Make the Most of SEO Competitive Research : Evaluating the Competition

SMS Text

Why bother about your competitors? Well, a stupid question, I know. You can’t possibly think that you can enter a new niche and get on top without looking into what has been done before you. When done properly, competitor analysis will answer your most important strategic planning questions:

  • Is it worth trying to enter this niche? Will I be able to overdo my competitors? How fast? Will long and hard victory be worth the effort? What’s my expected ROI?
  • What should I do to succeed in this niche? What shouldn’t I?
  • Who are my perspective readers/customers? What are they used to? What do they like?
  • Well, and many more, but I will stop here for now not to miss the point.

Step 1. Evaluating your overall competition.

You can either do it ‘at home’ using Google search and Excel or try paid tools returning complete competitor’s report. I usually perform all possible ways of analysis because I (1) cannot fully rely on reports compiled by someone else (be it an automatic tool or another person); (2) do not feel I have the full understanding of a niche unless I spend long hours on searching Google and compiling data into tables (yep, preferably multiple ones, and then combining tables into one table; but that’s just me, you can safely get along with a single solid report).

The idea is simple: you throw all your keywords into a spreadsheet and add the following information:

  1. Google daily/monthly estimated reach (I was using data provided by Aaron’s keyword research tool);
  2. Overall number of results in Google (broad match);
  3. The site ranked #1 for each term;
  4. Number of results for [intitle:keyword];
  5. Number of results for [inanchor:keyword];
  6. Number of results for both [intitle:”keyword” and inanchor:”keyword”] (hat tip to Ciaran) – this is your exact competition, i.e. those who use SEO (optimized titles and incoming links anchor text).

To save time you can get this information via SEOMoz keyword difficulty tool (it will also provide you with lots of other useful information: average PageRank of the top 10 sites, how many root URLs can be found in top 10 results, etc). Naturally, the best combination is when #1 is high, #2 is low (not necessarily) and #4, #5 and #6 are the lowest possible – the cases framed in green:

overall competition

Step 2. Finding your direct competitors

After you compiled your targeted keyword list, you can sort by ‘#1 in G‘ column and see the sites that is most often ranked high in Google for your chosen keywords:

direct competitors

Be sure to explore your most successful competitor’s on-site optimization: titles, H1 and H2 tags, internal site architecture, etc. I have singled out two approaches that help me to perform this kind of analysis:

  1. Don’t be too skeptical. Unfortunately most often experienced SEOs analyzing onpage optimization think they can do much better. This thought can bring you to wrongful conclusions.
  2. Learn from their mistakes. (I know, this somehow interferes with the first one, so the most important is balancing between the two.) We all know how to do it right. So analyzing what a competitor did well doesn’t help a lot. The art of seeing mistakes and at the same time being able to keep from underestimating (see #1) always brings to the right solution in the end.

And now a few tools that can also prove helpful:

1. Google Adwords Keyword Tool (free) is useful for comparing Google advertisers’ competition data and your own findings and also for differentiating commercial terms from non-commercial ones. Keywords enjoying high advertisers‘ competition are most likely targeting potential customers (while more informative [and hence less competitive] phrases usually attract people who are collecting information rather than are really willing to buy). A good way to overcome high competition while sticking to more commercial phrases is to turn (moderately) commercial phrases into long tail (e.g. per our table: ‘Tennessee fsbo‘ into ‘townsend Tennessee fsbo‘).

2. (paid with a few trial searches) also provides some helpful type of analysis that can help you to evaluate your competition:

  • Keyword Share” shows the percentage of total referrals a site receives from a particular keyword compared to its other referrals (= this keyword referrals/other keywords referrals).
  • Keyword Engagement” shows the average time visitors tend to spend on the site after being referred by this keyword.
  • Keyword Effectiveness” all people referred by this term/total time spent on the site.

While these metrics represented by look really promising and useful, I mostly use them for self-education and out of curiosity – just because I am more used to ‘old school’ method of looking into my referrals and learn people’s actual behavior in practice. However this can still be very useful for learning the competitors’ referrals and visitors’ [probable] behavior.

Next time I will look into most effective ways of analyzing competitor’s link building strategies. So stay tuned!

Ann Smarty is a practing search engine optimization and link building consultant as well as a very active social media user and blogger.

Ann Smarty
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing, tutorials and her guest blogging project,
Ann Smarty
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Utah SEO Pro

    Great post Ann. I’ve never paid for Compete but those benefits look enticing. I’ll check it out ūüôā thanks

    • Steve

      wow- what a fab post thanks

  • spostareduro

    Just want to say that I learned a a lot from this post Ann. Great job.

  • SeoMexFan


    Great post. I actually learned from this post, on how to structure a Competition Research.

  • Internet Help

    Nice to see good old fashioned manual analysis. Some of these SEO tools are fantastic however periodically it’s good to undertake comparison studies using more traditional methods.

    Good post

  • Bluerank

    great post

  • Dave @ Wordpress Blog

    Nice article Ann..SEEmoz has indeed a good tool but it’s only available to premium members. Nichwtach has a free tool where they show you the in anchor/title from your competitiors.

