SEO Competitor Analysis
- An Introduction to SEO Competitor Analysis
- What is a Competitor Analysis?
- Competitor Analysis Process
- Types of Competitor Analysis
- Competitor On-Page SEO
- Competitor Keyword Rankings
- Competitor Content Audit
- Competitor Off-Page Analysis
- Combining Components
- Barriers to Success
- Raptor’s Competitor Analysis Tools
This is one of our introductory guides that looks at the various components of performing a competitor analysis. We have classified this an intermediate level guide as it involves many of fundamentals and concepts introduced in our basic guides.
Many of the processes, techniques and concepts introduced in this article are expanded on in more depth in other more advanced guides. Hopefully this will guide will serve to introduce the core concepts and steer you in the right direction for your learning.
As we discuss later in this guide, there are many types of competitor analysis that can be performed, this is typically driven by strategic goals. A competitor analysis will help you to understand your competition in more detail and can inform your strategic decisions.
Ultimately a competitor analysis puts your website data into an actionable context…
Whether it’s a keyword ranking analysis or a content analysis, the aim is often to understand something about a competitor in order to advance your performance. We have listed some of the main reasons why people perform a competitor analysis:
- Identify who your competitors are
- Identify the level of the competition
- Identify how the competitor has achieved success in a particular area
- Identify potential threats from competitors
- Help to determine / refine your target keywords
- Help to determine an SEO strategy
- Identify areas of high and low competition
A competitor analysis can provide a range of insights but they should all help you to create, understand or develop your own SEO strategy.
By seeing where your site sits in a range of competitor data helps to steer and inform your decisions… If someone tells you that you have a million backlinks; is this good? The only context that can help to identify whether this is good or not, is competitor data. If all of your competitors have 2 million links, you are in fact behind the curve.
This is an oversimplification but highlights the essential nature of contextual relevance (competitor data in this instance) of data.
The following steps are commonly used when creating an SEO strategy:
Keyword research underpins much of what we do in SEO; initial keyword research is essential to understanding who your organic competitors are. You may think you know who your competitors are but in reality, your organic competitors are the ones ranking well for your target keywords. Bear in mind that initial keyword research will be refined throughout this process.
Once you have your keyword research finished, you can start to find who ranks for those terms in the top positions. Identifying your competitors is essential if you would like to performing a valid or useful analysis.
This is as easy as searching in Google for the terms you have identified and writing down the domains that appear in the top positions.
Gatekeepers are the domains that exist at the bottom of the first page of the SERPs for your target keywords; they represent what you need to beat if you are to acquire a front-page ranking. We look at how to specifically analyse a competitor and create benchmarks later in this guide.
There are many components that can be assessed in a competitor analysis and as described above many reasons / goals of performing an analysis. Depending on what you want to know and why will dictate what components you assess.
There are also a range of tools out there that can assist in performing such an analysis, some are cheap and some are expensive… But you will need specific tools for certain jobs. We cover in granular detail below the different types of competitor analysis.
We cover, in great detail, all on-page SEO elements in our introduction to SEO of this knowledge base… Depending on what depth you want to analyse a competitor will determine how many of these components that you look at. Identifying a very strong competitor or market leader; and evaluating how they have achieved the results that they have is a great way to understand what you need to achieve.
Analysing competitors on-page components will also reveal what keywords they target, how they target them and from where within their site architecture.
Remember, you are not looking for errors or SEO problems with competitors, you are trying to establish facts and collect data that will indicate or correlate to their organic performance. We cover below some of the components you might want to look at in more detail below:
These are arguably one of the most important ranking factors and they can provide information about what keywords the competitor is targeting… On a well optimised site, the target keyword will be included within the page title of each page. If page titles are constructed based on a formula, it’s easy to extract keywords from page titles in an automated way.
You will always want your own unique page titles, so the aim is not to copy the competition but to understand the type of page titles might appeal to your target audience. If the competitor is succeeding, then it is a safe bet that their page titles are working for them.
