The foundation to any great SEO campaign begins with dissecting your competitor’s online presence to give you a glimpse into their SEO strategy to understand how they are achieving their ranking. Then, take the information you gather to fine tune your own strategy to outrank them. The analysis takes some of the guesswork out of building your own strategy while finding loopholes in their strategies to swoop in to leverage in your favor.
Identify Your Competitors
To stay ahead of the game, you need to know who you’re up against, so identify at least three of your top competitors. Look at who’s ranking with specific keywords related to your industry, not only on Google, but Bing and Yahoo. Determine the authority of each site, like the age of the domain and root linking domains, with tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer. Also, try out the SEM Rush competitive analysis features. You can drop in a keyword and they give you a world of data about who is ranking, who is spending money and even show similar terms
Look at Site Maps
Although it is a bit manual, I really like to look at HTML, image, xml and video sitemaps. This gives me an idea of all the pages that are on the website. For example, take a look at LinkedIn’s footer. Click on any of these links and you can get an idea of their SEO structure.
If you want to go the XML sitemap route, put in example.com/sitemap.xml. Most the time it is located there… But not all the time.
Run Screaming Frog
Use Screaming Frog to analyze, crawl, and audit competitor sites for onsite SEO aspects, such as URLs, canonicals, page titles, meta descriptions, and headings. Screaming Frog gives insight into their optimization and provides potential keywords for you to target.
Look at SEMRush
Run SEMRush against competitor sites to find information about their organic search results and AdWords campaigns. It will also show you keywords across multiple search engines and regions. You’ll discover how large their traffic really is (it is not 100% correct but close) and what search terms are pulling the most traffic. Then, incorporate this information into your own strategy with the understanding of which terms are effective and which aren’t.
Analyze Competitor Page Templates
Take a look at their website to see how well its designed and check for key elements that may hurt or help their ranking, like lacking a responsive design. A website with good architecture will be technical, aesthetic, and functional to promote design, usability, and information. Analyze site navigation, organization, readability, performance, calls to action, data and content for defining factors that influence how the website is crawled, indexed, and engaged.
Here we see an example template from Trulia. We can see all the key elements for optimization.
Analyze Competitor Category Templates
Your competitor’s categories will help you determine how their website is organized, such as the tags they use, retail categories, and the overall segmentation of their site’s content. If the site is content heavy on ecommerce, the categories will help you understand their organization and user navigation. Here we see a category on Trulia. I take one look at this and get an idea of their entire optimization and CRO strategies.
Look at Backlinks with Majestic SEO
Majestic SEO gives a detailed analysis of competitor links and the size of their index. Quickly compare sites to see external links, anchor texts, and dive deep into links for specific pages. Also, analyze both backlink and domain link counts to understand what your competition is doing to track performance. Here we see backlinks for Coca Cola.
Review Blog Topics and Blogging Frequency
Check out competitor blogs to see how they are receiving their traffic from blogging. Take inventory of the tags used on their posts to give you an idea of the phrases they are using to rank. Note the topics covered and whether or not those topics are appealing to their audience. Monitor their posting frequency to make sure you’re at least matching the amount they are posting (or more). Companies who blog 20 or more times per month see the highest return in traffic and leads, while companies who blog less than 4 times a month have almost 5 times fewer leads. Make sure you have the right post length, external and internal linking, etc.
Here we see some of Shopify’s top posts on their blog. Each of these posts has a keyword strategy.
Are they Active on Social Media?
Check top social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to see your competitor social media activity. Don’t just look at how many followers they have, but look at the rate of shares and engagement. Analyze the type of content that’s generating the highest return and their posting frequency to help you develop your own social media campaign.
What does Alexa and QuantCast Say about Demographics?
Use Alexa and QuantCast to discover important demographic, geographic, and lifestyle information about the audience your competitors are targeting and who they are actually pulling in. You’ll find out the gender, age, income, education level, browsing location, and more, which you then use to customize your own target audience.
Is their Content Ranking High in BuzzSumo?
