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When last did you conduct an SEO competitor analysis? Just as we thought…
When it comes to competition in business, there are two ways of thinking.
Rationale 1: “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” Anonymous
Rationale 2: “Competition in business is a blessing, for without it, we wouldn’t be motivated to improve.” Nabil N. Jamal, author of A Harvest of Change
Here at 1st on the List, we fall firmly into the latter camp. If there’s one thing we can’t stand more than someone earnestly imploring us to “You do you” (insert ‘You Do You’ meme here, followed by several vomit emojis), it’s seeing a business squander their full potential by ignoring their competition. Refusing to recognize, and analyze, your competition is, at best, foolhardy. At worst, it could be a death knell for your business; after all, if you don’t even know what your competition is doing, how can you aim to do it better? They’re not your competition if you don’t even compete.
So, while we’re all for forging your own way in business, striving to do better every day on your own path, looking for new and different ways to be and do better, we can’t go along with the philosophy that you allow your business to bloom in a vacuum. To improve, and thrive, you need to know who – and what – you’re competing against. A great place to start? If you haven’t performed an SEO competitor analysis recently, you should.
Knowing your competitor’s SEO strategic direction can be very important. By knowing, and understanding, your competitor’s SEO strategy, you can not only measure yours against theirs, but let it inform your own SEO strategy to outperform theirs… and blow your competitors out of the world-wide waters.
To allow you to do just that, we have compiled an updated SEO competitor analysis tool to help you take your SEO game, and business, to the next level.
The SEO competitor analysis tool and checklist which follow are designed to help you understand your competitors, determine what their strategy is and how it is evolving over time, know how their SEO strategy might affect your own success, all while looking for new opportunities to grow and improve your own SEO plan. In short, this tool can help you gather the motherload of useful information to help you win big in the organic search stakes. And go.
What is SEO Competitor Analysis?
An SEO competitor analysis is a series of steps you take and processes you can run to evaluate your competitors’ websites on search engine results pages (SERPs). Specifically, you are looking for:
- Who else is ranking for terms or search queries related to your products or services that you’re ranking for, or would like to rank for.
- Are they ranking better than you for those terms?
- How did they do it: how and where are they using those terms?
This analysis helps you uncover which keywords work for your industry, i.e., which keywords and search terms are driving the most traffic to your competitors’ sites. It can also show you the strategy they’re using to outrank you for those keywords, any backlinks they’ve earned, and they type of content they use which really resonates with their customers. In other words, it can show you everything your competitors are doing right to perform better than you on SERPs, and what exactly works in your industry to get you to the top of the Internet game.
Conversely, an SEO competitor analysis can also help you find your competitors’ weaknesses, and what doesn’t work in your industry, thus allowing you to learn from their mistakes and tweak your own strategy accordingly.
Armed with all this information, you can now work on doing what your competitors are doing, only better or differently.
Who Should You Include in Your SEO Competitor Analysis?
Of course, before you can perform an SEO competitor analysis, you need to know who your competitors are. (Thanks, Captain Obvious.)
Here are our top tips for the fact-finding and selection process:
- Focus on your top competition to begin with – choose your top 3 to 6 most significant competitors.
- Begin by listing your offline competition; then find them online.
- Now do an online search for the main products and/or services which you offer, and see which businesses come up online for the same products/services.
- Note 1 – some keywords are the same for entirely different businesses: A keyword competitor is not always necessarily going to be a business competitor. For example: you’re trying to sell cyber security. Bob down the road sells building security – locks and keys and alarm systems. You’re both trying to rank for the search term “business security”. You and Bob sell different things. Bob is not your competition. Buy Bob a drink.
- Note 2 – think local first: Don’t try to fight the behemoths. If you’re selling artisan ice cream for example, you’re never going to outrank the likes of Ben & Jerry’s for a search term like “ice cream”. Make sure you localize your search terms to your specific target area and market, then focus on competitors offering similar products to that same audience.
- Do a bit of market research: ask your current clients, friends and family who else they have considered shopping with/getting information from in your specific industry. (Don’t be hurt and confused by their responses. They are not traitors, just savvy shoppers – exactly like the rest of your customers.)