Although not a direct ranking factor, analysing meta descriptions can provide some insight into what sales messaging the competitor is targeting. Looking at the Meta descriptions of multiple competitors can also highlight gaps that you can fill… Do you have USPs or selling points that are not being used for example.
H1 titles typically contain the target keyword for a page and hence crawling them can help to identify your competitors target keywords and how they target them. Again this can be a good indication of how your competitors have achieved success.
We have alluded to identifying keywords in the paragraphs above, we use this data to help us develop our keyword strategy. Your keyword research should have identified valuable keywords that could be potentially targeted by your webpages.
The data that you have gathered from the above-mentioned analysis’ can help you to refine this… Depending on how well you can compete, you may decide to target less competitive keywords in the early stages of your strategy. This boils down to a cost / benefit ratio, if a keyword is too competitive to get results in a short to medium time frame; the result will be a lot of effort and very little reward.
We cover keywords in more depth in another guide.
Page load times are a massive ranking factor and comparing your website’s site speed to that of your competitors will let you know how well you compare. This may also provide some actionable points such as improving site speed in general or on mobile devices.
Page speed is a complex topic unto itself, which we discuss in more detail in our guide to improving page speed.
Checking your own keyword rankings is commonplace for almost all online businesses. You will need tools in order to efficiently conduct a competitor ranking analysis, there are many out there that can make this an easy job, we cover these at the end of this guide.
This allows you to sky on your competitors and in many cases get a clear picture of the first page of the SERPs for each keyword that you are tracking. This can provide even more valuable information when regular checking is performed in order to track rankings over time.
Regular monitoring of your own and competitor keywords along with other monitoring tools can help you to correlate changes in organic visibility with changes to content, on-page SEO components and back links.
Analysing and understanding your competitors content strategy is pivotal to understanding where opportunities exist for your content strategy. There are various components to auditing your competitors content that we dive into below in more detail.
Firstly, it is useful to know what types of content your competitors publish, for example, we have set out below a list of different content types:
- Case Studies
- Data and insights
- Guest written content
- Image based content (such as infographics)
- Downloadable content
This is not an exhaustive list of content types but it provides a good example of the many varieties that content comes in.
You could also sub-categorise this data by any other relevant dimension, such as product for example… If you and your competitor sell a range of products, you should identify these products or categories of products. We will use this data as we describe later in this guide.
If you are lucky, your competitor will have structured their URL’s, page titles, etc in such a way as to be able to easily segment / categorise them systematically in a program like Excel. If not this task will need to be performed manually. You can also look at sitemaps, website navigation menus, footer links, etc to find out this information.
It is also important to note where this content sits on the competitor’s site.
There are several ways to cut this data:
Number of pages – Count the number of pages
Number of words – Word count across all pages
Average number of words per page – Word count divided by number of pages
This will provide you with some idea of the amount of content that you need to create in order to match or beat your competitors.
This is really a secondary step to the above described “quantity of content” ... Here we map word count and page count against the different types of content that you have identified. You can also map this data against any other categories that you have specified such as products or category of product.
This will provide a more granular analysis of where your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses exist in their content strategy. It also provides data on how much content you will need to create in each target area to effectively compete. This can also help to identify opportunities or gaps in your own content strategy.
How frequently does your competitor publish blog posts, produce white papers or do webinars? Again, this provides insights into what you will need to do with your own content strategy.
There are many ways to evaluate content, we have listed most of these below:
Accuracy – How accurate is what they are saying? Is it factually accurate? Are citations and sources linked from the content? Are facts and statements corroborated?
Nuts & bolts – Are there spelling errors? Are there grammatical errors?
Granularity – How granular is the content? Is it top level and broad or specific? Either can be ok, but we are looking for opportunities.
Structure – This refers to both the structure of content on any given page and the overall structure of content on the site. For example; is the page content structured to make is easy to navigate and read, does it follow naturally or jump all over the place, etc? Or, is top level content followed up with and linking to more granular content?
Readability – Is the content written well? Are there large / long paragraphs? Is it articulate and written in a suitable tone for the target audience? Is it broken up with bullet points, images, graphs, etc.
Fit for purpose – Is it overly technical or too simple? Does it meet the needs of the target audience?
