If you’re developing a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, you’ve likely learned one of the hardest aspects of making a campaign successful: dealing with the competition.
That’s where an appropriate search engines optimization (SEO) competitor analysis comes in.
In its simplest form, a competitor analysis will help you:
- Understand the winners and losers in your industry and what separates the two
- Understand your weaknesses, compared to direct competitors
- Capitalize on the company’s strength of your competition by replicating their strategies
- Prioritize your own internal SEO process for maximizing ROI
While the analysis itself is only the beginning (you may have a great deal of catching up to do with your direct competitors), the journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step.
Table of Contents
What Is an SEO Competitor Analysis?
An SEO competitor analysis can take a few different forms, but the basic idea is the same.
You’ll identify and study the companies and individuals most likely to compete with your business in search engine results pages (SERPs), learning not only how they’re performing, but which tactics they’re currently using.
Why Perform an SEO Competitor Analysis?
What’s the point?
It’s not just to satisfy your curiosity.
Analyzing your competition will help your SEO campaign in several ways:
- A better understanding of your competition. First, you’ll have a better general understanding of competing websites. How big of a threat are they? Which demographics are they targeting? What seem to be their greatest strengths and weaknesses as a business owner? You can use this information in your brand marketing strategy, product development, and when developing long-term strategic goals.
- Keyword strengths. Looking closer at SEO, an SEO analysis of your competition can help you identify the keywords or search queries strongly targeted by your top competitors. In other words, which keywords and phrases seem to be dominated by your direct competitors? In many cases, you’ll want to avoid these, but if you see a promising opportunity for these search queries or search intent, you may be able to usurp their position & have search traffic.
- Keyword weaknesses. More interestingly, you’ll be able to see highly relevant keywords and phrases for which your competitors aren’t ranking, an opportunity for keyword rankings. These are perfect opportunities for you to swoop in and rank quickly, without expending many resources in the process.
- Link profile strengths. Similarly, you’re going to learn the company’s strength and weaknesses of your competitors’ backlink profiles. Link building is an important element of SEO, and having a diversity of strong, unique links can make you practically unstoppable. So where are your competitors getting their best links? There’s a good chance you can capitalize on the same resources and linking opportunities.
- Link profile weaknesses. You can also see where your competitors’ backlink strategies are failing in dept. Which types of sources haven’t they used? Which links or link building mistakes seem to be weighing them down?
You’ll bring all these pieces of information together to choose new strategic targets, and tweak your execution.
Step One: Identify Your Competitors
Before you can analyze your competitors, you need to know who your competitors are. In this phase, you’ll create a definitive list of your top competitors.
Make sure you identify at least one or two; if you’re looking for something more exhaustive, you may look at five or more competitors in depth.
You can start this step with some simple brainstorming.
What are some of the most prominent companies that operate in the same space as you?
Who do you initially consider to be your biggest competition? What is their business strategy?
From there, you can conduct a handful of searches for keywords related to your business.
For example, you might search for something like “cloud storage services” or “law firms in Kentucky.”
When you search for multiple related terms, which brands and websites seem to appear most frequently?
You can also add new competitors to your analysis in the future; for now, jot down the competitors who present the biggest threat to your online visibility.
Step Two: Analyze Competitor Keywords
This step and the next several steps can be completed in any order, realistically.
But for our purposes, we’re going to look at keywords next.
For each competitor, you’re going to break down the current keywords they’re targeting for their target audience, the keywords and phrases for which they’re currently ranking, in search engine rankings and more.
You can try to do this manually, but it’s much easier to use a keyword research tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs (or the complete list we’ve outlined below).
Most SEO tools, including these, allow you to gain access to a limited amount of information for free; you may have to sign up for a free account and begin a free trial.
After that, you’ll need to pay for their services.
If you’re doing a preliminary competitor analysis, or making a one-time research effort, the free option should be sufficient.
Most platforms work similarly, but we’ll look at SEMRush as an example for how to conduct a competitive keyword analysis.
You’ll start by entering your competitor’s domain, or a specific page you want to know more about.
From there, you’ll be able to open the “Organic Research” tab on the left, and click on Positions.
