SEO Competitor Analysis (Only Guide You Need)

Are you tired of losing?

Then it’s time to investigate your competitors.

In this guide, I’m going to show you how to do a proper SEO competitor analysis.

Let’s get started.

Why Should You Analyze Competitors for SEO?

There are three reasons why competitor analysis is critical:

1. You can find what they’re doing well
2. You can find strategic advantages
3. You can find link opportunities

I’ll show you every element you need to analyze to understand your competitors.

1. Find Their Keywords

The first step of the process is to see what keywords your competitors are targeting.

The easiest way to find their target keywords is to use SEM Rush or Ahrefs.

Here is how you can find your competitors keywords with SEM Rush:

1. Enter your competitor’s URL into the search bar:

SEMRush 1-min

2. Under the “Organic Research” section, click on “Positions”:

SEMRush 2-min

3. See what keywords your competitor is ranking for:

SEMRush 3-min

After you have a nice list of keywords, it’s time to analyze your competitor’s site optimization.

2. Analyze Their Site Optimization

Wait… analyzing your competitors on-site SEO?

Isn’t that a huge waste of time?

NO.

You can gather a ton of valuable information from their on-site strategy or lack thereof.

Keyword Density

One of the first things I look at on a page that is ranking well is the keyword density. It gives direction on how aggressive you need to be with keyword placement.

1. Go to this keyword density tool and enter your competitor’s URL:

KW Density 1-min

2. Check out the KW density for the target keyword:

KW Density 2-min

Repeat this process for all 10 competitors who are ranking. After you have done that, average the KW density.

This will give you a general picture of what’s “acceptable” for your target keyword.

META Information

After keyword density analysis, you should analyze their META information.

Examine how they have written their META data.

Are they using LSI keywords? Is the copy strong? Is there a clear call-to-action?

Internal Linking

Analyzing your competitor’s site architecture is key to understanding how authoritative their website is.

Try to figure out their internal linking tactics.

Are they using silos? Can you create a better model for flowing link equity through your site?

Don’t forget:

A strong site architecture helps you get the most out of your backlinks.

The goal is rank with as little backlinks as possible.

Your site architecture will help.

3. Content Analysis

Pages with more content rank better.

That’s why our ultimate goal should be create a page far superior to what is ranking for your target keyword.

With that said, you need to analyze several different elements of your competitor’s content.

Word Count

Long-form content performs well in Google.

Use the keyword density tool from earlier to see the word length of your competitors pages.

Make sure you average it out to get a general picture.

Your objective is to create something much larger.

Uniqueness of the Content

Writing a bunch of regurgitated junk won’t work. Your content needs to be different than your competitors.

And no, not just Copyscape different…

It needs to be uniquely crafted and researched.

Media

See whether your competitors are using images and videos in their content. Images and videos make content more digestible and improve user experience.

When you improve user experience, Google likes your pages more.

Outbound Links

Outbound links improve the credibility of your content and can help you build relationships. If your competitors aren’t linking out, then take advantage of it and do it yourself.

4. Analyze Their Design

Your website designs matters.

If your competition has a beautiful design, then you might need to invest some dollars into yours.

If you’re a local business, then this applies to you!

Many local businesses still have websites that are not mobile friendly.

And even worse, look like they are from 1995.

The opposite is also true.

Let’s say your competitor is ranking well, but they have an ugly website.

This is a golden opportunity for you to swoop in and win that battle.

5. Analyze Their Google My Business Page

Analyzing a competitors Google My Business page only applies more to local businesses.

In this analysis, you’re trying to discover:

  • is their page updated on a regular basis?
  • do their posts have engagement?
  • do they have images?
  • do they have reviews?
  • are people following the page?

If they don’t have any of these things, then it’s an opportunity for you to capitalize on their lack of effort.

If they DO have these things, then you need to mirror them.

6. Analyze Their Social Media

You cannot ignore the impact social media has on SEO.

We can debate all day about whether social signals impact SEO results, but the truth is:

It doesn’t matter.

