BusinessHow to Conduct a Competitor Analysis for SEO Insights

How to Conduct a Competitor Analysis for SEO Insights

SEO in itself is now a huge operation for many companies and is continuing to grow each day. It is imperative that companies have a clear knowledge of their competition’s SEO strategy. In real terms, a company may have a main competitor, who they have been compared to in the success rates of their own organization. It is important in this situation to conduct a more specific evaluation on your main competitor. This is to find out what is making them more successful than your own site, find the strengths and weaknesses of their SEO strategy, and how they can be addressed. The goal of evaluation is simple – to discover why one site is performing better than another. Any company wants their site to be as successful as possible, and in conducting a competitor analysis, they can create a valuable detailed evaluation to achieve this goal.

There are several reasons behind conducting a competitor analysis. One of the most important reasons is to get to know the ‘enemy’. You need to find out who your competition is, their aims, objectives, and how their organization is structured. By doing a competitor analysis, you can build up a better understanding of the market you are going into, and also the market you are currently in. This is because it is inevitable that if you’ve got competition in the future, you will possibly need to realign your market place or change your target market. A SWOT analysis is a useful technique for understanding your competitors and comparing their strengths and weaknesses to your own. This is the simplest way to strategically understand your competition and what kind of impact they may have on your company.

Importance of Competitor Analysis in SEO

Do you expect to be successful in SEO without knowing more about your competitors? Competitor analysis has the power to raise the bar in search optimization. When you perform researching and learning more about what and how others are doing with their SEO service, you can obtain proper insight to make improvements to your own site. With the world of business being so cut-throat, it’s necessary to know who is competing with your goods and services. Knowledge is power, and knowing what your competitor is doing, you can empower your own strategies, and with the right amount of effort and ambition, take their spot. Knowing your competitor’s strategies will help you from making the same mistakes they have made, saving you time and frustration. SEO is about being noticed; position is everything. With SEO being the essential marketing tool it has become for business, the competition to be at the top is huge. By conducting even a basic analysis of competitors, you can often see what they are doing to achieve their ranking and the amount of effort it would take to surpass them. This is the critical first step of a long-term process, and the insight you gain will prove invaluable.

Benefits of Conducting a Competitor Analysis

Not only the keywords and backlinks, competitor analysis provides an overall idea about the various strategies used by the competitor to stay on the top. With the learning from it, you can avoid the long way to implement the same strategy and can get directly on the top. And finally, with so many benefits, doing the competitor analysis will keep inspiring you to take your site to the next level.

With the help of keywords used as anchor text in link building, SEO competitor analysis also provides knowledge about the backlinks. You can learn from where the competitor is getting the backlinks for the specific keyword. Backlinks are the life of SEO and they are the most important factor in deciding ranks for the webpage. With the knowledge of the type and source of the backlink, you can get a detailed idea about what to do for backlinking for the keyword.

Being a pioneer company in the market is not so easy, it requires several strategies and tactics to stand on the top. One of the strategies to keep in mind is the SEO strategy. And while discussing the SEO strategy, the first thing that comes to mind is the keywords and backlinks. What could be a better way to choose the keyword than looking at what the market leader is using to get on the top? So, the first and most important benefit of SEO competitor analysis is to learn about the right keywords.

Gathering Competitor Data

Gathering data is an essential part of the SEO competitive analysis. Before you can begin any analysis, you must first identify your competitors. This sounds simple but can be a much more complex task than it seems, especially for a small business. Most companies have an idea of who their competitors are, but it is not uncommon to find that a company’s perceived competitors and their true competitors are quite different. For example, if you were asked to identify a major fast food chain’s competitors, you may well list other fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC. These are all reasonable guesses, after all, they are all competing for business in a very similar market. However, you may well find that other companies specific to the location of the fast food chain also appear to be taking potential customers. During your keyword analysis, you may find these ‘alternative competitors’ to be ranking for the same keywords. This will then lead on to another round of competitor analysis to identify these new competitors and their strengths compared with your own company. Once competitors have been identified and stored into a manageable list, it’s now time to collect data on these competitors. Start by visiting their websites one by one and take notes on what the site does well and what it does badly. A method of directly comparing this information with your own site can be very useful, potentially with ratings marking whose site does particular things better. An example of a simple table for comparing on-site content is shown below.

