Knowing how to do an in-depth SEO competitor analysis is crucial to your search engine optimization strategy.
Sadly, not many do it. And those doing it do it haphazardly.
But knowing your competitors is essential to helping you create a roadmap for SEO activities that will help you have the edge over your competition.
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What is an SEO competitor analysis (And why is it important)?
SEO competitor analysis is the practice of looking into your competitor’s SEO strategy, especially those who are doing better than you. Conducting an SEO competitor analysis is important as it will help you discover a lot of insights you can use to boost your own strategy.
You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn by simply looking under the hood of your competitor’s SEO strategy.
Some of the things you can discover are:
- SEO strategies that are working for your competitors
- What they’re doing, that you aren’t
- How difficult it is to rank for important keywords
- The traffic potential in your niche
However, the most important reason for conducting an SEO competitor analysis is to gain insight into what you can do to create an effective SEO strategy.
Before we dive into the six steps that you should take to analyze your SEO competition properly, you need to gather the right SEO tools to help you mine your competitors’ data. You’ll also need to create a spreadsheet that you’ll use to gather the data you collect.
And because there’s so much work involved, you’re better off hiring a freelance SEO or a full-time one if your organization is large enough.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
1. Start with keyword research
Keyword research is one of the pillars of SEO.
That’s why when you conduct your competitor analysis, you must start by identifying all your important keywords. More than that, you must understand the intent behind those keywords when your audience uses them in their search queries.
The keywords you want to focus on must be powered by informational, commercial, and transactional intent.
That’s because those are usually the money keywords that result in visitors eventually going down your sales funnel.
But more on that as we discuss competitor keyword analysis.
Knowing which keywords you’re creating content around and trying to rank will play a huge role in later aspects of competitor analysis. So, the most important thing you need right now is a list of your primary keywords. We won’t go into great detail on how you can get them, but if you’re interested, check out this article on how to discover relevant keywords.
2. Identify your real competitors
While it may seem obvious, one of the first steps to conducting a competitor analysis is identifying your real SEO competitors.
Sure, you may think you know who they are, but until you dig deep into the data, you’ll be working on assumptions.
So how do you identify your real SEO competitors?
First of all, be clear on who is not your competitor. Some websites may rank for keywords that are important to you but are not in your same vertical. An example is Wikipedia. They rank for millions of terms but have no intention of monetizing any of them.
Secondly, make a distinction between your primary and secondary competitors. Primary competitors sell the exact products and services you offer and target the same audience as you. Secondary competitors are those interested in ranking for the same keywords as you (thereby creating similar content) but don’t offer the same products or services.
To get a clear picture of who your competitors really are, there are a few strategies and tools you can use. Here are some of them:
Use the SERPs
Google is always your best friend when it comes to anything SEO. Simply type in your main keywords and note which of your primary and secondary competitors rank for those keywords.
Alternatively, you can search for your product and its alternatives. The search results will give you a good picture of who your real SEO competitors are.
Use Competitor Analysis Tools
Another way to discover your real SEO competitors is to use competitor analysis tools. These will help you better understand who your real competitors are and give you the data to back it up. Examples of such tools include Ahrefs Site Explorer and SEMrush’s Competitive Research Toolkit.
To find your competitors, simply enter your domain name into your SEO tool of choice and navigate to the competing domains. You can sort the results using the common keywords tab to get a clearer picture of your closest competitors.
Once you’ve identified your real SEO competitors, it’s time to move on to the next step of your SEO competitor analysis…
3. Benchmark competitor SEO performance
Once you’ve identified your real SEO competitors, you need to gather data and metrics about their SEO performance. The reason for that is so you can have top-level data to use to benchmark with.
Some data you should use to benchmark includes:
Domain Rating and Domain Authority
Two important metrics that you must consider two critical metrics in your competitor analysis: domain rating (DR) and domain authority (DA).
DR is a metric developed by Ahrefs to show the strength of a website’s backlink profile. It uses a logarithmic scale that goes from 0 to 100. This metric is vital because backlinks play a major role in the way search engines rank websites.
When conducting your competitor analysis, compare your DR to your competitors’. If it’s lower, you will have to build more backlinks to improve your rankings. Note that you’ll probably have to work harder at building more backlinks for competitive pages.
As you look at DR, Ahrefs will show you the backlink profiles of each of your competitors. Make sure to note the websites that you can include in your link building campaigns.
Domain authority is a Moz metric developed to predict the likelihood of a website ranking on search engines. The algorithm takes into consideration many factors that search engines use to rank websites and calculates the outcome on a scale of 0 to 100.
Again, you can use your competitors’ DA scores to benchmark your own. If yours is lower, you must design a robust SEO strategy to help you catch up and overtake them.
Both DR and DA are good indicators of your starting point in improving your SEO. We’ll touch on how to improve on them later in the post as we look at other aspects of competitor analysis. For the moment, you just need a list of:
- Your real SEO competitors
- Their DR and DA scores
- Your keywords
- Potential backlink targets
Armed with this information, you can now proceed to collect more data on your competitors.
Number of Indexed Pages
Another crucial piece of data you’ll need as you conduct an SEO competitor analysis is the number of indexed pages your competitors have. To rank pages, search engines first need to find and index them.
