The 8-step beginners' guide to competitive analysis
Search is very competitive. For each query that a user enters into a search bar, the search engines come up with a huge number of results. This means that unless you sell socks hand-made by Argentinian mountain monks, it's more than likely that there are businesses offering a similar product or service to you. In order to beat the competition, you can't go without competitive analysis.
When done properly, it gives loads of insights into the competitor's strengths and weaknesses that you can both learn from, and take advantage of. However, competitive analysis often seems complicated to those with little SEO experience. Below, I describe it in the form of a simple step-by-step guide, aimed first and foremost at beginners. I'll be using the tools in SEO PowerSuite to illustrate the process.
1. Finding keyword opportunities
For those "not in-the-know",
I will quickly differentiate between two types of keywords. The first type, seed keywords, are super common and the "base" for all searches, think "Volkswagen Golf". Then there are those that are far more personal to each user and searched infrequently, known as long-tail keywords. Imagine searching "black and white striped Labrador with extra-long tail for sale in San Francisco downtown area".
Whether you're just dipping your feet in the waters of SEO or you've been running a killer campaign for years, you'll need a list of keywords that you'll be targeting. These can vary pretty wildly depending on the industry.
In this first step though, we'll want some of those "seed keywords" mentioned earlier. We're going to use them to figure out the competition and furthermore, to find juicy new keywords to compete with.
- Open up Rank Tracker, create a new project and enter in your URL. You'll have the option to connect a few different Google services (like Google Ads) but for our purposes, we won't be using this.
- After processing, you might be seeing some suggestions. That means you're in luck as your URL has ranked somewhere in the top 30 for those keywords. Otherwise, just enter in those keywords you know or maybe some that pop into your head when you think of your business and its goals.
- You'll have the option to change your search engine. By default, it'll set the search engine to your country. In our case, that's the good ole' USA. Feel free to change this by clicking the Add More Search Engines button.
- Click Finish and have a few sips of coffee while the analysis is carried out.
- Once it's done the information will give us a rough idea of the industry and its relative competition.
- If you're seeing your business ranking just outside of the top 10 with a particular keyword, don't worry, we call this one a "striking distance keyword". Know that with some concentrated SEO effort you could be seeing some serious success.
Check this out for an easy to understand guide on all things Keyword Research.
2. Finding the competitors
Before we get started with this step, we'll touch on something people often get wrong in SEO. You might know who the big names are in your industry but the thing is, not all of them are necessarily your competitors.
Take for example the SEO business in general. There are:
- Businesses selling SEO software such as SEO PowerSuite;
- Businesses selling consultancy services like RankPay;
- Blogs writing about SEO like the one by Backlinko;
- Big publishers without a particular focus on SEO, like Forbes.
Think about those in your industry and potential methods they might use in their marketing strategy. You'll want to consider how businesses could be targeting keywords on other platforms, for example, blogs and social media posts.
Now that's out of the way, let's get stuck into it.
We've got a good idea of how our chosen keywords rank in a broad sense, now we’ll need to find out who we'll be competing with. More importantly, we'll want to know who will be our SEO competitors.
- Using Rank Tracker like in the previous step, on the top left, click on the Preferences button. You'll see a drop-down list, click on Competitors.
- In this new window, click Suggest and you'll see the words you've previously added to the project. You can tweak the search engines you'd like to check by clicking on the drop-down list next to "Search Engine".
We can use multiple search engines to find potential competitors in different regions. This feature can be used well if, for example, a business selling computer parts targets the European market, where your potential audience could be using a variety of different search engines.
- Click Next. After a few seconds, you'll see a list of competitors. Rank Tracker gathers this information by searching all of these keywords and finding the top 30 domains that come up the most frequently. You can add any of these competitors to your project, allowing you to compare rankings in real-time and get updates on their performance.
3. Assessing SEO competitor strength
We've narrowed down a list of potential SEO competitors but how do we know if they're feasible competitors?
The idea to follow will be something like this.
- Who are they?
- What fancy techniques are they using?
- Do they have any weaknesses that we can exploit?
- Can we learn from them and replicate their success?
- Do they have a football field-sized marketing department?
First up is to look at the basic measurement of domain strength. There are two levels of domain strength to understand. Our Rank Tracker program includes the tools to easily figure this out for us.
We can get an idea of the strength of our competitors' domains by using our in-house Domain Strength score. Essentially a prediction of how high a domain will rank in the SERPs. It's based on many factors including, linking domains, number, and quality of backlinks, calculated into a single easy to understand (DS) figure.
- In Rank Tracker, head on over to the Domain Strength module. Remember, we've already got ourselves a list of competitors from the previous step.
- If you'd like to fine-tune who you're competing with, click on the Show Competitors button. There you'll be able to check or uncheck any competitors. Otherwise, hit that Update button and let Rank Tracker analyze who you've chosen.
