Archive for the ‘SEO & Link Building Strategy’ Category

Infographic Outreach Tips

Today’s guest post comes from BuzzStream customer Adrienne Erin. Adrienne is a writer and online PR specialist at WebpageFX

Have you ever heard the expression “work smarter, not harder?” It sounds like one of those things your dad might tell you during an awkward heart-to-heart. However, they’re great words to live by, and they’re especially true when it comes to outreach. When you’re trying to gain coverage for an outstanding infographic, you should be using your brain a lot more than your keyboard.

Traditional tactics involve blasting hundreds of bloggers and journalists with a single impersonal pitch that often gets ignored or deleted (which means working harder to get results). A much better approach is to strategically target a smaller list of bloggers and journalists with customized messages (working smarter).

These infographic outreach tips can help you figure out where to target your pitch, how to tailor it to the right person and how to give your infographic that extra push when other outreach efforts aren’t working.


Some Infographics Were Born to Succeed

Sometimes an infographic seems destined for success. It has a compelling topic, it’s timely, it has killer graphics and great data, and it presents an awesome, engaging story. It’s also incredibly shareable, meaning it appeals to lots of different people interested in lots of different things and gets a lot of pass-along traffic from social networks.

This is, of course, the holy grail of infographics, and it makes your job a whole lot easier. Still, even an infographic that works in every way needs a little push to get started, and that is where you come in.


What Makes a Good InfographicComponents of a Good Infographic (via Dashburst)


Find Your Targets

Good outreach for infographics requires some creativity. Think about the unique attributes of your infographic, and make a list of obvious sites where it could be pitched. Most people stop after that step, but you should take it a step further. How can you reimagine this infographic so that it fits on other, less-obvious sites? Now you’re on your way to a successful placement.

Say you have an infographic focused on the soccer player Pele. An obvious place to pitch it would be a soccer site; Pele is the most famous soccer player in the world, after all, so that’s a natural fit. You might even open it up another step and try to share it with more general sports sites. This is when you should take the extra step. Why not try pitching a site about Brazilian culture, since Pele hails from Brazil? You could even try pitching a site for retired folks, since Pele is now 73 years old. 

The key is to think outside the box. Here’s a real-life illustration. A cool motion graphic about how bath salts turn people into zombies would seem made for health and addiction sites. Yet it found a home in the Weird News section of The Huffington Post, where it went viral in fall 2013. That’s a perfect example of reimagining what categories might fit an infographic.


Huffington Post Weird News featuring the Zombie Infographic


Make Sure You Pitch the Right People

No matter how incredible, awesome and life-changing your infographic is, if you pitch it to the wrong person, that pitch is going right into the trash bin. Take the time to look over the publication’s list of employees and who writes for the section that best fits your infographic. Better yet, look at the stories people have posted and approach someone who’s written about your topic in the past.

Pay attention to details. Don’t send your tech infographic to the sports editor. Make sure you use the right name and the right publication, too. You’d be surprised how often people mess that up.

Make sure you’re not targeting a one-time contributor, who may not write for the publication regularly. Instead, target a staff writer whose bylines pepper the site. Then personalize your pitch. I’ll try to find something that I have in common with the person I’m pitching by reading over their bio. You may notice, for example, that you went to the same school as the person you’re pitching, so note this shared connection. (“You went to Vista College? Me too!”)


Sometimes an Infographic Needs a Helping Hand

Not every infographic you pitch is going to be rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes a client’s industry isn’t very glamorous, or the topic is a bit of a reach, or it’s simply a matter of bad timing (your client sells bikinis and the country’s experiencing a major cold front). This will happen from time to time. It’s not the end of the world; you just need to pay this infographic a bit of extra attention.


The Guestographic Strategy

Guestographics are basically a mash-up of guest blogging and infographics. You’re essentially using the tactic of guest blogging to help distribute the graphic and get it the links it deserves. There are five steps, as laid out by Backlinko’s Brian Dean, who coined the word:

  1. Make an infographic and post it on your site.
  2. Research sites that cover the topic your infographic covers.
  3. Contact those sites and show them your infographic.
  4. Offer to write a robust post on the topic of your infographic..
  5. Include your infographic in the post. 

