Sometimes to win you learn the rules, and sometimes you learn the other players.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)–determining where your website ranks on a Google keyword search–is a game that can be won with technical expertise and constant observance of Google trends and its inner workings. Or you can “reverse engineer” the SEO process: focus on other businesses that are already succeeding, copy what they do, and try to up the ante.
What’s Your Core Keyword?
Before you can officially start reverse engineering, you have to know the most relevant keywords or phrases for your business. A “keyword” is what a person enters in the search box on a search engine website: in this case, we’ll be using Google.
Think about it from your customer’s point of view–what question would they be asking, and what answer would you be giving? Try to be as specific as possible: instead of “restaurant,” how about “Thai food restaurant” or “restaurant open late.” Those are called your core keywords.
String several of those core keywords together and you get a long-tail keyword: for example, “Thai food restaurant open late on the beach.” If you want to see your current ranking for any of these, use a tool such as Keyword Rank Checker.
Who Is Your Competition?
Now that you’ve got core keywords in mind, the first step to reverse engineering SEO is to enter the keywords in Google and see what businesses land at the top. To make your search more impactful, incorporate these two settings as detailed by educational platform Smart Insights:
- Incognito mode: Most browsers have the option to open a window in “incognito mode,” which means your personal browsing habits will not factor in to the results, nor will it store in your browser history.
- Originating location: To make sure you’re measuring against regional or local businesses (a restaurant in England would probably not affect a restaurant in Thailand), once you complete the initial search, change the originating location. On the search result page, add this code to the end of the URL: &gl=countryXX. Replace the “XX” with your own country code found in Google’s geotargets table.
The top businesses that match your search criteria–start with the top five, if you have time, review the top 10–are your competitors. The second reverse engineering step is to explore and analyse their sites. You can do this yourself, or use a tool like SpyFu, in which you put in the web address of the business and get a breakdown of SEO factors and user access to the site.
If you are exploring the sites on your own, here are some factors to consider:
- How often is the business publishing content?
- How “deep” is their content–as in, what is the word count?
- What social media platforms are they using? And of those platforms, how often are they getting shared?
- Do they use any of the core keywords in their headings?
- What is the keyword “density”–meaning, how many times do the core keywords show up in the site text?
- How many links do they have, and what kind of sites are those linking to?
Sometimes it can be helpful to put the answers in a spreadsheet or table for easy review and comparison.
Upping the Game
The third and final step in reverse engineering is to pick some of those trends you noticed in your analysis, emulate them in your own site, and then go one better. If a site has a keyword density–the number of times a keyword or phrase appears on a web page—of 20 on their front page, make yours 25. If they link to reputable resources, incorporate a link to those resources from your site as well, and add a link for another authoritative website. If they’re posting to Instagram once a day, consider posting twice a day, or posting more engaging content than they do.
Other suggestions to make yourself stand out, courtesy of Smart Insights, include adding more pictures with “alt text” (meaning if the photo doesn’t upload, the text will show on the viewer’s device), and making sure your site’s titles and subheadings have the core keywords in them. In the body of the text itself, sprinkle variations of the keywords and phrases.
Reverse engineering may be a lengthy process, but it’s not complicated. Determine your core keywords, do a search for them to find your competitors, analyse those websites, and take what they do well and try to do it better. With a little time and ingenuity, you can use your competitor’s success to your advantage.