Perhaps the most complex aspect of any successful website is search engine optimization. Because of its broad scope, miss-outs occasionally happen. One of the most vital, yet often neglected parts, is SEO competitor analysis.
The idea behind SEO competitor analysis
Don’t be mistaken in thinking that SEO competitor analysis is used to create awareness of who else is in the same market. It can help identify some unexpected competitors, but as a competitive site owner, you will no doubt already be aware of top brands in your niche.
SEO competitive analysis instead aims to help you achieve your SEO goals by leveraging the information you can learn from competing sites, such as:
- how to improve your link profile
- top keywords your competitors are targeting
- which digital marketing strategies should you focus on
- better understanding of what does and does not work in your niche
- finding and capitalizing on competitor’s weaknesses
As with anything SEO related, this analysis will take time and effort. Luckily, the process can be significantly streamlined with the help of a few very powerful tools.
The first step in the SEO competitor analysis is selecting the sites you want to analyze.
Finding the right competitors
Competitive analysis is often done as a part of your content marketing strategy or your SEO strategy. As such, at this point, you should have done some basic SEO groundwork and have an initial list of keywords you want to rank for.
There are a number of tools you can use to find out who the competition is. If you’re on a budget, start with a simple Google search. Just type in the keywords you want to target and observe which sites come up.
While this can work, it’s rather rudimentary and can present its own challenges. A better solution would be to invest in a tool like Ahrefs. This very comprehensive utility includes what they call the Keyword Explorer.
The keyword explorer is a very powerful portion of Ahrefs that gives you a huge number of relevant details. For example, the volume of search for keywords, estimated Cost Per Click (CPC) in Google Adwords, return rates (repeated keyword searches), how hard it is to organically rank for a specific keyword, and even volume of searches by country. The last point can be something that’s especially relevant to local businesses which cater to customers in specifically targeted regions.
Another good approach to find competitors is, especially if you are doing SEO competitor analysis as a part of your content marketing strategy, is to make a list of 15 or so known competitors in your niche and run it through chosen SEO tools. Shortlist 5 with highest organic traffic.
Why? Well, they probably invest the most in SEO and content marketing so they are worth analyzing the most. If they have good organic traffic, they must be doing something right. Let’s see what that is.
Performing the SEO competitor analysis
With the list of your competitors in hand, it’s now time to start on your analysis. This can be divided in several segments, each of which can yield some actionable results.
1) Carry out a technical analysis
Before diving into the content part, take a closer look at the technical details behind a site. Some of the information can perhaps reveal why the site performs well or how it leverages technology in general.
While you do not have to emulate all of these details, they can at the very least give you some ideas of areas open for improvement. Peeping into a competitor’s closet is easier than you may think.
For a very quick look at what powers a website, make use of something like the WHSR Tool. By simply typing in your competitor’s URL, the tool will do its work and extract as much detail as it can – to be presented to you simply and neatly.
Some of the things you may learn include the infrastructure the site runs on, scripts or web applications that may be in play, or even enhancement services such as Cloudflare or another Content Delivery Network (CDN).
Apart from this, knowing if other sites are using utilities like Matoto and Hotjar can come in handy as well. Matomo focuses on analytics and can provide more comprehensive information that is available through Google Analytics. It includes keywords that would otherwise be masked by Google.
Hotjar on the other hand is an indicator that competitors may be using heatmaps. It helps them improve their SEO efforts by enabling better understanding of how users experience their sites.
Those might be tools you will need to implement later on to help you achieve your SEO goals.
2) Identify and analyze top-performing content
Once you reach this stage, it may be difficult to proceed without investing in a solid SEO research tool like Ahrefs, SEMrush, Ubersuggest, or Alexa. While the interfaces may differ, most of these tools try to deliver a similar set of competitor analysis features, some more successfully than others.
We have access to Ahrefs so we will use it in our examples.
The key impetus behind doing this kind of research is that it allows you to learn from what competitors are doing. This can result in more choices opening to you. For example, you can choose to either go after the same keywords by leveraging similar content types or structure. Alternatively, you may also decide to pursue less competitive keywords, focusing on low hanging fruits first.
There are three main scenarios that are worth analysing in this context:
- best performing content based on the number of backlinks it earned
- best performing continent based on the volume of organic traffic it attracts
- best performing content based on the number of shares it got
Finding pages with the most links
Ahrefs > Pages > Best by links
Using Ahrefs we can filter and find non-branded keywords in our search result. For example in the “Best by Links” section we can exclude “Lowes” as a keyword along with anything lower than 30 in Keyword Difficulty (KD).
The result demonstrates that “gas fire pit, kobalt tools, foam board insulation” are some of the high volume low competition search terms. At the same time, the corresponding page links will be displayed, so you can easily reference the exact content created.
This analysis can show you which type of content attracts the most links, are your competitors running any big content marketing campaigns, and give you a clue which link building strategies they might be using (though for that you will need to dig into their backlink profile).
Finding pages that attract most organic traffic
Ahrefs > Overview > Top Pages 2.0
The same line of thought as discussed above can be pursued along different tangents as well. The option to find top pages in Ahrefs is a much more direct way of identifying pages with the most organic traffic on competing sites.
Besides looking at the content itself, you should also take a closer look at which keywords are bringing in the most traffic. One content piece can rank for dozens of different keywords so digging into them can give you a better idea of which keywords get the most clicks.
Finding content with the most social media shares
Ahrefs > Overview > Pages > Top Content
Aside from keywords, another useful avenue of pursuit can be by finding content that is highly shared on social media which you can do with a tool like Buzzsumo. While the exact weightage in SEO isn’t clear, social activity definitely plays an identifying role for content and it is always good to know what are the popular topics in the industry.
3) Seek out content gaps
The idea behind content gap analysis is to identify keywords your competitors are ranking for and you are not yet covering on your website (or just rank very poorly for). It’s another thing that can be easily performed by using Ahrefs:
Content gap analysis is a great way of helping you scale your content production and SEO strategy in the right direction.
In a nutshell, content gap analysis helps you:
- see what content is missing from your inventory
- help you identify keywords you should be focusing on
- double-check if there are some keywords everybody is missing out on
4) Analyze competitor ad spend
Most people assume that because we build content for search rankings, the element of paid ranking doesn’t really factor in. However, in a more business-oriented scope, advertising is simply part of most organizational marketing activities.
Again, this is something that there are many tools available for. One of the brands you will be familiar with by this point is Ahrefs, but others such as SpyFU and SEMrush are also fine – as long as you’re comfortable using them.
Keywords your competitors are spending on are a good clue which keywords are worth targeting. There are three things you can do with this information:
- give up on they keyword if you think you can’t compete for it
- create your own paid campaigns for identified keywords
- build your content and SEO strategy around those keywords and try to rank for them organically
As you can probably tell by now, competitive analysis is a big part of your SEO efforts. If you plan to grow your business by increasing the number of leads and customers that find you through organic search, competitive analysis should be something you perform on a yearly basis and serve as one of the building blocks of your SEO and content strategies.
Jerry Low is a geek, dad, and founder of HostScore and Web Hosting Secret Revealed.