The selling point here is that you are providing the added value. You are giving the site free content and you also have control over where your infographic is reproduced and what is written about it. It’s a win-win strategy when you’re trying to place those infographics that don’t fit into categories covered by most blogs.


Don’t Quite Shoot for the Stars

Common infographic promotion strategy involves reaching out to people at huge publications and trying to sell them on the infographic. But if you’re getting no success from what is otherwise high-quality outreach to these people, try aiming for smaller sites.

I don’t mean start auto-publishing copies of the graphic on low-quality article directories or across a blog network. That’s more likely to get you in trouble these days than to help you and your client. However, think about it: bloggers on smaller sites are not getting inundated with infographic requests the way journalists and high-profile editors are. They are far more likely to respond positively to a polite email sharing the infographic, especially in combination with the guestographic strategy.


Do Whatever You Can

Sometimes an infographic just isn’t catching on, despite your wide and varied outreach efforts. Then it’s time to reconcile yourself with the fact that you simply have to do what you can. Try any of these strategies:

  • Publish it on infographic submission sites.
  • Write a post about the infographic and how it relates to another industry that you write about frequently, and publish it on a blog you already have a relationship with.
  • Reach out to someone you’ve had success with before.
  • Forgive yourself and move on.

Honestly, not every infographic is going to be a smashing success. As long as you’ve tried all of the strategies outlined here, you can take comfort in the fact that you gave it your best shot — you worked smarter, not harder, which is the best way to do any job.



52 Bite-Size Link Building Tips

link building tips and tricks

Need some quick link building inspiration? We’ve refined the expert advice from Linking Outside the Box into 52 tasty morsels that are bound to get you going:

How a Partnership Led to a Viral Video with a Million Video Views

Tips from Gregory Ciotti, @GregoryCiotti, Marketing Director at HelpScout

1. Partnerships begin with solid research. Look for an audience size that makes collaboration worthwhile.

2. Always reach out to interesting folk when you come across their work, if nothing more than just to say “Hey!”.

3. Make your proposal beneficial to the receiving party. People don’t really want to help you, they want to help you help them.

4. Partnering with another company on a comprehensive email course is one of the best ways to utilize your free content.

5. If you know any folks putting together a new course or guide, contribute a video interview and you’ll be put in front of a highly engaged audience.

6. Follow Matt’s 3P’s of great outreach emails – personalized, positioned and persuasive.

7. In partnerships, make yourself as useful as possible, everywhere you can.

Build Content Like BuzzFeed: Target Micro-segments and Play to Emotions

Tips from Matt Gratt, @MattGratt, Marketer at BuzzStream

8. Marketers should look to publishing upstarts like BuzzFeed for innovation in editorial, business and distribution models.

9. Like the long tail of search, there’s a ‘long tail of social segments’ that offer rich opportunities for marketers.

10. Emotional cues prompt sharing and discussion – BuzzFeed hits them all, as hard and as often as possible.

11. Mild debates like ‘extroverts vs. introverts’ trigger more discussion than serious debates about politics.

12. People often share not because they think ‘this is great’, but because ‘this shows you who I am’.

13. To encourage sharing, tailor your content to appeal to social micro-segments.

Link Building with Infographics

Tips from Paddy Moogan, @paddymoogan, Senior Consultant at Distilled and Author of the Link Building Book

14. Had a brilliant idea for an infographic? Can you find 10 sites that might link to it in 10 minutes? If not, get a better idea.

15. Choose a graph that helps people understand an idea quickly, without having to work out what the data means.

16. Don’t restrict your designer – let them design.

17. To find more prospects, look at your initial top 10 sites and check who they link to in their resources, blog rolls and posts.

18. Consider offering high quality sites like newspapers and magazines an exclusive so they can launch your infographic first.

