SEO Competitor Analysis: The What, Why and How

SEO Competitor Analysis: The What, Why and How

By Carrie DagenhardJan 15 /2019

Have you recently completed an SEO competitor analysis as part of your website optimization strategy? There’s a good chance your competitors did.

When you’re eager to boost traffic and earn greater ROI from your content, it’s tempting to dive straight into optimizing your website without considering the strategies of other top players in their field. So long as your strategy works, who cares what everyone else is doing, right?

Unfortunately ignoring your competition can be a critical mistake. Because while you may currently outperform many of your rivals, it’s only a matter of time before your clever adversaries figure out what you’re doing and model their strategies after yours — and maybe even do it better.

In other words, when it comes to SEO, it’s crucial you stay a step ahead of other companies by regularly performing a competitor analysis.

What is an SEO Competitor Analysis?

An SEO competitor analysis is a process marketers use to evaluate websites that rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs) for search queries related to their products or services.

This analysis helps you uncover which keywords are driving the most traffic to your competitors’ sites, the strategy they’re using to outrank you for those keywords, the backlinks they’ve earned and how they communicate their value to their audience. Once you’ve identified what your competitors are doing to get ahead, you can optimize your site and tweak your content strategy to climb higher in the SERPs.

How to Conduct an SEO Competitor Analysis in 5 Steps

Here’s how you can perform an SEO analysis of your competitors in five simple steps.

1. Select Your Competitor Analysis Tools
There are a few tools available for marketers who want to perform a competitor analysis for SEO, such as:

  • SEMrush: This site offers a competitive research tool that allows you to examine your competitors’ strategies in categories such as SEO, advertising, content and PR and social media.
  • Screaming Frog: This tool crawls any site on the web and provides you with a real-time analysis you can export for easy side-by-side comparison.
  • SpyFu: This service allows you to enter the web address of any site and see where they show up on Google, as well as keywords they’ve purchased on Google Ads, organic ranking and ad variations going back 12 years.
  • SimilarWeb: This site also allows you to analyze any site on the web, and gives you insight into your competitor's customer base, top performing content, channel acquisition strategy, top keywords and more.

While services vary in terms of data granularity and visibility, nearly all of these tools offer the ability to benchmark your competitors, observe trends and identify which keywords drive the most traffic to other sites.

2. Identify Your Competitors

Next, determine which websites or organizations you consider your direct competitors. It’s important to keep in mind not every site that outranks you on SERPs for a relevant term is a competitor.

A keyword competitor may not always be a business competitor. For example, if you have a cybersecurity consulting company and you’re attempting to rank for the term “business security,” you may notice you’re competing for keyword ranking with companies that sell building security systems. While you may both attempt to rank for the same word, the audience looking for locks and cameras to secure their office may not be the same audience looking for assistance protecting their company against cybercriminals.

Additionally, some websites that outrank you may be in the same vertical but may be much larger and likely service customers of an entirely different company size. For example, if your cybersecurity company is a small operation that services other small businesses in northern California, you may find you’re outranked by massive, global organizations like Oracle and Cisco for commonly searched terms like “cybersecurity.” And it’s unlikely you’ll ever outrank these companies for this term.

Instead, look for companies that outrank you for localized search phrases like “cybersecurity consulting in Redding, California,” or long-tail keywords like, “How to protect customer data during a wildfire.” Focus on competitors that offer a similar product to the same audience for a similar price range, and choose three to five competitors for your analysis.

3. Review Competitor Keyword Strategy

Next, carefully consider which keywords are driving the most traffic to each of your competitor's sites. Then work backward to determine exactly how they’re able to achieve this ranking.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this competitor regularly publish high-quality blogs and videos addressing this keyword?
  • Do they include the keyword multiple times throughout the body copy?
  • Are they leveraging latent semantic indexing (LSI) by including synonyms and terms related to their primary keyword(s)? (LSI is a method search engines use to identify related keywords so they can deliver more accurate results.)
  • Are they including the keyword in the title, meta description and image alt-tags of relevant pages?
  • Do other high-quality websites consistently link back to your competitor’s site?
  • Does your competitor have a higher Domain Authority (DA) than you? (DA is a score that predicts how well a site will rank on SERPs.)
  • How quickly does your competitor’s website load? (Page speed is a critical factor in search engine ranking.)