- Add in those websites or organization you have already identified as your direct competition.
- Whittle that list down to the top 3 to 6 most significant competitors in your eyes.
5 Step Competitor Analysis Template
Now that you’ve got your hit list, you can move on to analyzing each competitor’s SEO strategy using the following 5-step template as your main tool.
1. Select Your Competitor Analysis Tools
The Internet is a veritable candy store with any number of great tools available to help you perform your SEO competitor analysis. Use them. Some of our favourites include:
- SpyFu: The name says it all really. SpyFu allows you to, well, spy on any site on the web. Simply type in the URL of any website (i.e., your competitors’ sites) to see “every place they’ve shown up on Google: every keyword they’ve bought on Adwords, every organic rank, and every ad variation in the last 13 years.” You can also check competitor backlinks by keyword, and use their 3-way competitor keyword research tool to see the core profitable keywords they rank for and you don’t, as well as an explanation why.
- SEMrush: This all-in-one SEO saviour, the go-to for many SEO professionals, not only gives you a great overview of what’s working SEO-wise on your own website and where to optimize, but it tells you what’s working for your competitors and how to cash in on their success. We particularly love their Domain vs Domain feature, which allows you to compare your website to your competitors’ websites by showing you side-by-side domains’ comparisons, domains’ common and unique keywords, your competitors’ best keywords and more. For more on this awesome tool, read our blog ‘The Best SEO Tools to Have in 2019’.
- Screaming Frog: Using a Google-like site crawler, Screaming Frog will crawl any site, including your competitor’s, on the web and find all kinds of real-time, real-useful, SEO analysis and information. (It does it real-quick too!) Read more about this tool here.
- SimilarWeb: This tool allows you to analyze any website or app, for some serious insight into your competitor’s customers, their most-viewed content, their best-performing keywords and all kinds of other good SEO candy.
These are just four of hundreds of great tools online, each of which will be able to help with at least one – or sometimes all – of Steps 2 through 5 of our SEO competitor analysis template. Don’t get overwhelmed, and confused, by trying to use too many tools at once. Our advice is to use our step-by-step template to uncover your competitors’ most relevant SEO strategies, using just one tool at a time, and to its full potential. Only then, once you’ve been hooked by the SEO competitor analysis bug (and you will be, trust us, there’s a reason spying is still considered such exciting work), do we suggest seeking out and trying additional tools. Eventually, you will hit on one or two that really work for you; this template aims to help get you there.
Step 2: Perform Competitor Keyword Analysis
The objective: To determine the keywords and search terms your competition is ranking for, or at the very least targeting, throughout their site.
What to look for: Competitor keyword analysis includes looking at the title tags of each of your competitor’s main website pages such as their:
- Home page,
- Main Product pages, and
- About Us page.
You should also check for occurrences of important keywords on relevant pages in:
- Body copy
- Meta descriptions
- Image alt tags
- Hyperlink anchor text
- Don’t forget to consider the order in which keywords are listed: keywords your competitors place towards the beginning of the tag are likely considered more valuable or important.
- Don’t ignore synonyms. Search engines use latent semantic indexing (LSI) to identify synonyms and other keywords related to your primary keywords to deliver better results to users.
What to do with the information you find:
- Once you’ve found all your competitors’ most valuable keywords, compile a master keyword spreadsheet of all the “important” or primary keywords which you already rank for and those which you want to rank for.
- Include a column for Search Volume and Competition (the number of pages in Google for each term) using a tool such as Wordtracker or the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
- Now head over to your own website and include these primary keywords in the key places mentioned above (title tags etc).
- Going forward, refer back to your master keyword list regularly to ensure you are incorporating these words and topics into regularly updated content published on your site (blogs etc).
- Already have a keyword list? Review it now, comparing it to your competitor keyword analysis findings. Are the keywords you’re currently targeting still relevant? Do they serve both you and your audience well? Update if necessary.
- 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?
