Working on your SEO without seeing what your competitors are doing?
That’s like going into a boxing match blindfolded.
Whether you like it or not, the punches are coming.
You’ll be knocked out before you know what hit you.
SEO really is just like a boxing match.
If your competition has an incredible SEO right hook, you need to know that—and plan to counter it.
You have to keep the punches rolling and stay on the offense to come out on top.
By sizing up the competition and learning the ins and outs of their SEO strategy, you can stay ahead and dominate the search engine result pages (SERP).
This guide to SEO competitor analysis will get you started on this today.
SEO Competitor Analysis: 8 Unbeatable Steps to KO the Competition
Step 1: Pinpoint Your Ideal Keywords
First things first: Time to do some keyword soul-searching.
To organize your keywords around your business goals, make use of the good ol’ sales funnel.
Since you’re doing competitive seo analysis, focus on the first two stages of the funnel where you and your competitors both intend to capture new leads.
a. Research “The Awareness Stage”
At the broadest stage of the funnel—the awareness stage—people are researching how to solve their problem, but aren’t looking to convert yet. Awareness search queries focus on education—for potential customers who may or may not have the intent to buy anything.
The most common type of awareness keyword involves the phrase “how to.”
b. Research “The Consideration Stage”
People in the consideration stage are on the cusp of conversion. They’re shopping around for your product or service. They’re in the decision-making process. They may even be comparing you to your competitors.
These keywords can be broken down into three subcategories:
- About your product/service: The benefits, features, costs and location.
- “benefits of SEO services”
- “features of SEO tools”
- “average cost of SEO services”
- “where to find SEO services New York”
- Your product/service versus a competitor’s product/service in terms of the above.
- Sizing up reputation: Your reputation versus a competitor’s reputation.
- “Monitor Backlinks reviews”
- “Ahrefs review”
- “Majestic SEO review”
c. Make Competitive Keyword Lists
Make a keyword list for each category:
- Consideration: About your product/service
- Consideration: Your product/service versus a competitor’s product/service
- Consideration: Reputation
The examples given in the above section should give you a clear idea of what you’re looking for. Now, you just need to do the research within your own niche.
For example, here’s the Answer the Public search results for “boxing gloves:”
And there’s a beautiful visualization of the data that you can explore:
d. Build Your Keyword List: Go Long or Go Home
If you’re a small-to-medium-sized business, you’ll want to aim for longtail keywords. Longtail keywords are very specific and clear in intent, which will help people looking for your specific solution find you.
For instance, if you’re a company that sells boxing gloves specifically for women, you’re much better off aiming for “boxing gloves made for women” or even “boxing gloves for small hands women” than just “boxing gloves.”
You’re not aiming at selling boxing gloves for men, so why spend your time and resources on a keyword that’s not focusing precisely on your target market?
Step 2: Use Your Keywords to Find Your Top Competitors
Once you have your keyword lists, it’s time to identify your top competitors.
Known Competitors vs. SERP Competitors
You likely already have a few known competitors mentioned in your keyword lists. These are competitors that you’re very aware of as businesses that are in your market. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, these competitors are most likely in your immediate geographic area.
However, we want to make sure we cover your competitors on the ground as well as competitors on the SERP landscape. You may be competing against companies on organic search that you’re not yet aware of.
To find these competitors, start plugging keywords from your keyword lists into the Google Search bar. Look at the first couple of result pages for each. We’re not done fleshing out our keyword list, so don’t worry about recording who’s ranking where. Our goal here is just to identify other players in the ring.
You’ll find different types of competitors: direct competitors, indirect competitors, aggregators and heavyweights.
Direct vs. Indirect Competitors
To get the most value out of your time, you’ll want to target direct competitors before moving on to indirect competitors.
Direct competitors are like you: They sell what you sell, they’re similar in size, they have a similar target audience and they may serve a similar geographic area. Indirect competitors solve a similar problem that you solve, but they sell a different solution.
Because your direct competitors are your top competitors, write them down on your list. You can worry about your indirect competitors after you’re done dominating your direct competitors.
Aggregators and Heavyweights
You’ll likely come across some aggregators and heavyweights as you plug in your keywords.
Heavyweights are companies that are targeting a similar group of people as you, but are too large to be a direct competitor.
If there’s a lot of aggregators and heavyweights coming up for your keywords, it’s likely that your keywords are too broad. Remember, longtail keywords are the way to go. If needed, go back to step one and replace those broad keywords with longtail keywords.
Compete on Aggregators
Even though you can’t compete against aggregators, you can compete on them.
Ranking through aggregators is best known as barnacle SEO.
Write down all of the aggregators that come up for keywords relevant to your business and make sure you’re listed on them, especially if your competitors are. Having your business information listed consistently is key.
Step 3: Uncover Top Competitor Keywords
Once you have a list of your top competitors, it’s time to spy on their keywords.
You already know that these competitors are ranking well for some of your ideal keywords, of course. Now, it’s time to go deeper and see what other keywords they’ve focused on ranking for, then use that information to your advantage. After all, they’re trying to reel in the same target audience as you.
If you don’t have access to an expensive SEO tool that offers competitor keyword analysis, you can take a two-pronged approach.
