Competitive analysis isn’t a new concept. For as long as businesses have been competing, they have been comparing themselves to the competition.
This can be a slippery slope though, especially if you try to beat out “low cost” competitors. If you haven’t completed a business competitive analysis and identified your ideal customers, take some time to do that first.
While it is helpful to understand your competition, don’t let it dictate your core strategy or your pricing. The same holds true with SEO.
Related Reading: Strategies to Fight Low Cost Rivals
Understanding how to do a competitor analysis in SEO, PPC, or content can help you identify effective strategies, but that doesn’t mean you should copy them.
Understanding how to differentiate your business from the competition is critical to your long-term success, SEO is just a part of that greater process.
Today, we are going to talk specifically about conducting an SEO competitor analysis.
The purpose of this article is to give you simple, straightforward steps that you can implement today to start moving your site in the right direction.
This is broken down into a few steps:
- Competitor Link Analysis
- Competitor Content Analysis
- Competitor On-Page SEO Analysis
How to Do a Competitor Link Analysis
While content and on page SEO are both extremely important parts of a competitive audit, people commonly ask us:
- How Do We Find Competitor Backlinks?
- What Competitor Backlink Analysis Tools Work Best?
- How Do We Get Competitor Backlinks?
Let’s dive right in!
The easiest way to find competitor backlinks is by using a link analysis tool. There are a lot of options available, but only two we use internally for link data collection.
- Link Research Tools
Both tools are excellent. LRT typically has more data since they are collecting links from multiple sources and they offer more detailed reports, great for deeper analysis or SEO link audits.
Ahrefs is also a good tool, but it does lack some advanced link comparison features. However, for most of you reading this, it will provide more than enough information.
Both tools offer a ton of training on how to use them effectively, we strongly suggest you go through the free training once you do choose a tool.
Once you pick the link comparison tool that works best for you, the next step is to figure out what your main keywords are. This is something that generally occurs at the very beginning on any SEO campaign, so you should already have them by the time you are doing a competitor link analysis.
Once you have your primary keywords chosen, you need to create a list of the top-ranking sites for those terms. Your resources and the number of links your plan to pursue will determine exactly how many you need to check but as a rule of thumb, we usually start with the top 5 sites for each of your primary keywords.
When pulling in sites, skip authority sites like Yelp, Forbes, Inc, etc. as they will often have way more links than you need and some of them are only possible because they are well known sites. Look for other websites like yours. If you are selling a product, look for the top 5 sites that also sell a product and you will have more luck in obtaining competitor links.
For each primary keyword, you will need to repeat the process of identifying competitors and finding their links.
Once you have pulled up all the links for each competitor, you want to export those and combine them into one master list, then remove duplicates. This will leave you with a list of unique sites linking to any one of your competitors
Once you have the list, the next step is to remove any low-quality links. If you don’t know what makes a good backlink, read this first: The A.R.T of Link Building.
As you go through the list, get rid of any links that are below your quality standards and sort the other links by type. Did your competitor get a link from:
- Guest posting or Blogger Outreach
- Being added to a resource page
- Commenting on blogs or forums (not usually great links, can be good for traffic though)
- Submitting their site to a niche directory
- Creating a profile or free blog site (most of these aren’t going to be good links)
Once you have worked through the list, you can sort the links by strongest and easiest to obtain, and work from there.
If you are new to link building, these guides should help you get started on the right foot:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Effective Outreach Link Building in 2018
- How To Create an Effective Content Marketing & Promotion Strategy
- Local SEO Link Building: 5 Ways to Land Effective Links for Local Sites
- Natural Selection: Creating a Winning Anchor Text Profile
- Link Building History: An In Depth Look at the History & Evolution of Link Building Strategies
How to Do a Competitor Content Analysis
When it comes to comparing your content to that of the competition, there are three key areas to check.
- What Type of Content is Being Shown for the Keyword Searched?
- How Long is the Average Content of the Top-Ranking Sites?
- How GOOD is the Content that is Ranking?
This step is very important, but surprisingly simple. Refer to the list of the top 5 ranking sites for your keyword and see what type of content is ranking. Is it a sales page, 10K word blog post, or a video?
If you notice that all 5 ranking sites are using the same type of content, that is a good indication you should follow suit if you want to have the best chance at ranking.
Once you have established what type of content is present, the next thing to do is determine the average length. To do this, simply find the word count of the main body text on the ranking pages for the top 5 sites, and then find the average of the 5. This will let you determine approximately how long your content should be, but don’t add fluff just to up your word count!