Identifying Competitors

Competitors can be identified in a number of ways. First, consider which companies compete with your products and services on the internet. How do prospects search for your products and services? Use a search engine and the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool to generate a list of related search queries. Compile a list of your most important search terms and find out who your competitors are for each. Review the websites that rank well for these search terms. What other companies are your customers buying from before or after they buy from you? Often, the offline competitors are different from the online competitors. Survey your current customers to determine which competitors they consider when making a purchase from you. Compile a list of companies that you consider to be both direct and indirect competitors. A direct competitor is a company that sells similar products or services to a similar target audience with a similar value proposition. An indirect competitor is a company that may be different in products or services, but the products or services serve as substitutes for your products or services. Keep in mind that when using tools to gather data about your competition, most tools rely on data from the major search engines. The competition data you gather may be different for different geographic locations, or in the case of paid search advertising, may be different for different languages and different countries. Always consider the region and language that your customers use to search for your products and services.

Analyzing Competitor Websites

Looking at the code and structure of their website is another important factor. Does the website load quickly? Is the website mobile-friendly? What is the URL structure like? Is there an XML sitemap in place? Is the navigation good? These are all very important factors towards on-page SEO and should be used as a comparison towards your website to identify what can be improved. Imagine a scenario where there is a keyword with high search volume where your website and a competitor’s website have identical authority and content for that keyword. If your website has poor on-page SEO, you may rank lower than the competitor as a result of a penalty and not realize it for a while without conducting a deeper analysis on your website and the competitor’s website. This comparison can also be done using tools such as Moz’s On-Page Grader or the SEOBook Toolbar. These will provide an analysis of the on-page factors for a given URL and ways that you can improve it.

So once you have identified your competitors, it’s important to analyze their data to see why they are ranking well and what you can do to improve your ranking. The first and probably most effective way of doing this is looking at your competitor’s website. The first step that you should take is to look at the content of the website. Look at their blog and their articles. What keywords are they targeting? Are they producing high-quality content that is valuable to the user, or is the content not very well written and only based around improving their ranking for a certain keyword? The aim of this is to identify what you need to do to improve your content to help increase your ranking for certain keywords. This could be improving the quality of the content, writing on similar subjects to build topical authority, or increasing the frequency of content to help increase the likelihood of ranking well.

Monitoring Competitor Keywords

This is a complex process that involves monitoring changes to competitor keywords over time. The most effective way of doing this is by using a rank checker tool. There are both advantages and disadvantages of using an automated rank checker to monitor competitor keywords. The main advantage is the time it saves; manually typing each keyword into a search engine and noting the position of a competitor’s site is a long and arduous task. On the other hand, there are some limitations to the precision of automated rank checkers. ‘Personalized search’, where search engine results are tailored to an individual’s search history, and the geographical location of the search can both affect the results of an automated rank checker. This is not so much a limitation of the tool itself, more a limitation of the complexity of accurately monitoring keyword rankings, because of the variability in the results obtained.

Examining Competitor Backlinks

Gathering the data. Let’s assume that you are running a link analysis with a data provider. A comprehensive analysis will gather a range of data including: the total number of backlinks from unique URLs, the number of those URLs coming from .edu or .gov domains, the number of .edu/.gov backlinks, .edu/.gov link anchor text, the number of URLs from unique C block IP addresses, and potential neighborhood spam flags.

Data Storage. Create a spreadsheet to record the link URLs and backlink data that will be gathered.

In the search “how to analyze competitor backlinks,” a standard list of your competitors will show you the available firms that provide a link analysis service. Most of these will do basic data checks for free, with more comprehensive checking services available for purchase. These days, major search engines offer the most thorough and up-to-date backlink data. This can be measured by typing in “link:” This will bring up a selection of backlinks Yahoo knows of from the site in question. Click on the “Find InLinks Data” link.

Compile a list of your top competitors. This is obviously subjective but let’s loosely define a competitor as any site that you are vying for top rankings with for at least one keyword. You can find who your strongest competitors are by going to a major search engine and typing in your website’s address.

Backlinks are the most pivotal off-page factor influencing search engine rankings. You can spy on the competition and figure out where their backlinks come from and what the anchor text of those links is.

