SEO Competitive Research

Ashley Bryan

Published On Aug 23,2022

Most people involved with SEO are familiar with the name Neil Patel. Neil has become a renowned expert on SEO Competitive Analysis and says that “SEO is not nearly as complicated as most people make it out to be”. Personally, we love the statement on Neil’s website Want more Traffic? I’m determined to make a business grow; my only question is’ Will it be Yours’?”

Knowing just how important SEO is to the success of an online business, it’s interesting that most people are quite clueless about how to find and choose the right types of keywords. Yes, they know how to choose and target a few generic keywords, and they probably stalk a competitors website from time to time, but the sad news is that none of this works effectively. Why?

  • To start with, they’re not taking into account just how competitive their target keywords are;
  • They’re not considering the ROI they could be getting by targeting specific keywords; and
  • They’re not correctly assessing the resources they’ll need to be able to compete and win.

Imagine the results if you had full knowledge of the keywords users search for during their online journey! Every single aspect of your sales funnel would be strengthened.

  • Your message would be clear and more powerful;
  • There would be a huge increase in your click-through rate, simply because your content would match the search intentions of your potential customers; and
  • There would be a massive increase in your conversion rates, delivering a huge competitor edge and increased ROI.

So now you know the results you could be achieving, let’s dive in and get started. We’ll start with what’s required to match your keywords to a customer’s buying cycle.

  • A potential customer’s journey;
  • The keywords that relate to every stage of that journey;
  • The competitive performance of each keyword at each stage; and
  • How to compete by determining what these keywords are.

Explaining SEO Competitive Analysis

All site owners should be doing competitive analysis, yet many are not doing it and some are not doing it very well. Well-executed competitive analysis can become your roadmap for what needs to be done to improve your website, to be as good if not better than your competitors.

Competitive analysis is the ideal tool for identifying the weaknesses and strengths of both your site and your competitors’ sites. With this information you can quickly determine areas of your site that need improvement, as well as identifying areas where your competitors are weak – these are the areas you can capitalise on.

Why SEO Competitive Analysis Is so Important

it’s not good enough to simply guess which content to create, keywords to target, or links to build. You need to see what’s working for others, then build on their success. Therefore, “SEO competitive analysis is the researching of keywords, links, content, and so on, of your SEO competitors with a view to reverse-engineering the more profitable elements into your own SEO strategy”.

Imagine you’re the owner-operator of a small supermarket, just one of three supermarkets in town. You know your customers are happy because they tell you so, but you also know that, because they’re not able to purchase everything in your store, they also visit the other supermarkets. So what do you do? It’s obvious, isn’t it! You visit the other stores to gather competitive intelligence, to discover the popular items they’re offering to your customers. Now you can offer these products, or even superior products, in your own store, thus gaining more business for you and helping your customers make fewer trips by doing all their shopping in your store. A win-win situation for both you and your customers!

What SEO Competitive Analysis Involves

Neil Patel says that ‘your competitors can become your greatest allies if you allow them’. Imagine this: take someone else’s success, reverse engineer it and identify their weaknesses. You now have the knowledge to win more often, and win bigger. After all, that’s what competition is all about.

SEO is simply following best practices. There’s a right and wrong way of doing everything, whether it be keyword research or building internal links. However, we often see webmasters declaring that they’re using best practices and implementing every aspect of Google’s SEO guide, yet still failing to achieve top-3 results. As we can see from the results, some best practices simply don’t work, while others only exist within a certain niche. That’s why we have competition research.

What we know for certain, though, is that websites that rank higher than you are doing something more effectively than you, and we’re about to find out what that is. When you perform an SEO Competitor Analysis, you’ll discover –

  • What your competitors’ weaknesses are – which will allow you to capitalise on them;
  • What does and doesn’t work in your industry;
  • How to find, then replicate your competitors strengths;
  • What SEO tasks you need to prioritise; and
  • How difficult it can be to outperform competitors in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS).

Uncovering SEO Opportunities

SEO Competitive Analysis is a powerful research strategy designed to help you get more traffic, earn more conversions, and ultimately rank higher. This happens when you uncover SEO possibilities not previously recognised.

Now you’ll have answers to questions like these –

  • Who are my SEO competitors?
  • What keyword should I be targeting?
  • What topics should I be covering?
  • Where do I find links?
  • What must I do in order to beat the competition?

While there are a number of ways to carry out SEO Competitive Analysis, what’s basically required is this: you need to analyse the keywords, links, content, and so on that works for your competition, then use this information to improve your own SEO endeavours.

Comparing SEO Competition to Business Competition

The first thing you need to determine is who your SEO competitors are. Interestingly, your business rivals are not necessarily your SEO competitors, and your SEO competitors are not necessarily your business rivals. You need to understand that when we say SEO competitors, we’re only talking about those you’re competing with for a high ranking in the search engine results pages.