19. Basic templates are OK but make sure you take time to customize it to each person you’re approaching.

High Quality (and Creative) Guest Posting

Tips from Ann Smarty, @seosmarty, Community/Brand Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas and Founder of My Blog Guest

20. There is a difference between pumping out guest posts (avoid) and writing high quality and creative posts.

21. Guest posting for the sake of links is doomed – you need to think about relationships and building influence.

22. The more connections you build, the less you’ll have to worry about links at all. When you’re well connected, links flow in naturally.

23. You can’t fake authenticity.

24. Good, in-depth research gives you multiple, unique and informative articles you can target at different blogs.

25. Learn how to repackage content in new and creative ways.

26. Guest blogging is successful when you provide a constant stream of high quality content while engaging with your readers.

Creative Link Bait

Tips from Lyndon Antcliff, @lyndoman, Founder at

27. Your link bait has to be exceptional, else it just isn’t link bait.

28. It doesn’t matter what Google thinks is quality. It’s the crowd, the audience, the readership that decides what is and isn’t quality.

29. Create a profile of each individual you’re targeting – and you may decide to target only one individual in your niche.

30. Don’t worry about failure – every failure is a learning experience and nobody remembers link bait that didn’t work.

31. To get someone to link, you’ve got to generate the emotional response that will compel them to link.

32. Write headlines to attract the primal brain, ‘body content’ to generate an emotional response and a ‘rational framework’ to persuade the conscious brain.

Building Your Brand and Driving Traffic with Product Reviews and Giveaways

Tips from Alisa Scharf, @alisa _scharf, SEO Associate at SEER Interactive

33. Use product review campaigns to give you deep contextually rich links to product and category pages.

34. Use product review campaigns to get your products in front of a welcoming and engaging audience.

35. Give a blogger a product to review and you’ll probably have to wait – but give a blogger a product to give away and they’ll post ASAP.

36. If you have customizable products, include seasonal or holiday-orientated elements in your link building campaign.

37. Engage your target bloggers. Rather than give them a few movie tickets, challenge them to see a movie a month for a year.

38. In outreach consider three key components: be brief, be likeable and be clear.

39. Vaguely asking what a blogger wants is never a good idea. Tell people upfront what exactly you’re offering them.

Data-Driven Content for Links, Mentions, and Mindshare

Tips from Matt Gratt, @MattGratt, Marketer at BuzzStream

40. Data-driven stories are credible, shareable and linkable in ways that conventional narratives rarely achieve.

41. Many businesses underestimate the fascinating detail they could extract from their own data.

42. ‘Other People’s Data’ can often be mashed up to give you fantastically linkworthy content.

43. When visualizing data you must start with a question or an angle – otherwise all you produce is fog.

44. Brainstorm multiple headlines from your data – if you get a great headline, it will likely make a great visualization.

45. In a world hungry for content, data-driven content stands out from the stodge of ‘top blog posts’ and other quick hits.

Spinning Your Online PR Plan Into Action

Tips from Lisa Buyer, @lisabuyer, Founder and CEO of the Buyer Group

46. Write news announcements with more than just journalists in mind. Publish news geared for bloggers, search engines, social media, news networks – and for customers.

47. This is the time for ‘shorter but quicker’ journalism and public relations pros need to step up to the plate and grab the opportunity for greater prominence.

48. Create shorter social media versions of the press release, front-loaded with the most important information and keywords first.

49. Make sure your media lists include the Twitter handles of all your targeted journalists and interact with them online – in between your pitching.

50. Nobody clicks on boring! Make sure you publish newsworthy content that is relevant, exciting and easy to read.

51. If you’re looking to stand out to journalists, your first step is to add strong visuals to ALL your blog posts, press releases and social media messaging.

52. 80% of journalists say images are important, yet 45% of PR pros surveyed thought they were not.