The last check is more subjective but, it is important. Are you able to create something better, more in depth, or with a unique angle? If you can’t you are going to have a tough time getting links and ultimately ranking.
If you find this to be an issue, you may want to look for a long tail version of your keyword or some other slight variation that you can compete for.
Repeat the above steps for each of your primary keywords.
How to Do a Competitor on Page SEO Analysis
Before you get into a competitor analysis, your on-page SEO should start with a complete SEO audit of your website. This will help you find and fix technical and content issues that are currently holding your site back.
Once you complete an audit of your own site, it is time to look at the competition. Here is what you need to check.
- Is the ranking page on their site “cornerstone” content?
- How many internal links are pointing to the ranking page?
- What keywords and related terms is their article ranking for?
- Is their site specific to one keyword/topic or broader in nature?
- Are they using images, infographics, or videos on the ranking page?
There are many more questions you could ask but these are a great start. Let’s look at how to find the answers.
Identifying Internal Linking & Cornerstone Content
“Cornerstone” content (aka anchor pages) is a page or post that targets a primary, evergreen keyword. For example, if you had a car audio website, your “cornerstone” content would be the “class D amplifiers definitive comparison guide” and your “supporting” content would be reviews of individual products that link internally to the main guide.
Identifying the significance of a piece of content on a website requires you to look at their internal link structure in many cases. Thankfully, this can be done easily, using the right software. For this, Sitebulb is our go to tool.
Once you see how many internal pages are linking to a piece of content, you will have a better idea of just how important it is to their site. If you find that all 5 of your competitors for a keyword built their entire website around a piece of cornerstone content targeting the term, it can be a good indicator of how competitive and/or lucrative a keyword may be. Make note of what you find and set that aside for now.
Uncovering Competitor Keywords
The next step is to look at the keywords and related terms that your competitors are ranking for, more specifically, the page on their site ranking for your primary keyword. To find these, there are two tools that work great.
Here is what this would look like in Semrush:
Here is what this would look like in Ahrefs:
Again, both tools have great documentation and training resources, so once you decide which one is best for your needs, you should go through the resources so that you can use these tools in the most efficient manner possible.
The goal of this research is simple. You want to find terms relating to your main keyword that are included in the content of your competitors. Including those assorted terms into your own content will help you to create a piece that is topically relevant and has the potential to rank for multiple keywords. More keywords ranking equates to more organic traffic, so don’t skip the related keywords.
Understanding Obstacles & Opportunities
Taking this a step further, you want to broaden your research to their entire site. Again, a quick check can save you a lot of time and frustration. What you are looking for is whether their site is built around one specific theme, (i.e. training German Shepherds) around a broader but still specific theme (i.e. dog training) or is it a broad site with multiple categories (i.e. home, garden, automotive, pets).
Understanding this can again help you size up the competition. If the top-ranking site for “how to train a German Shepherd” are all extremely specific sites dedicated to only that topic, you will have a tougher time creating content that is better, unless you are an expert in the niche. If on the other hand, the top 5 sites are general sites, with a short post on training “German Shepherds”, it would likely be much easier to create better content. Again, this is a simple check, but SO many people never stop to consider this before spending time, money, and resources targeting the wrong keyword!
Reviewing and Improving Existing Content
After taking an honest assessment of the ranking websites, can you really create something unique or more informative on the topic? If so, you need to revisit the ranking pages and find out how the content is being presented. Earlier we talked about identifying what type of content ranked (sales page, videos, blog posts, etc.). Now we are going to take a step further to see how information is being presented on those page types.
For example: let’s say that we have found the typical site ranking for your keyword is doing so using a blog post ranging 2-3K words. That is a good indicator that your content should also be a blog post in the same range.
Let’s say that 6 of the top 10 also embedded a video describing or teaching readers about one of the points covered in their post. This too is an indicator that you should include video content in yours.
Another example might be a custom graphic that helps the reader visualize instructions given in a blog post. If most of the ranking sites are doing, you should consider doing so as well.
While SEO can be very advanced, people often skip very basic steps while remaining focused on advanced level tactics or “shiny objects” that they think will be the key to their success.
Today, we covered some elementary level actions that you can take to start your SEO campaign from a solid foundation. Now that you have a better idea of how to conduct a competitor analysis, how to find competitor backlinks, and how to review the content of your competition, it is time for the most important step of all. —>Take action on what you learned! <—