I can’t tell you how many times a client has asked me why a “competitor” is outranking them for a specific keyword. If I had the actual answer to that question…well I certainly wouldn’t be spending my Sunday afternoon blogging.
Analyzing your competitor’s SEO is important – but it’s more important not to obsess it .
There’s so many algorithmic factors that we can’t see (or know about), it’s impossible to answer that question. You can waste a lot of time and resources trying to reverse engineer success.
With that being said, we still want to analyze the competitive landscape.
In order to create the right way ahead for an SEO campaign, it’s important to understand what the algorithm deems as a “good result” for your target keywords.
This article will explore:
You can grab FREE copy of the templates here.
You probably know who your competition is off the top of your head – that doesn’t mean they’re a competitor from an SEO perspective.
We need to find websites who occupy attainable SERP real estate as the keyword level – aka the ones you’re competing against for organic exposure in Google.
I like to do this in a quick 2 step process…
Drop your URL into SEMRush‘s Competitors report and it will display website’s ranking for the same keywords as you.
(NOTE: you can useAhrefs as well).
This chart gives us a list of competitors and the SERP real estate the occupy. This gives you insights into which websites are within striking distance vs which are a long term SEO play (i.e. if Nike is a competitor of yours, realistically understanding how long it will take to get their results).
You can also use this chart to find target keywords for your campaign. Once you have a few of them, we can move on to the next part…
A simple Google search for those target keywords will turn up websites the algorithm believes are best. These sites should be included in the conversation of your “SEO competition”.
We can also layer on the MozBar, a free browser plugin, to give us deeper insights into the SERP results.
These 2 tactics should give you a small list of sites that are your “SEO competition”. I like to pick 3 of them to analyze using our competitive analysis template (GRAB YOUR COPY HERE).
With a list of 3 competitors, I follow a 9 step process to analyze them.
Want step by step videos showing how I use an offshore team to run this audit for enterprise level clients?
If you’re a beginner to SEO, this is a somewhat technically advanced tactic. Generally speaking, a site crawl is more effective when you’re looking for deeper, actionable insights, as it helps turn over technical issues a website has.
Go to Google Search and type in -> site:competitor.com. This will pull back the number of pages that Google is indexing on that site.
This tells you a number of things:
Try and dig a little deeper here based on your vertical. For example, if you’re an ecommerce store, you’ll want to know how many products your competitors have.
Click around their site to find out if they’re using a subfolder architecture for products, then repeat the Google search.
You can use this tactic on a number of verticals, it helps you understand the depth of their online revenue model and any gaps in your offerings.
It’s important to reverse engineer the keywords your competitors are using to drive the most traffic to their site. SEMRush (and Ahrefs) are great tools to do this, as they give you a website’s top keywords by search volume.
Spying on the competition can give you great insight into new keywords to add to your site, as well as improvement opportunities for existing pages.
SEMRush (and Ahrefs) will also tell you the top pages based on number of keywords ranking. This gives you incredibly insights into a few things:
Using this information you can break down the value of pages on a competitor’s website, and the potential to steal that value for yours. This also gives you the starting place for a keyword gap analysis, to understand where your website falls short in comparison to competitors.
Looking at the same “pages” report, you can understand the type of content your competitors are using to drive so much traffic.
Understanding page type helps you understand the value of their traffic. For example, if a large majority of their traffic is going to pages with low purchase intent, they aren’t getting much value from that traffic. You want to analyze websites with both great content and sales pages to understand the full scope of pages you need on your site.
Looking at the top pages in SEMRush of Ahrefs, visit some of them to review them manually:
Even with the advancements in SEO tools in the market, there’s still a need for manual review to really dig into the quality of your competitors.
I like to link at links at the page level as opposed to domain level. It’s a lot easier to digest and you can derive far better insight for the types of links that are working in your industry.
For backlinks analysis, we use Ahrefs, a paid tool that’s well worth the cost (if you’re a serious SEO). We look at the “Backlinks” report, filtered for “One Link Per Domain” and “DOFOLLOW” only.
From there, you can do a quick analysis:
When you’re first beginning the campaign, this information helps you to understand how competitive the industry is. As we move on, this information will become valuable when we begin the link acquisition phase of your campaign.
Branded search means the number of times a Google user searches for your company’s name or product. This is a HUGE indicator of quality to search engines, one that most SEO professionals overlook.
Branded search comes from a number of places:
I like to use Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to uncover the data.
It not only gives me an accurate search volume for the brand’s main keywords, but other semantic ones as well.
This helps you complete the picture for the popularity of a brand overall and their specific products.
We record all of our findings in a Google Sheets template that tracks our site vs. 3 competitors.
It’s not enough to just have this data, your money is made in the analysis. We spend a lot of time internally reviewing the data and building actionable insights from it.
A few examples:
It’s difficult to read spreadsheets – if you’re working with a client or internal leadership team, this information is better suited in a slide deck with visualizations to aid in your findings.
GET FREE ACCESS TO ALL TEMPLATES MENTIONED IN THIS POST
Detailed analysis should be pushed into the execution phase of your campaign. Our team does so by keeping a simple matrix in Google Sheets that has all of our findings, ready to be added to a client’s project plan.
If you’re using our project management system, we record our notes in the “Actions” tab. That way we can review internally and build an action plan based on our findings.
It’s not much, but it ensures we’re taking these insights and pushing them into our client’s individual project plans for execution in the future.
As mentioned, it’s important to understand your competitors, but not obsess over them. There’s so many factors that we humans can’t see, you can drive yourself crazy trying to deconstruct a competitor’s website.
Understand the competitive landscape, but focus mainly on your site – all the pieces will fall into place.