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.
Competitor analysis is still just as valuable as it always has been, and in SEO the process is invaluable.
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, spending time 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.
Understanding how your competition has gained rankings that you want to achieve will allow you to understand your goals. 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. By carrying out Competitor Analysis it will help you steer your online marketing in the right direction.
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 for example and make sure you do this in incognito mode. 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 images.
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. First look at the homepage of your competitors 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 are not there that should be and what is there that shouldn’t be:
Meta data – Description and titles should be present and follow best practice; 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?
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 homepage? 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.
Although there are tools available to analyse a website for on-page elements, you can also do this manually by looking at source code. Off-page SEO Competitor Analysis is not the same. You will need to use tools to do this. A tool you could use to do this is Ahrefs. You can use their site explorer to see how many referring domains your competitors have. You can then go through those links looking for places where you can get links from for your site.
You may find useful niche directories 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.