Identify their keyword strategy and use this to expose the gaps within your own.

4. Review Competitors’ Backlinks

Earning links from high-quality sites helps increase your domain authority and, in turn, your search ranking. Some competitor analysis tools allow you to perform a backlink gap analysis. This type of analysis will provide you with a list of all the websites that link to your competitor’s website, but do not link to your website. Your competitors likely earn these backlinks by contributing guest blog posts or by submitting their website to be included in roundup lists. Once you’ve identified which sites link to your competitors, you can close the gap by earning links from those sites, too.

For example, if you find several of your competitors are included in a “best of” list in a well-known publication, you may consider contacting this publication and asking them to consider including your solution in future lists.

5. Consider Competitors’ Value Proposition

Lastly, take a moment to locate and review your competitors’ value propositions. This should be clearly displayed on their homepages and outline precisely why customers should choose their solutions over anyone else. Consider which keywords competitors include within their value propositions, as well as the features and benefits they list and how well they’ve addressed their audience’s pain points and challenges.

(Check out these examples of great value propositions to help you compose a compelling message for your audience.)

How to Use Your Learnings to Improve Your SEO

After you’ve reviewed your competitors’ sites and combed through their SEO strategies, it’s time to begin applying your learnings to strengthen your content, increase your SERP ranking and boost organic traffic.

Here are three tips to help guide your search engine optimization efforts:

1. Create or update your keyword list.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to create a master keyword list for your website, including all the keywords you want to rank for. This list will act as the basis of your content strategy, and you should strive to weave these words and topics into relevant content published on your site.

For each web page, choose one primary keyword and ensure you’ve included it in the following places:

  • Title
  • Meta description
  • URL
  • Subheads
  • Body copy
  • Hyperlink anchor text

Also be sure to include words related to that keyword for LSI purposes. For example, if your primary keyword is “flu vaccine” you’d likely want to include the terms “flu shot,” “flu inoculation” and “flu prevention” on the page as well.

If you already have a keyword list, be sure to review its contents regularly and ensure the keywords you’re targeting are still relevant to your audience and your products or services.

2. Make a plan to earn more credible backlinks.

It’s helpful to think of backlinks as a “shoutout” or vote of approval for your company from another credible organization. Backlinks signal to search engines that other highly ranked websites can vouch for your content and should reward your site with a more favorable ranking.

The best and most authentic way to earn backlinks is through developing relationships with other sites through guest blogging. For example, the founder of a B2B software company may write articles for relevant niche publications as well as popular publications like Entrepreneur, Inc. or Forbes. Each blog post provides a backlink to the founder’s company website, thereby increasing its domain authority and improving its search engine ranking.

Use the backlink gap analysis from your competitor analysis to identify where competitors earn backlinks, and strive to build relationships with those organizations, too.

3. Remember you’re creating content for humans, too.

With so much focus on SEO, it can be easy to forget search engines aren’t the only ones crawling your content. While it’s essential to use these best practices to outrank your competitors, keep your audience in mind. After all, quality is one of the most important factors search engines use when calculating your page rank. Bottom line: If you’re not creating useful and educational content that’s relevant to your audience, then it’ll be nearly impossible to rank anywhere near the top of search engine results.

SEO is critical to your website’s success, and performing an SEO competitor analysis will only serve to strengthen your optimization efforts. Once you know how similar organizations achieve their high rank, you can use this knowledge to inform your strategy and quickly boost your website’s ranking.

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The Author

Carrie Dagenhard

Carrie is a seasoned content strategist who worked as a department editor and music journalist before making her foray into inbound marketing as a content analyst. Carrie works hard at crafting the perfect content strategy for clients and using her hard-hitting journalism skills to tell your brand’s unique story.