On your way to your seat at the Local Feast, they follow you around like a bad smell. You toil to build a great page or resource on your site, and two days later they’ve copied it. You put research and brain cells into your title tags, internal links, GMB categories, and citations, only to spare your competitor all that effort. You get hard-earned reviews from happy customers, and then your competitor’s “customers” happen to write reviews on the same experiences. On top of that, they may spam the map, diss you whenever anyone’s listening, and take other potshots at you. Google won’t do much or anything about it.
Copycats can get far, but only so far. It’s like in chess, where a bad player can copy a grandmaster’s every move until the game-ending move. In general, competitors who rip off your local SEO strategy will stop only once it backfires or otherwise stops working. Between you and them, it’s a war of attrition. You can outlast them. The only question is how much they bleed out of you in the meantime.
What many business owners and SEOs don’t seem to realize is that, although you can’t stop competitors from ripping you off, you can make their strategy much less effective. You do that by putting extra effort into certain parts that competitors can’t haul away – what I like to call “protective moats” around your business.
What are some of those protective moats? Here’s what I would consider the short list:
Your best links. Even if your competitors know of the specific good links you have doesn’t mean they (a) know how you pulled them off, (b) would be willing or able to put in the work you did to make those links possible, or (c) would see the same results. Of course, cheap-o directory links or links that require nothing more than payment/donations/dues are easy for your competitors to replicate. But your finest, hardest-to-get links? You probably have at least a few that took serious work to get, or that were the byproducts of years of work that you did without even thinking of the link. Your competitors would have a very hard time landing those, and collectively they’re probably one of the factors that have helped you in the local search results so far. Your offerings: services, products, or treatments. Just as some competitors are too lazy to market without ripping you off, they probably didn’t learn their trade as well as you have, and therefore can’t help customers/clients/patients in all the ways you can. You offer services or products, or perform treatments, or handle cases that they can’t. Is it possible they could claim to offer those things and then do a bait-n’-switch on customers? Yes, but then they’ll lose business, get torched in the reviews, lose more business, divert energy away from marketing the services they do offer, and possibly get into legal trouble. Meanwhile, your great range of offerings will help your visibility for niche or long-tail search terms, on top of giving you extra side-door ways to rank for the broader, most-competitive terms. “Practitioner” or “department” Google My Business pages. If you’re a dental practice with a pediatric dentist, that dentist can have his or her own GMB page that – with a little work on it and more work on the site – can rank for a whole range of “kids’ dentists” terms. The dental practice without the pediatric specialist has no such advantage. The same is true if you’re a law firm with multiple attorneys, each with somewhat differing specialties, and one attorney specializes in immigration law: He or she can have a GMB page that ranks for “immigration lawyer” terms on top of whatever terms the main practice’s GMB page (or other attorneys’ GMB pages) rank for. If you primarily sell widgets, but you also have a distinct area of your store where you repair widgets and another where you rent out widgets, then one or more of those could justify your having an additional GMB page for each department. Unless your competitors have the same kind of staff or the same department, they couldn’t have those additional GMB pages – or the additional visibility. Your location. Even though it’s not hard to create and verify a Google My Business page at a bogus location, it may be logistically impossible or prohibitively tough for your competitors to verify GMB pages at your location. Even if they could get their own map pin right in your building, there is a good chance they’d be filtered out of the local map. Awards, certifications, and publicity. Certain distinctions often bring with them visibility for you on sites that may be big in your industry or your local market, and that themselves rank well in Google. They may also bring you good links, referral traffic, unstructured reviews, bragging rights, and branding power, which often the raw materials of effective SEO. The fruit salad you earned may be the results of focused and intensive work, or the results of many years in the trenches. Your competitor can start at the beginning, the way you did, but because a third party had to give you your props, there is nothing for a competitor to grab. Videos. If a video features your smiling visage, shows your business or branding, features your customers, or in general demonstrates how great you are, not only is it hard or impossible for a competitor to lift or edit, but no competitor would want whatever video results. Videos are inherently hard to rip off, which may be one reason that even all these years it’s still not all that hard to get them to rank for pretty competitive local search terms. (Of course, the main benefit of a good video is to make your site more persuasive by embedding it on your site.) Persuasive reviews. Competitors can easily write or buy sock-puppet reviews, or fake their reviews in other ways. But those reviews usually won’t appear credible even on the surface, and will look even shadier when would-be customers look up who the “reviewers” are – none of whom seems to be a real person whose life can be researched a little through Google-fu.
There are always ants at a picnic, and you can assume some of your food will disappear or start marching away. But if you pack enough food that the ants can’t or won’t eat, you’ll have plenty for yourself.