Here’s a simple piece of SEO advice you’ll never get from an average SEO – it’s all about common sense.
Sure, getting a website to rank for some juicy, volume-heavy, money keywords is a tough job – but I, for one, am totally against the idea of making shi!t sound more complicated than it usually is.
And all the SEO jargon you hear thrown around liberally starts right here – at SEO competitive analysis.
SEO competitive analysis is one of the favourite ‘tools’ for SEOs to land clients, because they twist and turn the numbers to instil fear – the strongest of business emotions.
I’ll be trying to put all that jazz to rest in this post while also trying to simplify SEO competitor analysis right down to its bare bones.
So, let’s get to it.
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True – you can reach almost any SEO goal without worrying a bit about doing SEO competitor analysis.
Also true – you can do all that faster, cheaper and easier when you start each campaign with strategic, systematic SEO competitor analysis.
We all want to save money on every single campaign and every single click – and so, using SEO competition analysis to your best advantage is a no brainer.
But how does SEO competition analysis (aka SEO competitive intelligence) save you money?
1. It adds speed to the process. You don’t need expensive trial and error tests. Time saved = money earned.
2. It keeps you focused on your competition. The moment your eyes are off what they are doing is the moment you start playing catch up.
3. You literally make your competitors pay for the insights you get into things like audience sentiment, social trends, organic interests and lead gen templates.
4. If you know what works and you can do it better, you’re already winning.
5. You get actionable inputs. You know which keywords to target, you know what sort of content assets you need to create, you can plan your SEO content strategy better, you know exactly how your link building campaigns should be run and you know when and how much to invest in marketing.
Dollar for dollar, SEO competitive analysis adds more to your SEO efficiency than any other factor.
Running an SEO agency has its fair share of bottlenecks. The most annoying one that we deal with here at HQ SEO is the sheer lack of useful inputs from our clients.
Most clients – especially the local businesses – have no idea who their competitors are. At best, they know a couple of businesses they want to emulate, and that’s about that.
So, here’s what we do: we take it upon ourselves to find out everything the clients should already have known beforing coming in.
Is it frustrating? Absolutely.
Is it worth our time? Hell yes!
More than anything, every good marketer should be concerned about giving a bang for the buck service to their clients, and without a good round of competitive SEO analysis, we don’t see how that can be possible.
Anyway, coming back to the point, here’s a simple and effective way of getting to know who your competitors are:
1. Business competitors: The ones who directly eat into your market share.
2. SEO Competitors: The ones who eat into your share of organic traffic.
3. Local competitors: The ones who eat into your share of SERP real estate for local searches.
As I mentioned earlier, every good business should know who’s hogging their share of customers.
This idea – when translated to online presence – means websites that draw the exact same people you want on your website.
There are many, many ways to identify SEO competitors. We’ll see two of these. Avoid these snags while doing this, though:
1. Don’t ever base your SEO campaign on just a couple of competitors. You need at least 5 competitors to run an actionable SEO competitor analysis.
2. Don’t ignore the domains that are buying PPC spots for your keywords. Even when they don’t rank, they still take people away from your website.
At HQ SEO, competitive analysis is where most of our ground-up SEO campaigns start. Achieving 600 to 700% ROIs on all SEO campaigns consistently is not easy – we rely heavily on thorough competitor research to get there. To know more, check out our complete process. If you have any questions or you want to request a free quote, feel free to get in touch.
As far as SEO competitor analysis goes, our end goal is to make our website rank for important keywords. Coming a full circle, it makes sense to start an SEO competitor research campaign with Google.
You can pull out competition data directly from Google by stepping into a customer’s shoes – the most basic avatar of competitive intelligence.
Here’s how it works:
For our example, here’s what a Google search for ‘web design London’ returned:
Relevant result: Web Design Choice
Relevant results: The Web Kitchen, KD Design, Bond Media
Top 5 results: The Web Kitchen, Web Design London, Creative Steam London, Om Design, Lilo
I’m surprised how most marketers and SEOs are unaware of this simple, free SEO competitor analysis tool that’s right there, hidden in plain sight.
