The first step to any SEO campaign is to develop a specific SEO strategy. This task can often be daunting because of the endless factors that contribute to SEO: backlinks, keyword strategies, metadata, technical SEO, page speed, etc. While all of these factors are incredibly important, the very first thing you should do is ask yourself “What Are My Competitors Doing?” But, in order to find out what your competitors are doing, you first need to determine just who your competitors are.
How to Find Competitors In SEO
When trying to identify competitors, many people often assume that the competitors offering similar products or services are the same competitors they will be competing with organically. While those sites are often going to be SEO competitors to your business, they likely aren’t the only ones you’ll be competing with.
The only way to correctly identify your SEO competitors is to take it to Google! Before you start your Google spree, you should think about the questions below:
- What are the services or products that I provide?
- Is my service location specific?
- What is the exact industry that I am in?
When you answer these questions you’ll have the correct queries for your Google spree. Once you begin Googling, you’ll want to identify the results that are within the first page of SERPs (search engine result pages). The domains that populate are who you should consider your SEO competitors in addition to the competitors that you knew prior to your Google research.
I Now Know My SEO Competitors. What’s Next?
Once you’ve properly identified your SEO competitors, it’s time to create your spreadsheet so that you can begin your SEO competitor analysis. In this spreadsheet, you will want to list out all of the SEO competitors that you determined in one column. From there, you’ll want to research each SEO competitor’s SEO metrics. These metrics include: On-Site, Off-Site, and Technical.
SEO On-Site Metrics:
The first thing you’ll want to determine is the competitor’s keyword profile, primarily the:
- Total number of keywords ranking in the top 3 of SERPs
- Total number of keywords ranking in the top 10 of SERPs
- Total number of keywords ranking in the top 20 of SERPs
- Total number of ranking keywords
In order to properly determine these metrics, you will need to invest in a SEO tool. Techwood primarily utilizes SEMrush, but tools such as Moz or AHREFS will provide similar data. For this example, we’ll be utilizing SEMrush.
To determine a site’s keyword profile, simply search the domain name in SEMrush and all of the site’s organic data will instantly be provided to you. From here, you want to look at the most recent month (or day) in the chart and hold your mouse over it to reveal the keyword data.
Make note of each of the statistics that we listed above in your spreadsheet. You will also want to export the keywords that each of your competitors ranks for and put them into a unique tab in your spreadsheet. This way, you will have all of your competitors’ keywords listed out right in front of you.
The next on-site SEO metric you’ll want to determine is the total number of indexed pages of your competitors. This metric can be misleading because more pages do not always correlate to a competitive advantage. To determine the number of indexed pages, simply type into Google “site:domain.com”, with “domain.com” being replaced by your competitor’s domains. By doing this, you’ll be provided all of the pages that are indexed for the domain that you have searched. The total number of these pages can be seen directly below the search bar.
Repeat these steps for each of the competitors that you have listed in your spreadsheet. Next, you’ll want to determine your competitor’s off-site metrics
SEO Off-Site Metrics
Off-site metrics mainly consist of a domain’s backlink profile. The primary metrics you want to determine if your competitors are:
- Total number of backlinks
- The total number of backlinks is the number of individual pages across the web that contain external links pointing to your site.
- Total number of referring domains
- Referring Domains are an indication of how many different sites are linking to the domain. If one site is sending 100’s of links to a domain, this could generally be seen as spam, untrustworthy, and less valuable than links coming from unique domains.
- Domain’s Trust and Citation Flow
- Trust and Citation Flow give an indication of the quality of sites that are linked to the domain.
Similar to a domain’s keyword profile, you will need an SEO tool to determine off-site metrics. Techwood recommends utilizing Majestic, but you can also use SEMrush, AHREFS, or Moz’s tools.
When using the Majestic tool, you’ll want to search each of your competitor’s domains in the Majestic search bar. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see that domain’s dashboard where each of the above listed off-site metrics can be found.
Make note of all of the metrics that the red arrows are pointing to in your spreadsheet for each of your competitors. Once that has been completed, it’s time to determine one final metric. Last, but certainly not least, is the technical metrics of your competitors.
SEO Technical Metrics
Fortunately, you’ll only need to utilize some various free SEO tools to determine your competitor’s technical metrics. Details about the importance of these metrics as well as which free tools you can use to determine the metrics can be found below.
Mobile and Desktop Page Speed
Page speed is one of the many factors that Google uses when ranking a page. Over the past decade, increasing Internet speeds have inversely decreased the user’s time they are willing to wait for a page to load. In recent years, Google places more value on the user experience (UX) and has added mobile and desktop page speed as a contributing factor in their ranking algorithm as well.