    And indeed good to read a solid article about keyword research without ‘secret ninja techniques’


  • Tom seo services

    I’ll check it out ūüôā thanks

  • Lucio Ribheiro

    Being on the industry for quite few time its always great to find out other ways to do our jobs.

  • Trevor

    Very informative article…especially the part about finding your top competitors in relation to the keywords you are targeting.

  • Automotive Social Network

    These are really the first step to take before jumping into a web business. Especially if it is not worth all the effort.

  • Ernest

    Yeah another round of good tips, I’ll defintely be reviewing this and adding to the tool box so to speak! Thanks.

  • Web Agency Chieti

    Great suggestions Ann. It’s always a pleasure read your posts.

  • Eurodipity

    Nice tools

  • ESEO

    My question is how do we get competitive intel on content. I undertand how to check thier coding, and titles, etc., but how do we find out how much relative content a comp has? So that we know how much content we have to write in order to on top? I see pages with hundreds of thousands of pages, they can’t be writing this all.

    My question is when i am looking at keywords and I am trying to get a handle on how much true content a competitor has so that i may be able to match or exceed it is there a simple way of searching? Currently I do a google search of and that brings back thousands of pages for my competitor and Im thinking to myself this cant be right and when i look through it seems that google has ranked some of thier dynamic data as well. Then i try (“keyword” although i get s smaller number im still getting hundreds of thousands of pages and Im thinking to myself how do i compete they can’t have this many pages of content they are tricking the system somehow. Is there a way to determine hoe much content I truely need to be competitive. My search term is “aurora Colorado homes for sale” I a a real estate agent. The site that is ranked in the top 5 in all of my keywords is a site by the url of and they seem to have hundreds of thousands of pages of content. Is this true or are they tricking the system some how and if so how do i compete?

  • Ann Smarty

    @ESEO : I don’t think content quantity plays the major role here. Besides, you can’t be competing with only one site…

  • Mocazo

    Hi first we must know about your competition websites what they are giving some thing different to our project is it free or pay abserve all these things in ur mind:

    Welcome to Mocazo Club

    Mocazo Kishaan Upload your self-creation. It could be a music video of your rock band, short film, advertisement, a piece of photography, a poem…..may be any kind of talent acting, Cooking, Dancing, DJ (Disc Jockey), Handicrafts, Instrumental Music, Makeup artist, Others, Writing & Literature , Stand up Comedy , Sports, Singing, Photography, Painting, it could be anything original and rational…You can send in any number of entries. And if your content gets sold you get a part of the royalty. More details visit:

    Mocazo Club

  • Search Engine Ranking

    If you want to spy on your competition, and see what keywords they are ranking for in GOOGL top 20 SERPs, then use It is an awesome tool that uses a 60 million key-word database and within seconds scans to see if any site ranks for any keyword in the database. It is absolutely brilliant. You can use it to see which key-words your current site is ranking for, it is very useful, because there may be many term that it comes up with, that you may have not thought of. I would rank this tool the best among all search engine ranking and placement tools available on the net TODAY.

  • Alma Gray

    Semantic search is something I have been researching recently. I am glad to see the mention.

  • Limo Hire Nottingham

    i will try some of your tools

  • Robert falco

    Nice and informative post.

  • Josh Millrod

    Another addition to the list of numbers you should collect might be a supply/demand ratio.

    Supply – # of pages with exact match
    Demand – # of monthly searches

    It’s a good way to tell how many pages are competing for each visitor for a given keyword. Also great for generating niche content.

  • Franz

    … and one should have an EXCEL/ODT sheet that tracks these figures regularly plus the number of backlinks, site impressions, goal conversions and all that and show progress (hopefully) and give analytical hints on what change (was it a new keyword, a recent e-Mail campaign, or a backlink from a high PageRank site?) caused what improvement.

  • yahia

    hi Ann,

    I like this article. I would just want to want how did you figured out best keyword, the following line not making any sense to me:

    “the best combination is when #1 is high, #2 is low (not necessarily) and #4, #5 and #6 are the lowest possible – the cases framed in green: ”

    Would you be able to explain in more? Do you have any other artilce which explained how to select best keyword from keyword research report?

    many thanks


  • cbwd

    If your in a competitive market, unique content will not do, of course you need it and it does you site well. however you still need to be getting back links.

    If you create good unique content, you will find that people will like to you. You can also use, social bookmarking, forums, blogs etc, the list goes on.

  • Eky Dakka

    Hi Ann, I like this post. I really useful tips for newbies like me : )

    Do you have a review about “Market Samurai”?

  • Nimit kashyap

    Great post but i have one question that is if for a keyword lots of root domain are ranking then would it be worth for competing against them?

  • travesti

    Thank you for your explanation. There really useful information.

  • Suman Haldar

    Nice information. A nice list of SEO Tools. Thanks for the article smarty.

  • Suman Haldar

    Nice information. A nice list of SEO Tools. Thanks for the article smarty.

  • Myron

    Never thought about using Interesting. Btw, what other SEO softwares do you use to track?