Analyzing Competitor Strategies

While a keyword report is useful for identifying who your competitors are, it is not useful in telling you where your competitors are strong. The best source for this information is the competitors themselves. There are a few ways to identify who your top competitors are. A simple search on a search engine for the most important keywords can give you a list of who the top competitors are. If you have analytics installed on your website, it may be useful to use a referral report to see where your competitors are getting their traffic. This will give you a list of other sites that are referring traffic to your competitors’ sites. Data from this report can be compiled in a spreadsheet to create a list of possible competitors to use in the future. If you are unsure of how some of these websites rank in terms of traffic, it may be useful to use an online tool that compares the traffic of two or more websites. Once a list of competitors has been compiled, it is time to begin collecting data to see where these competitors are strong. A competitor analysis should be conducted annually to ensure you have data that is as accurate as possible.

Assessing Competitor Content

It is helpful to begin with the understanding that a competitor analysis is a comprehensive evaluation of what your competitors are doing in various sectors of the market. The ultimate goal is to better understand your current and potential customers, and to position your business to win their business. In our case, we are most interested in capturing mind share and traffic from search engines. Content is a key component of this endeavor. According to an article from Immersion Media, “The main objective of carrying out a content analysis of your competitors’ website is to look at what they are doing right in connection to what you are doing wrong.” Therefore, in order to capitalize on areas where our competitors are falling short, we need to first decide exactly what we’re looking to compare. A bullet point list of what the business offers on their site, and what its targeted customers are looking for, will allow for the best results. From there, collect a list of the competitors that most closely match the niche that the business is attempting to fill. Finally, make a list of these competitors and grade them in comparison to your own site. This list will act as a reference point and provide a goal for where we want our site to be in the future.

Evaluating Competitor On-Page Optimization

Image ALT attributes: Search for all images using the “view image source” browser setting and see if any of the images are using the keyword in the image file name or path. By mousing over the images, you can see if they also have the keyword in the image ALT tag. This is an often overlooked on-page SEO tactic with clear relevance to the keyword and therefore provides positive results if done correctly.

Use of bold/strong tags and italics: Using these to highlight the targeted keyword is a good sign that the keyword is of importance to the page. This is not to say that using these tags is the right thing to do, particularly with recent Google Panda updates that may penalize over-optimization.

Keywords on the page: While assessing the competition, the density and placement of the targeted keyword should be assessed. Particularly, whether the keyword is in header tags, at the top of the page, the specific URL (, and multiple times throughout the body.

Presence of meta description: Meta descriptions are not a ranking factor; however, they can help increase the likelihood of a user clicking on the search result, which has clear benefits. If the competition has a well-written meta description, using the keyword, then it shows they are targeting that keyword and likely to be getting good traffic.

Keywords in the page title tag: Placing the keyword right at the beginning of the title tag has significant ranking increases. It’s important to analyze the competition to see if they are employing this simple tactic. More often than not, they are trying to target the same keyword. By looking at search results, you can also see if the competition is using the keyword in the SERP link, which is also another indicator of how strong that keyword is being targeted.

Studying Competitor Off-Page Optimization

There are a number of reasons to study your competitors’ off-page optimization. The single most important reason to study a competitor’s off-page optimization is to learn what has and has not been effective for them. By doing so, you will save yourself a lot of time and trial and error. Effective link building and off-page optimization is time-consuming and it is best to learn from others’ mistakes and successes. With this in mind, the cornerstone of competitor backlink analysis is an investigation of the link-building strategies and tactics that have proven effective for your competitors. This can often be the most difficult part of competitor analysis as many webmasters will guard their linking tactics like a trade secret. However, with the right tools and a bit of reverse engineering, you can often uncover a wealth of information. The main goal is to identify how your competitors are acquiring their links. This generally falls into one of the following categories… – Self-Made Directories: Is your competitor building links from directories or websites that they themselves own? If so, it is likely that any directory that lists competitors in the same category has potential as a link-building opportunity. – Reciprocal Link Exchanges: This is an old school yet still effective tactic. If your competitor has engaged in reciprocal link exchanges, it is likely that you can find link partners that are willing to link to you as well. Often times you can identify potential link partners by studying who is linking to your competitors and what anchor text is used. – Purchased Links: Buying links is still a common practice and there are many instances in which competitors may have purchased links from the same website that you can also acquire. Keep an eye out for what we call “sponsored links”, links from websites with a “links.html” or “resources” page, and links that are disguised as something else such as a “review” of a product or service. – Link Baiting: Link baiting is the practice of creating content with the express purpose of inducing other content producers to link to it. If you can identify examples of link bait content in your competitor analysis, you can potentially replicate the topic or create something similar with the knowledge that it will likely also gain links.

