Many business owners spend countless hours trying to get ahead of the competition. Most of us have experienced getting stepped on at some point by our competitors. And we don’t like the feeling! Online businesses have opportunities that offline businesses do not when it comes to competitive analysis. And there is absolutely no reason not to take advantage of such opportunities to improve your business standing on search engines.
Search engine optimization (SEO) tactics can be used to learn about your competition. Everyone is familiar with keyword research which is a major component of competitive analysis. Your competitors may very well be targeting keywords you never considered. But competitive analysis encompasses more than that. Fortunately, many tools are available to help you learn about your competitor’s online activities.
The more you know about your competitors, the more you can do for yourself. This is not a new concept, nor is it unique to online businesses. The following tips are intended to provide direction for your competitive analysis so you get information you can use to improve your own ranking.
Tip #1: Identify Your Competitors
This might seem like a silly tip but do you really know who your competitors are? It is a mistake to assume that your online competitors are naturally the same as your brick-and-mortar competitors. Review your keyword list and corresponding search results for each keyword. The sites that appear most frequently may be your greatest competitors. But don’t assume so – take a look at their websites. Are they spammy? If so, they are not true competitors. In other words, they may be ranked high on SERPs, but that does not automatically mean they have a large number of users or produce revenue. Remember that the purpose to securing a high position on SERPs is to get noticed by search engine users – that is only the first step. You still need to have something of value they want to buy.
Tip #2: Carefully Consider Content
Once you have identified your top competitors, you are ready to begin the analysis. Examine the content your competitors provide users. Quantity is important, especially when it comes to establishing authority. But it is the quality that keeps them ranked high on search engine results pages (SERPs). If they have good content, what are they doing that you are not? Can you replicate it without duplicating it? This is a must as duplicate content can get your site banned from search engines. What you want to do is figure out what they are doing that is successful and see how you can use that information to achieve the same results. Where are they getting their ideas? What can you learn about what your customers want that you are not giving them? How frequently are they posting new content? Be sure to consider all content, not just text. See how competitors rank on Images, News, Videos, and other search options. How are they using keywords across content? Are you using a similar approach? Should you?
Tip #3: Check Backlinks
Backlinks are the real story behind your competitors’ authority. The more links they have, the better their ranking will be. Of course, this assumes the backlinks are from high quality sites. You can easily get a listing of each competitor’s backlinks with tools that are available online. Once you have the list, you just need to review the backlinks to see where they originate. Do you have similar backlinks? If not, can you get them? You may find that many are from readers who share their content with others. If this is the case, where does the content come from? Do your competitors host their own blog? Do they post YouTube videos? Or maybe they post marketing articles or submit press releases to appropriate directories.
Tip #4: Review Optimization Techniques
This is where we get down to the details – those little things that help sites rank higher on SERPs. Analyze their title tags and meta descriptions. Determine how they are using keywords. In addition to your keywords, research the other keywords they are using. Which ones perform better? What white hat SEO practices have they implemented and how are they working for them? Look for over-optimization issues. They may be at risk for a search engine penalty because of keyword stuffing or linking to bad neighborhoods. You should have a good understanding of black hat as well as white hat SEO tactics so you can easily identify each. It’s possible that a competitor that is ranked higher than you is engaged in black hat practices and just hasn’t been caught by the search engines yet. You don’t want to put your site at risk by following their black hat examples.
Tip #5: Find Out About Their Non-Organic Traffic
You can also determine if your competitors are supplementing organic traffic with paid traffic. Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns are the more common ways of attracting paid traffic. One of the most important reasons to consider paid search results is because most programs have a list of prohibited keywords that must be avoided. As a result, it is possible that your competitors may be using different keywords for paid traffic. And this can help you with your own SEO efforts. You may find that the keywords they use for paid SEO are just as effective with organic searches but they only made the change because they had to and did not replicate the keywords in their other SEO methods. Since the goal is to find opportunities you can leverage to improve your own position, you can test those keywords to see if they are successful for you.
Tip #6: View Social Media Channels
You can learn a lot about your competitors’ ability to engage customers by viewing their social profiles. At least look at the top social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. If there is a particular platform that is popular within your industry, that should be your priority. Take a look at their social media business pages to see how they have positioned themselves on each platform. You may find they have figured a way to make use of a social network that you never considered. What type of content are they sharing through social media? What is most popular with customers? Has any of their content gone viral? What can you learn from that? Are they using a stand-alone blog or is their blog on their website? Can you tell if this was a strategic decision on their part? And how is it working for them?
Tip #7: Test Their Site Structure and Navigation
When you go through their site, look at it from a user’s perspective. What do you like about it? What techniques have they used that makes for a good user experience? You can use this information to improve your own site. Look at their internal linking structure and menus. Are they using headlines in a way that is more compelling than the way you do? Do they have a sitemap or search function that allows users to easily locate content? From a competitor perspective, you can see which of their pages are consistently indexed and ranked on search engines. The number of indexed pages you have does matter for rankings on SERPs.
In summary, your competitive analysis should answer the following questions:
- Who are my main competitors?
- What keywords are they targeting?
- Where is their traffic originating from?
- What are all potential traffic sources?
- Can I find them in a universal search (text, video, news, etc.)
- How are they using social networks?
- What content are their users sharing?
- Can I identify specific off-page strategies they employ?
- What is the typical user experience with their site?
It’s a good idea to monitor your competitors on a regular basis so you can prevent yourself from being stepped on as they work diligently to move up on SERP rankings. And they will step on you to accomplish a higher ranking. Competitive analysis should be a key component of your SEO strategy. It is routinely included in brick-and-mortar business strategies. In fact, competitive analysis is very much in play when a business conducts an in-depth S.W.O.T. analysis which identifies internal and external Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This information is then used to improve business practices for greater success.
To learn about various tools, many of which are free, you can use to conduct your competitive analysis, check out our list of SEO tools. There are other excellent resources including those provided by search engines themselves. Google has a myriad of tools including Google AdWords keyword tool that are available for you to use. Instead of using them for your own site, you simply enter your competitor’s URL to get their information.
By using these tips, you can even the playing ground between you and your competitors. More importantly, you can do it fairly quickly. The exact information you collect and analyze will vary depending on what you want to learn about your competitors. You can use the tips above to get you started and then you can pinpoint additional information to review.