Do you really understand your competitor’s SEO strategy? Do you have enough information to outperform their SEO initiatives?

Knowing their strategic direction can be very important. This sample competitor analysis is designed to help you understand your competitors, determine how their strategy is evolving over time and know how they will affect your success, all while looking for new opportunities to grow.

Before doing any type of website competitor analysis you need to develop a fairly comprehensive list of who to focus on. When creating your SEO competitor analysis report focus on your top competitors.  I recommend considering all your competitors by:

  • Listing your offline competition.
  • Doing an online search for your main products and services and adding any competitors with repetitive top listings.
  • Asking friends, family and clients who they also consider in their decision making process.

You should aim to develop a list of 5-10 competitors depending on how competitive your market is so that you can use this 5 step competitor analysis template to analyze each competitor’s SEO strategy.

Step 1: Competitor Keyword Analysis

The objective in the first step is to determine what types of keywords your competition is targeting throughout their site. Keyword competitor analysis includes looking at the title tags of each of your competitor’s main website pages including their Home Page, Main Product Pages and About Us Page.

Don’t forget to consider the order which the keywords are listed. Keywords your competitors place towards the beginning of the tag are likely considered more valuable or important.

Once you have done this for all your competitors compile a spreadsheet of all the “important” keywords used by your competitors. Add in a column for Search Volume and Competition (the number of pages in Google for each term) using a tool such as Wordtracker (free trial available) or AdWords Keyword Tool.

Remember that keywords with high search volume and lower competition are more attractive than low search volume, high competition keywords. Can you identify any keywords your competitors are overlooking the importance of based on their high search volume?

To finish this Competitor Keyword Analysis step be sure to record where each of your competitors is ranked for each phrase. You can reference changes in rankings for future analysis. And don’t forget to include rankings for your own website!

Step 2: Content Competitor Analysis

The objective in Step 2 is to determine what type of content your competitors are publishing on their website, how often they are updating their content and how they are branding their website through content. By doing this step you can adopt and improve on good ideas as well as fill any gaps where meaningful content or important topics are missing.

Visit each of your competitors’ websites and take notes on:

  • Themes and keywords in the main headings (H1, H2, H3 etc)
  • Level of branding incorporated into content
  • Internal linking structure and link anchor text
  • Call to action statements throughout the site
  • Types and styles of new content including product pages, blogs, resource tools, case studies, etc.

As you take notes about the highlights of each site you will be able to start developing a Content Strategy that takes the very best of all your competitors.

Step 3: SEO Technical Competitor Analysis

The level of analysis in Step 3 will depend on how technically minded you are. Here are a few simple “technical” tests you can do regardless of your SEO skill level:

  • Search for each competitor by name in the Search Engines and look at how their website is listed. Do they use schema markup data? Do their blogs have authorship? Do they have videos or images indexed?
  • Pick  5-10 of each competitors’ main website pages and search for their URL in Google to do a quick check if all their pages are being indexed.
  • Do a site:url.com search function to see if Google is listing their most important pages (Home, Main Products etc) first. Do you see major site pages at the top or do you see less important pages first?
  • If you know how to read HTML take a peek at their source code. Does it look clean and optimized?
  • Open a few pages on their website and see how long each page takes to load. Does it seem faster or slower than your website’s pages?
  • Check for a 404 page by adding a few letters after their domain (ex. www.name.coms/sdfo). Does a custom 404 page come up to redirect visitors to the website when they enter a wrong URL? Does this page look like the rest of the site?
  • Check for a sitemap.xml by adding /sitemap.xml to the end of their domain name (ex. www.name.com/sitemap.xml).
  • Look for an HTML sitemap in the footer of the website which helps visitors find a page they can’t find in the navigation.

By looking at a lot of these small technical details you will get a good idea at how well your website is optimized in comparison. If you care to perform a more detailed Server Audit use the checklist posted in our Site and Server Related Issue Checklist.

Step 4: Competitor Link Analysis

The objective in Step 4 is to determine how popular or well liked your competitors’ websites are by others in the online world. For this step you may need some additional analysis tools such as www.semrush.com. For a very quick backlink analysis consider three areas:

1.       Competitor Backlink Analysis

Look at the general size and composition of each or your competitors’ backlinks:

  • Number of backlinks gives you a very brief overview of their backlink profile.
  • Number of unique domains gives you a better picture at how many sites are linking to their site (ex. Are the 4,000 backlinks coming from only one website or from 4,000 different websites?)
  • Backlink profile growth rates tells you which competitors are steadily acquiring new backlinks and which competitors acquire a significant number of backlinks at one point in time (which may indicate purchased links).
  • Detailed backlink analysis (if you have a detailed tool) gives you the pages on your competitor’s sites that are receiving the most backlinks, what type of anchor text is being used and to what pages and what percentage of links are images or no-follow links.

2.       Different Types of Backlinks Checker

Look at the different types or categories of links your competitors have coming to their site. Keep in mind that not all links are equal in value. The purpose of looking at the types of links is to determine how strong their backlink profile is in comparison to yours and to discover any unexplored backlink opportunities on your behalf. Take a look at:

  • Forums they are participating in
  • Associations and organizations they are a member of
  • Conferences or events they are sponsoring
  • Blogs they are guest posting on (why not ask to write an article as well?)
  • Purchased or spam links for the purpose of predicting the stability of their backlink profile

3.       Link Acquisition Strategy Assessment

Look at how quickly and by what means your competitors are creating new backlinks. Creating content or tools to attract new links is an important aspect of growing your popularity and a good way to gauge how aggressive your competitors are trying to be. Look for these “Link Bait” type strategies that may hint at how hard your competitors are working to get new links:

  • Blog posts written by guest bloggers who will often promote the post on their own blog as well
  • Viral content such as videos that have potential to be linked to by many
  • Free tools or widgets that are shared across multiple websites
  • Interviews with industry leaders that are also often promoted across multiple sites
  • Contests which naturally get shared and generate traffic

With all types of links and reviews for your competitors try to understand the sentimental value. Are most reviews positive and likely to invite new customers to use their services or are most of the reviews negative and likely to cause customers to go to a competitor?

Step 5: Long Term SEO Strategy Planning and Assessment

Depending on your time resources and how aggressively you wish to monitor competitors you can revisit this checklist every 3-4 months. In doing this look at big picture trends:

  • Are there any major new competitors?
  • Have any competitors made significant changes to their website?
  • Can you notice any major changes in competitor strategy?
  • Are any competitors offering new services?
  • Have any rankings changed significantly?
  • Have any backlink profiles grown or decreased?
  • Overall, how do you now compare to your competitors based on these changes?

The key is to compare their strategy with yours and determine how well you are positioned. Base your ongoing strategy on the things you see working for your competitors and avoid what could possibly be hurting your competitors.

This tutorial has been adapted from Raven Tool’s Competitor Checklist.

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