- After a little bit, Rank Tracker will display a few different metrics. The main one we'll be looking at right now is Domain Strength.
- Scrolling down will give you an expanded view of those ranking parameters. Note where your competitors are outperforming you — giving you an idea of the areas to focus on.
- You'll compare the different metrics of your competitors to your own business (and others) to know where you stand in the field. Narrowing down potential competitors will be a real piece of cake with this information.
4. Individual Keyword Competition
The next level is a little more in-depth, individual keyword analysis. We'll be using the keyword difficulty metric to understand better the keywords we'd like to target.
- Still in Rank Tracker, on the Keyword Map module, highlight all words and click Update Keyword Difficulty. You'll see a screen with 4 options, for now, we'll just be using the Keyword Difficulty option. Once updated, click any of the keywords to see a list of pages that rank in the top 10.
- The Keyword Difficulty score refers to the keyword's overall SEO strength and how much effort would be required to outrank with it. If any of your added competitors have words ranked in the top 10, a color will be marked next to their name.
If you're seeing a little "Local Pack" flag next to a link, it means the business appears in local search listings. You can choose to search from a specific location to get a better idea of your market, during the search engine selection page seen earlier.
I recommend having a closer look at each of the stats for these keywords. It'll give an idea of which words to target and potential weaknesses in your competitors' SEO.
5. Looking into competitor backlinks
Links to your website from another are called backlinks. The big names in SEO agree that they are arguably the most important factor for search engines in determining a site's authority. The search engine recognizes the number of quality backlinks as "votes" for the website's accuracy or relevance to the keyword.
Link Value, sometimes known as Link Juice, is an estimation of the SEO value of the selected backlink. The most valuable links come organically when people link to you because your products or services are relevant to them. Naturally, these links are the hardest to get.
The knowledge of competitor backlinks will help you build your own bulletproof backlink profile. With it, you can estimate the time required to build up your profile based on your competitors' and spot potential gaps within theirs.
- We're going to head over to a different program in the suite, SEO SpyGlass. We'll want to know who is linking to our competitors and their relative level of authority. Like we did in Rank Tracker, create a new project for your website.
- After you enter your URL, SEO SpyGlass will spend some time collecting the backlinks and provide you with a detailed report. You'll be presented with the number of backlinks, domains and IP's that link to your page along with a graph showing the progress throughout time.
I'll touch quickly on some of the elements listed there.
A DoFollow backlink is one that is without the NoFollow attribute, used where the referrer doesn't want to pass on link juice. In our case, the more DoFollow backlinks, the more points you get. It's important though to get DoFollow backlinks from authoritative domains.
A DoFollow domain is similar to the previous, the domain that links to you with a DoFollow backlink.
The C-Block metric refers to backlinks that come from IP addresses within a unique IP range. Companies that own a variety of websites will likely have similar IP addresses. This factor is important for the search engine to rule out potential "link-networks", designed specifically to manipulate PageRank.
Scrolling down a little will show you other factors useful for backlink analysis, including:
- Page InLink rank,
- Domain InLink rank,
- Backlink country of origin,
- Anchor Texts,
- Linked pages.
We're seeing some important terms:
InLink Rank is how much ranking power a page has on that domain. The higher the rank, the stronger this page's backlink profile is.
Domain inLink Rank is an estimate of the entire domain's ranking power.
Sites linking to page and domain are what the names imply, the number of domains that link to the page and the number linking to the domain.
We use these factors to track the growth of your page in search engines' eyes, throughout time. You'll see the value and authority of every backlink to your site and easily understand the domain authority of competing websites.
Now we'll want to know how our competitors' backlink profiles stack up against each other and which competitors we probably have no chance to outrank.
- Continuing in SEO SpyGlass, head to the Domain Comparison tab on the left-side panel.
- We'll enter the competitors we found earlier in Rank Tracker.
- SEO SpyGlass will analyze and present you with a summary of competitor backlink profiles. Here you'll see a variety of metrics that you’ll be able to compare against your own and see where your competitors are focusing their SEO efforts. Use this information to spot gaps in your backlink profile.
Focusing on getting quality, authoritative DoFollow backlinks is where businesses start to see some improvement. It takes time to build and will, therefore, be a long-term commitment. This process is called "link building" and if you'd like to learn more about it, check out this link building guide.
Ok so, we'll want to know where the potential is for those juicy backlinks. Let's use the Link Intersection module in SEO SpyGlass to make the process that much simpler.
- In the Domain Comparison module, click on Link Intersection. SEO SpyGlass will analyze competitor backlinks and return a list of domains that your competitors get links from but don't link to you.
