Digital marketers and website owners have a common primary goal – to increase traffic on their websites. They invest a lot of time, effort, and resources into improving their search engine rankings and driving more organic traffic to their websites.
This is only natural since Google receives more than 71,000 search queries every second. So their efforts help them attract those searchers.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for creating brand awareness and building an army of loyal brand advocates. Website owners often strive to develop a tenacious strategy hoping to reach the top of search engines results pages (SERPs).
They dig deep in an attempt to identify the appropriate keywords and publish top-notch content. However, one thing that marketers and website owners always face a challenge with is the vehement competition associated with search engine rankings.
Whenever your website climbs up in the SERPs, it is essentially beating your competitors for a higher position. Thus, it is often useful to get insightful information about the tactics and techniques that are being used by your competitors. It can give you a strategic advantage over other contenders in your niche.
SEO competitor analysis involves several steps such as competitor keyword analysis, identifying link building opportunities, etc. However, before we discuss each step in detail, let’s first understand the concept and its importance.
SEO Competitor Analysis: Why is It Important?
“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” – Don Corleone (The Godfather)
When Mario Puzo penned this iconic quote in his famous novel, he probably never thought it would be relevant to website owners.
In the world of SEO, your competitors have the potential to be your biggest allies. Much like any other field, thorough knowledge of your competitor’s tactics arms you with a lot of insightful information.
Evaluating a competitor’s tactics is all about finding out what they are doing right to achieve higher search engine rankings.
It also gives you an opportunity to identify gaps in their overall strategy. This knowledge is important if you wish to outrank them. It is a way of reverse engineering your strategy by learning from those who are already above you.
What’s the harm in picking your own keywords and targeting them by publishing high-quality content optimized with these keywords? Nothing, really.
However, it is likely that you will be shooting in the dark with this approach. For instance, you may have to go through a few hit-and-miss attempts before you find the keywords that are actually worth ranking for.
This is where SEO competitor analysis comes in handy. By knowing what is working for your competitors, you can determine what you need to do to improve your rankings. It eliminates the need for making your own mistakes and learning from them. Consequently, you save a lot of time and resources.
For instance, instead of selecting your target keywords, you can opt for a thorough competitor keyword analysis. This can give you access to a treasure trove of high ROI keywords that are already bringing your competitors success. Targeting these keywords is likely to yield far better results.
It is evident that analyzing your competitors is crucial for shaping your own SEO strategy. It helps you understand the tasks you need to prioritize in order to outrank them. You also get a fair idea about the kind of resources you will need to beat them.
Let’s now take a look at the different steps involved in SEO competitor analysis.
Identify Your Competitors
It is important to define who your competitors are before you even think of outranking them. For instance, if you run an ecommerce business, you might think about big brands like Amazon and eBay as your competitors.
However, you would require a multitude of resources to compete with these industry giants that have tremendous domain authority. In the absence of adequate resources, you will have to go after the relatively moderate competitors.
Running a simple Google search with the keywords you want to rank for will reveal the biggest players in your niche. These websites are likely to dominate both organic and paid rankings. If you have a new website with relatively low domain authority, it may not be advisable to go after them. Instead, you can look for the softer target competitors.
Tools such as SEMrush can help you identify your possible competitors. Simply enter your own domain name and scroll down to the “Organic Competitors” section. One click on the “View Full Report” button will reveal the websites you are competing against. Other tools like SimilarWeb and Alexa can also be used for this purpose.
The next step is to take a look at the key metrics for each competitor. The metrics that you should watch out for include domain authority and inbound link profile. Take a look at the number of domains linking to a competitor’s website. You should also pay attention to the rate at which new domains link to their website on a monthly basis. Tools like Ahrefs can help you with this.
In addition, you should also take a look at the level of competition, overall website traffic, common keywords, etc. The report generated by SEMrush combines these metrics to give you a comprehensive view of your competitor’s website. This data is extremely important because it tells you what you are up against and the kind of resources you will need to overthrow them.
Image via Moz
It is at this point that you should consider whether a competitor is worth going after, given the amount of resources at hand. Moz recommends that you use a Google Sheets Competitor Analysis Template to compile all of the data you get from your SEO competitor analysis. This allows you to compare different metrics and focus on evaluating the results.
Image via Moz Competitor Analysis Template
Competitor Keyword Analysis: Find Your Competitors’ Keywords
Now that you have picked the competitors you want to outrank, it is time to take a closer look at their SEO strategies. The first step in doing this is a detailed competitor keyword analysis. This process helps you identify the high ROI keywords that are being targeted by your competitors.