You can get these tips and much, much more on:

  • Building Your Brand with Online PR and Product Reviews

  • Getting Great Links with Infographics, Guest Posting, and Link Bait

  • Better Content By Using Data and Stealing BuzzFeed’s Strategy

  • And, an intro to modern link building for new outreach professionals, along with all the resources you need to stay updated on link building for 2014 and beyond.

In our most recent ebook, Linking Outside the Box, a guide to creative link building for 2014 and beyond.

You can download the book for free by clicking the banner below:



Introducing Linking Outside the Box, the Free Guide to Creative Link Building

Link building is hard. Creativity, combined with hard work, are the key to success.

And while we can’t help you with the hard work part (that’s on you), we can help you be more creative.

Linking Outside the Box: the Free Guide to Creative Link Building

Linking Outside the Box - Free Link Building Guide from BuzzStream


 Today we’re announcing our newest (and first) free guide: Linking Outside the Box, your guide to creative link building in 2014 and beyond.

Linking Outside the Box (or LOTB, as it’s known colloquially) is a 66-page guide to creative link building.  It will help you think differently about link building, get better results from the tactics you already use, and learn new techniques that you may not have employed yet.

We also were lucky enough to talk some great link marketers to contribute to the book, including:

I also wrote a piece or two, along with Ken McGaffin, who helped us put the book together.

So What Does the Book Cover?

Here’s a quick look at what’s inside:

  • The 4-Step Process at the Heart of Link Building
  • Creativity: the Link Building Secret Sauce
  • How a Parternship Led to a Viral Video with a Million Views by Greg Ciotti
  • Build Content Like BuzzFeed: Target Micro-Segments and Tap Into Sharing Emotions by Matt Gratt
  • Making Infographics Fail-Proof by Paddy Moogan
  • High Quality, Creative Guest Blogging by Ann Smarty
  • Link Bait: Attracting All 3 Parts of the Brain by Lyndon Antcliff
  • Building Links and Brands with Product Reviews and Giveaways by Alisa Scharf
  • Spinning Your Online PR Plan into Action by Lisa Buyer
  • Great Resources to Keep You Fresh and Well-Linked
  • And even more to help you Link Different

How Much Does It Cost?

We’re happy to tell you that it’s free.  

Where Can I Download It?

 You can, in fact, go over to the Linking Outside the Box page and download it right now. 

If you have any feedback on the book – maybe you love it, perhaps you hate it, most likely you found a typo – feel free to send it to me at matt (at) buzzstream dot com.


Link Building Campaigns 101: Getting Organized Before You Start Blogger Outreach

kitchen tools

One question we hear a lot at BuzzStream is “How do I start my link outreach campaign?”

Before they go all crazy with the outreach and the requests, top performing link development professionals get their resources together and get buy-in and alignment from their companies and clients.  Just like chefs laying out their mise en place, they get everything they’ll need together before they start.

Here are some pieces you should get in place before you start a campaign to make the whole process run smoothly:

Set Goals, Deadlines, & Expectations

Know how you’re going to measure your success before you start, and get buy-off on it. Are you trying to generate a certain number of links? Use a certain number of hours trying? Aim for certain kinds of sites or certain metrics thresholds?

Starting without these agreements often leads to disastrous misalignments of agency and client expectations. (Or internal expectations, if you work in house.) Make sure both sides know what they’re paying for and getting paid for, and what constitutes success. (If you need suggestions for what to measure, check out our article on link building metrics and measurement.)



Future Proof Link Building 101: Identifying Safe Link Prospects

Todays’s post come from one of our favorite customers, Lexi Mills. Lexi has six years experience in online marketing and communications and spent 2 and a half years at an International SEO Agency becoming an SEO PR specialist. She now heads up digital for Dynamo PR.

Most of us are not in the business of building up large numbers of useless links. We know that natural links from reliable sources are the best links on the Internet. Still, when we started working on a new project we wanted to be particularly sure that any links built through our PR SEO and social work for and the inspiration blog would stay valuable and relevant, irrespective of any future Google algorithm updates.

During the course of this work, we came up with the following criteria to help them (and hopefully you) build a link profile that would be as future-update-proof as possible.  