Recommended tool to use: PageSpeed Insights
Is the site HTTPS certified?
In August 2014, Google announced that https is a ranking signal for search results. Since that time, technology and computing capabilities have improved drastically, revealing weaknesses in cryptography that were previously considered secure.
Recommended tool to use: This can be determined by going to each of the competitor sites and seeing if “https://” is implemented in the URL.
Is the site mobile friendly?
Google has rolled out mobile-first indexing. This means priority is given to sites that are mobile-friendly due to the growing percentage of search traffic coming from mobile users.
Recommended tool to use: This can be determined through Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test (https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly)
Once you’ve determined all of the on-site, off-site, and technical metrics of your competitors, you’ll want to determine all of your own metrics. Once you’ve done that, your spreadsheet should look something like this:
What Do I Do With All of This SEO Competitor Data!?
Now that you have all of your SEO competitor metrics in order, you can begin to identify specific SEO metrics that you need to improve in. If it’s off-site metrics, maybe you want to begin looking for backlinking opportunities, through methods like citation creation and outreach campaigns. If it’s technical metrics, maybe you want to look into improving your page speed scores with a Page Speed Audit or purchasing an SSL certificate to obtain HTTPS. Both off-site and technical metrics take A LOT of time and effort to improve, but the impact of improving these metrics is phenomenal.
Because you are likely early into your SEO campaign (or even just beginning), you may be falling behind, particularly when it comes to on-site metrics. Luckily, these can oftentimes be the quickest to turn around.
Identifying Competitor On-Site Trends
Identifying competitor on-site trends, particularly of those that are outperforming you in on-site metrics, is a great way to determine how you can improve your own site. What type of content do the competitors have on the higher priority pages? What questions are they answering on these pages? What questions are competitors NOT answering on these pages?
Answering these three questions will go a long way in quickly identifying areas for improvement. If a competitor site is answering a question that you’re not on a similar type of page, and the SERPs show that they are outranking you, it is safe to say that you should add that content onto your site as well. The key here isn’t just to identify what you’re missing, however. You should also identify what the competitors are missing so you can showcase that your content provides everything the competitors does but BETTER. What the competitors are doing should be considered the bare minimum of what you have to do.
Utilizing Competitor Content Strategies for High Priority Pages
High priority pages can be determined by the pages within your and your competitors’ navigation. Your navigation acts as a way to let Google know which pages you consider to be most important. After all, you are essentially ensuring that your users ALWAYS have access to them. Because your competitors are often serving the same purpose as you (i.e. offering similar products, services, etc.), they will likely have similar high priority pages. What pages have competitors identified as a high priority that maybe you’ve overlooked, or haven’t even considered?
You want to identify which pages on competitor sites are most like your own so that you can compare and contrast your page to your competitors. Does the competitor have keywords inserted in their metadata with strong search volume? If you are local, do competitors utilize the name of the location in their metadata? Is the location used within the content? What are the keyword densities within your competitor’s content? What is the unique word count of these competitor pages? Answering these questions will be your gateway to understanding what you need to do in order to highlight that your content provides more answers to users than your competitors. In essence, that’s what SEO is: showing search engines that you are the most likely site to provide the information that a search engine user is looking for.
Utilizing Competitor Blog Strategies
What are some of the topics that your competitors have covered that you haven’t? A great way to do this is to utilize SEMrush’s page tool. Search your competitor in SEMrush then click on the “Pages” section. Oftentimes, a competitor’s blog will be located in a “/blog/” subfolder, making it easy to filter for blog posts. For one of our clients, we utilize myfitnesspal.com’s blog content to develop our own strategies. So we search for myfitnesspal.com on SEMrush, then filter the pages by “blog” as seen below:
This gives us an almost never-ending list of content that is proven to accumulate keywords and traffic. From here, you’ll want to identify topics that you’d be capable of writing about, research the keywords that the page is ranking for, and then review the content on the competitor page. How does the content flow? What questions are they answering? What questions are they NOT answering? Does this blog page have keywords in the page’s metadata? Similar to the high priority pages we discussed above, you’re not just doing what the competitors are doing; you’re doing what the competitors are doing BUT BETTER. Maybe the competitors aren’t properly optimizing their metadata with rich keywords? There are limitless ways that you can take a competitor’s content and make it better. You just need to identify the missing pieces, analyze the content that is there, and take the time to improve it.
Analyzing Your Competitors Never Ends
It is important to understand that this process never ends. You should ALWAYS be reviewing your competitors’ strategies and metrics. The world of SEO is ever-changing and so you need to be capable of changing with it. Your competitors are putting in the effort to try and be better than you; make their efforts futile by ALWAYS being ahead of the game.