The first prong is using free tools and free trials to find what keywords they’re currently ranking for. The limited free plan of SimilarWeb is a good place to start.
The second prong is to figure out what keywords they’re trying to rank for. You can do this by studying their site, using free tools like SEOQuake. On SEOQuake’s keyword density tab, you can see which words and phrases are recurring and how often.
Add any of your competitor’s keywords to your keyword lists that aren’t already on there. Like before, make sure they’re keywords you could actually rank for.
If your competitor is trying to rank for keywords out of their league, that’s a sign that you can surpass them with your own SEO and longtail keyword approach.
Step 4: Create Keyword Clusters for Smart Internal Linking
It’s time to cluster your keywords by topic.
Today, the pages that rank the best are ones that are thorough, cover a topic holistically and are internally linked to other thematically-relevant pages.
First, group together keywords that would belong on the same page, like keywords that say the same thing in different ways. If you think about each of those groups representing a page, you’ll want to create topical clusters of pages.
Each cluster should focus on a topic with one page being the parent page or “hub page,” and the other pages as child pages that get increasingly more specific. Each cluster will be intentionally and internally linked for maximum SEO power.
Step 5: Uncover Top Competitor Backlinks
Monitor Backlinks will get you head and shoulders above your toughest competitors. You’ll discover brand new ways to outrank, outpace and outsell competitors thanks to Monitor Backlinks competitor research features.
Monitoring your backlinks—and running a competitor backlink analysis—shouldn’t be a struggle, but other tools make it feel that way. That’s why we designed Monitor Backlinks to be the friendliest, easiest-to-use backlinks monitoring tool on the web.
And while it’s totally user-friendly, this tool still manages to dig deep and retrieve a ton of advanced metrics to give you a holistic understanding of your website’s SEO performance, along with the performance of your top competitors.
Just add the names of your competitors right on your dashboard.
If you’re not 100 percent sure who your competitors are yet, then you can let the tool suggest some competitors for you to track.
Once you’ve chosen your competitors, Monitor Backlinks will show you all of their key SEO metrics.
You’ll get to see every last one of their backlinks from other websites!
And you’ll even get to see what they’ve got ranking for the keywords you currently have in use on your own site. If they’re beating you out for some ideal target keywords, you’ll now know that you need to fix that.
Everyone—from total SEO newbs to seasoned professionals—will find something to love about this tool.
If you’re just looking to use it temporarily for your first round of SEO competitor analysis, you can take advantage of its 30-day free trial—but you’ll probably end up sticking around longer after you see those SEO results!
Step 6: Do a Competitor Site Performance Analysis
To analyze a competitor’s SEO, you’ll want to get the big picture on the performance of their site.
Competitor Site Performance Factors:
For each of your competitors, record the following in a spreadsheet:
- Domain authority
- Home page authority
- Backlink profile
- Traffic Metrics
- Average monthly visits
- Bounce Rate
- Time on site
- Referral traffic
You can use the Monitor Backlinks Free Backlink Checker to quickly see domain and page authority, a full Monitor Backlinks account for the backlink profile and essential SEO metrics, and SimilarWeb or Follow.net for additional traffic metrics.
Step 7: Do a Competitor Content Strategy Analysis
Once you have the general metrics of the competitor’s site, it’s time to drill down at look at their pages and content marketing.
You can use free tools like Portent’s SEO Page Review to get a quick look at the URL, title tag, meta description, headings and internal links of each page.
Pull up SEOQuake again for quick page data, including keyword density.
Ask and answer each of these questions about your competitor’s pages.
Competitor Content Strategy Factors:
- Which keyword cluster would this page potentially rank for based on the topic and keywords of the page?
- What’s the purpose of this page?
- How well does the page fulfill its purpose? What’s there and what’s missing?
- Is the content written for the web?
- Is the page guiding users through the site? Are there smartly placed calls-to-action?
- Is the page internally linked to other thematically relevant pages?
While you’re doing this, look for weaknesses and write them down.
If the page is meant to sell a product or service but doesn’t have pricing information and is full of useless, fluffy content, that’s where you can beat them.
While you’re analyzing pages of different competitors, compare their content strategy to their site performance metrics to get a sense of how well their strategy is working for them.
Make sure each page is assigned to a keyword cluster so that you can match up your pages with your competitor’s pages in the next step.
Step 8: Create Competitive SEO Checklists for Each Page
Before you can create any checklists, you’ll need to assign the pages on your site to the keyword clusters you created.
You may need to adjust how your pages are internally linked and add or delete some pages to more closely resemble your keyword clusters.
This alone will give you a huge SEO advantage over your competitors.
From there, use your Competitor Content Strategy Analysis from Step 7 to create an SEO checklist for each page on your site.
Use your keyword clusters as a guide for pairing up pages on your site with pages that serve the same purpose on your competitor’s site.
Your checklist should be a list of ways you can improve your page and make it better than your competitor’s corresponding pages.
Each page should include a natural variety of keywords that you already have organized, and each page should top your competitor’s corresponding page in fulfilling its purpose, user experience, metadata and smart internal linking.
Once your pages are beautified, you can work on replicating quality backlinks that your competitors have and earning more that they don’t.
With all that done, you’re ready to deliver the ultimate SEO TKO.