Why is an SEO competitive analysis critical to your digital marketing?
A competitive analysis is something that you need to do in all spheres of business, and your website is not an exception.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the key areas that you need to focus on in order to conduct thorough competitive analysis. It will be useful both for beginners and experts who are looking to brush up on their competitive analysis skills.
But before we delve into the intricacies of analyzing the SEO of your competitors’ websites, we need to answer an important question: why spend the time and resources to do it in the first place?
- Why is an SEO Competitive Analysis Important?
- Step 1 – Identify Your *Real* Competition
- Step 2 – Find Keyword Gaps
- Step 3 – Identify Best-Performing Pages
- Step 4 – What Type Of Content Works Best For Them?
- Step 5 – Check Their Backlink Profiles
- Step 6 – How High Is Their Authority?
- Step 7 – Check Their Technical Performance
- Step 8 – Take A Look At Their Internal Linking
- Step 9 – Check Their Featured Snippets
- Step 10 – Keep An Eye On Algorithm Updates
- Conclusion: Your SEO Competitive Analysis Uncovers a Treasure Trove of Insight
Why is an SEO Competitive Analysis Important?
First of all, we need to understand the reason why people do competitive analyses. If you want your website to rank high in search engine results pages, you will need to keep track of what your competitors are doing as well.
Which keywords they are ranking for, what type of content they are focusing on, their strengths and weaknesses.
When you know what they are, you can use that information to make more informed decisions as to your own SEO and content strategy. Only by taking these factors into consideration will you be able to secure and stay on top of search results pages.
Even after you have secured high rankings, the need for conducting competitive research does not disappear. You need to remember that even though you might have achieved the rankings you wanted, there are still dozens, if not hundreds of other websites in your niche that are actively trying to outrank you.
So, there is no such thing as a “finished” SEO competitive analysis, it’s a process that goes on for as long as you run your website.
Step 1 – Identify Your *Real* Competition
The first step in running a competitive analysis is, of course, to identify your competitors. Even though this is just the starting point, this is where a lot of people already start making mistakes.
The key phrase here is real competitors, and not just the ones who you think are your competitors.
To identify competitors, you need to check who is ranking for your niche keywords. You can do it with an SEO tool like SEMRush. SEO tools will also help identify many of the things that will be discussed in this article, so investing in one will be essential for your success.
One common mistake people make is focus only on the keywords that have the most search volume. And while securing good rankings for those keywords will definitely improve your online visibility, there are potentially hundreds of other keywords that might not have as much search volume, but can help you dominate a very specific segment in your market.
To see the full picture, you need to take in consideration all of the keywords that people search for in your niche, and not just the ones with the most search volume.
Otherwise, your competitive SEO analysis will not be accurate.
As much as it is important to identify competitors, it is even more important to figure out who NOT to compete with. There’s no point in trying to outrank Wikipedia, and other similar resources.
Further Reading: The 16 Best SEO Tools to Power Your Search Engine Marketing
Step 2 – Find Keyword Gaps
Keyword gaps are keywords that your competitors are ranking for but you aren’t.
It’s important to find these and try to close the gap, as if you’re not ranking for these keywords at all, all of the traffic will go directly to your competitors.
When identifying these gaps, it’s important to keep a few questions in mind:
- Why are you not ranking for this keyword? Do you not have the product/service that is associated with it?
- What type of content are your competitors ranking with? Is it a product page or an informational blog post?
- Are they ranking organically or using tactics such as link building to give their page a boost in rankings?
If they’re boosting their rankings with backlinks, it will be difficult to outrank them until you amass a similar number of backlinks.
But, for example, if they’re ranking with a product page, and you have a similar product that can cover that query, outranking them can be quite simple: all you need to do is supplement your product with an informative blog post that can cover the questions associated with the keyword.
So, for example, if the keyword is “guitar straps”, and you sell guitar equipment, you can write a post that goes along the lines of “Regular Straps vs Lock-On Straps: Which Should You Get?”.
This way, you will have an informative post that ranks, and points people in the direction of your product.
Step 3 – Identify Best-Performing Pages
Finding the pages that bring your competitors the most traffic should also be part of your competitive SEO analysis. Whether you’re looking to make money blogging or have a company selling a product or service, this information is crucial to your success.
Is it their homepage? A blog post? How many and which keywords is it ranking for? How much of their total traffic does this page generate?
Outranking their strongest page can be a huge challenge. So, all of this information can help you identify gaps and weak spots in the rest of their content: if their best performing page is a landing page, but their blog posts are lackluster, it would be worthwhile to dedicate your resources into making a stronger blog.
Further Reading: 10 Top Tips to Increase Your Blog Post SEO
Step 4 – What Type Of Content Works Best For Them?
- Do they publish regular, informative blog posts?
- If they’re in the eCommerce niche, do they supply their products with how-to guides?
- Do they have a podcast?
- What is their social media presence like?
Take note of the areas that they exceed you in, as well as the ones where they underperform. For example, if they have a blog but their content is not as great as it could have been, focus on making posts on the same topics, but better: longer, more informative, covering topics that they missed, etc.
