argued in the liberal arts since the 1800’s: are we defined by some inherent features of our being or are we a product of our environment. Can a new website out rank an aged website? Can you beat that exact match site that just won’t budge? Can a non-branded site beat out branded sites? Can you ‘nurture’ your site to overcome the inherent advantage of exact match, site age, and of brand in competitive spaces?  If so, what will it take?

Old Sites

Jim wrote a great blog post some time ago about how he likes em’ old.  Site age is a tremendous advantage in many ways. Beyond just age of site, there is age of document, and there is age of backlinks… yes, even those spammy backlinks your old and crusty competitor got 6 years ago have age, which gives them more value, think of that! (there are more benefits but I am trying not to ramble, so I won’t go there… ) If, your site is fairly new, where do you even start?

Make sure you got all the ‘low hanging fruit’ backlinks

….you know the ones 😉

Have up to date keyword research and content strategy, cause they probably don’t

Get smart with you content strategy to beat out old sites. If you’re really up against one of those old crusty sites, I bet you 8 out of 10 times, they haven’t done any keyword research in years. Guess what, times change. What linkable content opportunities have they missed that you can leverage? (oh, and if you are  an old site owner yourself reading this, Google loves new documents on old sites) If you’re an old or new site, make sure to keep your content strategy fresh.

Old  Site Links
Can you you pick up any of your old competitors links? Remember, old sites tend to have backlinks from old sites themselves.

Trending Topics

Have content on trend topics and get the benefit of links from popular topics. They may just be blog links but they are fresh and there is a real potential to get volume, organically, naturally.

Build a Social Media Network

Just because they’re bigger and older, doesn’t mean that you can’t be smarter. Do better social then your oldie competitor and get those fresh links. One thing to keep in mind with social is that it is a high buy in. You have to build your network before you can leverage it for links. Engage, tweet, like, + 1, answer questions, comment, do what you have to, it’s worth it to build a relationship with the authorities in your online niche and with your visitors.

Although old sites have a lot of advantages, they also have a lot of disadvantages, including poorly done site architecture, that organically developed and grew as the site expanded without proper planning. It is very common for old sites to also have lots of fairly serious duplicate content issues. Old sites also have messy URLS. These sites were created before webmasters knew that they should not let their URL’s exceed the space in a URL bar. Take advantage 😀

Exact Match Domains and Branded Sites

I am growing slightly less worried about exact match domains. Google finally acted on the idea that just because you’re the exact match domain doesn’t mean that you’re automatically the most relevant or the highest quality. Don’t get me wrong, this still counts. It is just not weighed as heavily as it used to be in some spaces. With that said though, exact match domains have some pretty formidable natural advantages, such as, oh, having 500 backlinks where the top four anchor texts are ‘keyword‘, ‘key word‘ ‘keyword.com‘ and ‘http://www.keyword.com‘. How do you compete with all that anchor text?

Now, branded sites. These guys are the most frustrating for small/mid level webmasters. Branded sites have all this great wonderful domain authority and an endless marketing budget to push everyone around. It seems that these sites just create a page about anything and they get to rank, or they build just a couple links to the page and they outrank you. Branded site also benefit from ‘branded searches’ , meaning that Google ranks top ten of a  SERP’s with extra weight to branded sites – it is  usually obvious if this is the case, is just about everyone in the top ten of the SERP is a huge brand. So, as a mid size site, how do you handle one of these guys getting in on your pieces of  your traffic pie?

Evaluate the Benefit and Go For It

There are two senses of competing with these types of websites: competing with them for the phrase and competing with them for search share. If you’re competing with them for the phrase, there’s no easy way to say it, you need to build powerful backlinks for that phrase or group of phrases.

If the competitor exact match domain site  is more then a thin affiliate or  you’re competing with a powerful version this type of site for search share generally (short tail and long tail), the game is a little different. These sites usually (but not always) don’t rank for much beyond the phrase they are the exact match for. If you’re in a really competitive space, these site may be very well developed and may compete with with them across many keywords. My first  recommendation is to weigh your options.

What is the benefit  of ranking for the  specific phrase? What will it take in terms of promotion to rank for that one phrase or is it better to give up that phrase in favor of a less competitive phrase or going for a more long tail strategy? Look at your analytics, do a small group of keywords carry most  of the conversions from search for you or do long tail phrases represent a large amount of your conversions?  Many webmasters get really focused on ranking for several big phrases that sometimes it is at the expense of the bigger picture….there is a world beyond pinnacle phrases, I promise.

So for exact match domains there is a waning natural advantage and for branded sites, they have a formidable natural advantage.

Google as a Competitor

I wanted to bring Google up as a natural competitor in service of making one specific point. For many webmasters, traffic from Google is the 100 pound gorilla as far as traffic sources are concerned. However, it is time to reevaluate the stability of such a strategy  because, “what Google giveth Google taketh away“. Here’s an experiment for you, if you’re serious about your online business, look at your traffic sources and see what the breakdown is. Google Analytics has a really neat pie chart right when you click on traffic sources off your profile – how much of that pie chart is Google organic relative to other traffic sources? You know that your online business is in a good place when you can reduce your dependence on Google. Think of your traffic sources like you would a portfolio and diversify, so if the big G  turns off the traffic faucet, your business isn’t left dry.
There it is.

Website biology doesn’t always have to be destiny but some websites are definitely higher in the food chain then others 😉

Dive into Competitive Analysis with These Add’l Resources

Competitive Intelligence: Using KOB Analysis for Planning SEO Campaigns, Stuntdubl.                                                                                    This is a great post on a structured ‘KOB’ approach to competitive analysis, with great resources and tool links.

Competitive Intelligence: Learn From Your Rivals, Loren Baker.                                           This is a really neat post to check to, to find some of the the factors to look at for competitive analysis. You can treat some of these components as a check list if you want to do a really indepth dive into a particular space or if you’re setting up a new site and want to scope out the competition thoroughly before making the investment.

SEO & Competitive Intelligence [liveblog – 6 July2011 ,LisaBarone.
This post includes great recent liveblog coverage, with a couple interesting bits.

– marketing ninja (i have a named account but I kinda got attached to this one, weird huh? )