There, you’ll be able to see a breakdown of which keywords and keyword phrases this domain is currently ranking for.
You’ll also be able to see specific metrics, like their exact current position, the typical search volume or search traffic for the term, and the cost per click (CPC) associated with the term.
Additionally, you’ll want to look at “Position Changes.” Here, you’ll be able to see major changes in your competitors’ strategies;
for example, if you see fast ranking growth within a specific family of keywords, there’s a good chance they’re targeting those keywords in their latest push.
If their rankings for a different family of keywords seems to be falling, they may be moving away from them.
Take note of both general trends and outliers:
- Which keywords are dominated by your competitors?
- Which keywords and phrases seem to be missing?
- What kind of momentum is each competitor seeing, and where are they seeing it?
- Which unusual keywords or types of momentum do you notice?
Note that most keyword research tools also have a built-in competitive analysis tool.
Here, you can enter your own domain and generate a list of competitors and keywords they’re ranking for, as generated by the tool itself.
Don’t exclusively depend on this, but feel free to use it as a complement to your own independent efforts.
Step Three: Read Their Content
By now, you should know that content is the heart of any SEO strategy.
It serves several distinct purposes; it provides you with a medium for including keywords on your site, it improves your authority, it helps you earn and build links, and it even influences your onsite user behaviour.
Accordingly, there are both objective and subjective variables to consider.
We’ve already taken a look at one objective factor (keywords) and will look at links (which are related to content) in step five. In the meantime, let’s do a subjective competitive analysis of your competitors’ content.
The best way to start is to read your competitor’s blog, and see what kind of offsite content they’re promoting.
- What kinds of topics are they covering?
- How long are their posts?
- What kind of mediums are they using?
- Which keywords seem to be most prevalent? This is especially important, now that you know which keywords they’re ranking for.
- What kind of keyword density are they using?
- What external links are they including?
- What cadence are they using for internal link building? What anchor text are they using for their internal links. This will show you what keywords they are attempting to rank for.
- What kind of comments and shares are these posts receiving from their audience?
If you want to take a deeper dive, you can use a tool like BuzzSumo to conduct a search on a specific domain.
You’ll be able to review a wide range of content, analyzing it in terms of social media platforms performance, number of links, and a “total engagement” score that attempts to estimate its overall performance.
There’s a lot you can learn here, and not just for your SEO strategy;
what success factors can you attempt to replicate for your own campaign? What weaknesses do you see?
If you want to get really technical, you can perform a complete content audit on your most successful competitors.
Step Four: Analyze Their Social Media Presence
Social media platforms doesn’t have much of a direct effect on your SEO success, but it plays a powerful secondary role in promoting your content, earning you links, and generally improving your brand presence.
None of them will have the following of Justin Bieber:
But, it’s still worth competitively analyzing.
Again, the best place to start is at the source. Ask yourself:
- Which social media platforms are they using ?
- How much social media posts they have ?
- What kind of comments and engagements are they receiving on their social media from their audience ?
- How much value does this add to their core content?
You can use BuzzSumo’s Facebook profile analyzer to get more details, or another tool to get an objective rundown of their social media accounts.
Step Five: Study Their Backlink Profile
This is arguably the most important step of your competitor analysis, and in many ways, the most exhaustive. This is because inbound links are still the crux of any SEO strategy; without links, it’s nearly impossible to improve your domain authority.
Essentially, you’ll be performing a complete backlink profile analysis on each of your competitors.
To do this, you’ll need the help of a tool.
We like to use Ahrefs Keyword Explorer or Moz’s Link Explorer, but there are many backlink analysis tools that function similarly.
With both Keywords Explorer and Link Explorer, you’ll get a ton of information about each domain you enter.
You’ll learn its domain authority, number of linking domains, number of inbound links, organic keywords and top ranking keywords.
You’ll also be able to do a deep dive to study the individual links pointed to the domain, and export data to perform more exhaustive analyses.
I actually like to build a keyword matrix like this:
A keyword matrix maps your competitors, their keywords (and the relative keyword difficulty) juxtaposed against your landing pages you want to rank, particularly for local SEO.
This will provide you with more of a strategic planning on anchor text, landing pages and an overall SEO link building strategy.