- Sorting by Domain InLink Rank will give you an idea of where competitors in your industry get their best backlinks from. You might be seeing the likes of Forbes magazine, Medium or Wikipedia.
The intersecting domain metric provides us with websites that many competitors get links from.
The prospective domain metric is just that, domains that are linking to competitors but not yet to us. Considered potential link partners.
Use this information to discover link building opportunities. Quality domains that link to competitors can prove to be an invaluable resource.
Have a look here at our list of profitable backlink types.
6. Competitor on-page tactics
A noteworthy factor in SEO, the overall design of your website. You'll need a functional website not only for user experience but also for the search engines to crawl effectively. It's not critical to sink all your money into website design, but more important to look at your successful competitors and take cues.
Consider most of all, your landing pages. You could analyze your competitors' pages and revamp your own in a day to see some serious improvements in ranking.
Need advice on creating that perfect landing page? Check out this guide and get all the info you need.
Most of all we want to find out how to optimize our pages for the target keywords and the industry. For this, we’ll be taking a look at our competitor's on-page design.
- Moving to another program in the suite, WebSite Auditor, create a new project and enter the URL for either your website or a competitor's website.
- Click the Content Analysis tab and select the page you'd like to analyze. You'll enter some keywords you'd like to optimize for your site.
- Once it's done, have a look under Content Optimization and correct any problems if needed.
- You can have a closer look at how competitors are handling these aspects by checking under the Competitor tab. There might be a big difference in how they are using particular keywords. If you're not sure, the average figure will give you a good basis.
You will use what you've learned here to craft your perfect website.
Lastly, a cheat sheet of competitor on-page factors you should look at, from greatest to least importance:
- Page Speed
- Word Count
- Mobile UX
- Title Tags
- Heading Tags
- Internal Linking
- External Linking
- Meta Description
- Schema Markup
Much has changed in the world of search engine logic. Semantic search is playing a greater role in search results day by day. Much more thought goes into user queries because the context often defines the intent. Luckily your competitors will provide all the information we need for this task. They'll give you many topically relevant keywords that you may not have thought of.
For this part, we’ll learn a little bit about the TF*IDF formula.
It's a useful technique used in analyzing a body of text in order to give particular words an importance ranking. First of all, it gives us the term frequency or how often the word is used in the text. Secondly, we get the inverse term frequency, ranking unique words higher but more common words (such as "the" or "a") lower.
We run this formula on competitors' websites not to find similar words, but to find words that are associated with our keywords. For example, when someone searches for "Coconut Oil", their intentions might be to find out how to use it in a recipe or for cosmetic reasons.
- Still in Website Auditor, click on the TF-IDF button, under the Content Analysis tab on the left.
- Right away you'll see a list of words that our competitors are using along with the frequency used on both theirs and our pages. We will use this information to see how keyword frequency can be improved on our page.
- Look at the Recommendation tab on the right. It'll give us ideas for our page based on competitor word frequency.
Remember too, each industry will have its vocabulary and typical word usage, therefore this step has importance for every niche.
One of our talented writers has delved far deeper into semantic search, you can read more about here.
8. Beyond the search engines
Becoming increasingly important every day, social signals are the collective shares, likes and overall business visibility your website receives from social networks. The likes of Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are used extensively for marketing research and opinion gathering.
We'll want to find out how our competitors use social media for their SEO campaigns and gain useful insights you won't find anywhere else.
Points to consider when analyzing competitor social signals:
- Look at the content and note any keywords they target.
- What kind of content is typical for the industry? Think YouTube videos, Instagram posts, Facebook/Twitter updates.
- Can we adopt their techniques to find our success?
- Is there a gap, for example, platforms where they aren't getting mentioned?
To get an idea of how our competitors are using social signals, we'll be using Awario, our in-house social media listening tool.
- Go to awario.com and create a new project. You will put in your own website and some competitors that you'd like to keep track of.
- In seconds, Awario will scan the social networks to find where and how your brand is getting exposure.
- In the Mentions tab, you’ll be able to track where your competitors are getting exposure. You can use this to spot potential gaps in your social media campaign.
Take note of their "reach" figure and where they receive the most exposure. You could be missing out if you don't analyze where your competitors are getting publicity.
Even if you don't plan on active social media marketing, this step will help you get an idea of what kind of content resonates with your audience.
We recommend using Awario to its full potential. You can read more about Awario here.
Well, everyone, I wrote this guide hoping that all audiences will take some insight. Remember though that proper SEO is a long term commitment. It needs constant upkeep to see how effective are your techniques and most importantly, keep an eye on those competitors.
After using this guide, you will 100% identify areas for improvement, and with your own creative edge, you’ll find success in your market.
If you've any feedback, for example, you've got a sweet business idea for umbrellas made of recycled paper, I'd love to hear it all below.