You can use Google to easily check how many indexed pages your competitors have by searching for “site:domain”.
For example, if the Jeff Bullas blog is one of your competitors, here are the results you’ll get:
From the above screenshot, your competitor has 3,500 indexed pages. Do this for all your competitors and put the data in a spreadsheet. You can then compare the number of your indexed pages to those your competitors have.
Again, if you have fewer indexed pages than your competitors, you’ll have to create and index more content to catch up. But of course, the aim is not to catch up but to overtake your competitors. This means you’ll have to create more SEO-optimized content than them to give you a better chance of taking the top spot.
Your competitors’ keyword rankings are another aspect of competitor analysis you must consider. You want to consider whether they’re increasing in the number of organic keywords ranking in the top 10 positions.
Again, you can use SEO tools to get this data.
Competitors who have enjoyed consistent growth in this area over the past 6-12 months are the ones you should focus on. This growth is a sign that they’re consistently creating content and working on improving their rankings.
The primary function of SEO is to drive organic traffic to your website.
That’s why checking your competitors’ traffic trends is crucial to your SEO competitor analysis. Here’s an example of PandaDoc’s traffic comparison to their competitors:
As you can see, this electronic signature software company has a lot of work to do to catch up to the prominent players on the market. So what kind of traffic metrics should they focus on as they conduct their SEO competitor analysis?
Monthly Organic Traffic
Identify competitors that are getting the most organic traffic. You can take this to a more granular level by analyzing their traffic at the domain, subfolder, subdomain, and URL levels. This will help you identify the best traffic opportunities.
Organic Traffic Growth
Still on traffic trends, you also need to analyze your competitors’ organic traffic growth. Note whether your competitors’ traffic is:
You’ll want to pay attention to those competitors whose traffic has been consistently growing over the past 12 months.
Your competitor’s traffic value shows how their SEO strategy helps them scale traffic across commercial intent keywords. While this metric is based on traffic brought in by paid ads, it’s a valuable indicator of the revenue your competitors are getting from their traffic.
Backlink Growth/Referring Domains
Trends in referring domains are crucial to helping you develop a backlinking strategy. Growth in this area shows that your competitors are actively building backlinks to their content.
Again, focus on competitors whose referring domain numbers are growing as it shows their link building strategy is working.
Social Media Performance
Social media plays a significant role in SEO.
For one, social signals are an indicator that content is relevant and helpful. Secondly, social media is a good vehicle for getting your content in front of the right audience. It helps drive the right traffic to your assets. Finally, a social media analysis will help you know which types of content gets the most engagement.
Analyze which social media platforms work best for your competitors and which audiences they target there. This will help you design your social media strategy around tactics that work.
Benchmarking your SEO competitors’ performance is one of the essential parts of your SEO competitor analysis. You must take your time and gather as much data as possible at this stage as it will help you create a roadmap for your SEO success.
4. Analyze your competitors’ technical SEO
Each website has its own unique digital makeup. Understanding how your competitors’ boost their SEO through their website’s technical makeup is another essential component of your SEO competitor analysis. That’s why you must make sure to use the right platform to build your website. You must also invest in good web hosting.
Let’s look at some of the crucial technical aspects you must consider in your analysis.
The way a website is structured is essential to SEO for two main reasons:
- Determines whether a website is easy to crawl or not
- Impacts user experience (UX)
A good site structure makes a website easy to crawl. Search engines reward this with better rankings. Things to note here include how subfolders and subdomains are structured.
UX also impacts rankings as search engines reward websites that offer a positive UX. Besides, good UX results in increased dwell time, one of the known ranking factors.
Analyzing your competitors’ website structure and navigation will help you see any structural changes you may need to make on your website to help improve its performance.
Your navigation, especially the top-level navigation (TLN), is also an important part of your site structure. As such, it has a bearing on your SEO. A few things to consider when analyzing your competitors’ TLN include:
- Do they link to their main pages from the TLN?
- Do they use optimized anchors?
- Can users get to important pages within the prescribed minimum of 1-3 clicks?
The insights you get from your competitors’ navigation can help you design optimized menus.
Content silos refer to a technical SEO strategy that involves grouping together topically-related pages. This is usually done by creating a strategic internal linking strategy.
Content silos are a great way of making it easy for search engines to crawl your website and understand your main topic. They’re also great for UX and keeping visitors on site. All these are contributing factors to how websites rank.
Analyze how your competitors’ structure their content and use the insights to optimize your site structure.
Site speed has been a major ranking factor for years. And will continue to be one of the elements of every technical SEO strategy. The reasons for this are that fast sites:
- Are easier to crawl
- Offer a better UX
- Have better conversion rates and fewer bounce rates
Analyzing your competitors’ site speeds will help you gain insight into how they optimize for speed. You’ll have an idea of the changes you can make to your site to make it faster.
It may be a song that has been sung to death, but yes, mobile-friendliness is still an important design and SEO issue.
With Google’s mobile-first indexing policy, no serious business can ignore the need to have a mobile-friendly website.