I know this feature has been long discontinued – but hey, it still works! If it didn’t, Google wouldn’t have given it so much organic real estate even today.
So, here’s what you have to do:
Here’s what we got after running related:artistsweb.co.uk through Google.co.uk.
Relevant top 3 results: Webheads, NetDreams, Om Design
This is the cleanest, meanest SEO competition identification strategy of them all. But you will need to have a premium subscription to Ahrefs.
Remember – using Ahrefs to find competitors is just an advanced way of running Google searches yourself. What it does better is giving you an overview over 6-12 months (it’s pretty important to have this insight).
Running the seed keyword “web design London” through Ahrefs Keyword Explorer gives us this:
Note that in most cases these results will be exactly the same as strategy #3 (because that’s what this essentially is).Relevant results: The Web Kitchen, CB Website Design, JB Digital, Creative Steam London, Gumtree
Here’s what we get when we run a Competing Domains search for artistsweb.co.uk in Ahrefs.
Relevant results: Bond Media, Creative Steam London, Logicsofts, Om Design, Companies Web Design
At this stage of SEO competitive analysis, you’ll have a list of 5-10 domains that compete directly against your website for the best keywords. The SEO competitor identification ends here.
There’s no fixed formula to rely on here. You should always base your judgment based on organic results, local results, client’s inputs and PPC ads – in that order. Here’s what my SEO competitive analysis template sheet looks like at this stage:
So, for this example, I have identified top 5 competitors as: The Web Kitchen, Bond Media, Creative Steam London, Om Design and Lilo.
Alright, at this stage, we have a very reliable list of top 5 direct competitors. Of course, you can extend this up to 10 but let’s stick to 5 for now.
At every stage of SEO competitive analysis, you need to remember that our goal is to eventually end up on the first page, preferably in the top 3 results for as many important business/industry keywords as possible.
Many marketers usually try to avoid competing with industry leaders and obviously high-authority websites. That may be a great idea in the short run, but in the long run, you’ll need to take them on because there’s really no other way of capitalizing on important keywords.
A very effective way of dealing with this problem is identifying relatively less competitive long tail and LSI keywords and search terms. We’ll get to the keyword part of SEO competitive analysis in a bit.
So, at this stage, our focus is on pitting our 5 competitors directly against one another and see what sort of link profiles they have. This is a very, very important step because backlinks are one of the most influential ranking factors. More importantly though, studying the link profile of SEO competitors gives us a clear idea of how to create an effective link building strategy.
At HQ SEO, we use the inputs from SEO competitor research to create link building campaigns that are designed specifically to boost domain authority and gain sustainable organic ranking spikes. If you’d like to know more about how our link building expertise can help you drive more organic traffic to your business website, write to us here.
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To analyse all 5 SEO competitors together, I’m using Ahrefs Domain Comparison Tool. It does pretty much everything we want done here for us. For the sake of better data handling, copy + paste all these results in the competition analysis Excel template we are building (as a new sheet). Note that Ahrefs doesn’t let you export these stats automatically.
Here’s what the domain comparison for our 5 competitors looks like:
For now, let’s focus on the most important parameters. If you know how to read into every aspect of link profile analysis, you can perform that audit for each domain separately. (We’ll be publishing a detailed guide for link profile analysis soon).
Domain Rating is the proprietary method that Ahrefs uses to attach a numeric indicator to a domain’s SEO ‘value’ and ‘authority’.
Moz uses a similar algorithm to come up with what they call ‘Domain Authority’.
Domain Rating is an important metric in the sense that it boils down many SEO parameters into one number to give you an indication of how authoritative a particular domain is. This number, by no means, is the final call – as Google has pointed out. A good SEO strategy aims to increase the domain rating over time in order to push the pages up the rankings.
In our case, we can see that Bond Media has the highest domain rating, followed by The Web Kitchen. Our target website (artistsweb.co.uk) has a domain rating of 62.
So, at the first glance, we can guess that our domain has a pretty good chance of taking all of these SEO competitors on by developing a systematic SEO strategy.
