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As anyone who's ever struggled to achieve and maintain high search results rankings can attest to, search engine optimization ( SEO ) is a constant race to stay one move ahead of your competitors. To win that race, you need to continually improve your own website and monitor your competitors' SEO activity.
If you've watched rivals usurp your top rankings, you'll want to consider these five tips:
1. Focus on content creation.
When it comes to digital marketing, the acronym "ABC" doesn't just stand for "Always Be Closing." It should also remind webmasters to "Always Be Creating."
Whether you're pursuing SEO, pay-per-click or any other digital marketing strategy to attract new visitors to your website, the quality and amount of content matters. Adding fresh content to your site makes it more appealing both to the search engines and their automated indexing programs, as well as the people who read your pages. High-value content can also lead to viral sharing, which increases the number of external backlinks pointing at your website and further improves your SEO.
So content creation is a "win-win-win." If you're concerned about competitors usurping your high search rankings, you can't go wrong by investing time in creating blog posts, articles, downloadable products and other content for your site.
Related: The Basics of Using Keywords for Better SEO
2. Plan your keyword targeting strategies carefully.
As you're creating this content, you'll want to pay careful attention to the keywords you're targeting. Just because you've reached the top spot in the Google results for a given keyword doesn't mean that maintaining this ranking is a valuable use of your time.
What you need to focus on are the search queries that yield the highest total traffic. To determine which keywords are most effective and which ones can be ceded to competitors, look at the traffic data for different search queries using Google Analytics or Google's Webmaster Tools program. If possible, use advanced tools like Raven Tools (free, with paid plans starting at $99 per month) to determine which keywords are producing the most conversions.
3. Stay abreast of SEO news.
SEO is a field that's constantly changing. If you're able to jump on a new technique or growing trend before your competitors, you may be able to cement your lead in the natural search results.
Set aside time each week to monitor SEO news websites such as Search Engine Land or Search Engine Watch. If you see evidence of a major change in SEO best practices, take action right away to prevent your site from falling behind in the search results.
Related: Why You Want 'Backlinks' to Your Website (Video)
4. Monitor your competitors' backlink profiles.
While it's important to monitor your own website's backlink profiles to prevent negative SEO attacks, you should also keep a close eye on any changes in the links your competitors are building.
Often, the best SEO techniques aren't widely publicized. Instead, people accidentally stumble upon a winning combination that leads to positive website results. By monitoring your competitors' backlink profiles using tools like Majestic SEO (free, with paid plans starting at $49.99 per month) or Open Site Explorer (free, with paid plans starting at $99 per month), you can both identify potential linking partners for your site and uncover any new linking strategies your competitors may be using to try to beat you.
5. Monitor your competitors' on-site SEO activities.
Also monitor competitors' on-site optimization efforts. If any competitors dramatically change their SEO activities, you could be looking at one of two possible scenarios: They may have discovered a new way to optimize their pages in the search results, or they may be updating their pages in response to a penalty from the search engines.
Either way, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your competitors' title tag structures, use of keyword-optimized headers and other SEO activity. All this information -- and much more -- is available with free, downloadable tools like Traffic Travis.
Related: 3 Steps to Protecting Your Website's Search Rankings