Find and analyze your competitor’s content and ranking on BuzzSumo. You’re able to research and track their relationships and engagement to determine if they are being cultivated as influencers across the web. If they are ranking well, use this information to discover their secret to success, then put your customized spin on it.
What makes them Unique?
Discover what sets your competitors apart from everyone else (what is their value proposition?). They must have a unique flare that’s drawing in large traffic and a high ranking. Although their uniqueness works for them, you don’t want to be a copycat. Think of a way to put a different spin on what they are doing or not doing to added your own spark. What sets you apart?!
Do they have hreflang Tags?
Hreflang tags tell search engines about specific languages content is written in and can specify location. If your competitors are using these tags, you may want to consider expanding the reach of your campaign to include other languages and regions. Or, you may find that the regions they are targeting aren’t the same as yours, leveling the playing field.
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ie" hreflang="en-ie" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-ca" hreflang="en-ca" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en-au" hreflang="en-au" />
<link rel="alternate" href="http://example.com/en" hreflang="en" />
Compare these Trends to Others in the Space
Compare the information you’ve gathered to others in the industry to see how your competition holds up against them. Look for similarities and differences in ranking, traffic, and online marketing strategies to help determine how you’ll set yourself apart from others in the industry.
Track the Top 3 Pages for Changes
After you’ve identified your top competitors, continue to monitor their top 3 pages for any change. Keep tabs on what they are doing and the performance of the pages to make adjustments to your own strategies to accommodate the changes.
ChangeDetection.com is perfect for tracking their pages because it allows you to see what changes they’ve made by creating a change log for specific pages. You’ll be alerted by email or text to view change reports for text changes, such as updated metas or keywords on specific pages.
Craft your site structure
With the help of the information you’ve gathered, craft your own site so that it holds a technical, aesthetic, and functional structure to interconnect your pages while increasing user performance. Your structure will determine how search engines view your site. A good technical structure will promote the flow of link juice and distribute link equity to give your site authority, while aesthetic structure will build engagement,usability and conversions.
- Level 1
- Level 2
- Level 3
- Level 3
- Level 3
- Level 4
Determine a Rollout Strategy
Once your site’s structure is in place, don’t be too quick to launch your site. You need to establish your keyword, content, social media, and link building strategies before you can expect to see any results. Your website on it’s own won’t be enough to outrank your competition. Make sure you have a phased approach to each initiative.
Define your Content Strategy
The backbone to surpassing your competition relies on your content strategy. With the information you’ve gathered, create a persona. Then, craft content that the persona will find interesting. Make sure to write on a good mix of longtail keywords and things that will get social media shares.
Develop Link Building Strategy
Implement a link building strategy that abides by Google’s algorithm criteria that’s supported by pure quality content. Content and outreach make up approximately 91 percent of link building efforts, while paid links are only about 19 percent. The higher the quality of the content published, the more backlinks you’ll generate. Don’t use the exact same link building strategy as your competitors. Instead, carve out your own path to earn links from influential sites by syndicating your content with major industry websites.
- How to get Powerful Links While Staying in Google’s Guidelines
- Real Up to Date Facts on External Linking for SEO
- Why Inbound Marketing is the New External Linking Strategy
Keep at It and Grow
You won’t beat your competition overnight. It’s something you need to work at to continue to grow to surpass your competition. Keep their strategy as a handy tool in your back pocket, but install tracking and CRO tools to allow you to improve. Use analytic tools like Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, SEM Rush, Crazy Egg, Google Website Optimizer, and Optimizely to monitor your site’s performance. You’ll see what’s working and what isn’t to make necessary adjustments.
- “Screaming Frog SEO Spider Tool” Screaming Frog
- “The Illustrated SEO Competitive Analysis Workflow” MOZ
- “How to Conduct a Competitive SEO Audit to Outrank Industry Rivals” Hubspot
- “The 6 Best Link Analyzing Tools for Competitor Benchmarking for SEO and Online PR” Smart Insights