Search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO, is an important part of an overall digital marketing strategy.
It’s the process of improving your site visibility on search engines like Google so that your content and pages rank higher than your competitors for specific search terms.
While you are likely aware of the importance of SEO, many digital marketers are still in the dark about how their SEO strategy stands compared to their competitors.
Think about it: are your competitors ranking higher than you? Do you know why?
An SEO competitive analysis can help you understand how your competitors are performing currently and give you insights into how to improve your own SEO tactics.
In this article, we’ll go through the what, why, and when of competitive SEO analysis.
We’ll also walk you through key steps you’ll need to take in order to complete an SEO competitive analysis and the tools that can help you.
What is an SEO Competitive Analysis?
In simple terms, an SEO competitive analysis is a process of discovering the strengths and weaknesses of your competition’s SEO tactics and determining what gaps there are that you can take advantage of in your own strategy.
By monitoring and examining the strategies that your competitors are using, you can learn a lot about the content, keywords, backlinks, and actions that are working (or not working) for your immediate competition.
That can help you benchmark your own SEO performance and learn where you stack up in direct comparison to your competitors.
By using your competitors as sources of information for SEO rather than doing independent research, you can gather real-time data on the successful strategies they have in place and learn how to use those successful strategies in your own SEO planning.
Why is competitive analysis important in SEO?
SEO competitive analysis allows you to look at the bigger picture of SEO in your industry.
It gives you the opportunity to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors and review the overall market in which you work.
Even if you are one of the top-ranking brands in your industry, you should still complete competitive SEO analysis in order to stay ahead of your competition and deliver the best experiences to your customers.
Maintaining a strong SEO presence isn’t optional. It’s a necessary part of creating a well-rounded and successful digital marketing strategy.
By keeping consistent tabs on your competition, you are able to seize opportunities to grow and expand into the gaps that your competitors have left behind.
Why Is My Competitor Ranking Higher?
Simply put, if a competitor ranks higher than you in the SERPs, the primary reason is that they answer user queries more effectively than you do and fulfill the search intent of the keyword better.
In addition, when competitors rank higher than you in search engines, it could be because they have more authoritative sites linking back to them, more relevant, user-fulfilling content, or a stronger site structure.
Google takes a close look at the websites that are offering backlinks to your website. The more credible the sites that link back to you, the more trustworthy your site appears to Google, moving you up in the SERPs.
Google also pays attention to the content that you are providing on your website. The more in-depth content is and the more it is able to help users find a solution to their problems, the higher you can expect to rank in the SERPs.
More often than not, when competitors rank higher than you, it comes back to the type and quality of content produced.
If a competitor has a more secure website than you (HTTPS), then this can help them rank higher.
The same is true for mobile-friendly websites, optimized images, age of the domain, length and quality of the webpage content, Schema markup availability, social signals, and page speed.
In order to knock your competitors out of the higher ranking, SEO competitive analysis can be performed. This provides you with the information needed to make a well-informed decision regarding your SEO tactics and strategy.
How Do You Analyze Competitors’ SEO Strategy?
When it comes to analyzing the SEO strategy of your competitors, one of the most important things you need to do is ensure you are using at least three competitors in the analysis.
It is also a good idea to use a couple of different analysis tools to help you formulate extensive research without relying too heavily on the data from one tool.
Make sure you are choosing competitors who are similar to your business in terms of product offerings, size, and target market.
You must then look at the keywords that are used by your competitors and see if you are missing any in your own SEO strategy.
Once you have compiled all the data from your competitors, it is time to draft an SEO competitor analysis report.
There are tools to help you do this if needed. With this data, you can focus on the identification of trends and patterns.
You can analyze what is and isn’t working for your competitors and why, allowing you the chance to pick up where they are weak.
What Can We Learn from SEO Competitor Analysis?
An SEO competitor analysis allows you to improve the ranking of your website by identifying the areas where you are lacking in relation to your competitors.
This analysis will provide you with insight into competitors’ services, products, pricing, reputation, marketing tactics, and target audience, as well as why a competitor may be outranking you in the SERPs.
By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors as well as yourself, you can take the necessary steps to improve where needed and get a leg up on the competition.
In the end, an SEO competitor analysis helps you get more traffic to your website while staying ahead (or potentially jumping ahead) of the competition.
When Should You Do This Type of Analysis?
Consistent monitoring and improvement of your SEO is an important part of creating an SEO strategy that works.
SEO can’t be set and then forgotten, it needs to be a consistent, moving part of your digital marketing strategies.
Regular analysis of your SEO rankings, keywords, and content helps you match search engine algorithm updates and the behavior of other competitors.
However, a full SEO competitive analysis doesn’t need to be run daily, or even weekly or monthly.
While some level of competitive analysis should be a part of your regular SEO maintenance, there are a few occasions when you might want to run a full analysis including:
- When major search algorithm updates occur.
- If you notice sudden drops in your rankings.
- When planning key content pieces or new content categories.
- After long periods of stagnation where you aren’t rising or dropping in rankings.
- When adding new pages to your website.
- When completing any brand shifts or overhauls.
7 Steps to Complete an SEO Competitive Analysis
Now that you understand the what, why, and when of SEO competitive analysis, let’s take a look at the steps you need to take to complete your analysis.
While there are many different strategies that you can apply to your SEO competitive analysis, there are seven main categories that you need to examine.
1. Identify Who Your Competitors Are
Before you can run an SEO competitive analysis, you need to understand who exactly your customers are.
Many different SEO tools will have tools that will help you determine who the main competitors in your area are, but you might want to use your own knowledge and instincts as well to build out a full competitor list.
