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How to Perform Competitor Analysis

Importance of Competitor Analysis

Even though it is often overlooked, competitor analysis is one of most important aspects of SEO. Analysing the top-ranking websites in your industry that the search engines find most relevant for your target keywords is a very important step in your SEO and internet marketing campaign. In fact, analysing your competitors’ links, content and social media presence should be the very first step in your SEO strategy. It can reveal valuable insights about what competitors may be doing wrong so that you can capitalize and avoid their mistakes.

Your competitors are those websites that offer the same services as you, and are ranking organically for the same keywords you want to rank for. So, let’s assume you are a Northampton based boudoir photography business that offers boudoir photoshoots through your website. Since you can only offer your services within the Northampton area, the competitors you should be concerned with are those websites that are ranking on the first page of the search engines for keywords like “boudoir photography northampton” or “boudoir northampton“. Competitor analysis can uncover why those websites are ranking high on the search results pages, and how you can improve your own competitive advantage.

Competitor analysis gives you the insights you need to see what is working for your competitors, and  how far off your website is from that of your top competitors. It is important that you focus on competitors that consistently dominate the upper half of the first page of search results in the search engines for your money keywords. Also known as buyer intent keywords, your money keywords are a range of high search volume keywords that are used by your prospective customers when they are looking to buy the type of products and services that you sell.

Search engine algorithms are a closely guarded secret, and Google is known to use over 200 ranking factors when analyzing a site for organic search. For each ranking factor, it’s practically impossible to know exactly what the search engine considers to be a “perfect” score. But by continually analyzing the top ranking sites, you can get meaningful clues because they’re most consistently ranked for top keyword categories.

Identifying Your Top Competitors

Knowing who you are competing with online and how they are doing in organic search is important because it gives you a better idea of how you should be running your business. As mentioned earlier, it is important to use keywords your prospects would use when researching your products or services or when they want to buy your products or services. If you want to identify the top 10 competitors for “abc company”, an e-commerce company that sells plasma TVs to a global audience, you’ll need do some research on SEO and social media. Start by performing a detailed search on Google for your money words using a verbatim search (www.google.com/ncr). So, for plasma TVs, a money keyword would be “buy plasma tv”.

As far as competitor analysis is concerned, it is not always straightforward to identify your true competitors. This is because you cannot consider top ranking pages in your niche as competitors if those websites have been able to successfully establish a great level of trust with Google over the years. What makes this difficult is that Google tends to relax the rules for trusted, well-established domains. This means that once a website has established trust with Google, they will not be subject to the same scrutiny as a relatively new website. This means they will be able to get away with certain SEO practices that could earn a newly established site a penalty.

For example, a highly trusted site can get away with having a higher percentage of exact match anchor text than relatively new sites. Trusted sites can also optimize their webpages for keywords in ways that would normally be too risky for a newer site. It is critically important to keep this in mind as you perform competitor analysis. Essentially, your main competitors should be similar sites in your niche who are ranking very high on the Google or Bing SERP. If you are an ecommerce site selling plasma TVs, sites like Amazon or PC World are not your competitors.

Once you have identified your true competitors, you can begin the actual research of these sites by checking out their backlinks, their content strategy and social media presence.

Researching Competitor Backlinks

It is important to perform backlink research on a regular basis: weekly, or at least once a  month. The top-ranking competitors for your most important keywords will have backlink profiles that Google prefers in a particular niche. These websites have also done the hardest part of link building for you. They have identified quality websites for your target keywords that are willing to link out, and they have vetted worthwhile links that you could benefit from, too.

The fact of the matter is, your competitors offer the same range of products and services that you do, and generally cater to the same target audience. If you have content that matches what is on your competitors’ pages, these sites might find your site equally useful for their target audiences, and you might be able to convince them to link their site to you too. Note however, that if some of your competitors are huge authority sites, you’ll find it tough to understand the type of content that generated the backlinks for them.

The fastest way to achieve top rankings is to try to get links from the same sites that are linking to the top five search results for your desired keywords. You can accomplish this with Moz’s Competitive Link finder. This tool enables you to get insights from up to four of your competitors by cross referencing the links that they have pointing at their domains. When you find multiple instances of the same prospect linking to more than one of your competitors, you can pretty much conclude that these are stronger candidates for your link outreach campaign.

You need to find out the number of domains linking to each competitor’s home page. You can get this information using tools like Majestic, Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer. Take note of how the competitor is using anchor text on their site. Note that these are all paid tools. However each of these tools will provide a limited amount of information for free. You can also get additional insights for free using siteexplorer.info.

The most ideal backlinks from a web page that:

  1. is well-established with good domain authority (10+), page authority (10+) and trust flow;
  2. is an authority within your industry, with lots of natural backlinks coming to it from related sites, as well as some link outs to other authority websites;
  3. has strong social signals;
  4. has a recent google cache date;
  5. is focused on the same subject as your webpage, even using some of the same keywords;
  6. uses meaningful anchor text that contains a variety of branded and generic keywords in the link to your page.