Ultimately, you’ll want to answer these questions:
- How many links do they have? The sheer number of links pointing to the site can tell you a lot about how active this competitor is.
- Which sources are they using? Pay attention to the number of linking domains? Which powerful domains seem to be conferring the greatest authority? Which ones are they utilizing over and over? These could be potentially powerful sources in your own campaign.
- What is their homepage to internal link ratio? Homepage SEO and backlinks are often more powerful for building authority, but internal links are easier to build, while offering more relevance. What does their ratio look like?
- How many follow and nofollow links do they have? Similarly, you’ll want to see how many standard links they have, compared to their nofollow links.
- What kind of anchor text are they using? Anchor text often includes keywords and phrases, but may also be purely natural. Learn from their choice in tactics.
- Are there broken links? If you find a broken link, you’ll have a critical opportunity to volunteer a replacement link to the publisher—one that points to your own site. Read more about broken link-related SEO tactics here.
- Are they using redirects? Redirects can tell you more about their backlink infrastructure.
- Do you notice anything suspicious? In some cases, you may notice unusual linking activity. For example, you may notice a very high domain authority score with a dearth of links to support it; if this is the case, it could be a sign that your competitor is “hiding” their links by limiting crawling in a PBN. You can learn more about PBNs here.
- How quickly did they build their links? In other words, what is their link velocity? What is the breakdown of dofollow vs. nofollow links, domain authority and TLD extension share?
- How long did their backlink strategies take to start working? Did it take 6 months? 6 years? If you could replicate their marketing strategy, how long might you expect it to take to rank?
During your analysis, remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation; just because your competitor is using a specific tactic and doing well doesn’t mean that tactic is responsible for their success.
In many cases, you’ll find a competitor using a wide variety of different business strategy, some of which are questionable and some of which are objectionable; consider many factors when forming your conclusions.
SEO Competitor Analysis: What Now?
At this point, you’ll have a ton of data about your competitors’ SEO strategies, including the tactics that are working and the ones that are failing. What are you supposed to do with this information?
There are several possibilities:
- Mirroring. If a competitor is using an effective marketing strategy, why not try to use it for yourself? That’s the philosophy behind mirroring. This doesn’t always work for keyword targeting or content development; if you try to employ the same tactics here, you’ll encounter more competitive pressure. However, mirroring is exceptionally effective with regard to link building. If your competitor is attracting lots of links from high-profile sources, it probably means those same sources will be willing to link to you. You work in the same industry, so if your content is good enough, these could represent great additions to your backlink profile.
- Low-competition keyword targeting. It’s not impossible to challenge a competitor for dominance over a keyword when they already have a reinforced position. However, if you want faster, less effort-demanding results, it’s better to seek keywords that are both relevant to your brand and less competitive keywords in this way you will get competitive edge. An SEO competitor analysis will introduce you to the keyword difficulty, organic keywords & keywords that your competitors aren’t ranking for, so you can take them for your own use.
- Brainstorming. There’s a kind of subjective art to SEO & Google search. While crunching numbers and strategic planning different tactics are reliable strategies, it’s also important to occasionally take a step back and think about the qualitative features of your work. For example, how can you make your content “better?” How can you produce your content faster? How can you elicit more positive responses from your readers and fans? for Google search. Competitive research gives you an excellent jumping-off point for your consideration.
Top 10 SEO Competitor Analysis Tools
SEO competitor analysis software tools are essential for companies and businesses looking to identify their position in the market, gain insights into the competition, and develop effective strategies for success.
By analyzing the dominant players in your industry, you can gain invaluable insight into their marketing strategies, SEO efforts, keyword targeting, content topics and more.
SEMrush provides an extensive range of features to help companies identify their position in the market, gain insights into their competitors and develop effective strategies for success.
With SEMrush, you can track your competitors’ organic and paid search performance through detailed and comprehensive keyword lookups, monitor their backlinks, and research their content, digital marketing strategy vis-a-vis top competitors.
Ahrefs is another popular tool for SEOs. It allows you to research your competitors’ organic rankings, analyze their backlinks and keyword targeting, and monitor their social media activities. Ahrefs also provides comprehensive competitive data that includes traffic sources, current ranking keywords and referring domains.
3. Moz Pro
Moz Pro is a comprehensive suite of SEO tools that help you identify your competitors, measure their performance and develop strategies to outperform them. With Moz Pro, you can track keyword rankings, analyze links, research content topics and keep an eye on competitor campaigns and customers.
SpyFu is a powerful tool for SEO competitor analysis. It helps you gain insights into your competitors’ organic and paid SERP results, monitor their backlinks and research areas of opportunity that can be leveraged to improve your own performance. In addition, SpyFu offers an extensive range of features for keyword analysis.
KWFinder, built by Mangools, can help businesses gain insights into the competition and develop effective strategies for success. It offers a comprehensive set of features to track competitors’ organic and paid search rankings, analyze their backlinks and keyword targeting, research content topics, and monitor their social media activities.
Serpstat offers an extensive range of features to help businesses identify their position in the market, gain insights into their competitors and develop effective strategies for success.
With Serpstat, businesses can track their competitors’ organic and paid search rankings in order to gain insights into their strategies. By analyzing backlinks and keyword targeting, Serpstat enables users to identify areas of opportunity that can be leveraged to improve their own performance. For example, by examining the keywords their competitors are targeting, businesses can gain an edge by targeting keywords their competition hasn’t yet discovered.
7. Keywords Everywhere
Keywords Everywhere is a powerful SEO resource & tool that enables businesses to gain insights into their competitors’ search engine optimization and content or digital marketing strategies. It offers an extensive range of tracking features. With Keywords Everywhere, users can quickly uncover the keywords their competitors are targeting, identify areas of opportunity they may have missed, and develop strategies to outperform them.
Ubersuggest, a Neil Patel software product, offers an extensive range of features to help businesses identify areas of opportunity they may have missed and develop effective strategies for success.
The competitive analysis features of Ubersuggest include keyword rankings analysis, and tracking, as well as backlink monitoring. It also offers an in-depth analysis of competitors’ organic rankings, allowing businesses to gain insights into their performance and identify areas they may be able to exploit.
By leveraging the features of Ubersuggest, businesses can gain an edge against their competition by identifying new keyword opportunities, analyzing backlinks and properly targeting their content. With this valuable information, businesses can develop effective strategies that improve their performance and help them outpace their competitors.
RankRanger, by SimilarWeb, is an all-in-one SEO competitive analysis software tool that enables businesses to gain valuable insights into their competitors’ SEO and content marketing strategies. It offers a comprehensive set of features to help businesses identify areas of opportunity they may have missed, develop effective strategies for success, and track results. With RankRanger, users can track their competitors’ organic and paid rank, analyze backlinks, research content topics, and monitor keyword performance. It also provides detailed reports on competitors’ strategies, such as their top-performing keywords, pages, and landing pages.
SearchMetrics is a comprehensive SEO analysis software product that provides businesses with invaluable insights into their competitors’ organic optimization and content marketing strategies. It offers an extensive range of features to help businesses identify areas of opportunity they may have missed, develop effective strategies for success, and track their results in order to optimize their performance.
SearchMetrics offers a wide variety of features for keyword research, analysis, and tracking. It also provides an in-depth analysis of competitors’ organic rankings and backlinks. In addition, it provides detailed reports on competitor’s strategies, such as their top-performing keywords and pages.
By using the tools mentioned above, businesses can quickly uncover their competitors’ strategies and develop effective strategies to outpace them. These powerful tools offer comprehensive features that enable businesses to monitor their competitors’ actions, identify areas of opportunity, research content topics and track results in order to develop strategies that improve their performance and increase their visibility.
SEO competitor analysis can help you better understand your competition in the realm of SEO, and work actively to either avoid or directly challenge those competitors. It’s not a one-time strategy; it’s an analysis you’ll want to conduct periodically as you learn more about SEO and adjust your campaign.
But once you’ve got some competitive information in your Technical SEO competitor analysis, you’ll be much better equipped with key technical SEO elements for getting competitive edge & specific keywords to dominate the SERPs, outranking even the biggest websites in search results.