Knowing what your competitors are doing and how they perform is key to developing a strategy to surpass them in organic search. By doing a bit of digging, one can uncover a great deal of learning from competitors who have already tested different elements of their SEO campaigns.
In previous posts in this series, I examined the best free SEO tools for targeting target keywords and those for identifying and fixing onsite SEO issues. Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the last set of free SEO tools available to every marketer: competitive analysis.
As I explore in a new report, “10 Free, Must-Have SEO Tools,” there are a variety of excellent SEO tools you can use to gain a competitive advantage on competitors to properly analyze and tweak your SEO campaigns without having to invest any money. Here’s an analysis of the four best free tools for competitive SEO intelligence.
The first step in gaining competitive intelligence is identifying the top competitors. It may not always be evident as to who these competitors are in regards to SEO, especially because they may differ from competitors in other channels as well as on a per-keyword basis. Keyword Spy offers a free Organic Competitors report that can help identify who the top competitors are for a particular keyword.
To find the competitors, simply enter a target keyword phrase into the search box, select the radio button for Keywords, click the Search button then, once data is populated, select the Organic Competitors tab.
Using this tool to identify competitors can not only help identify competitors you may not have known about, but also lets you see how competition differs around different keywords. This list of competitors will be helpful when digging deeper into a competitive analysis using the tools described in the following pages.
SEOTools for Excel
SEOTools for Excel is an Excel add-on that offers a great deal of value for many different aspects of SEO, one of those being competitive intelligence. For purposes of identifying what it is that sets a webpage apart from those ranking the best, SEOTools will easily pull together a variety of elements for a quick comparison.
In order to use SEOTools, it must first be downloaded and installed. Detailed instructions are available on the download page. Once installed, the features can be accessed by selecting the “SeoTools” tab at the top of Excel.
For the purpose of competitive intelligence around a certain keyword phrase, the first step is to search the phrase in Google to identify the top-10 results and add each URL as if a page of the site being optimized is already ranking well. If not, simply add a row at the bottom for the URL to compare to the top competitors.
Once the list of pages to compare is complete, both on and off-page factors for each of the URLs can be pulled in to compare.
As an example, by selecting the HTMLTitle metric from the Onpage menu into one of the columns, the title tag of each ranking page will be pulled into the column. This makes it very easy to see how the keyword usage within one’s title tag compares with the top pages.
There are, of course, many different data points that can be pulled into Excel using SEOTools for a deep competitive analysis.
In order to take an on-page competitive analysis a bit further, the Site Comparison tool will show various important on-page elements side by side along with some important metrics of two URLs. This provides a deeper look at two pages in regards to how they compare from an SEO standpoint. Some of the elements compared include body text along with the code-to-content ratio, bolding/italicizing of keywords, keyword density, meta tags, headlines, internal links and outgoing links. This can provide great insight as to what page elements a competitor has better optimized for a target keyword.
Open Site Explorer
Understanding the link profiles of top competitors is a good indicator of the types of keywords a site could be successful in targeting. For example, if a site has far less link authority than its competitors, it may not make the most sense to target very competitive keywords because they will be difficult to rank for. In that case, targeting less competitive longtail keywords may be a better strategy. Before deciding on an SEO strategy, it is important to understand the competitive landscape from an authority signal standpoint. Open Site Explorer can help you do just that.
Simply input your domain, in addition to up to four competitor domains, and Open Site Explorer will return a wide range of authority metrics so you can see how your site stacks up.
Knowing what sites are linking to competitors is also a good way to find potential link partners that will provide good authority value. This is another valuable competitive intelligence report that Open Site Explorer will provide. By downloading and running the Inbound Links report, you will be able to download a list of all the sites linking to a competitor’s site. This list is a great first step in prospecting link opportunities. Start with the sites with the highest Domain Authority and reach out to request link partnerships.
What are your favorite free SEO tools for competitive intelligence? Share your recommendations in the comments.