Momma Said Knock You Out

By Jeff Campbell, VP Product Development

Who are American Airlines competitors? United, Continental, & Delta? Nope, not online. Their competitors are the folks at the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) who are getting traffic would want. For example, on a search for “book flight”, Paid Search results include Expedia,,, & Natural Search results start with Orbitz & Travelocity. None of the suspected competitor airlines, or itself, appears above the fold. These results are typical for the majority of airline reservation related searches.


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What about online music or CD’s? To download Coldplay’s new Viva la Vida single, one might search “download coldplay viva la vida” - will I find the top music download companies (iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, Rhapsody, Napster)? Nope, news results & websites offering free bit torrent downloads like The Pirate Bay, which even beat out itself. Looking at the first non-news result on Google, it’s a full page dedicated to Viva la Vida offering background information, lyrics, ring tones, and the music video – arguably providing more related content than Amazon or Rhapsody. I doubt Chris Martin thinks the largest barrier to his band’s website getting more traffic (or selling more albums) is - but they are getting the traffic due to top rankings.


Now, once you’ve identified you online competitors, begin the deeper keyword research and profile/compare sites that are “winning” for desired keywords as I started to in the Coldplay example. Are they more relevant to the search query? How much content do they have about the desired keyword? What type of content do they provide (video, text, images)? Where and how many times do they use the keyword phrase – title tags, meta data, alt image tags, H1 headers, in the body copy, URL? Remember, relevance and user experience are major factors in determining ranking for BOTH organic and paid results. For paid search, you can no longer buy your way to the top or rely solely on a strong CTR. It’s about page load times, keyword relevance and user experience of the website itself. Further, if the profiling of the top ranked champs shows high PageRanks, age of URLs, or other major ranking factors vastly different from what you have to work with…pick your battles wisely. For you to win top rankings, one of them has to be dislodged…and you shouldn’t take on Lennox Lewis until you’ve honed your skills knocking out a few neighborhood chumps first.

To gain top rankings, first identify your ONLINE competitors based on top rankings for desired search phrases. Then analyze why they are winning and you are losing. You may have award winning site design with a 99% conversion rate, but if you don’t meet Google/Y!/MSN’s algorithmic criteria you won’t dominate the SERPs and people aren’t going to see that design to put that jingle in your pocket, Champ.


dgould said...

JC - Your airline example is no doubt a good one to illustrate the point you are making, but this specific example got me to thinking about something unrelated to your topic. Advertisers need to understand how their efforts fit into a larger program and agencies need to understand their client's whole business.

Consider the airline example you gave. It may cost less per ticket sold for American Airlines to cede the top spots to travel consolidators who distribute American Airlines tickets than it would be to invest in PPC and SEO strategies needed to attain the top spots themselves. I may writ about this for my post next week.

CJeffCampbell said...

A good and interesting point - I look forward to your post. You are right, it depends on company goals...can't be the best at everything. But if you choose to compete online (which you do by just having a website), it's important to know your offline competitors differ from your online ones and have a strategy for success in that setting.

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