This post is Stage 2 in our complete guide to search engine optimization.
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Competitor analysis is a strategic step in any SEO strategy. In fact, you can already do this during the keyword research process as you select potential words and phrases. However, keywords aren’t the only thing you should evaluate in this process.
SEO competitor analyses can and should be done routinely to polish and update strategies, as well as be in the know about the latest trends from industry rivals. You’ll be surprised to know how much you can learn from your competitors.
There are three main things you should be looking out for when performing thorough competitor benchmarking: keywords, backlinks, and content. These areas can help you immensely in building a more robust SEO strategy, and you’ll be able to gain a lot of insights just from knowing these details about your competitors. Here are some of the main questions you should be asking yourself:
What areas are my competitors excelling/failing in?
What does my target audience like to engage with?
What strategies are my competitors using to stay ahead?
For this post, we’ll continue to assume that you’re operating the same mock travel business from Part 1 of our SEO Guide series. Learn the steps of an effective competitor analysis below.
How to Perform Competitor Benchmarking
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR INDUSTRY COMPETITORS.
You should be familiar with the players in your field. Whose products and services are you trying to rival? Do you already have an idea who you’re up against? Nothing fancy here, just create a list of the business you think you should keep your eye on. If you need a bit of inspiration, simply type your main keyword into Google search and see which websites pop up.
If you’re unsure or you feel like you may be missing a few, you can check the top sites specific to your industry or country through Alexa.
Another great alternative is SimilarWeb. You can combine filters here, so you can quickly check top sites performing in a specific industry and country. Here’s a sample:
STEP 2: VALIDATE YOUR COMPETITORS.
Are they really your competition? You can verify this through a simple keyword ranking search. At this stage, you’ll be able to narrow down your real competitors: those who are targeting similar keywords to your business. Keep a close eye on these websites.
On Ahrefs, you can type a specific keyword on Keyword Explorer. As a travel site, you might enter something like “hotels in Manila.”
Immediately, sites like Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Hotels.com, Agoda, and Expedia showed up as the top five sites that use these keywords. These would be your actual SEO competitors. Compare the results with the list from Step 1 and finalize your selection of industry rivals.
STEP THREE: COMPARE DATA.
What things are they doing better (or worse) than you? As mentioned earlier, you should be evaluating your competitors in three key areas. It’s time to whip out those comprehensive SEO tools to help you out in this step.
Keyword gap analysis
Keyword gap analysis refers to the process of finding out the keywords your competitors are ranking well for which your website isn’t. Since we know that keywords are the foundation of your SEO strategy, you want to make sure that you get this right from the beginning. For maximum results, aim to rank high for less competitive keywords that have a lot of search volume.
Get on Site Explorer on Ahrefs and type the domain of one of your competitors. On the menu to the left, you can see an Organic Search and Paid Search categories. Click on the keywords for each type to give you a deeper understanding of their traffic.
Below is a sample of organic keywords for Trip Advisor. The Position column also reveals how high they rank for that particular keyword.
On the other hand, here are some of the PPC keywords they use.
From here, you can answer a lot of pressing questions: Are they going for long-tail keywords or shorter ones? Is there anything on there that you haven’t been using for your site? Did you discover keywords they don’t use that you do? Write all your insights down and prepare for the next step.
Backlink gap analysis
Backlinks are a great way to establish authority on the Internet. Following the same logic above, a backlink gap analysis can tell which websites link back to your competitors, but not to you. More often than not, these will be the same sites you’ll reach out to when building your backlink profile.
Let’s take a look at the backlink overview of Trip Advisor, a validated competitor of your travel business.
Currently, they have over 321 million backlinks spread across 343,000 referring domains. That’s massive. To interpret this data further, you can check their backlink profile and see which specific sites have linked to them in the past, which anchor texts they’ve used, and so on.
Last but not least, you need to check what kind of content your competitors are making. Great content will always be the heart of a successful digital marketing strategy, including SEO. You can look around their site for inspiration or, better yet, use your reliable SEO tools to uncover their top-performing sites.
Using the Site Explorer on Ahrefs, select Top Content at the bottom portion of the right-hand menu.
You’ll be able to easily spot which content types or formats they perform well in. Here, it seems to be a mix of vacation rentals and trip activities in specific destinations. This is a reliable indicator of the type of content that your audience wants to see. With this information, you can determine what types of content you can produce to drive more links and shares, enhancing your site’s search authority.
STEP FOUR: IMPLEMENT.
What are you going to change in your strategy? Now that you’ve got all this information, it’s time to decide the best course of action. Through your search, you will have inevitably stumbled upon areas and techniques that they do better than you. Use that to your advantage.
You can opt to use exact match or similar keywords as your competitors if you find that they’ve been using some pretty good ones and focus your strategies there.
You can start offering content to the same sites that have linked them in the past or provide an update on a well-performing topic they’ve touched on before.
You could also start putting your spin on their most popular content and begin to do popular article formats such as how-to’s and lists. Or you can always try to do it better.
Note that the purpose of uncovering this data doesn’t necessarily mean that you should copy or steal tactics; instead, it should give you an idea about the company’s strategy as a whole and provide inspiration or insights for your own SEO efforts.
This cannot be stressed enough: Competitor benchmarking is crucial. It levels your playing field and allows you to come up with strategies that can beat your competitors, while simultaneously learning more about how you can run your SEO strategy more effectively. It’s a win-win!
This blog post is the 2nd part of our SEO Guide series. Stay tuned for our next post on performing a successful SEO audit on your own website.