Competition is a healthy part of every industry. It:
- Prevents complacency.
- Encourages innovation.
- Forces you to do better in every aspect of your business – from development to sales to customer satisfaction.
Determining how to one-up your competitors in search is no different.
In this guide, we’ll run through eight best practice tips that will help you identify your top competitors, discover why they’re outranking you, and explore what you can do about it.
Note: no specific tools or products will be mentioned in this article – but please know that competitive analysis is incomplete without them!
So make sure to combine these tips with your favorite competitor research tools.
1. Identify Your SEO Competitors
You probably already know who the big players in your industry are, but can you name your main SEO rivals?
They aren’t necessarily the same.
In fact, you might have multiple SEO competitors who exist outside of your niche that you need to contend with in SERPs.
For example, a bakery in New York trying to rank for keywords like “best bread in New York” would be competing with other bakeries for first page results.
But if that bakery was also trying to rank a helpful how-to blog, they’d be competing with publishing giants like Food Network and Taste of Home, too.
They’d have their work cut out for them if they wanted to break the top 10 in those SERPs!
This is true in every industry:
Your top SEO competitors are the ones who rank in the first search page of the keywords you’re targeting, regardless of whether they’re your business competitors.
If you operate in multiple niches, you may even have distinct lists of competitors for each service you offer with little-to-no overlap between them.
Fortunately, finding out who your competitors are is as easy as entering your top keywords into Google and writing down the domains of your main competitors (or entering your keywords into your competitor analysis tool and letting it do all of the heavy lifting for you).
Even if you’re using a tool, it’s in your best interest to monitor the SERP landscape you’re entering into (e.g., if your target keyword is dominated by videos, you probably want to think about creating video content to compete).
Pay special attention to competitors occupying local packs and the position zero too – you should definitely compete for these coveted spots!
2. Evaluate Keyword Difficulty
Before you begin analyzing specific link building strategies or on-page SEO, it’s a good idea to assess the strength of your SEO competitors.
While you can theoretically beat out any competitor in any niche and for any keyword, the amount of resources it would take for some keywords renders them unfeasible.
Use your competitor analysis tool to look at your competitors’ total domain strength and then analyze specific factors, such as:
- Domain authority.
- Domain country and age.
- Indexing in search engines.
- Catalog listings.
- Backlink data.
- Alexa rank.
- Traffic volumes.
- Social signals.
Write down the information and look for any weaknesses that you can turn to your advantage.
The higher the difficulty of a target competitor, the stronger their SEO, and the harder it will be to outrank them.
Focus on competitors with lower overall scores ranking well for niche keywords.
3. Look for New Keyword Opportunities
Term frequency-inverse document frequency analysis (or, because that’s a mouthful, TF-IDF analysis) can be a useful method for enriching your existing content with “proper” keywords your competitors are using and thus properly optimizing your pages for search engines, or for discovering low-competition keywords you might have missed.
Simply put, TF-IDF is a measurement of how often a keyword appears on a page (term frequency) multiplied by how often a keyword is expected to appear on page (inverse document frequency).
When you analyze TF-IDF you might discover that most top-ranking pages for your target keywords share many similar terms and phrases.
If you aren’t targeting those topic-relevant terms, then you need to either add them to existing applicable pages or create new content to boost your relevance in semantic search.
This concept is a little more complicated than any of the other strategies we’ll discuss but it can quickly become a vital part of creating a comprehensive content strategy.
For example, using TF-IDF, we discovered that high-ranking content for the keyword “coffee brewing recipes” almost always contains specific information about different coffee bean blends, roasting techniques, and types of filters.
4. Analyze On-Page Optimization & On-Site Content
Using your competitive analysis tool to analyze your competitors’ on-site SEO will give you a veritable goldmine of new information to work with.
You’ll learn how often they’re publishing content, what types of content they’re publishing, and which keywords they’re targeting.
Pay special attention to:
- Headline strategies (title length, keywords in the title, proper title tags, etc).
Try to unravel their internal linking strategies, too. Use this information as a benchmark for your on-site SEO efforts.
Figure out what they’re doing well so you can learn from it, and what they’re missing so you can do it better.
When analyzing content, you’ll want to keep track of:
- Topical relevance.
- What types of content or media they’re creating.
- Video length or word count.
- The depth of detail covered.
When Googlebot crawls your website, all of these play a significant role.
5. Dig into Competitor Backlink Profiles
One of the most important parts of competitive analysis is figuring out where your rivals are earning their backlinks from and using that information to build high-quality links for your website.
Dissecting your opponents’ link profiles is a great way to find new link opportunities.
Again, you’ll need a robust SEO tool for this step – it’s practically impossible to pull off manually.
6. Examine Site Structure & UX
If you don’t know that Google’s been hyper-focused on improving user experience then you haven’t been paying attention.
If your website is slower than your competitors’, unresponsive, or more confusing to navigate then that’s something you absolutely need to correct. I recommend:
- Optimizing your sitemap for better crawlability.
- Prioritizing page speed optimization especially for high-value landing pages.
- Ensuring every element of your site is built with searcher intent in mind.
To see what your competitors are doing, you’ll want to take a look at their landing pages:
- Analyze their click depth.
- See if they have any orphan pages.
- Check out their PageRank distribution.
If you analyze competitor sites and see that they’re ranking well despite having an outdated website or terrible mobile optimization, that’s a prime opportunity for you to gain some real estate on SERPs.
7. Learn How They’re Leveraging Social Media
The exact nature of how social media intersects with SEO is hotly contested, but few optimization specialists would disagree that it’s an important element of any healthy SEO strategy.
Of course, that’s because a good social listening tool does way more than you up-to-date on every new cat meme your competitor is tweeting.
A good social listening tool enables you to:
- Increase website traffic by tracking linkless mentions on social media and engaging with your audience – especially when people are specifically using or looking for your product.
- Track brand mentions off social media platforms and do the same thing (a good social listening tool should be able to monitor news sites, blogs, forums, etc.).
- Monitor user sentiment (psst… Google’s doing this too – and it can affect rankings!).
Some easy research you can perform includes monitoring:
- Which platforms your competitors are (or are not) using.
- How often they publish new content.
- How they communicate with their followers.
- Which types of content get the most engagement.
You may even want to track competitor linkless mentions, user reviews, and PR so that you can see what their customers like about their product or service – and what you could do better.
8. Try to Track Competitor Ad Spend
If you’ve done everything you can to optimize your website and you’re still getting beat in the SERPs, it’s possible that your competitors are simply outspending you and using paid traffic campaigns to generate conversions and sales.
I recommend against trying to match each competitor’s spending tit for tat, but you may find it valuable to monitor their Google Ads campaigns, promoted content, banner ads, paid posts, and more so that you can at least gauge what other people in your niche are spending on advertising.
Now that you have a handle on competitive analysis, the only thing left to do is keep at it.
Continue making small improvements, keeping tabs on your competitors, and monitoring your rankings.
Eventually, your hard work should pay off and you’ll start to improve your position.
More SEO Resources:
- 4 Important Competitive SEO Data Points You Should Always Watch
- 10+ Tools You Can Use for SEO Competitive Analysis
- 5 Critical Factors When Assessing Competitors
Featured Image: Created by author, October 2018