If your business competitor is not ranking in the SERPS you’re targeting, then as far as SEO competition is concerned, they’re not a threat to you.

User Intent and Google SERPS

If you want to win web traffic, knowing the right keywords to target is not enough; what you need is to understand ‘searcher intent’ for your specific keywords. What does this mean? It means you need to get inside the mind of the web searcher to discover what they’re really looking for. Yes, we know this doesn’t sound feasible, but luckily Google has already done most of the work for us. Start by Googling your target keyword.

How to Identify Your SEO Competitors

The two types of SEO competitors are domain competitors and topic competitors. Both of these are crucial for SEO strategy.

  • Domain Competitors: These websites are the ones that are targeting the same keywords that you are. They’re over all their webpages. To locate your domain competitors, start with your domain and all keywords applicable to your niche. Make a list of domains that rank for the specific keywords.
  • Topic Competitors: These are not entire websites; they are specific webpages that rank for your chosen topics. To locate your topic competitors, start with a specific group of keywords, then find all the ranking webpages that target them.

Once you start identifying and tracking your domain competitors you’ll notice huge ranking variations across your niche. This will be your opportunity to monitor how successful domains develop their content strategy.

At the same time, it’s vital that you know your topic competitors when creating new webpages. Before you create your page, make a list of the most-clicked, highest-ranking webpages on your topic. This is a way to discover what both search engines and users expect to see on popular pages that cover your topic.

How to Find Your Domain Competitors

In order to determine who the kingpins of your industry are, you need to learn (and then help yourself to!) the marketing strategies and SEO that keeps them on top of the pile. It won’t be necessary to search the top one-hundred.

How to Find Your Topic Competitors

To determine what works on your target SERPS right now, you need to analyse your topic competitors. It’s highly likely that the way webpages have been set up by your ranking competitors will be what search engines are looking for in a relevant page.

To check the results, get the highest positions and see how their content is structured, how they present their titles, and how they write their URLs. Many webmasters do this manually; one-by-one they Google the keywords they want to target; they study the SERP, then enter the data into a huge Excel spreadsheet.

Let’s say your topic competitors have many backlinks. We can assume, then, that it’s a very competitive vertical you’re targeting, so you’re going to need a heavy link-building campaign if your aim is to make it to the top three.

On the other hand, some results will show more backlinks than others on the SERP, which will automatically affect its ranking position. However, if you’re not trying to rank your homepage for nonbranded keywords, and the rest of the SERP is okay, you can then exclude that specific result from your competitive SEO analysis.

Once you’ve located your topic competitors, go ahead and click on any of them to find their ranking keywords.

Analysing Your Competitors’ Content

  • Copying Ideas for Great Content from Your Competitors: One of the best and easiest ways of finding the right direction for your website content is to look for published inspiration on your competitors pages.
  • Your Competitors’ Best Website Content: One way of developing ideas for your content is by using keywords, while another is to check out the top performing content on your competitors’ website.

For the purpose of this exercise, we’re trying to determine which content scored the most links for our competitors. We know that links are one of the biggest ranking factors, so we know we need to focus on topics that others are happy to link to.

Set out below is one of most effective and reliable ways of creating content in SEO –

  • Find your competitions’ top content;
  • Create new content that dramatically improves upon it in as many ways as possible;
  • Now start promoting your own content to a similar group of people.

Note that we said to ‘Dramatically Improve upon’ your competitors’ content, not just recreate it, because that would have little or no chance of success. Try adding more data, additional features, amazing visuals, anything at all that will make your content more useful and/or more appealing.

We’ll now look at how your competitors create their content. Once you have analysed their high-ranking content strategies, you’ll be able to –

  • Consider new ideas for your own content; and
  • Improve your rankings on your own pages.

Closing the Keyword Gaps

What are keyword gaps? These are the keywords that your competitors are already ranking highly for, however your own website is not ranking at all for these keywords, or perhaps it’s ranking low.

What Does the Term ‘Competitive Keyword Analysis ‘ Mean?

Competitive keyword analysis, also referred to as keyword gap analysis, is a process whereby valuable keywords that your competitors are ranking highly for are identified. These are keywords for which you’re not ranking highly.

Consider the following important points –

  • These keywords are ones that you should rank for, or words you could be ranking for better;
  • These are keywords that should be valuable. By this we mean related to your business, high-volume, or likely to convert; and
  • In order to get a more accurate analysis, we suggest you compare two or more competitors.

Obviously, both you and your competitors could theoretically rank for any number of keywords (perhaps thousands) so this can be a difficult type of analysis to do manually. So, what are we looking for? We’re aiming to find –

  • High-volume keywords; one’s where you’re ranking in positions 4 to 15, words that could use a boost; and
  • Valuable keywords that you’re currently not ranking for at all.

