We've all probably been there before or have known someone in business who has. Say you're a landscaper with a business called Happy Grass Landscaping. Next thing you know, a local competitor keeps using phrases that include the words "happy grass" in their web content, Google ads, etc., trying to divert searches looking for you away.
What do you do about this?
Opinions in the SEO community vary largely on things like this. Some will simply say "do it back." I personally disagree with this. Keep reading and I'll explain why and also what I recommend you do instead.
What it says when a competitor uses this tactic
I'll be blunt. If they had a better tactic, they'd be using it. If they understood SEO, they'd know there are better tactics. Conclusion? You're dealing with an amateur, and that's exactly why you shouldn't use their lame tactic back on them.
It may not be black hat SEO per se, but it's definitely grey hat at best. Don't dwell in that fuzzy area. Not only is it kind of shady, it's also largely a waste of time. I know that every business owner wants to rank for their own name and sure, not ranking for your own name can be embarrassing. But the truth is that in most cases your customers are not searching for you by name. Even if you're a champ at ranking for your name, if that's the sole triumph of your SEO efforts, you're missing out on most of the prospects around you.
Knowing what your competitors are doing is great. If you want to market like a chess player, understanding your competitors' motivations solidifies your next move. But the real reason you want to know what they're doing is so that you can outmaneuver them, not to simply do everything they're doing, too.
"But what if I have a well-known, nationally recognized brand that's worth ranking for?"
Fair question. But if that's the case, it's going to be tough for your competitor who is not part of that brand/company to really make a splash there. A brand that big probably has a whole bunch of local dealers. The downside is that you're probably competing a bit with them, too, but so is your outsider competitor. They're not just fighting you, but a collection of franchisees like you. That can be a tall order. Doable if they're savvy, but again if they're using this technique to come at you, they're probably not very savvy.
What you should focus on instead
To follow to above example, if I'm already familiar with Happy Grass Landscaping and I want to call them to work on my yard, chances are I'll go directly to their site -- or since I know them, I'll ignore search results that obviously aren't them when I search by name. Opponent's strategy defeated.
If I begin my search with that specific company in mind, theoretically my mind is pretty made up. Sure, it's possible that a well-worded title on a competitor's site that shows up in the rankings could sway me away from that original intent, but less likely than a search with no one particular in mind.
And if I don't know the business by name, I'll very likely be searching for landscaping services or by a specific thing I'm looking for. I may want edging done or bush pruning, so I'll search directly for that. Doing even just 15 minutes of keyword research can usually reveal some good places to get started, and you'll have a fair idea of what types of searches are done more often than others. Your competitor is wasting all their time trying to rank for your name. Good -- let them spin their wheels while you go after the real meat of the local business.
"But it's still annoying that they rank for my name!"
Don't worry. Not only will you likely exceed their traffic this way long term, but the stronger your site becomes in the eyes of Google through your superior tactics, the stronger your site will eventually rank for your own name as well. You may find that by dominating the competitor this way you'll also outpace them for your name as you grow because your entire domain is taken more seriously than theirs. And you never had to dirty your hands with cheap tricks.
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