A successful SEO strategy includes various must-have components, such as SEO best practices, a proper focus and connection with target audiences and competitive factors.
Best practices and audience aspects are generalized and personal to your brand. Conducting a competitor analysis is also critical, as you want to learn from brands already well-positioned in the space you want to be in.
However, there is a risk of going overboard when we play follow the leader, trying to match what the high-ranking competitor sites are doing.
Ignoring competitors or those currently ranking for topics within your target audience will hurt your chances of reaching and surpassing competitors. But focusing on them too much and copying their SEO strategies can have more damaging effects.
You definitely should know what other brands are doing and match up your strategy with what the search engines are “rewarding” those sites for doing well.
Be mindful, though, of the eight dangers of copying another brand’s SEO.
1. Brand confusion
Most companies want to build a distinctive brand image and identity. Whether it is defined best by creative, messaging, or thought leadership, the goal is to be recognized and known for something.
If your idea of building a brand is by copying another brand’s SEO too closely, you will naturally start looking and sounding like them. This leads to a danger of brand confusion and can result in a lack of awareness of your brand.
Even if you are found in Google search results and get your target audience to click through, you risk not standing out.
Your website will not be distinctive enough if you have many of the same elements as other sites, like page content, pages, navigation structure, and keyword focuses.
If the searcher comes back later and finds your competitor’s site, will they even remember you? Will you stand out?
2. Lack of connection with your audience
Copying another brand’s SEO can also lead to losing connection with your audience.
Even if you are not replicating the competitor’s branded or trademarked content (because you shouldn’t), you will not have much unique content or perspectives if you are driven by copying someone else.
Beyond brand confusion, your content won’t be original and you are less likely to provide something unique and different to your target audience.
If they can get the same content and experience elsewhere, why would they want to give you their money, time, or attention?
Copying a competitor’s SEO will lead you to make trade-offs of unique opportunities you have to authentically engage with your site visitors.
3. Duplicate content and risk of being filtered
Naturally, if you’re literally copying your competitors’ SEO, you’re at risk of copying their copy itself.
Yes, they have some things working for them that might include their web copy and content being ranked well by Google. However, there are so many variables and ranking factors that you can focus on to get ahead.
Plus, when you copy content verbatim or in spurts, expect to see your content filtered from the SERPs. Since you are not the original creator, not in the same authority status as the competitor, or not providing enough unique copy, your site will likely be the one filtered out of Google search results while the competitor continues to rank as the author or originator of the copy.
4. Potential legal action
While I see fewer threats and real legal action in organic search, it can happen.
Copying content, ignoring copyrights and trademarks or harming any business relationships that impact SEO performance can lead you closer to legal action.
I find it hard to come up with a reason to copy another brand’s SEO or to follow what they are doing so closely that you run this risk. Just don’t do it.
Even if you dodge legal action, items 1-3 above should be enough justification for not getting too close to what they are doing.
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5. Being strategically reactive
Having an SEO strategy is necessary. If the primary drivers of the strategy are to copy another site’s SEO, then that’s not really a strategy.
Again, look at competitors and what’s working for them in your efforts. But, don’t follow them so closely that you’re simply reacting to everything they do. Blindly following along will keep you firmly in a position where you’re chasing them or in parody with them.
You want to include proactive aspects like:
- Exploring new content areas.
- Identifying topics to own.
- Establishing your own authority.
Beat them in areas where they aren’t competing. Find white space to fill and have a farseeing approach to get there.
6. Following a competitor’s poor strategy
Related to being reactive, you run the risk of implementing bad SEO. They could be ranking well for a key term that you want to rank for. However, they could also be doing a lot of tactics poorly.
Maybe you misjudged what SEO factors were truly driving that ranking.
What if they were heavily supported by some high-quality links and brand mentions and not propped up by their content quality?
If you copy their content strategy and don’t have those links, you’re likely going to fall flat and look bad at the same time.
Additionally, with the emergence of SpamBrain from Google and how it further evaluates the quality of content, you have more incentive to differentiate than to follow along when it comes to on-page and content SEO strategy.
7. Measuring the wrong performance metrics
While there are some great “spy” tools out there that help with analyzing competitor sites, they aren’t perfect.
You can’t truly know (unless you have CRM and analytics access or other direct sources of the competitor brand) how well the SEO strategy is working for other sites.
What you can likely see is where they are ranked and connect that with the estimated search volume for the specific rankings or queries. Sure, you can overlay some estimated or benchmark conversion data. However, the more data points you’re estimating and adding together, the more inaccurate your numbers will be.
Ideally, your focus is on your end goal. Whether that is some type of conversion to sales, leads, or other meaningful ROI aspects for your business, you’ll want to start there and work backward to know what the traffic and approach should be.
If you focus purely on your competitor’s rankings and getting to their positions, then you’re copying them without having a complete understanding of what gaining their rankings will do for your business in terms of ROI.
You can spend a lot of time and money investing in copying their SEO strategy to find out that it wasn’t worth it for your specific needs, even if it helped you get on par with their rankings.
8. Risk against new competitors
If you’re overly focused on copying another brand’s SEO, you might fail to pay attention to the wider landscape.
I have had clients focused on one or two other companies jockeying for the top spot, answer boxes, and other prime real estate in the SERPs. So focused, that months down the road, a new competitor – or set of competitors – emerged looking much different and leapfrogged the long-established top-ranking sites.
Having the blinders on looking at a single site or two can cause a narrow SEO focus for all the reasons previously mentioned. It also puts you in danger of being overtaken by newer competitors and those with a different and better strategy for building authority status and relevant content.
Develop your own unique SEO strategy
Remember that applying best practices, focusing on your audience, and paying attention to the competitive landscape are all important for a solid SEO strategy. Doing just one or two won’t get you as far in terms of rankings, traffic and conversion goals.
Competitor analysis and reverse engineering can be useful. However, when you know who is ranking well or seemingly doing well in the space you want to own, be mindful of the dangers of copying their brand’s SEO strategy.
There’s a balance between matching up well with competitors on ranking factors, helpfulness to the audience, and gaining visibility without selling out your own brand or getting on the wrong kinds of radars legally.
Plus, you want to be as resistant as possible to their mistakes taking you down or taking your focus off of those coming up behind you. Leverage the information, but include it in your broader SEO strategy to gain the benefits and minimize the dangers.
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About the author
Corey Morris is a skilled marketing professional with 15+ years of experience developing award-winning, ROI-generating digital strategies for local and national brands. He was recently honored as the recipient of the KCDMA 2019 Marketer of the Year award. Corey serves as the chief strategy officer at Voltage – a marketing firm based in Kansas City, MO. Previously, he founded the KC Search Marketing Conference to help build a local community for search marketers for career growth. He was recognized for his involvement in the conference and invited to join the global board of SEMPO (now part of DAA) as the VP of Cities.