It could be that ‘lack of relevance’ is the reason your page is not ranking as well as it should be. By ‘relevance’ we mean certain keyword clusters that are covered by your competition, but are not being covered by you. The result is that the search engines consider you to be a less-relevant source when compared to other pages. You need to add more relevant keywords, and even entire topics, in order to –

  • Provide a much-needed boost to the relevance of your pages now that you’re totally covering the chosen topic; and
  • Increase your search traffic because, thanks to the added keywords, you’ll start moving into new SERPS.

Find New Prospects by Analysing Competitors’ Backlinks

Explaining SEO Link Gap Analysis

Link Gap Analysis works very similar to our keywords process, whereby we identify links earned by your competitors, ones that you might also be able to obtain.

When it comes to ranking, links are very important. In fact, without links it’s very difficult to rank at all. On the other hand, it’s not easy to obtain good links. So, in order to determine where good links might be, links that may be easier to obtain, we use data and intelligence. We’re going to look for sites that are already linked to your competitors, but not linked to you.

The reason this works is because the sites already linked to your competitors have already shown they have an interest in the topic. What you need to do is prove that your resource is much better than your competitors. If you can do this, it’s highly likely you’ll earn a link as well. The added bonus with this process is that you’ll discover the highly-relevant pages you need to get links from.

One of the most powerful indicators of any site’s authority to search engines is backlinks, specifically referring domains. This explains why link building is an absolute necessity for long-term ranking success. Perhaps the major component of any link-building campaign is to find new, high-quality backlink possibilities by analysing the backlinks profiles of your competitors.

How do you do this? Locate all websites that link to at least two of your domain competitors. If you see that a website has already linked back to a number of websites in your niche, then you know there’s a good chance they’ll be happy to link to you as well. In particular, look at websites that provide “dofollow” links if you’re trying to improve your rankings. Speaking of “dofollow” links, you’ll notice that some websites randomly mark all their outgoing links as “nofollow”. This is not something you should be doing. Backlinks from those will not help your ranking; however, they may bring some users to your pages.

Now that you have located websites that link to at least two of your competitors, you need to see the context for those backlinks by going to the pages that link to your competition. Let’s say they’ve linked to your competitors in connection to a listicle on your industry: now you can make contact with them and submit your own product for their review. Once you have a number of potentially good-quality backlinks you can commence your reach-out campaign.

In order to achieve higher rankings, you need to focus on the overall number of linking domains and backlinks, specifically dofollow links, and the range of C-blocks and IPs in your link profile. With these metrics increasing, you’re basically telling the search engine that your website is trusted and authoritative. Keep in mind that it takes time to build links; it takes even longer for a search engine to start weighing them into your rankings. Also note that, if your website receives a heap of low-quality backlinks in one hit, it could be assumed that you bought them which would result in a ranking penalty.

Continue Tracking Competitors’ Backlinks and Rankings

The process of keeping track of your competition is not a one-off thing. You may have obtained all the information you needed from their backlink profiles and from their content, but remember that SEO is always changing, so you still need to monitor them closely.

Continue Monitoring Your Competitors’ Rankings

Continuously monitoring your competitors rankings is important for a couple of reasons –

  • If any major algorithms shake up your industry, you’ll be the first to notice. Every year we see thousands of minor updates, but we also see some major algorithm updates. There are always going to be fluctuations, what with Google upgrading their calculations and different factors gaining and losing weight. You need to keep a close eye on these movements; this way you’re fully informed and can make an accurate diagnosis of your own changes in rankings.
  • You will have immediate knowledge of your competitions’ optimisation efforts. You’ll know it’s time to start investigating if you refresh your competition’s rankings and notice that their visibility and rankings have increased.

Let’s say you notice that one of your competitors’ pages suddenly shoots up in ranking for a certain keyword. When this occurs, it’s time to run a full-scale analysis. Start with their backlinks, and you might want to try using something like Internet Archive Way-Back Machine. Here you’ll discover billions of cached webpages, so you’ll be able to see straight away if your competition has done a major content overhaul.

Check to See Changes in Your Competitors’ Backlinks Profiles

It may be that your competitors’ rankings have dramatically improved not because of their content, but because of their backlink profiles. You’ll need to analyse both the new backlinks and the new referring domains they’ve located for their content.

In Conclusion

Competition is normal; it exists in every profession and in every industry. However, competition in SEO can be extremely beneficial, far more-so than the phrase ‘Competition spurs innovation’.

As optimisation specialists and webmasters, we can determine what actually works by using our competitors’ rise and fall in rankings. By checking out their backlink profiles and web content, we have easy access to information on what search engines really value and what they expect to see on webpages they are already ranking highly.