If you have a business, any type of business, it’s almost certain that you have at least a few competitors. Even though you may be selling the very best bagels in New York City, and your bagels are unlike any other bagels, you’ll still have to compete with other bagel shops in the same vicinity.
When it comes to your business’s website, the same rules apply. Out of the 200 million active websites on the Internet right now, there is undoubtedly a website that is aiming for the same audience as you.
You may be used to facing competitors offline, but what about tackling your competitors online? How do you handle other websites taking your target users’ clicks and conversions?
While leading a cyber attack against a competitor can earn you a nasty lawsuit or a war between brands, engaging in healthy competition is an important element of SEO. It gives you the motivation to continuously improve your website, provides you with benchmarks for comparison, and examples to follow for best practices (or what to avoid).
When thinking about competing in cyberspace, here’s an important fact to keep in mind: SEO is a zero sum game.
What does that mean? Well, in order for you to make it to page one of Google, someone has to be bumped down. And on the flip side, if a similar website starts to perform significantly better, this will have negative consequences on your own site’s rankings.
Let’s face it: you cannot excel in SEO without leaning into the competition. So being aware of who your rivals are and the strategies behind their websites is extremely important.
How do you figure all this out? With the help of a powerful research tool: the SEO competitor analysis.
You may be familiar with the definition of a general business competitor analysis: the process of identifying businesses in your market with similar offerings to yours and performing an evaluation of them based on a set of predetermined criteria. However, this definition changes a little when it comes to conducting competitor analyses in the SEO world.
To fully understand what an SEO competitor analysis is, we have to first clear up some common misconceptions people have surrounding this topic.
The truth is, most people approach SEO competitor analysis in the wrong way. They only look at their direct competitors in their industry — the people selling the same products as they are.
However, when it comes to SEO, those aren’t your only competitors. In SEO, your competitors are the websites ranking for your target keywords, the ones that come up in front of your audience in search results.
While this may include the competitors that perform a similar function as your business in your industry, looking at just these websites is too narrow of a lens.
A better definition of a competitor is any website that is targeting the same search terms as you.
That being said, there are some websites that you should not consider your competitor just because they’re ranking higher for a certain keyword. For example, if Wikipedia is the only site ranking above you on the SERP, you shouldn’t worry about trying to beat them — that website is probably not trying to serve your customers in the same way that you are.
So, what exactly is an SEO competitor analysis? At its core, it involves figuring out what your competitors are doing right on their websites and using this knowledge to boost your own site’s ranking.
An SEO competitor analysis includes investigating the keywords, content, and links of your competitors in order to inform your own SEO strategy. We will get into the nitty gritty details of how to do this later.
Why is seeing what your competitors are up to so important to your website’s success?
In a general sense, a competitor analysis is an important tool in any aspect of business. It can be useful when comparing products, building out ad campaigns, and it is especially useful in SEO.
By studying the competition, you can learn a lot about what Google sees as valuable content worthy of ranking on page one.
Think about it: it takes a lot longer to figure out which keywords you should target and how to get your site ranked higher when you’re only looking at your own strategies and results. It is much more time efficient to look around at what others are doing in your area and identify the habits that are making them successful, rather than coming to those conclusions on your own by testing out different strategies and waiting to see the results.
Instead, you can simply adopt the strategies that are already working for your competition, and then use all that time and energy you saved to make your website even stronger than theirs.
SEO competitor analysis is more about learning from your competition than any sort of SEO espionage. It’s not cheating or copying, it’s just a way to follow the golden rule: Work smarter, not harder.
So, how can you learn from your competitors’ websites? The key principle to remember is: If there’s something your competitors are doing well, try to do it better.
There are a variety of ways your website can outperform another. Serve your buyer personas better than the competition does. Meet the intent behind the keyword better. Provide content that is more valuable, unique, and interesting.
Better content does not always mean longer content. It just means the content answers the question or search intent better.
It can get overwhelming when you think about doing all of these things at once, but to simplify the situation, think about it in two parts: learning from the content your competitors are creating and learning from the links they have built.
Study not only the content on your competitor’s website, but also the gaps. Are there knowledge gaps that a competitor has left open for someone to come along and fill? What topics have other websites not covered that your target users may care about?
Your competition may be taking a broad approach to a topic which you can fill with expertise to oust them from Google’s first page. Or, maybe the opposite is true: your target audience is only looking for a broad overview of a topic that the competition provides in-depth studies on.