Identifying Prospects

Performing Competitor Analysis

You need to know as much as you can about the web pages that rank well for your keywords. The types of things you need to know about your competitors’ web sites can be divided into four categories:

  1. On-page elements (such as content and metadata)
  2. Links (Backlinks as well as outbound links to other pages)
  3. Alexa ranking

On-Page Elements

If you want to find out what keywords your competitors use and how they’re using them, look at their content, and analyze their other on-page factors. You can use SEMrush or Keyword Spy to find out what a web page’s organic search keywords are. In addition, you can also use SEOQuake which is a preconfigured automation tool that you can use for proper research and analysis. You can install SEOQuake in either Firefox or Internet Explorer. It is free.

In Excel, open a new spreadsheet and call it Competitors. Create some more column headings, one for each of the following items. Column A should be for each competitors and should have a descriptive heading – such as their URL to distinguish each competitor.

In this first column, list each of your competitors’ web pages, one per row. Under column A’s heading, type the URL (the web page address, such as www.drake.com/article-title) for each competing web page – these should be the pages that are ranking well in search results.

  1. Page Title: This count shows how many words are in the page’s title tag which is part of the HTML code that gets read by the search engines). It is the most important meta tag.
  2. Meta Description: The meta description tag is important as it appears in the search results page and can influence CTR. The Meta description tag is not a ranking factor, but is important because it is usually displayed in the SERP and often read by potential visitors to your site. Clickthrough rate from the search results page is a Google ranking factor, so the description tag is now one of the most important meta tags because it could make the difference between a searcher clicking on your site or that of your competitors when faced with a choice between two or more similar pages.
    Best practice: 150 to 155 characters in length. Recommendation: Match what your competitors are doing by putting 20 or 21 words in your meta description tag using compelling copy.
  3. SEO Metrics: Take note of SEO metrics such as Domain Authority, Page Authority, Ahrefs Domain Rank and URL Rank, Citation Flow, Trust Flow.
  4. Keywords: Use SEMRush and SERPfox to track how the keyword ranking for each competitor. You can also use GeoRanker to track geo-targeted keywords rankings at the local and national levels. SEMRush will tell you which top ten keywords the site is ranking for. This tool tells you the position of each keyword in Google, each keyword’s search volume per month, PPC information, the level of competition for each keyword and the number of Google search results for that term.  Note that if you are targeting a specific number of keywords, you will need to create a landing page for each main keyword.
  5. International Alexa Ranking: Go to Alexa, type in your competitor’s website, click the Get Details button, and then click the Search Analytics tab. On the right side, you will see Top Queries From Search Traffic. The alexa rankings go from 1 to over 30 million, and they are based on how much traffic a website receives. Make a note of the Alexa rank of your competitors.
  6. Regional Alexa Ranking: Note down the Alexa rank in the country you’re targeting. You can see the country-specific Alexa Rank by going to http:// www.alexa.com/ site info, typing in the domain you’re interested in finding out about then clicking on the ‘Get Details’ button before scrolling down to see the country-specific ranks.
  7. Background Information: What is the age of the domain? If your competitor’s site is much older than your domain, it might be harder to beat. What type of IP address does the site have. Is it using a dedicated server or shared hosting? If the site is using a dedicated IP, this indicates a more serious business.
  8. Are they using WordPress? To find out if a competitor is using WordPress, go to www.domainname.com/wp-includes. If you get a list with filenames and links in it, this means the site is powered by WordPress.

Alexa Ranking

An Alexa rank of 200,000 or less indicates the website is getting regular, reasonable levels of traffic. Be sure to check the Alexa Rank for each of your competitors to get a feel for where your site fits in the marketplace. You may also want to check Alexa rank on a country-by-country basis to see how well your competitors are doing in the locations you are targeting.

Using Alexa or other free keyword-spying tools such as Keyword Spy is one way to find out which keywords are actually delivering quality traffic to your competitors. The keywords from which they receive traffic might be the best keywords for you. However, it is important to bear in mind that just because a particular keyword delivers traffic to a site, it doesn’t mean it delivers “quality traffic”.

Using Competitor Information

With all of the information that you have gathered about your competitors, you are now ready to perform the actual process of competitor analysis. Remember that your ultimate goal is to figure out how to first of all make yourself equal and then ultimately better than your competition.

Content Marketing

It is important to identify what type of content has worked for your competition so that you know what type of content is more likely to resonate with your target market. The aim should be to understand what is working for them so that you can incorporate this into your own content marketing.

You want to find out:

  • how their content is being shared across the major networks
  • what is being shared the most
  • what is linked to the most
  • what types of content format your competitors are using: text, video, audio, etc.
  • the most successful content formats
  • who is sharing this content

There are a number of tools you can use to analzye the content of your competitors and how it is working for them. You can use Social Crawlytics and Buzzsumo to identify content on competing blogs that have done well socially (likes, shares, +1’s, links, etc.) You can then analyse a number of factors such as topic, article length, format and links.

Social Media

You’ll want to analyse how successful your competitors are on social media. Find out the following information:

  • how active are your competitors on social media?
  • what platforms are they present on?
  • how many followers do they have on each platform?
  • how successful is their content in terms of likes, shares and comments?
  • what type of content do they share with their followers?
  • how engaged are their followers?

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