It’s good to be aware of what competitors are doing but there are situations, particularly in competitive niches like real estate or personal injury, when the competition is simply doing what everyone else is doing. Doing what everyone else is doing is not always the same as doing what works best.

An example of this tendency of businesses in competitive niches to mimic one another and disregard best practices is in the title tag. Title tag importance is something that has been a part of SEO for a long time. It was an essential part of SEO when I started back in 1999 and for the better part of this decade. Adding keywords to a title tag can be said to be one of those cornerstones of search engine optimization. It tells the search engine what a page is about.

Competitor Analysis

But here’s a problem with that idea: What you say a page is about can be confused with optimizing for the highest traffic keyword.  This effect is amplified in competitive niches where everyone looks to what the leader is doing and copies it note for note. Many times, what you see on a web page is not necessarily what helped that page achieve a top rank. The title tag is a good example of this.

The trend in competitive niches like real estate and personal injury is to engage in traditional style 2004-era SEO. So what you see may be less indicative of what is working and more a reflection of what others are doing. Which is what I meant by my statement, “Doing what everyone else is doing is not always the same as doing what works best.” I know this because I’ve worked in a wide variety of competitive niches and have outranked the competition by doing things better.

The importance of title tags changed a few years ago. The SEO community is still catching up to the reality. It’s an established fact that title tags are not as important for ranking as they were in the past. What’s in your content is more meaningful nowadays.  This is a fact that can be confirmed by searching Google for a wide range of keyword phrases and carefully reviewing the title tag of what ranks in the SERPs. Understanding that title tags have lost importance can be as simple as looking out your window to ascertain that yes, the sky is blue. You only need to look at the SERPs and review what Google is ranking to understand that the role of title tags for ranking has diminished.  It’s a fact that title tags are not critical for ranking.

Ok Roger, so what’s your advice for page titling?

  1. We’re a little more free to make a title attractive for the SERPs/CTR.
  2. Have to consider how Google interprets the user intent when adding that title. Sometimes the two word phrase has more traffic but if you look at what’s in the SERPs, Google may feel that the top positions are satisfied by an educational response. So what you do if you have a commercial query or a page that’s better modified with the word “software” or “buy” or “compare?”
  3. Keyword research tends to be an exercise where the SEO is choosing kewyords according to the traffic it’ll bring, sometimes slapping those in the title when the content doesn’t necessarily match.
  4. Just say what the page is about in the smallest amount of words. Be concise. Then let the page content do the talking.

Rote He Wrote

An argument can be made that a competitive niche means that you must optimize for every ranking signal. But based on my experience I don’t think so. It’s a fact that a single page can rank for multiple keyword variations, including plurals, synonyms, related phrases and even for words that do not exist anywhere on the web page . I wrote more information in the keyword research guide I authored for search engine journal.  Ranking is not a matter of ticking off 200+ ranking factors and whoever gets the most wins.

Focusing on keyword stuffing the title tag is part of the naïve mindset of what can only be called rote SEO. The word rote means doing something because you’re told to do it, without understanding and without thinking about it.  Looked at from this point of view, the idea of having to optimize for every signal means that what they are really saying is that ranking on Google is a matter of ticking off a list of 200+ factors and we already know that the science of information retrieval does not work that way.

Put Your Best SEO Foot Forward

The purpose of this article is to focus on title tags and to note that mimicking what other sites are doing with their site titles is not always the best use of competitor research. Use your competitor research to identify weaknesses and make those your strengths. By mimicking your competitors you could be acquiring their weaknesses and none of their actual strengths. A site has never become top ranked by following the leader. Which is why the advice based on my experience is to use competitor analysis for identifying weaknesses for the purpose of making those your strengths. Then put your own best SEO foot forward, not your competitors foot. Nobody ever won a race by following the leader.

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