Referring domains are the domains that link back to the domain in question.
Having your backlinks spread across a large number of referring domains adds a natural touch to your link profile. So, in general, having a high referring domain/number of backlinks ratio AND a high number of backlinks is a great combination to have.
Ahrefs also lets you export the domain rating data for all referring domains that link back to your SEO competitors. You can export this data and calculate the average referring domain rating, too. Adding this to the overall analysis will give you the benefit of knowing exactly what the quality of backlinks is for your SEO competitors.
As far as link building goes, just building a large number of backlinks DOESN’T work (mostly because not all backlinks are made the same).
A backlink is essentially a reference – a vote of confidence, if you will – from one website to another. So, if your referring domain has no authority of its own, there’s no real value attached to the backlinks you get from that domain.
The point is – looking at backlinks as a ‘number’ doesn’t cut it. You need to add a referring domain rating dimension to this.
I do this with a simple tweak.
Here’s what you need to do to get a better view of backlinks to your SEO competitors:
So, the DR-Backlink Factor = [sum (referring domain rating x backlinks from that domain)]/total number of backlinks.
Trust me, it’s no rocket science – just some basic statistical analysis.
Here’s what we get using this method for the competitor The Web Kitchen.
So, the DR-Backlink Factor for The Web Kitchen is 36.27 – this indicates the real ‘power’ of backlinks to this domain in the context of the DR of referring domains.
Using the same method, we can get the DR-Backlink Factor for all competing domains.
At this stage, we have the following – the domain rating, referring domains, backlinks and the DR-Backlink factor for all competing domains.
The question is – how do we combine these all together to get a better idea of the task ahead of us?
The DR-Backlink Factor already combines referring domains with backlinks – so that’s out of the way.
Now, we have to couple the DR of the individual domain to the DR-Backlink factor. Here’s how:
The calculations play out like this for our example:
It might sound a bit complicated – but trust me, it’s not. Our ready-to-roll SEO competitive analysis template does it all for you in an instant. To request access to this template, just drop us a line. You can also DM me at @tombucklandSEO – it’s all good.
If you don’t want to keep things a bit simpler, just compare each factor (domain rating, referring domains and backlinks) individually. This will still give you a fairly good idea of where your or your client’s website stands in comparison with the 5 SEO competitors you’ve picked.
Another dimension to add to your SEO competitive analysis is the rate at which your SEO competitors are building/acquiring links.
Here’s a sample screenshot from the domain overview of The Web Kitchen.
As you can see, the number of referring domains has gone up steadily over the months and years. This is good enough to assume that they have either been acquiring links 100% organically or haven’t really ramped up link building campaigns.
Take the case of another competitor – Bond Media (refer to the image below). The number of referring domains to their website has been on the decline for quite some time. This indicates two things – they have either stopped building links or the quality of linkable content they create has been going down.
These analyses give you a great insight into what the strengths and weaknesses of your SEO competitors are. For example, from our target’s (artistsweb.co.uk) point of view, we could construct our link building strategy so as to overtake Bond Media first by mimicking their link profile and then taking on the next competitor in line.
At this stage you should have a complete picture of the target website AND the competing domains.
You can use these stats to outline your link building strategy as well as your content strategy. As we have already discussed, developing an SEO content marketing strategy is an intricate combination of SEO and quality content. So, you’ll need all the directives and inputs it takes to be able to boost your SEO through content. We’ll get to the content part of SEO competitive analysis in a bit.
Every insight you get into your competitors’ link building strategies is worth its weight in gold from the SEO competitor analysis perspective. Our end-to-end competition research services integrate all aspects of link profile analysis to chalk out the path of least resistance (and highest ROIs) for your clients.
Get in touch with us to request a free proposal or to discuss your requirements with our team.
Now that we have a handle on where our target website stands in terms of links and domain authority, we can now move towards analyzing on-page factors.
Creating great content is extremely important – but putting it in front of people is equally important.