 The Data-Driven Criteria

 data criteria

First and foremost, you want to make selections that are as rational – and based on hard data – as you can. These are the things we look at, but there are other tools and criteria other people use.

Domain Authority and Page Authority for WordPress and Blogspot



Psychology Studies That Will Help You Score Links

Today’s guest post comes from Karen Yu (@kykarenyu) is a Marketing Assistant for Powered by Search, a profit HOT 50-ranked digital performance marketing agency in Toronto, Ontario. Karen is passionate about creative marketing and social activism.


As Google continues to improve their algorithm, website owners have been forced to evolve their link building tactics. If you’ve gotten away with buying links, spamming a blog’s comment section, using low quality web directories or forum spamming in the past, it’s time to rethink your ways.

Websites have come a long way from cheating themselves into Google’s rankings. The focus has now drastically shifted to ranking naturally. You can no longer think of link building as an automated process, where the only thing you have to interact with are computer and robots. Link building is now a relationship-building process. Websites aren’t giving you links, people are. So remember to think people, not websites. You need the ability to understand people and what they’re thinking.

And how do we understand what people are thinking? Psychology. Psychology is the study of the human mind and what affects their behaviour. No one is going to willingly put your link on their website if they don’t see the value of doing so. For someone to want to put your link on their website, you have to change their behaviour and help them see the value of building a relationship with you.

So as much as you wish you had magic powers to change someone’s mind, it doesn’t exist. What you can do, however, is understand proven psychology studies that may become your magic in achieving links. We’re going to go back to your university psychology course and discuss 6 psychology studies that may help you score some big links.


Gaining Attention

People are busy. They’re are being bombarded with messages through email, SMS, phone calls, social media and meetings. Another email requesting a link is probably last on their priority list. This is why you must be able to gain the attention of the person before you can even begin thinking of asking for a link. Here are some psychology studies that may help you do so:

Halo Effect  (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977)

The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which our initial overall impression of a person influences how we feel or think about his overall character.


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6 Ways to Make Link Building Outreach More Effective

Today’s post comes from BuzzStream customer Brian Dean, founder of He started his SEO career back in 2008, when article directories and blog comment backlinks were all the rage. Since then he’s built his namesake on discovering and sharing outside the box link building strategies.

Let’s face it: email outreach link building is monotonous, boring, and time consuming.

But you know what? It works!

In fact, I don’t know what I would do without my secret stash of proven email outreach templates. But I do know one thing: I wouldn’t be ranking for anything remotely competitive.

If you use BuzzStream then you don’t need any convincing about the power of email outreach. You already use the tool to build relationships (and links) with the movers and shakers in your niche.

That’s great.

But you may not realize what a small difference in conversions can make in your campaigns.

Think about it this way: let’s say that you send out 500 emails per month with a 2% conversion rate. That’s 120 links per year.

Not bad.

But if you bump that figure up to 5% you can turn those same emails into 300 links!

Today I’m going to share with you 6 simple ways that you can get more links from every batch of emails that you send out.

#1: Separate Your Prospects Into Tiers

Outreach is a give and take between personalization and speed. The more you personalize, the better your responses. But all that personalization takes time.



How to Structure a Link Building Campaign for Maximum Impact

structuring a link building campaign

While you may have all the pieces to run link development campaigns, putting them together is crucial.

Structuring linking campaigns can be tough.  There’s so much contrary advice on the internet – Make big content! 301 redirects! Guest post! Make friends! Promote Your Content! And the list goes on.

Most of these tactics will work – up to a point, where you’ll hit the point of diminishing returns.  However, how you structure your campaign – and what you do first – can lead to you to a campaign with a tremendous ROI, or a difficult and troubled effort.

In the past, you might’ve used a large number of directory submissions to start your campaign, followed by other mechanical ways.  These days, you’ll want to embrace a strategy that’s based on audience development and digital PR, in a larger bid to develop great authority and a good reputation.