Keywords form the basis of your entire SEO strategy. They are the search queries your target audience is likely to enter when looking for information related to the product or service you provide. Even the best content will fail to drive traffic unless you target relevant keywords. This makes keyword research such an important part of SEO.
There are two ways to go about keyword research. The first approach is to use keyword research tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner to get the possible keyword ideas. However, merely picking these phrases and using them in your content won’t yield the desired results. You need to validate each keyword by considering the overall competition associated with these keywords.
This brings us to the second method – competitor keyword analysis. The biggest advantage of this approach is that it reveals the keywords that are already bringing success to your competitors. It is likely that they will be useful for you too if you use them judiciously. With this approach, get access to a plethora of high ROI keyword opportunities.
Competitor keyword analysis involves different stages such as identifying a competitor’s keywords and evaluating each keyword. By the end of the process, you are armed with a collection of high ROI organic keywords that are known to bring success. Let us now take a look at the different steps involved in competitor keyword analysis.
At the onset, you can use SEMrush to get a comprehensive list of the keywords that are being targeted by a competitor. Scroll down to the “Organic Research” section and select the “Positions” tab on the left-side navigation menu. Click on the “Export” button to download a CSV file that contains your competitor’s treasured keywords. Repeat this process for all the competitors you would like to outrank.
Image via Moz
Your competitor keyword analysis doesn’t end with merely finding the most popular search queries. You need to further fine tune the list of your competitors’ keywords to identify those with the highest ROI. It is advisable to filter out the highly competitive keywords. If there are big brands or high-authority websites targeting a particular keyword, it may not be worth the fight.
Take a Closer Look
This brings us to an extremely crucial stage in competitor keyword analysis. Once you have narrowed down your list to include the relatively low competition keywords, it is now time to dig deeper. Start by eliminating the keywords that aren’t relevant to your product or service. This leaves you with a relatively specific list of keywords that are easier to rank for.
However, your competitor keyword analysis isn’t over just yet. The next step is to run a Google search for each keyword that still remains on your list. Take a look at the top results. Evaluate each page to find out its overall domain authority and the number of inbound links. A high domain authority and a strong link profile indicate you are up against some stiff competition.
Read the content on these pages from a user’s perspective. Try to understand if it completely satisfies the user’s search intent. Finally, take a look at the website design, mobile-responsiveness, and page speed. A gap in any of these indicates an unexplored opportunity that you could exploit to your advantage.
Use Keyword Clusters
You might come across a lot of generic categorical keywords such as “fine-dining restaurants,” “beauty salons,” “wellness spa,” etc. However, it is advisable to drop them from your list at this stage of competitor keyword analysis. The reason for this is that these keywords usually describe a niche or category, making them highly competitive. Ranking for such keywords organically is a herculean task and it may not be worth the effort.
However, you can combine these generic keywords with other terms to form keyword clusters. This will make them more specific, which in turn narrows down your target audience. In addition, such keyword clusters will also have a high collective search volume. Some examples include “fine-dining restaurants in Chicago,” “beauty salons in Brooklyn,” “wellness spa in Manhattan,” etc.
Explore Paid Keywords
An important step that website owners often ignore while performing competitor keyword analysis is scrutinizing paid keywords. Some of your competitors might be investing heavily into paid search ads by bidding on expensive keywords.
Unless you have the finances for running costly PPC campaigns, it is advisable to target these keywords organically. Organic search results are often perceived as more credible than paid ones above them. This may give you a slight edge over your competitors.
Competitor Keyword Analysis: The Culmination
To conclude your competitor keyword analysis, you must pick the final list of organic keywords you wish to target. In order to do this, consider the overall domain authority of your website. The stronger your domain, the easier it will be for you to outrank the competition. Moreover, take into consideration the resources and experience you have to produce top-notch content and earn high-quality backlinks.
Finally, think about what kind of funds you can allocate to craft your SEO strategy. The higher your budget, the easier it will be for you to produce content of unmatchable quality. Weigh all the above factors judiciously to determine the final set of keywords you wish to target organically.
It has been established that competitor keyword analysis empowers you with the knowledge of what is actually relevant to your target audience. Instead of guessing what kind of search queries they are likely to use, you now know exactly what to expect from them. This, in turn, puts you in a better position to create more relevant content and satisfy a user’s search intent.
Spot the Gaps
Competitor keyword analysis doesn’t end with compiling a list of search queries to be targeted organically. Along with this, you also get access to a plethora of useful information about your competitors’ weaknesses. These are the gaps you must exploit to your own advantage.
