When you enter a new niche — especially in search marketing via SEO and PPC campaigns — it’s important to identify strong players as well as smaller competitors that aren’t immediately on your radar. They might not rank for the most keywords, but they often rank for the most valuable keywords.

Be sure to include these two goals in your research:

1. Understand who really dominates the niche

Monster.com is a giant in the job listing field. They’ve been advertising during the Super Bowl for at least 15 years, so they have been the big name to chase. However, when you look for the site that ranks for top keywords in the job hunt niche, it is actually Indeed.com that dominates.

All it takes to gut-check old assumptions is to search one industry-related domain on SpyFu.com. (I started with Monster.com.) SpyFu finds your direct competitors and shows how they ranked over time for relevant keywords. If one powerhouse site appears in topical search results more often than others, you can spot that at a glance.

Spyfu screenshot

Before seeing that chart (and expanding the time window to look back 5 years) I would have guessed that Monster.com had dominated the niche, and that Indeed.com had just started emerging over the past year. I would have been completely wrong.

2. Give credit to websites with focused and valuable SEO.

Now that you can pinpoint the giants, remember that size doesn’t always rule. The previous example helps you battle wrong assumptions. However, ranking for the most searches doesn’t necessarily make them your biggest threat (or best example to emulate).

Many keywords a giant ranks for could easily be irrelevant, throw-away keywords. (Linkedin.com ranks for “ako” and “capital of Spain” to name a few.) Don’t be distracted by high keyword counts alone. Instead, pay attention to competitors whose SEO delivers meaningful traffic from valuable keywords. Here’s how to spot them.

Domains that create more value

When you switch to a “Monthly Value” metric on the chart, you can gauge the value that each domain gains from its organic traffic. Just like with PPC ads, more competitive keywords tend to be more valuable to the domain, so ranking for a few strong keywords can deliver big value.

Spyfu screenshot 2

Again, Indeed.com rises above the others. However, there’s more to uncover. We started this hunt to find domains with focused and valuable SEO — but not so large that they already jump to the front of our minds. A domain with tight focus (read: ranks for fewer keywords) could be hidden from immediate view.

With a monthly SEO value hovering over $9 million each month, Indeed.com creates plenty of value ahead of its competition where others are closer to $1M to $2 million a month. I kept the $9 million target in mind and scrolled down to the full list of Top Organic Competitors to see if I could find any others reaching Indeed.com’s levels.


BOOM! With nearly the same number of keywords as Monster.com, Glassdoor.com captures $10.6M in value each month from its rankings.

Now I can see Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com as two strong domains that create more value overall from their organic content. Glassdoor.com wasn’t top of mind before, and it would have slipped past our sights. The goal is to find competitors that capture relevant and valuable traffic, and these sites get more qualified traffic with every click. If you’re up against them, that’s a key point to remember.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Deeper research into this pool of competitors tells you an interesting story about clicks translating into value. It’s a case of a competitor looming so large that it’s tough to see what is really happening in the niche. There’s help on how to stay alert for market shifts and emerging competitors that you might have missed. Read an in-depth example here.

Now you’re armed with a better eye for potential threats and even possible partners. Anyone can find a competitor. You’re going to find the big answers that happen between the lines.


One comment on “Never Underestimate Hidden Competitors

  1. kris@wecomparedigital.co.uk'
    Thor on

    Not a bad article… However, to those who are new to this area and of course trying to understand this and bring new techniques to my marketing and development team (to which I outsource) can be channelling without knowing on how to best implement this evidence. Tutorials would be fantastic.


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