There are ways to structure these campaigns where you find yourself running up a wall, instead of starting a fly wheel and carefully picking up all of the  low hanging fruit before advancing to high quality .

Nothing Attracts a Crowd Like a Crowd – Nothing Attracts Links like Links

In 2004, Mike Grehan wrote a now-famous essay, “Filthy Linking Rich”, on the tendency of well-linked sites to organically gain more links and make new competition impossible.  As Grehan put it:

So, the “filthy linking rich” get richer and currently popular pages continue to hit the top spots. The law of “preferential attachment” as it is also known, wherein new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links, proves that the scheme is inherently biased against new and unknown pages.

PT Barnum allegedly said ‘Nothing Attracts a Crowd Like a Crowd’ – and nothing draws links like links.  (The other thing you can learn from this is essay is people have been complaining about link acquisition and how big sites have an unfair advantage since 2004.)

Start at the Beginning

When I think about link building activities, I put them into five buckets:

-          Reclamation – Activities where the link is already there, but you’re not getting credit for it.

-          Link Demand Harvesting – These are pages that exist to link to sites like yours, but don’t yet include your site

-          Links Utilizing Pre-Existing Relationships - Where you don’t have to make new friends, and get links from folks you already know.

-          Links Requiring New Relationships - Links where you must make new friends. 

-          Links Requiring Both New Relationships and Large Amounts of New Content - Links that require new friends and lots of great content.

You can also think about these criteria through a series of questions:



10 Takeaways from the Link Building Book by Paddy Moogan

Learning about SEO and link development can be tough – there’s so much information out there, and much of it is outdated or flat out wrong. Learning who to trust is half the battle in learning search engine optimization.

Fortunately for both new and experienced link builders everywhere, Paddy Moogan published a very valuable link building ebook.  If you work with or for link building organizations, you’ll find it helpful, and a stellar collection of ideas, strategies, and tactics, all together in one place..  Most link building resources are either highly theoretical or highly tactical – Paddy’s book connects the tactical to the theoretical, helping readers both develop and execute effective link development strategies.

the link building book

Here are my ten biggest takeaways from the Link Building Book:

Deliver Business Results, Not Links

SEO reporting is tricky – the connection between business results and links is not always clear, especially to clients and managers who don’t have a deep understanding of SEO.

Paddy suggests you focus on delivering (and reporting) business results – like increases in referrals from search, increases in non-branded traffic, and increase in checkouts from organic search – rather than delivering a report that says something like “We built 20 DA 45 links.”

This makes managers – especially managers who aren’t deeply versed in SEO – very happy, because they can see their link building spend turning into more revenue, instead of just more links.



What Factors Make a Competitive SEO Space?

When asked, “What’s the most competitive SEO vertical?”, search marketers give many different interesting answers. From the classic ‘PPC’ (pharmaceuticals, casinos, and, er, adult content), to travel and insurance, to general interest areas like music and recipes, everyone has their own opinion on what makes a competitive space.

Julie Joyce wrote an interesting post on this topic over on SEOChicks, where everything from law to finance to HIPAA compliant hosting to local lead generation are mentioned as the most difficult spaces.

This got me thinking – what makes a competitive SEO space?  What causes some verticals to be more competitive than others?

I came up with a list of factors, that together, create competitiveness.

Lifetime Value of Lead

One factor that leads to competitiveness is the value of a search-based lead.  While in some spaces, leads might only be worth $5-10 (think car washes, for example), other spaces can have huge per-lead values – this is one source of the competitiveness in the financial and legal sectors.  

These lead values tend to be highly correlated with PPC cost, as shown in this infographic from WordStream.

Where Does Google Make Its Money? [ infographic ]

 The most popular categories are insurance, loans, mortgages,  and attorneys.  All of these areas have a tremendously high lifetime value.

Presence of Strong Brands

While looking at this list, I found myself wondering, “Why doesn’t high-end enterprise software – like ERP systems – rank higher on this chart? Those sales can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions?”

