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Marketing Data Science in Action: Competitive SEO

One of the more interesting methods for checking out competitors in digital marketing is to look at who you have the most keyword and topic overlap with in SEO. Why? From a search perspective, overlap tells you who you’re competing with in terms of audience – which other sites you’re directly clashing with for eyeballs in search.

This matters for two reasons. First, you definitely want to know what topics you’re fighting for. Knowing the general topics you’re directly competing for eyeballs on should suggest directions for your content strategy.

Second, you definitely want to know who you’re competing against – and sometimes, you might be surprised that your competitors in SEO aren’t who you think they should be.

Let’s take a look at an example using my website.

Who Do I Compete With in SEO?

Here’s an assessment of the sites I compete with by topics and keywords:

My SEO competitors by domain

This is where I start scratching my head. Aspirationally, I’m hoping to compete with sites like Towards Data Science or MarketingProfs, but this basket of sites is… a little random. Why do I have so much in common with them, when this isn’t the audience I’m looking for (probably)?

Let’s dig in at the content level:

My SEO competitors by page

Ah. Some of the most popular posts I’ve made on my site, around billing rates for consulting and public speaking, are what’s driving this analysis. That’s… not surprising after all, but it presents a difficult SEO challenge. What should I do, knowing that I’m not competing on the things I should be competing for?

If I know what I want to be found for, if I know the topics I should be chasing instead of the mixed bag shown here, then I could build a topic model based on the pages and sites that are being found for what I want to be found for.

What Should I Be Fighting With?

Let’s walk through an example. Based on the above results, I’d like instead to be found for something like “marketing data science”. Who is already winning on that topic, and with what content?

Marketing data science

In the results above, I see a list of pages that do currently rank for the term I’m interested in. So, what do these pages have in common? Unfortunately, this is where SEO tools start to fail us. They’ll give us a list of URLs that rank well for the term, but we don’t get a sense of what the overall content of those pages is.

This is where marketing data science comes in. We’ll need to write our own software to model what the content similarities are, because our SEO tools can’t do that for us. Using a technique called latent dirichlet allocation, a well-known and proven method for modeling topics (as opposed to keywords), we extract and pick apart the 113 pages listed above:

Full LDA matrix for bigrams

and then extract the most relevant topic to these articles:

LDA topic selected for articles

This is a significant step forward, because we now have a starting point for a better, more thorough keyword list that focuses on topics, not individual keywords that are semantically close. How often do I blog about some of these terms, like predictive analytics, data science platforms, data analytics, etc.? Not enough. None of them show up in Google Search Console for my site:

Google Search Console

What do I do with this information next? I feed it into SEO tools to get difficulties, variations, and ultimately a list of topics I should be creating content for if I want my site to rank for my chosen term.

Keyword rankings

Notice that marketing data science is a relatively low-difficulty keyword. If I incorporate the high-difficulty terms into my work to ensure I’m topically relevant, but focus on the low difficulty term as my objective, I should not only be able to gain some search market share, but might get a bit of a halo effect for the more difficult terms as well.

Win At Competitive SEO With Topics

The reality is that no one, including Google, knows what’s inside their search ranking algorithm. But with their quality rating guidelines in mind and a reverse-engineering of the most relevant content that’s already ranking well, we’re able to identify and create content that stands a decent chance of doing well.

Perform this sort of marketing data science analysis on your own SEO, especially with your most valuable terms, to find out what top results have in common and craft your own competitive SEO content to gain market share.

Shameless plug: don’t want to do it, or don’t have the resources to? Trust Insights is available to help.

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