Competitor analysis has been intrinsic the process of business development for many years. Stretching back to when Henry Ford first created the production line for his model T, Japanese companies such as Toyota would come to look at how this process worked in order to recreate it. More than simply recreating production lines, they actually improved it creating concepts and methodologies such as the “Just in Time” principle, which saved both money and storage space.
Today in the digital renaissance competitor analysis is still just as valuable as it always has been, and in SEO the process is invaluable.
In this article I will explain what SEO Competitor Analysis are, what the benefits of doing it are and I will also provide some examples of how to perform a SEO Competitor Analysis.
What is SEO Competitor Analysis?
SEO Competitor Analysis is the process of analysing your competitor’s websites both on and off-page. At this point it is important to define a ‘competitor’; in terms of an online competitor we are referring to a business / website that competes with you for custom or visits. But furthermore, a competitor will be targeting similar keywords to you and doing so successfully. This is an important distinction because they will likely hold positions within the SERPs for keywords that you want to achieve.
As such, time spent trying to replicate or improve upon what a competitor has in place will provide you with both insights into the difficulty of improving your rankings and more methods to achieve them.
Why do SEO Competitor Analysis?
As mentioned, understanding how your competition has gained rankings that you want to achieve will allow you to realise your goals more easily. Also, evaluating new competitors rising quickly through the SERPs can give you early warning signs that a competitor may be using underhand tactics or black hat SEO techniques to boost rankings in the short term. SEO Competitor Analysis will build a picture of the online topology, it can help to expose opportunities and steer your online campaign in the right directions.
How does SEO Competitor Analysis Work?
First off you must find a competitor to analyse. To do this search for your top keyword in Google, ensuring that you are looking at the right results, so choose your geographical region, the UK or web for example. Pick the first few relevant organic results, so a listing for another business rather than Wikipedia for example.
The SEO Competitor Analysis is essentially broken into two major areas on-page and off-page analysis. Off-page analysis focuses primarily on back-links, how many links, where are they from, what quality are they and most importantly can you recreate them for your own site. On-page analysis focuses on all of the standard SEO elements; Meta, H titles, content, keyword focus, site structure and internal linking to name but a few. Additionally you should look at things like site usability, branding and image.
How to Do On-Page SEO Competitor Analysis
This will give you an idea of the amount of SEO work that has been performed on a website and as such will be a strong indicator of how much work needs to be put in to accomplish similar results. I will assume you have already found a competitor to analyse, first look at the Home page of the site. This is the flagship page and in most cases will be a great example of the quality of the on-page SEO. Look for all the standard hallmarks of SEO; check to see what things aren’t there that should be and what is there that shouldn’t be:
Meta data – Description and titles should be present and in-line with best practices; character limits, capitalisation etc. Also look for unnecessary Meta data such as “Keyword” tags, these are not used by Google anymore but they can impart some lovely little insights into what they’re targeting. Many websites still list all of their keywords in a single Meta tag. This is great for us as immediately you can see everything they are targeting, this data can be used later to see how well they are ranking for each of these words.
Keyword focus – is the page obviously targeting a keyword? Is it present in the Meta, the H1 title, the content, etc. Are they trying to target multiple keywords with one page? Are keywords bolded or otherwise highlighted in the content. Is there enough content to achieve a high level of keyword focus?
Site structure – How many pages does the site have? Is it structured in such a way that 2nd and 3rd tier pages are easily accessible? Are URLs created dynamically by search functionality or are the pages static?
Additional files – Check for a robots.txt, sitemap.xml, an error 404 page and a sitemap.html… Are they present and are they setup correctly?
Internal linking – Are there a good number of internal links, do they use quality anchor text, are there too many or not enough?
Site performance – Is it quick to load, do images take a long time to load, does the site time out or have missing pages?
Usability – Is the site easy to use? Does it have clearly labelled sections; can you find what you are looking for quickly and within a couple of clicks? If there is a checkout process, is it good, easy to understand and efficient? Is there a logo in the top left and does it link to the Home page? Is there a clear call to action?
Dodgy tactics – Does the site use spammy tactics like keyword stuffing or duplicated content? Has it been copied from another website or appear to be using hidden text? This will highlight the nature of the market you are in, if many sites use these underhand tactics then it is likely that they will experience a short lifetime in the SERPs.
How to Do Off-Page SEO Competitor Analysis
Although there are tools available to analyse a website for on-page elements personally I would usually do this manually, using a couple of select tools to get an overview of a site. Looking at source code just can’t be beaten in my humble opinion. Off-page SEO Competitor Analysis is not the same; you will need to use tools to do this. The most obvious tool and one that is completely free is ‘Yahoo Site Explorer’. Simply put your URL into it and hit “explore”, ensure that you are looking at links “external to this domain” and links to the “Entire Site”.
What you will be presented with is a list of back-links from pages on websites that link to the URL that you entered into the search field. The idea here is that you can go through those links looking for places where you can get links from for your site. So if you see a comment they made on a blog, go to it and see if you can get a link in the same way.
You may find useful niche directories, relevant forums or sites from which you can get a link from. This is quite often a much quicker and easier way to find places to get a link from, you will not be able to get a link from every source that the competitor has, but you will be able to get some. Performing this for each of your major competitors means that you will be able to quickly gain lots of good links, levelling the playing field between you and your competitors.
SEO Competitor Analysis Tools
There are many tools out there that offer more insights into competitor back-links, some tools will cross reference a specified number of competitors with your site and highlight places where more than 3 have a link from. Others tools will list the links in order of PageRank or keyword relevance, but these tools will normally cost to use and can vary in how much they cost from £50 per month to £1,000’s.
On-page analysis tools are also found in abundance on the net today, although most of them are free and personally I see little point in paying for them as the free ones often provide you with all the data and information that you could need.
In my experience good quality tools make a huge difference, normally this means that a job will take less time or a significant amount more work can be achieved in the same time frame. If you have ever tried using a blunt hacksaw you will understand that a high quality tool reduces workload!
Below I have listed a few good tools, some are free and some are paid for:
Yahoo site explorer – Free – www.siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com – great for checking back-links
Majestic SEO – Paid – www.majesticseo.com – great for checking back-links
SEO Site Tools – Free – www.chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/diahigjngdnkdgajdbpjdeomopbpkjjc – Great little tool for on page and off page analysis.
Linkdex – Paid – www.linkdex.com – great tool for off page analysis, but also has functionality for monitoring on-page SEO.
Status Search – Free – www.quirk.biz/searchstatus – On and off page analysis tool.