Again, checking for mobile-friendliness is easy as you can use Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test to check if your competitors’ websites are mobile-friendly.
But mobile-friendliness is not just for the sake of making search engines happy. Statistics show that mobile accounts for about 56% of all organic traffic in the US. This means even customers expect to have good mobile experiences websites.
With all this data on your competitors’ technical SEO, you’ll have a clear picture of their strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, you’ll have an idea of opportunities to capitalize on to give yourself an edge.
5. On-page competitor SEO analysis
Another step you must take in your SEO competitor analysis is to check your competitors’ on-page SEO strategy and performance. This will include elements such as:
Competitor Keyword Research
Competitor keyword research is the practice of analyzing your competitors’ keywords. The point is to identify keywords that your competitors’ are ranking for, but you are not. Take particular note of keywords that are valuable and that you can rank for. You should also pay attention to keywords you’re ranking for, yet you’re still lagging behind your competitors.
Besides primary keywords, you must also look into your competitors’ secondary keywords. These are keywords that add more context to your primary keywords and are usually related to search intent. Search intent refers to one of the four reasons a user is using that particular keyword in their search query:
- Navigational intent. This is when users want to go to a particular website or page. An example of navigational intent is “online course platform Teachable.”
- Informational intent. When a user wants to know more about a certain product, service, or topic. For example, “online course platforms.”
- Commercial intent. This is when a user intends to buy a product/service soon but are still researching their purchase. For example, “What is the best SEO Tool?” Here is a live example.
- Transactional intent. People searching with transactional intent are ready to make a purchase. A good example would be “Thinkific online course platform subscription.”
To create web pages and content that meet your business needs, you must leverage keywords and search intent together. Check how your competitors’ are doing this and get some tips from their keyword strategy.
Content plays a crucial role in SEO.
That’s why you must analyze your competitors’ top-performing content. Top-performing content simply means content that drives traffic as well as converts well. When analyzing your competitors top-performing content, look for attributes like:
Of your competitors’ top-performing content, check which content types work best. Is it:
- Long-form vs. short-form articles
- Informational content
- How-to guides
- “Best of” or comparison articles
- Product pages
Apart from content type, you must also investigate the content formats that work best for your competitors. Common content formats include:
- Written content
- Video content
- Audio content
- Visual content (like infographics)
Average content length also plays an important role in rankings. Search engines want to serve users content that’s as comprehensive as possible. When analyzing your competitors’ top-performing content, take note of the average length. To create content that ranks, apply Brian Dean’s skyscraper technique and create longer, in-depth, and higher quality content.
The purpose of this step of your SEO competitor analysis is not just to copy the content your competitors are creating. The objective is to know what kind of content you should be creating — then create better content than your competitors.
Internal links are part of a successful on-page SEO strategy. Building internal links has three important SEO benefits:
- Help users navigate a website
- Define the information architecture and hierarchy of a website
- Help distributes link equity throughout the site
Despite popular belief, you don’t build internal links randomly. There must be a well-defined strategy if you’re to reap the full SEO benefits of your internal links. That’s why it’s a good idea to analyze your competitors’ websites to see how they create their internal links.
With your on-page competitor analysis done, you can now move on to the next step of your SEO competitor analysis — off-page competitor analysis.
6. Off-page competitor SEO analysis
Off-page SEO refers to all activities away from your site that help improve a website’s search rankings. The most common are link building and other promotion strategies that help drive traffic to your website. However, link building is still one of the most significant off-page activities that websites rely on to boost rankings.
And that’s why you must conduct a thorough competitor backlink analysis as part of your SEO competitor analysis.
Let’s face it. Ranking without backlinks is almost impossible.
And obtaining relevant quality backlinks can be quite a daunting task if you don’t know where to get them.
And that’s where SEO competitor analysis comes to the rescue.
Looking into your competitors’ backlink profile will help you know:
- Websites that could potentially link your content
- The type of content and pages that work best as link “magnets”
- Identify link building strategies that work
- Gauge how many links you need to build and the timeframe you need to build them in to be competitive
One observation that will help boost your link acquisition is websites that link multiple times to your competitors. It’s a sign that they create content related to your niche and are always on the lookout for resources to link to.
Don’t be intimidated if you find some of your competitors get thousands of links from the same domains or networks. It simply shows they use risky link building tactics like PBNs. Don’t try the same tactics as search engines frown on such tactics.
Looking into your competitors’ backlink profile can’t be done manually, of course. But a good SEO tool can give you all the data you need in a matter of minutes. And once you have the data, you can use it to build your link building strategy.
SEO competitor analysis – Putting it all together
All the data you’ve gathered from your SEO competitor analysis is not the end of the journey. It’s simply a means to an end. Your results and data collected are simply the foundation for the next phase of your task – mapping out your SEO strategy.
Armed with data on your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and industry SEO best practices, you can now devise an SEO strategy that’s bound to help you beat your competitors.
But remember, an SEO competitor analysis is never a once-off project. You must conduct them regularly to help you stay ahead of your competition.
Guest author: Hanson Cheng is the founder of Freedom to Ascend. He empowers online entrepreneurs and business owners to 10x their business and become financially independent. You can connect with him here.