- Be sure to record where each of your competitors is ranked for each of your most relevant keywords and search phrases so that you can monitor and reference changes in rankings for future analysis. And don’t forget to include rankings for your own website!
Step 3: Perform Competitor Content Analysis
The objective: 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.
What to look for: 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, videos etc.
What to do with the information you find: 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. By performing this in-depth competitor content analysis, you can:
- Adopt and improve on good ideas;
- Fill any gaps where meaningful content or important topics are missing.
Pro tip(s): Don’t let SEO and search engine considerations override your authentic voice. When creating content, it is really, really important to remember that any content you write is for your audience first, engine second. Make your content useful, genuine, relevant, well-written, and only then start thinking about SEO best practices. Yes, keywords matter, but not if they are stuffed in willy nilly. That will only end badly for you. For more information on why, and how, quality content is king, click here.
Step 4: Perform Competitor Technical SEO Analysis
The objective: To determine how well your website is optimized in comparison to your competitors’ by looking at the small technical details which pack a big SEO punch.
What to look for: The level of analysis you dive into in Step 4 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 a couple of 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 of your 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? To perform this search:
- go to Google.com;
- enter site:www.websiteyouwanttosearch.com search term into the search box
- refine your search.
- If you know how to read HTML take a peek at their source code by right clicking and choosing ‘Inspect’. 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? Page speed is a critical factor in search engine ranking. If you want a more conclusive test, check your own site speed using the Google PageSpeed Insights tool and then do one for your main competitors and compare the results.
- Check for a 404 page by adding a few letters after their domain (for e.g., 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.
What to do with the information you find: Now follow the exact same procedure as above to do all the same checks for your own site. Fix any mistakes you find, and optimize all other areas to do better than your competitors! As with all the other steps in this template, by finding your competitors’ mistakes you can make sure you don’t make the same mistakes, and surpass them in the rankings that way. You can also find where they excel, and aim to do even better.
Pro tip(s): If you care to perform a more detailed Server Audit use the checklist posted in our SEO and Server Related Issue Checklist.
Step 5: Perform Competitor Link Analysis
The objective: To determine how popular or well liked your competitors’ websites are by others in the online world. Earning links – the SEO equivalent of the ‘shout-out’ – from high-quality sites, sites recognized by Google and other Search Engines as being authorities in your industry, can help significantly with your search ranking.
What to look for: By performing a backlink gap analysis you can get your hands on a list of all the websites that link to your competitor’s website, but who don’t show you any link love. For this step you may need some additional analysis tools such as those we listed in Step 1. SEMrush, for example, is a great tool when it comes to checking backlinks. (Another great checker currently touted as best new kid on the backlink block is MonitorBacklinks.)
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 (for e.g., 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
What to do with the information you find: By identifying which sites link to your competitors, – how, where, to which content – and then analyzing how they got those links (guest blogs, best of lists etc), you can close the gap and earn your own link love on these sites by following similar procedures. In other words, now is when you sit down and make a concerted effort to earn more – and more specifically credible – backlinks by writing the great content (find out how blogging can earn mega link love here); reaching out to credible, respected companies; and making friends and influencing (the right) people.
SEO Competitor Analysis Checklist
Check competitors’ keywords
Check competitors’ content
Check competitors’ technical SEO
Check competitors’ backlinks
Long Term SEO Strategy Planning and Assessment
Depending on your time resources, and how aggressively you wish to monitor competitors, we recommend you revisit this checklist every 3 to 4 months. Setting aside the time to revisit your SEO competitor analysis quarterly, means you are more likely to stay at the top of your industry, and SERPs, by being able to identify and answer questions related to 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 to worthwhile SEO competitor analysis is not only to review your competitors’ sites and SEO strategies, but to actively compare them to your own. Then take any learnings and use them to identify your weaknesses and plug any SEO holes; strengthen your content; kill the keyword game; boost your SERP rankings; and generally, just win the Internet. Which, these days, means winning at business.
If you still have questions about SEO competitor analysis tools, please call our SEO experts here at 1st on the List at 1-888-262-6687.
(This tutorial has been adapted from Raven Tool’s Competitor Checklist.)