I realized that some goods are simply not purchased through search engine research, but are purchased on brand.  If you’re looking for ERP software, you’re probably going to go with SAP, NetSuite, or maybe Oracle. Likewise, if you’re looking for management consulting services, you’re similarly going to go with a big 3 firm, regardless of who ranks first.

In addition to some goods simply being purchased primarily on brand reputation, huge, well-known brands don’t need to rank #1 to get the majority of clicks from SERPs.  Microsoft researchers found that domain bias (click bias towards well-known domains and brands) can shift user clicks up ~25% of the time. (Hat tip to Rand Fishkin for finding and sharing this study.) This domain bias is in addition to search engine’s inclusion of brand signals as ranking factors.

Areas with these strong brands are typically unattractive for SEO investment – even if you succeed in attracting clicks, you won’t necessarily driven revenue. This actually makes areas without strong brands more competitive.

Low Product Differentiation

Related to the strong brands, areas with low product differentiation tend to be more competitive.  For example, financial products, like mortgages and insurance, tend to have little product differentiation.  By contrast, tech and software products have a much higher level of product differentiation, which creates different purchase dynamics.

In areas with little product differentiation (most financial goods, insurance, etc), search marketing is dramatically more competitive.

Link Availability

In some areas, like, online marketing or Apple accessories, the websites to people ratio is very high.  In other spaces, like the previously mentioned HIPAA compliant hosting or industrial packaging, websites are much rarer, and correspondingly, links are few and far between.  Then there’s a middle ground , where there are many sites, but not an incredible number.

This leads to some interesting consequences.  The verticals with lots of sites require an incredible number of links to rank, while in verticals with no sites, there are very few links to be had.  In that way, hugely popular topics are incredibly competitive, and incredibly obscure topics are competitive, but topics falling into the middle are less competitive.

For example, for a while, one of the manufacturers ranking for a key iPhone accessory term had actually leaked their cases for the new iPhone early, drawing links to that page from hundreds of tech and Apple blogs.  It was very difficult for other manufacturers in that space to compete without doing things that would threaten their relationships with Apple.  This is the mark of a competitive space – companies going to extreme measures to rank for terms.  (Whether they leaked their case for SEO reasons is a separate discussion, but it certainly led them to great SEO benefit.)

High Seasonal Demand

Another factor in SEO competitiveness is seasonal demand.  These are spaces where there’s tremendous traffic and commercial intent up to a certain date – think Halloween costumes from Oct. 1 – Oct. 22, or flowers before Valentine’s day – and after that date, traffic and purchase intent drops off tremendously.  

These tend to be very competitive areas, where aggressive tactics are often rewarded.

Level of Embarrassment

This is a difficult factor to explain, but think of it like this: For many purchases (like say, a new checking account), people ask their friends and families and use their recommendations to choose a vendor.

By contrast, there are many areas (around health, finances, medicine, etc) where people would feel deeply uncomfortable talking to their peers about them.  However, people are still willing to ask a search engine.  This explains the level of competitiveness (and thus high PPC price) for terms around drug rehab and debt consolidation/credit repair.

Distribution of Keyword Demand

Finally, there’s a much more technical factor that drives SEO competitiveness – distribution of keyword demand.  Allow me to explain:

- Some verticals have an incredible long tail and ‘chunky middle’ of terms, creating lots of profitable optimization opportunities

- By contrast, search volumes in other niches are concentrated around a few head terms, without much of a long tail.

These areas where head terms dominate are amongst the most competitive, while niches with a longer tail allow more opportunity for new entrants.

Combining Factors

Many competitive niches have a combination of these factors – for instance, in the world of online gambling, you see large head keyword demand, high lifetime value, and little product differentiation.  As these factors combine, they can create a kind of ‘lollapalooza effect‘, creating hyper-competitive verticals.

What Do You Think?

What causes a niche to be competitive in SEO?  Is it simply value per lead (or profit per click) or are there other forces at work?

Leave your thoughts in the comments – this is a question best answered by many contributing opinions.