SEO Competitor Analysis: How to Outrank Your Competition in 6 Easy Steps

SEO Competitor Analysis: How to Outrank Your Competition in 6 Easy Steps

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Every SEO tool has a blog post about this subject, but to give you an example of my own SEO competitive analysis, I wanted to write a post that doesn’t go into nearly as much detail as I assume you do not do SEO for your full-time job.

I find that there is a lot of content about SEO out there that is just too technical or covers more than is needed to achieve impactful results. This post is meant to focus on those critical concepts and areas that will both allow you to more quickly perform an SEO competitor analysis while also reap the SEO benefits of doing so.

Before we get started, note that I am going to show you screenshots of all of these analytical activities using my preferred SEO tool, SEMrush. In fact, you can learn how I developed my entire SEO process using SEMrush in my YouTube video here:

YouTube video

Ready? Let’s go!

What is SEO Competitor Analysis?

Simply put, SEO competitor analysis is the process of finding out what your competitors are doing right, then trying to duplicate their success. Another way to put this is that you reverse engineer the competition’s SEO playbook so you can steal their traffic. This includes looking at their keyword strategy, backlinks, topics, and more. Your competitor might have a simple strategy or a rather complicated one, but either way, you need to find out what they’re doing.

The Main Benefit of SEO Competitor Analysis: Learn How to Steal Your Competitor’s Traffic

SEO is a lot like other aspects of marketing: your competition has strategies and techniques that serve them well, and the ones that perform poorly. Over time, your competitors will change or eliminate those things which aren’t helping them meet their goals. And the chances are that you are doing this, too. The difference between your brand’s strategy and competitor analysis is that you’re focusing on the competition.

Once you’ve found out what brings your competitors the most traffic, you can duplicate those techniques to increase yours. For instance, you might find that your competition gets a lot of traffic from a keyword that you haven’t thought to use yet. And in some cases, they might be the only company, or one of a small percentage of competitors, that uses this keyword. By adding some content to your website that is optimized for the keyword, you can start getting some of that traffic.

The 6 Steps to Outrank Your Competition Using SEO Competitor Analysis

How can we, as marketers, steal our competition’s traffic by analyzing their SEO and meeting the challenge? There are a lot of things in marketing that sound easier than they are, or where it’s hard to know where to start. This is especially true if you don’t have as much experience or are a newer company. Fortunately, there are some steps you can follow that will direct your efforts and drive success. Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty!

1. Find Your SEO Competitors

Who are your competitors? They are the ones ranking for the keywords you want to rank for! They are also the companies in your industry or that cover your niche. What I mean by this is that many companies within an industry don’t optimize for every relevant keyword. You might find that there are companies that compete for your customers, but don’t use very many of the same keywords for various reasons. And, in the process, you might find that you’re missing some very important keywords that you should start ranking for.

This is one reason why content marketing software can be so important. For one thing, they’ll help you choose the right keywords, and then analyze your competition. At the same time, the software will show you, competitors, that you hadn’t thought of before. Sometimes, this is because a keyword is overutilized. In others, you’ll find that a keyword is essentially ignored, and you have an opportunity to dominate the conversation. Without SEO competitor analysis, this information would likely be overlooked.

Further Reading: SEO Report: What Metrics to Include (with 27 Suggestions)

2. Strategize on Your “Weakest” Competitors

Strategize on Your "Weakest" Competitor

You are NOT going to outrank Wikipedia (sorry) so it’s time to get realistic and only target those companies who have lower domain authority, fewer backlinks, lower SERPs, or have outdated or poor content. As marketers, there’s a real temptation for us to bite off more than we can chew. In addition, website owners often want outstanding results right away, thinking they can go from zero to sixty in a second or less. No car can do that, and neither can SEO competitor analysis.

On the other hand, think about how many of us have achieved our personal and professional goals. Usually, it’s one step at a time, almost like a ladder. Sometimes we meet our milestones in quick succession, and in other situations, progress is slow going. However, we continue to work towards our ultimate goals.

Improving your SEO is similar to progressing towards a personal or professional goal one step at a time. First, you pick off your weakest competitors that are still “ahead” of you. Once you overtake that competitor, you pursue the next one. Over time, your SERPs will improve and you’ll start taking a larger chunk of your competitor’s traffic. While you’ll likely never top the big-name websites, you can at least get yourself into the first page of Google.