Investigating Competitor Social Media Presence

When visiting your competitor’s site, there may be little or no evidence of social media integration. However, this is very unlikely. There are many ways to find out which social media platforms competitors are using and how they are integrating them into their overall marketing plan. Start by visiting their site and checking for any visible social media icons which lead to profiles. These are usually found on the homepage, in the header, footer, or on a contact page. Click each icon and evaluate the profile. Look for activity, amount of connections or followers, and overall impressions. A large company may have many followers and a high level of activity, but this does not necessarily mean it is an effective use of social media. High activity could just indicate a customer service issue. Try to determine how the company is using the profile and whether it is an effective use of promotion. For example, a company performing promotion well may share blog posts to spark discussion and increase site traffic. An ineffective promotion may involve random status updates or low level personal interaction.

Reviewing Competitor User Experience

It is important to analyze the layout and design of your competitors’ websites. The layout of a website has a big impact on user experience and can also affect search engine rankings. A cluttered and disorganized webpage is going to be detrimental both in terms of user experience and SEO. Usually you will find that websites in the same niche tend to have similar layouts, this can be a good thing if it is effective, but bear in mind that standing out with an innovative yet still relevant design can give you a competitive edge. With design quality being highly subjective, it’s easier to look at things like how well information is presented and how easy it is to navigate to different areas of the website. A popular way to analyze this is to use a wireframe to map out the structure of the website and rate the ease of finding information with the 5 second test.

UX is a nebulous term simply meaning the overall experience a person has when using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use. It is widely subjective and depends on who your target audience is. Case in point, a younger audience may prefer a more colorful and interactive experience whilst an older audience may prefer a simpler and more professional experience. If your target audience is everyone, then things get a bit more difficult, it would be beneficial to look at the user experience of your closest competitors and aim to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of their chosen approach. A good way to do this is to get together a focus group of your target audience and using your competitors’ websites, find out what they liked and disliked about the experience.

User Experience (UX) is an integral part of ensuring that visitors to your website convert (make a purchase, register, contact you, etc.). It is important to know what your competitors are doing right or wrong with their user experience.

Applying Insights to Improve SEO

Conversely, when a threat is identified, for example, losing rankings on certain content, you can allocate more resources into preventing that loss. Also, identify areas where the competition is too strong. In some cases, it may be more efficient to attack a competitor’s weakness than to reinforce your own strength. Keep documents of identified opportunities and threats and use these as a reference when planning future SEO strategies.

By creating a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of your competition, you can identify what areas of SEO you should be focusing on. Match opportunities with strengths. For example, if you see that competitors rank well for an area of content that your site also has, then you have an opportunity to try and get your content indexed alongside the competitors’ content. If your content is similar, you may find that a slight optimization will lead to a big increase in rankings, in which case you have identified an easy win.

Identifying Opportunities and Threats

Internal and external analysis of data can help to identify the relative strengths and weaknesses of the firm as a way of understanding the current strategic dilemma (Ireland et al., 2009). This process will help to answer the question, should the firm exploit an external opportunity, and its own competitive competencies to try and add value for shareholders or avoid a threat that will undermine value (Whittington & Johnson, 2008). Data collected in the competitor analysis should guide the firm to decisions that will help them compete more effectively. For example, if the analysis results in a clearer understanding of an area where the firm has a competitive advantage over a competitor, it should try to substantiate the advantage in terms of added value to the shareholder. This could result in a move to exploit an opportunity by pursuing markets and segments where the advantage is relevant. Conversely, when the firm uncovers an area in which a competitor has dominance (real or perceived), and the data shows that the firm’s efforts are not being rewarded with superior performance, it should consider exit from the competitive area. This could involve avoiding the incumbent leader and finding alternative segments or markets. An understanding of the competitive landscape will enable informed decisions that are linked to creating shareholder value, make the trade-offs necessitated from strategy, and improve the firm’s efficiency in competitive arenas. The data from the analysis can also be used to continually track the firm’s relative position with its competitors, thus evaluating the impact of decisions and ongoing changes in the competitive landscape. This can be achieved by repeating the analysis at regular intervals and comparing results to identify trends. If the firm has not enhanced or maintained performance in areas that add value, the data should guide further changes to return to those areas competitively. If the firm’s actions have caused a competitor to directly attack an area of its J.D Power & Associates, a business dedicated to improvement of customer satisfaction, lost this award to Auto MD, a subsidiary of US Auto Parts, it benefited from an adverse event by Auto MD who were now in a better position to stimulate traffic to their site from a relevant segment. This led to them stepping up their SEM, eventually becoming the largest spender in the industry. The two companies’ search spending race came to an end in 2012 when it was revealed that US Auto Parts improved search positions traffic to a level where it was now outperforming Improve Online Car. This achievement was somewhat nullified in a more recent analysis when it was found that Improve Online Car had lost visibility. This prompted US Auto Parts to focus efforts on competitive SEO. This story is just one example of an event in a segment that changed the dynamic of two firms and how they were to compete. The understanding of what occurred can help to decide whether the firm wants to remain in the segment and engage the subsequent rivalry, or pull out and try to find success in an alternative area. This kind of decision will have clear implications and success can be measured in terms of how closer to goals, the firm has managed to come.

