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Quick SEM Strategy: Using Google to Steal Business from Competitors

Imagine if you could find your competitors’ dissatisfied customers and market directly to them. Or imagine tactfully stealing away a portion your competitors’ business by specifically targeting consumers that were looking to switch products/services. Depending on your given industry, this may be far easier than you imagined. All it takes is some strategic keyword research, and you can quickly know exactly how to launch an SEM campaign that targets dissatisfied consumers.

The key to any successful SEO or SEM strategy is quality keyword research. Now every search engine marketer has their favorite tools and methods when it comes to keyword research. No matter your method, however, your keywords should be selected based off of a number of criteria:

  1. Search volume
  2. Cost per click (important for both PPC and SEO campaigns)
  3. Ranking difficulty (for SEO campaigns)
  4. Relevancy
  5. Type of SERP (information, transaction, local, or navigation)

So next comes the million dollar question…

What terms are dissatisfied consumers searching?

To answer this question we need to get into the mind of the consumer. If you think about it, there are two common search queries a consumer would likely input if they were unsatisfied with a product/service and wanted to switch. These two are:

  1. ‘Alternative to [company/product]
  2. [company/product] alternative(s)’

Identifying ‘Alternative’ Terms

For the next few minutes, let’s assume that we are a direct competitor to Microsoft Office. In this case our goal would be to find out how many consumers are looking to find a comparable option to the Office suite. To do this we’ll want to start with our favorite keyword research tool. In this example I’m going to use Ahrefs. This can also be done, however, in any keyword research tool that gives related keyword suggestions such as SpyFu or the Moz Keyword Explorer.

Pro Tip: The Adwords Keyword Planner is another option but should be used only as a last resort. In August 2014 Adwords changed its keyword data to only show broad match search volumes. As a result, its given search volume for a single keyword may be higher than the actual search volume.

Start by taking a generic phrase like ‘alternative to Microsoft Office’. In Ahrefs (or the keyword research tool of your choice) input this term into the keyword explorer function:

Screenshot (15)

From there the keyword research tool will quickly provide a more comprehensive list of potential terms. You can then go through this list and create a more comprehensive keyword list based off of the criteria mentioned above. Eventually you will end up with a long list of valuable terms like these:

Screenshot (17)

Once you’ve compiled a list or ‘alternative’ terms you can then begin exploring other potential, less common queries. Two that you can consider depending on the industry are:

  1. [company/product] replacement’
  2. [company/product #1] vs. [company/product #2]

Pro Tip: If you want to go a step further you can also reverse engineer what an existing ‘alternative to’ page has done. Check if any content like this already ranks. Then throw the URL into Ahrefs, SpyFu, or SEMRush to quickly see what terms with decent search volumes that URL has been able to show up for.

SEM Strategy

Once you’ve compiled a list of keywords worth pursuing it’s up to you to determine how best to use them. Here are four things to note when determining whether to pursue them through PPC or SEO:

  1. Currently Google is hesitant to let companies rank for their own ‘alternative’ terms. That’s because it doesn’t match the user intent to have the company a consumer is dissatisfied with pop up in the results. This means that you won’t see Microsoft.com ranking #1 for ‘Microsoft Office alternatives’.
  2. SEO difficulty varies depending on the SERP, but the vast majority of ‘alternative’ keywords will have extremely low competition. These are typically keywords that other competitors haven’t thought to pursue yet and that your main competitor already won’t rank for (as explained above).
  3. Many of these SERPs have featured snippets up top. See this article to learn how to appear in the featured snippet box and show up twice on the first page of Google.
  4. PPC is unlike SEO in that a company is allowed to bid for its own ‘alternative’ terms. Consider using PPC for competitor terms as well as your own.


Now that you have your keywords and have decided how best to pursue them it’s time to put your plan into action. Remember, the goal here is to drive qualified leads. Be sure to have an engaging, informative landing page with a simplified conversion process. To learn more about creating an effective landing page read Essential Components of a Paid Search Landing Page.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a campaign manager at 97th Floor. He works with clients around the world to help them engage with and convert consumers online.

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