That’s because social media is bigger than SEO.

A decent social media campaign will:

  • help you build relationships
  • allow you to interact with customers
  • help you market your content

So, if your competitors are engaging on social media, then you need to as well.

The best way to find out is to look at their social accounts and see how active they are.

You can also use SocialMention.com to see if they have an engaged audience. You can also use this tool to check the social shares for any individual page.

Video Marketing

Don’t forget that YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world.

That’s why you need to see if your competitors are leveraging it.

If they are, then you need to step up and mirror them.

If your competitors aren’t on YouTube, then take advantage of it.

7. Analyze Their Offline Strategies

There is one important reason to analyze your competitor’s offline marketing efforts:

Branded searches.

Branded searches in Google such as “Gotch SEO” can impact SEO results in two ways:

  1. Branded searches produce high click through rates in the SERPs. There is some evidence that SERP CTR is a small ranking factor in Google.
  2. Branded searches show Google that users want to learn more about your brand. Or, want to return back to your website because they enjoyed your content.

The main point here is that branded searches are important.

This is when offline marketing comes in.

Offline advertising efforts such as: radio ads, direct mail, newspaper ads, TV/Movie ads, billboard ads, and trade shows/conferences may intrigue prospects to seeks out more information about a brand.

Where do most people go to learn more about brands?

Google.

Now the question is:

How do you know if a competitor is using offline marketing tactics?

It’s tough, but there are a few ways.

Start by going to Google.com.

Enter the following search queries to find online versions of your competitor’s direct mail:

“competitor + mailer”
“competitor + postcard”
“competitor + flyer”.

You can also use a service like Who’s Mailing What.

For newspapers, you can pick up your local paper or try to find an online version.

You can also check the competitors website for an online version of their weekly or monthly ad.

For magazines, just do a Google search like “brand + as seen in”.

For TV/Movie ads you’ll have to look for an online version.

Try looking at their site or YouTube channel.

Use YouTube’s search function “competitor + commercial”.

To see competitor activity in trade shows or conferences, use the following search queries:

Competitor name + intitle:exhibitors
Competitor name + intitle:sponsors
Competitor name + intitle:”sponsored by”

8. Analyze Their Backlinks

The previous seven tactics are necessary for a complete analysis. But, in 2016, and for the foreseeable future, backlinks are still a huge piece of the puzzle.

There are two reasons why you should analyze your competitor’s link profile:

  1. To find link opportunities
  2. To determine whether you should “mirror” their link profile

Use the following tools for your analysis:

What is “Mirroring”?

Mirroring is the process of replicating your competitor’s link profile.

This is effective for one obvious reason:

You are acquiring similar backlinks that your competitor used to rank.

In theory, you should be able to achieve similar results if you replicate them.

Now before you go out there and try to replicate competitors, you need to understand some key points:

  1. Do not copy link spam. If a competitor is ranking through grey or black hat tactics, then avoid mirroring them. Understand that the likelihood of their rankings sticking is low.
  2. Mirror competitors that have quality backlinks. If they have Huffington Post links, then you need links of equal strength. If they have backlinks on blogs in your industry, then you need to do the same.

Best Link Types to Mirror

  • Membership Links
  • Sponsorship Links
  • Resource List Links
  • Niche Directory Links
  • Geo-Targeted Directory Links
  • Niche Relevant Contextual Links

Remember:

The best links are those that are hard to get.

Such as links acquired through our blogger outreach service.

Anyone can go and sign-up for a free account on any web 2.0 site.

Nothing beats backlinks from relevant websites with real traffic.

You now know what link opportunities are best to replicate.

Now let me show 7 questions to ask when analyzing a competitor’s link profile:

1. What is their homepage to deep linking ratio?

You can see this ratio on Ahrefs by looking at “Top Pages” like this:

Top Pages-min

There is an important reason to understand this link ratio:

Deep links build site authority.

More site authority = easier rankings

If the bulk of your competitor’s backlinks are going to deep pages, then you should do the same.