There are a few different categories of competitors that you’ll want to consider, including:
Companies that have large, established audiences and a significant hold on keywords and content.
New brands that are rapidly growing and becoming established in your industry.
Disruptive brands that are breaking into your market or industry and are growing quickly.
Small brands that cover a specific niche or subject in your industry but have a dedicated audience.
There are likely going to be companies that SEO tools will generate for you that you might want to avoid thinking about as competitors.
Those could include brands who are in similar industries or share keywords with you but aren’t direct product or service competitors.
It also might include small brands that aren’t worth your time competing with.
Once you’ve created a list of competitors, you’ll want to look at their pages to see who has the most ranking keywords, who pulls in the most traffic, and how long they have been in the positions they are in.
That will help you organize your competitors and see who the biggest competition really is.
2. Find Keyword Gaps
Keywords are the specific words and terms that are used in searches by search engine users.
These keywords are the exact queries that users input into a search engine like Google, so you want your content and website pages to be in the first few links for the keywords that relate to your products, services, industry, brand, or customers.
You’ll want to keep track of the different keywords you currently rank for, but you also need to see where your competitors are ranking for keywords as well.
If you are only a few places behind a competitor for a specific keyword, you might have an opportunity to focus some new content on that keyword and overtake them.
By identifying and closing keyword gaps, you can prove to search engines that you are a more authoritative source on that search term.
That allows you to pull ahead of your competitors and rise above their current rankings.
SEO tools can help you find keyword gaps and give you lists of keywords that work well in your industry.
3. Determine Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Even the massive brands in your industry have weak points that you can take advantage of.
By determining what areas your competitors are strong in and where they lack that strength, you can find areas of opportunity for your brand.
But before you start examining your competitors too closely, you first need to take a look inward.
Take some time to examine your own brand and where you are falling behind in your SEO strategies.
Try asking employees, using customer surveys and feedback, or using SEO tools to determine where you stand in the following categories:
Your brand authority refers to how much trust search engine algorithms and users have in your brand. Building authority means bringing in more links from competitor sites and closing keyword gaps to rank for more important search terms.
Your content needs to be high-quality, focused, and relevant to readers. Rather than looking at the number of keywords stuffed into a piece of content, search engine algorithms are much more focused on the value your content provides to readers.
While knowing where your competitors rank and closing keyword gaps is important, you’ll also want to keep track of your own rising and declining keyword rankings. You can see where your competitors have overtaken you and what new keywords you are ranking for as part of your SEO competitive analysis.
Your technical performance has a major impact on your SEO rankings. If you are suffering from technical SEO issues, it can cause your authority to dip and your rankings to decline. Avoid things like duplicate content and monitor your crawlability and indexability.
Your linking structures are important to help search engines crawl, index, and rank your content and pages. Without a strong structure in place, your internal linking maps can be confusing and detrimental to your SEO rankings.
Because the work we do to create content and develop SEO is usually done on the desktop, we tend to think about websites and content posts in terms of a desktop screen. This is often a major SEO failure, even with major brands. Optimizing your pages for mobile can help you overtake the competition.
4. Analyze Page by Page
While keywords and your strengths and weaknesses are overall examples of how your SEO compares to others in your industry, you’ll also want your SEO competitive analysis to get more granular.
By going through each page and comparing it directly to your competition, you can see exactly why your competitors are ranking above you.
While going through each page, you’ll want to examine a few different factors that influence how pages are ranked and what you could be doing to improve your page structures, including:
- Page Titles
- Meta Titles, Tags, and Descriptions
- H1s & Heading Structures
- Internal Linking & URL Hierarchies
- Content Quality
- Page Keywords
5. Review Your Backlink Strategy
Backlinks are the links on other websites that direct traffic back to your pages.
These links are incredibly important in SEO, as they build authority in your pages and help prove to search engine algorithms that your content is reliable.
There is a difference, however, between high and low-quality backlinks.
If your backlinks are from low-quality, untrustworthy sites, then that can actually hurt your SEO rankings.
Monitor your backlinks and ensure that they are coming from trustworthy sites that will boost your rankings.
6. Examine Your Content Categories
Different types of content will perform differently in SEO rankings.
Rather than blindly guessing what content is going to work on your website, try looking to see what is performing well for your competitors.
That can help you save money and focus on your content efforts.
Different content categories can include:
- Social Media Live Streams
- Search Snippets
7. Continually Review and Improve
The truth is that there’s no way that an SEO competitive analysis can be a one-and-done deal.
Your competitors are constantly updating and improving their SEO tactics, so you also need to be constantly monitoring them.
If you don’t, any keyword gaps you close will be lost and every content improvement you’ve made will drop in rankings.
Successful SEO requires you to constantly review and improve your tactics and strategies.
By having an SEO competitive analysis process and structure in place, you’ll be able to make quicker, more tailored analysis reports on your competition.
That will allow you to stay ahead of your competitors and improve your SEO strategies.
What SEO Competitive Analysis Tools Can You Use?
Running an SEO competitive analysis will require the use of different SEO tools.
There’s no real way to manually compare all your SEO activity against a competitor, so having the help of an SEO tool will give you the data and analytics you need to create your comparison.
Below is a list of the highest-ranking tools that you can use for SEO competitive analysis:
- Page Optimizer Pro
- Alexa Traffic Rank
An SEO competitive analysis can help you figure out what is working for your competitors and where their weaknesses are.
That in turn allows you to find the gaps in their strategies that you can take advantage of in your own SEO efforts.
Another step you can take to improve your SEO strategies is to access our SEO maturity assessment.
After a few short questions, you’ll be able to determine what your current SEO maturity is and where you can evolve in the future!