Notice which types of content your competitors are offering that you may not be. Do they have videos or infographics on their site? Do they produce a podcast? Analyze how these different forms of media are performing on your competitors’ sites, then decide whether or not to pursue these types of content yourself.
Note: If Google is displaying a certain kind of content (images, videos, etc.) near the top of the search results, you’ll want to include this same format on your site.
Additionally, which keywords does your competitor rank for? Are you ranking for those keywords too? If you aren’t, take note and start strategizing what content to produce for those keywords/phrases.
Identify the keywords your competitors are ranking higher for, then investigate why this is happening. Try to figure out what’s making that competitor perform well: do they have a lot of backlinks on that page, or high-quality supplemental content?
You can use the Centori software to find out which keywords any piece of content on your competitor’s website ranks for. From there, you can get a better sense of what your competitor is ranking for and the gaps in their content.
Don’t forget to examine specific keywords as well. Think about the different subsets of keywords your audience may be searching for and look into who is ranking for those search terms. It may not be your typical competitors; oftentimes, unrelated or unexpected websites end up ranking highest for the keywords that serve a particular subcategory of users.
Keep an eye out for keywords that your competitors may have recently lost rankings for, as this could be your opportunity to swoop in and get to the top. Be on the lookout for new keywords that your competition is targeting too, so they lose their advantage of being first to the new term.
Similarly, study the links your competitors have built up. Backlinks are critical for ranking highly because they build up credibility and authority for your website (as long as they’re from reputable sources). If your competitors have a strong backlink profile, it will be necessary to build yours up to a similar level in order to compete with them.
Try to piece together how they’ve built their high quality backlinks: Have they been recommended by any high-profile, noncommercial sites in your industry? Has their page or website been mentioned in press coverage by a major media organization? Think about using these same tactics to build links for your own site.
Look at not only links to their homepages, but links to internal pages as well. These links could be generating a significant amount of traffic and value for your competition, and you’ll want to take note of them.
No-follow links shouldn’t be overlooked either. Even though Google doesn’t factor in a site’s no-follow links to its standings, they can still be beneficial to a website. High-quality links, follow or no-follow, can lead to greater brand awareness, traffic, and conversions.
Look for ways that you can start filling in backlink gaps on your own site. If someone is linking to many of your competitors, you may be able to get them to link to you, too.
A competitor analysis may sound intimidating, but it’s really quite a simple process. All you need to do is follow these five steps:
First and foremost, you must identify your competitors. Remember, it’s not just about your product competitors — it’s about the sites ranking on Google for your target search terms. The first step here is to identify the target keywords you are going after and then see who ranks consistently for them.
Don’t only look at the basic, expected keywords here — think about long tail keywords and other terms that cater to more specific needs of your target users.
Once you’ve picked your competitors, it’s time to get to work. Start with a simple Google search analysis: Search site:yourcompetitor.com in Google.his will return every page Google has indexed on your competitor’s website. Observe the number of pages they have indexed, how their title tags and meta descriptions are set up, whether there are any pages they probably should not have indexed, and their content strategy.
If you want to analyze your competitors on a page by page basis, here are the attributes to look at:
After analyzing your competitor’s content, now is a good time to review their links. Backlinks are one of the most influential ranking factors,so they are an extremely valuable asset to any SEO campaign. There are a host of tools available online to analyze your competitor’s backlinks profile — some of the most popular are Ahrefs and SEMrush.
Lastly, and this gets a bit more technical, use a crawling tool to get an even better sense of how your competitor’s website is structured. This is more useful if your competitor is a larger website or an ecommerce site. There are many tools that come in handy for site crawling — you can use Centori’s own site crawler, or another tool such as Sitebulb, Screaming Frog, OnCrawl, or DeepCrawl.
Hopefully, this post has helped demystify the concept of running an SEO competitor analysis. Remember, SEO is a zero sum game, so understanding your competition at a deeper level is critical for your success. Instead of being threatened by competition, leverage your competitors’ websites to shorten your learning curve and build a better strategy to oust them.
Conducting an SEO competitor analysis is not a one-time thing, either. You’ll want to perform them periodically in order to keep up with the ever-changing SEO landscape and obtain the latest information about who is performing the best online for the search terms you care about.
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