To achieve this goal, you will need to produce content.

2. What is their NoFollow to DoFollow ratio?

Every good link profile has a balanced ratio of NoFollow and DoFollow links.

It’s unnatural for your link profile to be 100% DoFollow backlinks.

Competitors who are ranking well will likely have NoFollow backlinks coming from: niche blog comments, business listings, or press releases.

3. What is their anchor text distribution?

Anchor text is tricky.

You will find some competitors with heavy keyword-rich anchor text.

While other competitors will have little or not, keyword-rich anchors.

How do you decide which one to mirror?

I recommend you mirror the competitors who have under-optimized anchor text.

If you had to choose between the two, you should always try to mirror the less optimized competitor.

4. Are they using redirects?

301 redirects work well as a link building tool. That’s why you need to see if your competitor is using them.

There are a few different types of redirects to look for:

  • Traditional: a brand redirects their old site to their new one.
  • Merger Technique: when you redirect a relevant expired domain to your website.
  • Link Shortners: this is the most black hat of the three. Many link shorters are 301 redirects.

Black hats build links to the shortner/301 because it acts as a “buffer”. I would avoid using this tactic unless you are churning and burning.

5. Do they have site-wide links?

You may see some competitors who have site-wide links.

There are a few reasons to avoid site-wide links:

  1. Anchor text distribution: site-wide links wreck your anchor text profile.
  2. Footprint: site-wide links leave a big footprint. Footprints often lead to manual actions.
  3. Not as effective: footer and sidebar site-wide links aren’t as effective as contextual links.

I recommend avoiding site-wide links if you’re a beginner.

6. Are they hiding their links?

You may find a competitor who is ranking, but has no backlinks. Before you hit the freak out button, understand that they are likely hiding their links.

Those who use PBNs for ranking often block link crawlers. This is a way to prevent competitors from reporting their PBN.

The funny part is that blocking crawlers leaves a footprint. As I mentioned above, footprints can lead to manual actions.

Regardless of those points:

Don’t freak out if your competitors are using PBNs. It’s a common tactic because it works.

Should you use PBNs if they are using them?

Read: Are PBNs Worth It?, before you make a decision.

It comes down to your willingness to take on risk.

7. Do they have links from foreign websites?

High percentages of foreign links and anchor text are common when competitors are spamming.

Here’s the truth:

If you have a U.S. website, then the bulk of your links should be coming from websites hosting within the country. Your anchor text should also be English since that’s the predominant language in the U.S.

Avoid mirroring competitors that have unusual amounts of foreign links.

Conclusion

You now have the tools to analyze and beat your competitors in the SERPs.

Now start analyzing!

Have some questions before you get started?

Leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

– Gotch

Comments

  1. whenever i read blog about seo , i only get to know what to do with our site for the first time i got blog about competitor , I agree with you and it is fact that if we want to increase our business popularity or we want to compete then we should first know about our competitor what are they doing for promoting their business , then only we can optimize our business or we can say seo keywords for website . Thanks a lot for sharing such a valuable information with us .

  2. Almost all of your post is worth to read. Or even better any SEO book out there.

    If you checked your web stat – there is always repeating visitor and its me one of them.

    Thanks for your transparent info.

  3. Hi
    Nathan excellent post ! i am using ah ref tool for finding competitors back links, what do suggest to get fresh links from competitor or old links ? which are best fresh links or old ?

  4. Great tips.

    It’s to much important see what our competitors are doing with their SEO estrategies.

    Always we get excelent ideas to do too, especialy when we think about link building.

  5. Hey Nathan… Great post! I didn’t know about the social media analysis with SocialMention.com, will have to check it out. I try to give myself some time after analyzing a niche and the possible competition to see if I’m willing to do more than they are already doing. I hate to lose too, keeps me motivated. Great stuff, will use, thanks for sharing!

  6. Another excellent and informative article Nathan!

    I sometimes struggle to do in-depth competitor research because, to be honest, I find it’s one of the more boring aspects of seo, but it’s always a big help to have a solid process in place that you can follow, so I’ll be bookmarking this guide and working through it step by step in future.