Also, take note of how they are using keywords in their content. Is their content optimized with tools? What is their readability score like? Is their content long-form or short-form?
And, of course, if you notice that your competitors are lacking some form of content (for example, how-to guides on how to use their products), you should take advantage of that, and cover that gap as soon as possible.
Step 5 – Check Their Backlink Profiles
Backlinks are a huge ranking factor. In fact, a lot of companies hire link builders to do it all in-house, or even spend the money on a link building agency.
The more backlinks from highly-authoritative resources a website has, the easier it is for it to secure high rankings for it. The same logic applies to individual pages – even if your site as a whole doesn’t rank that high, you will be able to secure first spots in SERPs for individual pages if you build enough strong backlinks to them.
By checking your competitors’ backlink profiles, you will be able to figure out whether or not they are spending their time and resources on link building. And if they are, which pages in particular they are trying to boost.
If they only have a few backlinks, then you can be sure that they don’t really focus on it. Then, you can safely invest your time into building a lot of backlinks for yourself-given enough time, you will outrank them.
If you see that they’re building a lot of links to their blog, you can try and secure some for your product pages to stand out.
Keep in mind that link building is all about quality over quantity. Building loads of low-quality and spammy looking backlinks can hurt your rankings in the long run. An effective way to build relevant backlinks and get your name ringing in your industry is by pitching and publishing guest posts on reputable industry-related websites.
Step 6 – How High Is Their Authority?
Domain Authority is a metric developed by Moz. In essence, high-authority websites have a much easier time ranking high in SERPs, even though Google doesn’t officially acknowledge the existence of this metric.
If your competitors have a much higher Domain Authority than you, it will be very difficult for you to outrank them for high-volume keywords as Google automatically favors them.
It might seem like you can’t outrank a high-authority website, but every resource has its flaws and content gaps. You need to take advantage of these, especially the latter.
Step 7 – Check Their Technical Performance
Your website’s performance is a ranking factor in and of itself. Google favors optimized resources, so making sure yours runs smoothly should always be a priority.
Since most people browse the web from their mobile devices, mobile optimization and responsiveness is also a must.
Older websites run into this problem all of the time – even if their Domain Rating is exceptionally high, they may be slowed down by their sheer size, loads of plugins, or old code.
This may also make them harder to optimize for mobile. If your competitor’s site looks great on desktop but struggles on mobile, this may be a great chance to outrank them on mobile.
Step 8 – Take A Look At Their Internal Linking
Links from other sites are not the only type of links that contribute to a resource’s search engine optimization.
You should also have a lot of internal links pointing to other pages on your website. Not only does this make your website easier to navigate for people, but for crawlers as well.
A solid internal linking structure makes your website more friendly to Google bots, who come in, crawl and index your resource.
A poor internal linking structure can result in delays in indexing. But how can you use that to your advantage?
If your competitors’ websites are thoroughly internally linked while yours isn’t, you should do your best to fix that as soon as possible.
If you notice that some of their content is not internally linked properly, you can try and promote your own competing content while theirs is having trouble indexing.
Step 9 – Check Their Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are awesome. They are these snippets of content that are automatically pulled out to SERPs from content that has been indexed.
They are eye-catching, and answer your questions before you even click any links. Securing a featured snippet can actually be more valuable than the actual first spot in the SERP.
You can check if your competitors are actively optimizing their content for featured snippets. You can do it by checking the total number of featured snippets they have. Is it growing? Is it declining or staying the same?
If it is not growing, it means they are not focusing on featured snippets, which opens up the opportunity for you to do it.
To optimize your content for featured snippets, you need to find a question that people are asking, and then try to answer it as precisely and concisely as possible – then your chances that Google will feature your snippet in SERPs will increase.
In addition to featured snippets, there are other search features, including videos, people also ask, and videos.
All of these are exceptionally useful and can mean more to your website than actual first spots in Google, as when people see a featured snippet/video/image, they are automatically drawn to it, and skip over the first result.
As you can see from the screenshot below, Uscreen ranks on the first page of the SERPs for the keyword “Twitch Monetization”.
The video featured snippet even includes timestamps for people to watch specific segments of the video that Uscreen has uploaded to their YouTube channel.
Step 10 – Keep An Eye On Algorithm Updates
Every once in a while, Google changes the way their algorithm works. Sometimes the changes are so drastic that they shake up the power balance in an entire niche.
For example, when Penguin dropped, a lot of sites that focused on link building suddenly suffered from a huge drop because the spammy links that they were relying on suddenly lost their value.
So, whenever a new update is released, not only do you need to check your own website’s state, but also your competitors’.
A lot of updates will provide you with opportunities to outrank competitors, especially if a strategy they have been relying on becomes meaningless.
Conclusion: Your SEO Competitive Analysis Uncovers a Treasure Trove of Insight
A competitive analysis might sound like a theoretical textbook exercise but, as you can see from this tutorial, it is as practical and valuable an exercise as anything in digital marketing.
Managing brand partnerships at Respona, Vlad Orlov is a passionate writer and link builder. Having started writing articles at the age of 13, his once past-time hobby developed into a central piece of his professional life.
Hero Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash