The benefits of running a competitor analysis are endless, so it’s crucial that you do one!
By identifying competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, for your business or a client, you’ll gain significant insight into what is working within your industry.
In turn, this will steer your SEO strategy in the right direction.
In this guide, I break down the key elements you need to include in your SEO competitor analysis, including why to do them and how.
But first, what is an SEO competitor analysis?
An SEO competitor analysis is a key part of the initial steps of your search strategy. It helps you answer questions such as:
- Who are my competitors?
- How are competitors successfully building links?
- Are any competitors optimizing for key terms better than I am?
- Which competitors have a good SERP feature strategy?
Completing a competitor analysis gives you time to reflect and learn from your competitors’ strategies. It can help you learn what really works within your industry and ultimately save you time and money.
So, how do you do competitor analysis? Where should you begin? What SEO competitor analysis tool to use?
For the rest of this article, I’m going to perform a competitor analysis for the website Mister Spex to demonstrate the analysis steps.
My favorite part about competitor analysis is to analyze their top-performing pages in order to get ideas about how best to structure our own content. How is the content laid out? What topics does it cover? Does it contain video, images, or interactive features? What types of structured data does the page utilize? Do they use expert reviewers on their content? How do they incorporate internal or external links or citations throughout the content? What is the tone of the content, and does it show both sides of an argument?
This is manual work and it goes far beyond the type of analysis that any SEO tool can provide you. But to me, this is the most exciting part of SEO because it really boils down to just figuring out how to serve users with the most relevant, useful, and engaging content.
1. It starts with Keyword Research
This is not only the starting point for creating your SEO strategy but also goes on to be the focal point of your content strategy; you want to get it right and not cut any corners, no matter how time-consuming you think it may be.
Keyword research is imperative; it identifies how your audience will be finding you.
While this isn’t a keyword research guide, I’ll share pointers to frame your thinking and show how important getting this right is.
Keyword research is all about investigating products or services, how people are searching for what you offer, and understanding your audience’s questions and interests.
Brainstorm what your customers would be searching for and put yourself in the mind of your audience.
When working on this for a client, involve them in the brainstorming process.
I usually like to try to think of topics that fit into different levels of commercial intent:
- Searches for your services and products
- Question-based searches related to your services and products
- Interest-based searches your audience makes that are less related to your services or products
If you were a travel website, you may categorize like this:
|High commercial intent (Purchase)||Medium commercial intent (Consideration)||Low commercial intent (Awareness)|
|mens prescription glasses||best mens glasses brands||how to clean your glasses|
The awareness searches are less commercially focused; these are engaging topics to write about that would interest your audience.
You can go even more unrelated than this example, as long as it fits well with your brand and what your audience likes.
Why does this work?
Now on to finding keywords.
Here is how I tend to find keywords:
Keyword explorer tools
Keyword explorers are a quick and efficient way to do keyword research. Simply enter a keyword and in return, you will find other keywords that are related to that entry.
Examples of tools you can use are:
The only limitation of keyword explorers is that they are only as good as what you enter, which is why I use them but also alongside other tactics.
When it comes to competitor analysis I like uncovering the long-tail keywords their content is ranking for.
Identifying the "money keywords" isn't that difficult but overtaking the top-ranked sites will be. However, If you identify subsets of keywords that are loosely relevant to your competitor's content then that's a great sign that you can quickly overtake those rankings!
Multiple tools allow you to enter a competitor’s domain and they return their topic traffic-driving keywords.
This can be a great way to see how potential customers are finding your competitors, especially for companies entering a new market (and are lacking their own analytics data).
Examples of tools are:
Google Search Console
Looking at your data with tools such as Google Search Console is a great way to see what you are currently ranking for and spotting opportunities to add to your keyword research.
This does, however, only work well if you’re working with an established website. I’ve written about my process for finding these types of keywords here.
There is a nifty tool in Advanced Web Ranking to help with keyword research. One feature is a list of keyword suggestions in the keyword tracking tool.
It’s as simple as clicking “Show Suggestions” as you go to add keywords to your project.
In this section, enter a domain/keyword to see related keywords. You can enter your domain or a competitor's domain.
If you don’t know your competitors, come back to this later after step 2 of this guide .
See, it’s simple! Learn more about this tool here.
Once I’ve collected my keywords I want to target, I begin to categorize them into groups. I usually group them by commercial intent, category, and subcategory at this stage.
When categorizing by category/sub-category, I usually use the website structure as a guide.
For a competitor analysis for Mister Spex, I’d use both the website structure as well as the breadcrumbs on the website, which can also be helpful for this.
Alternatively, check how the primary and secondary menu navigation is organized.
This will become useful later when you are doing comparisons to your competitors, as you will be able to see how competitors change and how they perform depending on the different keyword groups.
The biggest win I often get is looking in detail about what kind of content (form) well-ranking competitors have and how that content is structured (information architecture) for targeting groups of keywords.
Sure, you need your technical basis covered and have relevant backlinks, but making content matching the specific phases within a customer journey or aligning with the user intents of specific query spaces is key to success.
2. Find out who your competitors are
Search using terms with a high commercial intent to find competitors and highlight websites similar to yours; this is a quick way to build a list of your top competitors.
It’s also useful to find out who your clients think their competitors are just so when you do the analysis, it’s not all brand new names to them.
Use a mixture of brands your client wants to see as well as ones that have a large keyword overlap.
What’s been working really well for Nextiva, is having a crystal clear idea of whom not to compete with. When you’re in B2B SaaS, it’s very easy to get blown away by all the juicy keywords in the “XYZ software” realm.
The reality is, the moment you append “software” to a search query, chances are you’ll see a SERP that’s dominated by review websites and directories. We intentionally stay away from those keyword buckets.
Another angle I’d stress on — worry less about the keyword your competitor is ranking. Examine the page type instead:
- Listicle vs. comparison posts
- Long-form guide vs. short-form expert advice
- Product page vs. blog post
Identifying competitor keywords is just scratching the surface. The real work goes into nailing the page type (aka intent) of the query.
And, finally, backlinks. Pump the breaks on your link-building machine before you mindlessly hit up every high-DA referring domain linking to your competitor. You’ve got homework to do:
- Why are they linking to your competitor: identify anchors
- Do they have unique assets that are link-worthy: images, original research, stats, etc.
- How can you one-up them?
Another way to find out who your competitors are is by using Advanced Web Ranking’s Competitive Intel tools.
Once you’ve uploaded your keyword list, Advanced Web Ranking provides you with a variety of different competitor reports including a handy table in the market share report showing the intersection between you and your competitors.
What you want to look for when using the table is competitors with more green in the intersection bar as this highlights that they have a higher percentage of common keywords with you.
Want even more competitor insights? Check out the Advanced Web Ranking integration with Google Search Console in my SEO report template.
Be aware competitors can change massively, depending on both keyword category and intent. You’ll find the largest change in competitors when looking at informational keywords vs. commercial keywords.
I usually categorize competitors based upon whether they are “content competitors” or “commercial competitors.
|Commercial competitors||Content competitors|
Content competitors are websites that talk about your topic but don’t overlap commercially, such as informational news websites. Commercial competitors are your direct competitors that provide the same or similar service as you.
3. Analyze your competitors with metrics
With your new list of websites you’re competing against, you’ll want to identify exactly how “competitive” each of those competitors are. You want to have a top-level overview of where everyone is positioned within the market.
Next, dig deeper and analyze your competitors’ metrics; this can make it easier to spot low-hanging fruit and opportunities.
For this next section, I’ve created a handy template that you can fill out as you go through here.
The template provided will help you both organize your notes as well as visualize and compare some of the key metrics competitors have.
You’ll fill out the “Key metrics” tab, though I have also included a “Competitor notes” section if you want to jot down any of your key findings when analyzing.
To get started, head to File > Make a copy in the top left so you have your own copy of the template to fill out.
Another thing you’ll also want to measure is who exactly is the most popular brand in your industry.
A quick way to do this is to compare search volumes of different brands in your market. Enter the brand names into any keyword research tool to get search volumes and then enter that into the template.
It’s always worth taking things a step further and comparing page speed.
We’ve all been there when we’ve had to wait just a couple of seconds for a page to load and we went back and clicked the next relevant link. If your page speed is behind competitors, there’s a good chance this could be happening to you.
On top of that, Google utilizes page speed as a ranking factor. So you could potentially receive a small boost from having a fast website.
To grab PageSpeed scores in bulk, I recommend trying Batch Speed.
Depending on how in-depth you want to go, you could also compare page types. On an ecommerce website, compare the homepage, category pages, and product pages. On a SaaS website, you could look at the homepage, feature pages, and blog articles.
4. Keyword gap analysis
A keyword gap analysis finds keywords that are driving traffic to your competitors’ websites, but not to yours.
I’d highly recommend running a gap analysis, as it could reveal invaluable opportunities that you aren’t currently competing for that competitors are.
With a gap analysis, you can find:
- Opportunities to create new category/service pages
- Content ideas you could include in your calendar
- New product lines you could create with your merchandising team.
The one element of SEO competitor analysis that I couldn't do without is the page-level keyword gap analysis. Until you know what multiple competitors rank for, keyword research remains a guess.
Often, your competitors haven’t even optimized for some of the "surprise" keywords you discover, so this is where the real opportunity often lies.
By using the comparison website report, you can filter it in different ways to highlight keywords that any of the listed websites rank in the top three positions for.
Applying the filter is as simple as using the menu at the top and entering the position range you want to look at.
After you’ve filtered, you can then scan the list to find keywords competitors are ranking well for that you aren’t.
Once you’ve spotted some, make a list, and use these as ideas to create new pages on your website or to better optimize existing ones.
A great way to also use this analysis is to also combine it with your domain authority comparison you have just done.
Take a look at the chart and highlight competitors with lower link metrics than your own.
Next, pay particular attention to keywords they are ranking better than you on.
If a lower authority domain is ranking better than you, this highlights that maybe they’re just doing a better job at on-page optimization than you.
5. Spy on competitors SERP feature strategy
SERP features are critical to your strategy. It’s important when doing your analysis to see what SERP features your competitors are capturing and if there are any trends to show how they’re doing it.
To see the most popular SERP features in your country, you can get this information for free from Advanced Web Ranking’s tool here.
To see common SERP features for all the keywords you’ve highlighted in your research, Advanced Web Ranking has a handy SERP Features Visibility tool.
This tool allows you to get an insight into what types of features are commonly popping up on the SERP alongside which features you and your competitors are capturing.
For example, it can tell you that images show up on “x percent of” search results; when creating your strategy, you will need to ensure you’re properly optimizing images for SEO.
The most useful part of this report for me is definitely the Featured Snippet overview against competitors.
If I notice that a particular competitor is ranking for a lot of snippets, I usually will do a SERP analysis on some of their keywords they’re capturing snippets for.
This should highlight what they are doing to rank for so many. Common reasons you may spot would be:
- They closely tie header tags to search queries
- They answer questions clearly and succinctly
- The utilize lists and tables
7. Finally, do some comparisons for high-importance terms
It’s useful to pick out some high-importance terms and apply some direct comparisons between your website and your competitors.
To do this, start by doing a simple SERP analysis for a specific query you want to rank well for.
Pick out any SERP features you think you could optimize for, whether that’s video, featured snippets, people also ask, etc.
It also helps at this point to make some quick notes from what you see, like below:
- Featured Snippet opportunity
- People Also Ask opportunity
- Content is informational instead of category pages
- Video opportunity
- High competition (e.g., gq-magazine.co.uk, gq.com)
Next, pick out the top-performing pages and highlight what they’re doing and what you’re not. For example:
- Do they have better imagery?
- Custom graphics?
- Are they covering certain topics you’re not?
- Is there an opportunity for video content?
Once you’ve done this for a few different pages, you have a list of things you could be doing better.
After you’ve looked at on-page SEO, take a look at off-page.
You can again use Ahrefs to investigate where your competitors are getting links, how are they getting them, and any specific tactics used.
Make a note of this and make sure you’re considering these when planning out your strategy.
At MHC, one of our main services is diagnosing the cause of major traffic drops for websites after a Google Core Algorithm Update. Google is getting better and better at recognizing the quality of a site's content, and site quality overall. We have found that if the site was ranking just fine before the update, there is likely not a glaring technical issue. More often than not, the issue with the quality of the content and the site as compared with competitors. As such, our analysis is usually heavily focused on what the sites' competitors are doing that the client is not.
Honestly, I find that one of the most helpful exercises is to go through, top to bottom, the pages that are now winning in the SERPs. Note everything they are doing that the client is not. This could range from content, layout, internal linking, user experience, use of images, use of h-tags. What is Google rewarding in terms of page quality?
Another helpful trick (which is quite an old one!) is to review your own content using the 23 questions from Amit Singhal regarding Panda recovery. These were published all the way back in 2011, but going through each of them for your site and your competitors can really help to highlight issues.
Build out your strategy
Once you’ve researched all the above, you should have a detailed understanding of who your competitors are as well as a grasp of what their strategy looks like.
It’s now time to build your strategy or reevaluate your existing one. Sometimes, it’s handy to do a simple SWOT analysis to help frame your thinking.
Here are some questions you should be answering:
- Where does your competitor currently have an advantage over your brand?
- What area does your competitor excel in?
- What areas are your competitor’s weakest areas?
- What are your strengths in comparison to your competitor?
At Bowler Hat, we are big on combining classic marketing smarts, with the modern digital landscape. So, I always like to look at what tried and tested tools traditional marketers have used and benefited from for decades and then apply them to digital marketing, SEO, etc.
One such tool that I find useful during competitor analysis for SEO is a SWOT analysis. By conducting an SEO audit and then looking at a SWOT analysis you can understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in your marketplace and strike where your competition is weakest.
This, of course, runs deeper than just SEO but everything is connected. Does your competitor have bad content? Make your content great. Your competitor has bad reviews. Really work on building your reputation. Does your competitor have technical issues or poor UX? Ensure your site is a technical powerhouse that is a joy to use. By understanding where your competition is weakest, you can figure out how to make sure you are spending your precious SEO time where you are likely to get the best return.
This approach takes everything that you do typically and then reframes the data you have on your competitors to make it actionable.
We have a PDF template on our site that you can use to conduct an SEO SWOT Analysis.
Once you have a good grasp of what these answers are, you can plan out what you are going to do.
This could include:
- Creating new content assets
- Updating old pieces of content that need a refresh
- Expanding your keyword targeting to cover new topics that competitors are currently owning
- Creating more on-site category/service pages
- Implementing a new link acquisition strategy or outreach plan
As you can see, there is so much you can do within a competitor analysis. Taking the time to run through each recommendation is only going to benefit you and put you in a good position to be ahead of the game and reap the awards.
Sam Underwood, a digital marketing expert with proficiencies in SEO, data analysis, site speed, CRO/UX and content strategy.
Sam has experience working on enterprise search strategies for some of the UK's largest brands such as AO, Reiss & Compare The Market.