Further Reading: The 15 Best Rank Tracker Tools to Rock Your SEO in 2024

3. Keyword Gap Analysis

Let’s now take a look at the keywords we are targeting and find where our weakest competitors are ranking. We should also consider general keyword difficulty to rank for these keywords. These should be our targets for our content creation and backlink campaigns.

Of course, this raises an important question: which keywords are the most valuable ones to target? Sometimes we don’t realize this right away, such as when there are emerging trends in an industry. One example could be the toilet paper panic buying of 2020. Back then, there were stores that would advertise that they had gotten a large shipment of toilet paper. There was even a convenience store that offered a freeroll with a particular purchase. Here, there was an unexpected keyword and marketing opportunity, and businesses went right for it.

Another concern is your ability to rank well for a given keyword. For instance, let’s say your company sells traditional motor oil. Someone with an electric car doesn’t need that product, but they will need access to a charging station. If you don’t have a charging station at your store, then you can’t rank for those keywords. Similarly, some keywords are so competitive that smaller websites don’t have much chance of dominating those areas. As a business owner, you need to determine which keywords are best for your business.

4. Top Content Analysis

Top Content Analysis

Another way to steal traffic is to go beyond your own strategic keyword list and look at your weakest competitor’s top-performing content. The idea is to see if you might be able to outrank them by creating better content. Effectively what you’re doing here is finding hidden opportunities. Sometimes we identify keywords that we didn’t think of originally, but which can help us increase traffic. By harvesting the low-hanging fruit, our websites can get the jumpstart they need quickly and easily.

Here’s the thing: this aspect of SEO competitor analysis can help our websites increase domain authority. That’s because backlinks and increased traffic tell Google and the other search engines that readers find our websites to be valuable. In turn, our content can automatically do better over time because the higher domain authority provides a “boost” on the SERPs.

Essentially, by building domain authority through top content analysis and intensive blogging at less-strategic keywords, it becomes easier for us to compete on more difficult keywords. Having the extra “credibility boost” goes a long way when we chase competitors that have ever-higher SERP rankings for the best keywords. It’s a similar approach to gap analysis and, once again, we see how an incremental approach delivers great results over time.

Further Reading: Looking for a Google SEO Checker? Here’s 15 to Check Out

So far we only looked at on-page keyword-centric SEO competitor analysis, but what about off-page SEO? This is where we look at your weakest competitors and find websites from which multiple competitors have gained backlinks, but you have not. In other words, which websites should you try and get backlinks from, in order to boost your overall site credibility?

Generally speaking, your link gap analysis will uncover websites that are considered highly relevant to your field and, in many cases, are thought leaders. For instance, people who try to rank for medical keywords will often find the best backlinks are from famous hospitals, like the Mayo Clinic, or a medical condition-related nonprofit (think American Heart Association). Backlinks from these websites are especially valuable because Google takes trustworthiness into account when they rank articles for SEO.

Of course, especially in competitive markets getting the right backlinks can often be easier said than done. These websites are very protective of their domain authority and thought leadership, so it’s relatively difficult to get noticed in a way that gets you a backlink. However, one of the better ways is through guest blogging opportunities. Especially if you can “trade” guest posts, appearing on another site’s blog can be one of the best ways to both get a backlink and increase traffic. People like to check out a guest’s website to see what they have to offer.

Further Reading: 11 Actionable Link Building Strategies For 2024 and Beyond

6. SERP Analysis

SERP Analysis

The final step is to dig into the search engine rankings for which your weakest competitors rank the highest and try to reverse engineer their SEO strategy of how their sites were able to achieve that. In particular, there are several different content types and techniques that might boost their SEO. Answer the challenges that you find, and there’s a good chance you’ll beat the competition.

Conclusion

So there you have it: a comprehensive guide on how to conduct an SEO competitor analysis. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you a good starting point for understanding where your website stands in relation to your competition and what you need to do to outrank them. Remember, the main benefit of SEO competitor analysis is learning how to steal your competitors’ traffic – so get started today! What’s the next step? Implementing, of course! Luckily for you, I’ve written an extensive guide on guest blogging that will help you get started on one aspect that can help your SEO. Guest blogging is one of my favorite tactics because it helps you build links, authority, and exposure simultaneously. Ready to put your newfound knowledge into action and crush your competition? Check out my guide and get started today.

Hero Photo by Maxence Pion on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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