  7. Great post.

    I like how you research that homepage to deep linking ratio through ahrefs.

    I do that with screamingfrog but on larger sites it makes sense to use ahrefs data.

  8. Awesome post as always. The good thing too is that you find a pattern with all the top competition in that particular pitch when it comes to backlinks.

    I’m always big on replicating landing pages. I like to see how the big boys are structuring and designing their landing pages with ppc, because obviously they spent millions of dollars A/B testing from 2008 to present. I tend to replicate wells fargo/chase/bank of america, etc…

  9. Great article, and thanks for sharing the link to the Keyword Density Analysis tool (it’s going to come in handy for some work I’m doing for a few clients)! Comparing density for each main competitor is a good idea, and something I need to do more of.

    Sam

  10. A truly comprehensive guide on competitor research, faultless!

    Meta information points 3 & 4

    The number one thing I tell people when they ask about metrics for LTP is to postpone them until visiting the site. If you feel you cannot produce better better content for reasons of money, time, or skill then that keyword is not for you. Sounds simplistic I know; but it tends to jolt people into broader thought of keywords.

    This FREE Google SERP Emulator is excellent for practicing Meta Description writing.
    https://websiteadvantage.com.au/Google-SERP-Emulator

  11. Hi Nathan,

    Such a great article!

    I myself do SEO competitor analysis before I jump into any campaign but your way of doing analysis is a bit advance 🙂

    Learned many new things and will incorporate them into my analysis strategy.

    Regards
    Tauseef

    P.S: Just subscribed to your blog’s “push notifications” 🙂

  12. As always, incredible content! This guide is so wonderfully structured and really actionable. Thank you! I know how much work these guides take from my own nieche, so your work is greatly appreciated!

    1. Thanks for the comment. I didn’t say that though 🙂 Here is the sentence:

      “We can debate all day about whether social signals impact SEO results, but the truth is:

      It doesn’t matter.

      That’s because social media is bigger than SEO.”

  13. Love your blog Nathan. Always good content . 1 thing I have to ask, you mentioned that a website should have most back links from the same country, I’m from Malaysia, for local seo, would it be a problem if most of my back links came from usa websites? Even if they’re good back links? Thanks!

  14. Another great post. Quick question: many of my competitors have small, weak link profiles. I’ve been going through and mirroring the stronger ones as discussed here. However, most of their backlinks are from directories, which are either 1) irrelevant/all business and either take months to add or are spammy or cost a bit of money to review faster or 2) niche specific, but cost way too much money for something that seems somewhat insignificant. Do you think it’s worth paying for speed or for the niche specific directories? I’ve been mostly skipping the speed review fees and paid directories unless they rank really well already. Is that the best strategy?

    1. Thanks for the comment Josh. I would honestly skip the directories altogether and just focus on higher quality links

  15. Awesome GOTCH! In my experience, explaining the right way to go through the competitive analysis process can be a real challenge. Most people just find the #1 result for a keyword, pop it into OSE and call it a day when they don’t find any link opportunities. And explaining the big picture/other steps isn’t always easy.

    That’s why your visual guide rocks!

  16. Nathan I always love to read your post and I must every time your come up with something very interesting

    BTW I love “We can debate all day about whether social signals impact SEO results, but the truth is:
    It doesn’t matter.
    That’s because social media is bigger than SEO.”

  17. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging on blogs I stumble upon on a daily basis. It will always be interesting to read articles from other authors and practice something from their websites…

  18. I have an educational site.(https://www.examcraze.com/). But competition is very high. All other sites are using spam links and have strong web 2.0 and specific niche sites.
    What to do?

    I am just working with content and little bit forum link building. Please give me valuable suggestions.

    Thanks,
    Prabhat Jani

  19. Hello, when I click on the link for the resource “Link report service” to find out my competitor backlink, I end up in a 404 page.

    Is it possible to fix it and give us the correct link of the free competitor analysys tool? 🙂

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