Adapting Strategies Based on Competitor Analysis

Primary Research – The best way to gain information on a competitor is to do a little bit of snooping around. This can be accomplished by visiting and analyzing the competitor’s website. If the company sells products, the researcher might purchase a product in order to see what the process is like and what kind of follow-up is done with the customer. Any information acquired through primary research would be considered proprietary and not something to boast about sharing.

Industry Knowledge – Some industries have well-known leaders that set the standards in the industry. Non-profit organizations often target governmental grants as a source of funding. The U.S. government has a website that lists all grants available, and it would be valuable information to know which organizations are successful in obtaining those grants. Many industries have trade journals and associations that compile information on the industry and competitive forces. Two popular examples include the advertising industry and the airline industry. Advertisers are the primary source of revenue for Google, and airlines are now required to buy jet fuel through an online auction. Both GA and Delta might look into what other companies in their industry offer services from an advertising agency to better understand the competitive market for this service. This information could lead to a list of direct and indirect competitors, and the next step would be to gather more specific information on those companies.

When an organization has completed the SWOT analysis and identified key competitors in the marketplace, the next step is to identify their strengths and weaknesses. There are a number of sources that can be used to obtain this information:

Enhancing Website Content and Optimization

Having identified an opportunity to target a certain set of keywords, it is important to create content that will provide the best chance of success. In some cases, changing the existing content will be sufficient. In other cases, it will be necessary to create new content. This decision should be based on an assessment of the gap between the existing content and the best content for the targeted keywords. A steer can be taken from the competing URL in terms of the type of content and amount of content which is required. This may seem subjective, but a content gap analysis can provide a method to quantify content requirements. In any situation, it is important that the right balance is struck between optimization and maintaining the existing keyword ranking for other pages. An over-optimization of content can have a detrimental effect on keyword ranking for the wrong reasons.

Once the data is collected and analyzed, the findings can be used to make optimizations to the existing website and content in order to improve keyword ranking in search engine results. The first step in this process is to map keywords to existing and new pages. This will ensure that the most appropriate keywords are being targeted within the content of those pages. It is important to make sure that the URL of a given page contains the keyword which is being targeted (for example, this would be easier to achieve if the page were to be created from scratch). This ensures that each URL can be reached by a maximum of one click from the home page and will pass link juice to the page which is being optimized.

Strengthening Backlink Profile

By following the proposed action steps, you will be able to apply your findings to your SEO strategies. If you were unable to use the Wayback Machine to see a version of the site that predates change, this step isn’t necessary. If you were able to do this, compare the old site to the new site. Take note of all changes, particularly any that are related to the changes on the first 3 pages of SERP. If the change is negative, you will need to decide whether a change of the client’s site is possible. If it is, change your plans to include SEO for the new site. If the change is positive, you may need to seek a new client. In this comparison, it is also useful to compare the old and new sites using the information from the Cached text from Google site:URL accessed by searching site:URL in Google. This will allow you to see exactly what Google deemed important on the old site and compare that to the new site. If the change is negative, it may not be too late to reverse it by seeking to understand what it is about the new site that Google doesn’t give as much credit to. Often these changes are made without considering the SEO impact. Step 1 will need to be repeated for the new URL. Once you have gained a thorough understanding of the changes at each level of this process, you will need to identify any new strengths or weaknesses as compared to the competitor analyzed in this specific case. Complete a SWOT analysis to understand how the changes have affected the relative position of this site to the sites of its competitors that were analyzed in this project, and to understand what the new competitive environment is. With that information, you will be able to make informed decisions on whether to continue SEO efforts for this specific site and how to tailor those efforts.

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