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.
Here is how you can find your competitors keywords with SEMRush:
1. Enter your competitor’s URL into the search bar:
2. Under the “Organic Research” section, click on “Positions”:
3. See what keywords your competitor is ranking for:
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?
You can gather a ton of valuable information from their on-site strategy or lack thereof.
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:
2. Check out the KW density for the target keyword:
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.
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?
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?
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.
Long-form SEO content tends to perform 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.
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 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.
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 in Google such as “Gotch SEO” can impact SEO results in two ways:
- Branded searches produce high click through rates in the SERPs. There is some evidence that SERP CTR is a small ranking factor in Google.
- 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?
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”
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:
- To find link opportunities
- 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:
- 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.
- 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
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:
You can see this ratio on Ahrefs by looking at “Top Pages” like this:
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 Follow ratio?
Every good link profile has a balanced ratio of NoFollow and Follow links.
It’s unnatural for your link profile to be 100% Follow 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.
You may see some competitors who have site-wide links.
There are a few reasons to avoid site-wide links:
- Anchor text distribution: site-wide links wreck your anchor text profile.
- Footprint: site-wide links leave a big footprint. Footprints often lead to manual actions.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!