Once you have zeroed down on your final list of keywords, run a Google search for each one of them. Analyze the top results in terms of the following metrics:
- Domain Authority – The total number of websites that link to various pages on a particular domain. A higher domain authority indicates a more powerful competitor.
- Link Profile – The total number of websites that link to a particular page. A large number of genuine high-quality backlinks has a positive impact on search engine rankings.
- Content Relevance and Quality – It must satisfy the user’s search intent. In addition, it should be unique, lucid, and error-free. Keywords should be incorporated seamlessly into the content.
- User Experience – Search engines prefer websites that are user-friendly, mobile-responsive, and fast-loading. You can check the mobile-responsiveness of a website using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test Tool. Likewise, you can check your load time using Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
- Site Architecture and Meta Tagging – A fluid site architecture makes it easy for search engine robots to navigate through the website and index various pages. This ensures that such pages rank for relevant search queries. All pages on a website should also have meta tags incorporating relevant keywords.
Check how well the top results fare for the different metrics. Any loophole in this regard can open up new opportunities for you. For instance, if one or more of the top results is not mobile-responsive, it indicates that there is a lack of mobile-friendly websites for that particular search query.
In the absence of too many credible options, Google perhaps had to grant a higher rank to an average website. This means if your website delivers a smooth user experience on mobile devices, it stands a chance to climb up the SERP ladder. Likewise, check their site architecture to spot loopholes (if any). Improving your own website’s navigation will give you an edge over such competitors.
Similarly, take a closer look at the content on each one of these pages. Competitor keyword analysis helps you narrow down the organic keywords you want to rank for. However, targeting these keywords demands the creation of high-quality content with them. Before you start with this, assess the quality of content on your competitors’ websites.
If a competitor’s content is thin, boring, or filled with grammatical errors, you have a better chance of outshining them. However, if their content is highly engaging, outranking them would require extra effort. Pay attention to the type of media (images, graphics, videos, etc.) they are using. Check the number of social shares and comments on their blog posts. In addition, look for content opportunities that haven’t been fully explored by your competitors.
Backlink Gap Analysis
While scrutinizing SEO competitors, website owners often focus all their energy on competitor keyword analysis. In the process, they end up ignoring the link building opportunities that can also be exploited using SEO competitor analysis.
Despite publishing high-quality content, your website may still lag behind due to a poor backlink profile. So it is crucial to bridge any gaps that exist between your competitors’ inbound link profile and your own backlinks.
The first step is to identify the websites that are already linking to your competitors. You can do this with the help of the Moz Link Explorer tool. Simply input a competitor’s domain name and navigate to the “Linking Domains” section. Click on “Request CSV” to download the file. Repeat this process for all your competitors.
Image via Moz
This report gives information regarding the websites that link to a competitor, along with the domain authority of such websites. From this data, identify the websites that are linking to your competitors, but not to you. These are the backlinks you should be aiming at in order to beat your competitors. This is especially useful for new websites that may find it difficult to earn backlinks from high-authority websites.
You should exercise a certain level of caution while mimicking a competitor’s backlink profile. Keep an eye out for link spam. If your competitor is using black hat techniques to purchase backlinks, it is best to let them be. Their ranking won’t stand the test of time, and may even get penalized by search engines.
Take Your SEO Competitor Analysis Offline
With competitor keyword analysis and backlink gap analysis, you are almost ready to wage an SEO war against your competitors. However, it is also advisable to evaluate the offline marketing strategies adopted by these competitors. That’s because offline advertising increases the number of branded searches. This, in turn, has a positive impact on a website’s search engine ranking.
Offline marketing techniques include radio ads, television commercial, print ads, direct mail, etc. Keep an eye on newspapers and magazines to see the latest marketing tactic your competitors are using in their ads. Likewise, you can check YouTube for their latest video ads. Think of ways to imitate any offer or trend they are currently promoting.
SEO competitor analysis is a clever way to approach search engine optimization. Instead of aiming in the dark and making mistakes, you can target keywords that have proven to be successful. The process requires a thorough understanding of who your competitors are.
Perform a rigorous competitor keyword analysis to identify the keywords you wish to target. You should pay equal attention to the backlink strategies and offline marketing techniques being used by your competitors.
However, be careful not to copy their strategies blindly. If they are using black or grey hat SEO strategies, it is best to refrain from such practices. Use your discretion and judgment to identify the areas in which you actually want to beat your competitors. Take into consideration the available resources and funds while doing so.
Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant who specializes in sales funnels, targeted traffic, and website conversions. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, influencers with digital products, and a number of A-List celebrities.