Again, evaluating this content and segmenting it by content type or other classifications of content will help to identify opportunities. For example, you may notice that the competitor has a lot of well-structured and detailed content on a few topics and in several categories of content… But you may find that their blog is poorly written, mostly top-level content that is targeted towards just a few products.
This process identifying gaps between your content and your competitors has been touched on in this guide already; when we discussed page titles we explained how we extract keywords and compare them to our own target keyword list to find opportunities.
Comparing page titles could be considered a part of a content gap analysis, in fact. The aim, is to look at and analyse a range of competitor content to how they achieve the results they have. For example, we look at the content structure, the target keywords, the types of content used, etc.
All of this can help to inform our decisions with regards to our own content strategy. We can use a range of tools to assist in this such as SEMRush and Adthena, to look at the organic visibility across a vast range of keywords… These provide some fantastic insights into what keywords that a site ranks for and that you do not. This technique expands on the list of keywords you have gleaned from your competitor’s site, exposing a range of terms that they rank for but may not be primarily targeting.
You can use this to inform your keyword research and identify content gaps between the sites.
Much of this section discusses the collection of data and some analysis of it, but once you have collected it all and performed some initial analysis, it’s well worth structuring it in a top-level way. For example, you might look at a content / subject distribution chart with all of the different distributions of your site and your competitors. As the example data in the chart below shows, you can use this to see where you sit in the competitive landscape:
Charts like this for each area analysed can provide a nice top-level view of the data and steer your deeper analysis in the right direction.
In this section, we provide a broad and top-level analysis of off-page competitive factors to consider.
Backlinks deliver all of the authority to your site, that your site has. As such they are a powerful ranking factor and an absolutely essential component to consider in any SEO strategy. Analysing your competitors link profiles will provide a good benchmark for the work involved in competing with them.
There is a full suite of techniques that we use when examining link profiles, we cover this topic in a lot more depth in our guide to backlink competitor analysis. If you are not familiar with backlink analysis techniques you might be better starting with our guide to backlink analysis first.
As with other competitor analysis techniques we are trying to establish where the gaps are, do you need more links, better links, to remove bad links, more relevant anchor text, etc… Where do you spend your time and what is the best use of that time? Getting a few high-quality links is going to require a completely different approach than getting a load of low-medium authority links.
Social media isn’t for every business, and it certainly works better in some industries than others, but comparing social media presence, engagement, usage, etc is a valuable process regardless. It’s always worth looking at who is doing it best in an industry to see what the top-end looks like.
How many followers, or retweets, mentions, comments, etc all equate to audience size and engagement. Unlike other components described in this guide, this can be a lot less formulaic… You need to look at the type of Tweet, Post, Share, etc, what was it about any particular post that got engagement?
You can certainly collect data in a formulaic way, but a lot of the time it takes a human eye to spot the pattern. As with anything else discussed here, this can inform your social strategy.
Certainly, this is not as actionable or insightful as most other analytical components but can provide some insights. We would typically look at Google Trends and compare branded searches and keyword search volumes.
This can provide some insight into the barriers to entry to a market… In some cases, more people search for brand names than the actual product or services the brand sells. This can a strong indication that a powerful branding campaign is needed to kickstart your product for example.
Something which we like to do is take a top-level overview of a site and its competitors and combine all of this into a few simple charts. One of our preferred techniques for this is to index or score all of the data and present it in a radar graph:
In the above example, we have a clear top-level comparison between two sites… We can see quickly and easily where the strengths and weaknesses are of each site. This allows you to draw in multiple datasets into a single chart and have it guide your attention to where it is most likely to be needed.
One of the benefits of a competitor analysis is to understand what your barriers to success are. Whether your goals are to enter a market, move from page 2 to page one or position 2 to position 1 for some key terms… A good competitor analysis can help you to understand these barriers.
This is a goal driven exercise, so each barrier, benchmark or obstacle will vary depending on the goal.
At Raptor, we have a suite of tools that can assist in any type of competitor analysis, we are launching a Beta in late 2017… Sign up today for early access.