If you are the kind of website that just puts content out there hoping people will find it some day, let me break the bad news to you – it NEVER happens. Every content asset you create needs to be streamlined in terms of utility, shareability, linkability and – of course – visibility. That’s where keywords come in.
It’s funny how people know that keywords are important, but they just don’t know how to find the ones that WORK.
For example, if your website is brand new, you’re not going to do yourself any favours by running after broad, industry-wide keywords. Similarly, you will get nothing out of focusing on keywords with little relevancy or thin search volumes.
As a part of SEO competitor analysis, here’s what a good keyword should look like for you:
Competitive keyword analysis helps you find keywords across categories (broad, phrase, LSI and exact – what have you) that are proven to have a solid searcher intent behind them.
Remember – competitor keyword analysis is just the start. There’s much more to keyword research. Our advanced keyword research services are geared towards covering any and every base in this context so that your content assets keep bringing in organic visitors on a daily basis. To know more, tell us a little about your requirements, and we’ll come back to you with a fully customised proposal.
If you don’t have a content strategy in place, it’s good to know what your competitors are ranking for before you start creating content assets. An efficient round of keyword research is exactly what a new website needs to buff up their content assets in the long and the short run.
There are many tools out there that let you find keywords relevant to your website and business. We usually recommend starting with the most robust of them all first – Google Keyword Planner.
Since we are talking about SEO competitive analysis here, we’ll need to tweak the approach just a little bit.
At this point, we have in hand 5 top competitors who are, no doubt, doing great in terms of their content marketing strategies. So, we can extract a great deal of information just by looking at the keywords they rank for.
Here’s how to do this:
For the example we are considering, let’s see what the Bond Media website ranks for organically (using Ahrefs).
To keep things relevant, you can use the Ahrefs positions filter as shown below.
As you can see, Bond Media ranks for 44 keywords in top 20 positions (on Google.co.uk).
Again, we need to have some perspective about the ease of ranking – quite obviously you can’t rank for all of these. So, we’ll be using Ahref’s keyword difficulty metric as a guide. I’m setting the keyword difficult upper cap at, let’s say, 40. I’m also excluding branded mentions here to filter out keywords that are of no use to us.
From this analysis, we end up with just one relevant search term – ‘website designer in London’ .
It’s good enough to be used as a seed keyword when we develop a full-blown content strategy. Repeat this procedure for all competitors and you’ll have a great set of keywords – reverse engineered from the scratch!
Ahrefs, as I have said many times before, is pretty much ALL you need to chalk out a great SEO strategy – and that, of course, includes identifying and capitalizing on content gaps.
A content gap is the apparent ‘need’ that your content aims to serve. Barring a few categories like news and updates, the best performing content assets are the ones that are aligned with what your customers/visitors are looking for.
We’ve often found that working with content gaps becomes much easier when you have an ongoing content strategy.
Here’s how you can find potential content gaps using Ahrefs.
For the example we are considering, I’ll first generate the domain overview for artistsweb.co.uk. Navigating to the ‘Content Gap’ feature, I’ll then enter all five competitor domains.
It’s important to check the ‘At least one of the targets should rank in top 10’ filter. This will help you avoid keywords that correspond to less-than-ideal content gaps. You can always expand the reach later on once you have worked with the primary set of keywords.
Again, to avoid ending up with too broad/too difficult keywords, I have set the maximum keyword difficulty filter at 45 and excluded the branded mentions. This is what the result looks like:
So, we are left with with 4 top keywords – website designer, webdesigner, website development, web design and development.
Since these are highly relevant and will probably be our seed keywords for other campaigns, these are excellent finds. While these are fairly broad, you can always add a local modifier to them (e.g. website development London) to get the most out of them on a local level, too. Here’s more about how local SEO adds strength to your overall SEO.
There are many downsides to having to work in a competitive industry or niche.
But, there’s the proverbial silver lining – you can almost always be sure that your competitors have got their content game heading in the right direction.
So, besides reverse engineering keywords and locating content gaps, you can understand a whole lot more by studying what sort of content they create in order to bring people over to their websites.
Understanding, analysing and dissecting competitors’ content assets can play the role of a bright lighthouse when you’re building a brand new content strategy. Not only do you get to know what content wins clicks, you also get an insight into how to effectively market such content.
Here’s how it works:
I’m considering the competitor Lilo for this example. Their content assets are curated at lilo.co.uk/blog.
Here are the top pages for their blog:
What do we see?
In this case, here’s what we get for Lilo’s blog.
As you can see, nearly every content backlink they receive is through one blog post. What does this tell us?
Now on to the “Best By Link Growth” part.
Again, the same page turns up with 14 new backlinks in the last 30 days. Given that this page was published over three years ago, I’m almost sure that these are natural, editorial backlinks – a testament to the quality of the post.
The last part of content analysis is all about how your competitors’ content assets perform on social media.
Here’s the social performance of Lilo’s blog.
What do we see here?
At this stage, here’s what you’ll have: a detailed insight into link profile, content, keywords and social media marketing.
It’s possible to end your competitor search right here because you’ll already have all the data you need to reverse engineer an SEO strategy (on and off page).
I, for one, prefer to go one step further and analyse competitors’ traffic channels too.
At this point, Ahrefs falls just short because it mainly deals with organic traffic.
You will NEVER be able to get precise traffic details for any website other than your own, and hence, we’ll be using the next best thing out there: SimilarWeb.
SimilarWeb is a premium traffic analysis tool that runs extrapolation tests to come up with pretty accurate traffic stats for any website. You’ll need a premium subscription to access all the details, but a free trial is just about enough to get you started.
I ran a competitor website (for The Web Kitchen) through SimilarWeb and here’s what it returned:
A – Website Audience
This is the overview of the total traffic – similar to what you’ll see in your Google Analytics dashboard.
For our example, the competitors is getting roughly 17,000 visits per month – pretty impressive.
Things to note:
At this juncture, it’s important to point out the importance of having the technical ends of your website all in the right place. Having bad UX sucks – just as much as having a Google-hostile website. A thorough technical SEO audit helps address back-end problems that you probably don’t even know are there.
Want to know how such an audit can unlock invisible SEO bottlenecks? Write to us here to get started.
B – Top Countries
This is straightforward. They are drawing nearly all of their traffic from the UK – which is how it should be, given that they serve customers in and around London.
C – Marketing Channels
Direct Traffic – Are they doing a lot of offline advertising? (Here’s more about what direct traffic really means to a webmaster).
Email – Non-existent in this case. I’ll make a note in my SEO competitive analysis sheet to build multiple email campaigns.
Referrals – About 5%. Much of this comes from backlinks (as we can cross-check in Ahrefs). This gives us a good idea of potential link building partners.
Organic – Over 65% – Good on them! If done correctly, we can emulate their organic search performance, too.
D – Referral Traffic Analysis
Check out their top 5 referrals.
1. Awwwards – Website design awards (highly relevant, make a note). 😀
2. BridgeU – Probably a client of theirs. Footer links. 😐
3. Climate Kic – Same as above.😐
4. Tsohost – A web hosting company. Possibly a referral/paid partnership. Gives us a great affiliate marketing idea. 💡
5. Audio Content Fund – Footer links. Not really relevant. Ignore. 😒
E – Social Traffic
Facebook heavy social traffic.
F – Paid Searches/Adverts
Nothing to see here.
They probably are doing just fine with the amount of traffic they are generating organically. If we are to catch up, we probably need to set aside some PPC budget – at least for the first 6-12 months.
SEO competitive analysis is the foundation of every good SEO campaign. It not only guides your campaign in the right direction, it keeps the overall marketing expenses down, helping you get more out of every marketing dollar/pound spent.
At HQ SEO, competitive analysis is an integral part of our end-to-end digital marketing services. Each service we offer – from link building to local SEO and content audit to digital PR – integrates one or more elements of fully customised competition analysis reports to add that much-needed competitive edge to proceedings.
To know more, drop us a line and we’ll get back to you ASAP. Alternatively, you can request a quick, free proposal right here by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.