How to Do a Competitive SEO Analysis

Following the Jones in search engine optimization starts with clicking and scrolling through search results. Copying competitors won’t help you outrank them – at best, you’ll keep up. Instead, identify what they do well, then do it better.

If the top-ranking pages contain how-to content, videos, or long-form articles, your site should have something similar, but better.

How to Do an SEO Competitor Analysis

  1. Determine your critical keyword themes and which sites are competing.
  2. Conduct an organic ranking audit.
  3. Analyze the top ranking pages.
  4. Identify what search engines value.
  5. Develop a plan to improve these elements for your site.

Choice of keywords and competitors. If you already have a keyword strategy, this step will be easy. Choose the keyword topics that are most important to your business and select five to 10 keywords from each topic to rank for in order to drive organic search traffic and revenue.

If you haven’t created a keyword strategy, now is a good time to do some research in your keyword tool of choice. Google Keyword Planner is always a good option, and it’s free. There are some data limitations unless you have active Google Ads campaigns running. But it’s still a valuable tool. To learn more about keyword research, check out “SEO How-to, Part 5: Keyword Research in Action”.

Next, identify your competitors. A word of warning: your competitors are probably not obvious, or the same ones your marketing department is targeting.

In search, every site that ranks for the keywords you need to rank for is a competitor. Media companies, large and small e-commerce sites, sites with different business models – these are all potential competitors. Choose sites carefully to assess your ranking performance. Otherwise, you’ll be competing with bad sites and not improving your rankings.

You will likely need to choose several different keyword and competitor themes. For example, the shoe contest for a fashion site will be different from the dress contest. In this example, choose a handful of footwear keywords and a handful of competitors to analyze; use a different set of keywords and competitors for dresses.

SEO ranking audit. Next, start tracking your ranking data. If you have an enterprise SEO platform, such as BrightEdge or Searchmetrics, this step is simple. Insert your keywords and competitors into a new project, and the tool will collect the data for you.

If you’re doing it manually, create a spreadsheet like the one below to house your data. Indicate the ranking position in each cell.

To manually track keywords, create a spreadsheet and list the ranking position in each cell.

In the example above, your site ranks second in Google for the “keyword a”. Your first contestant ranks number one and your other contestant ranks number three. Thus, for the “keyword a”, you are neck and neck with your competitors.

However, for the “keyword e”, only the first competitor ranks, and only in eighth position. All three sites have room to improve, but the first competitor can provide insight on how to rank better.

To determine ranking, be careful not to simply Google the keywords. All searches are personalized and your results may differ from, for example, your potential customers.

Instead, use the ad preview in Google Ads to get a non-personalized view of any keyword’s ranking. You don’t need an active campaign to use it, but you do at least need a free Google Ads account.

Analyze and plan. After collecting the ranking data, you know at a glance which sites are the best competitors for your keywords and themes. For each theme, start dissecting the pages that outrank yours.

  • Do they have more content?
  • Do they optimize keyword themes more effectively?
  • Is their page more engaging and less likely to lead to a bounce?
  • What makes it engaging?
  • Is their page indexed and yours not?
  • Does their page link from the header or other key navigational elements?

What makes their page so special to Google? There is something. All you have to do is find it.

You won’t be able to imitate all the elements that make your competitors’ pages rank higher than yours. Where is the fruit at hand? What can you address quickly to see short-term improvement? Do them first.

Don’t shy away from more complex projects, though. It’s usually the big ones that generate the most benefits.

Collaborate with your creative and development teams to discuss what you found and the potential for new traffic. You know the potential traffic growth by comparing the total monthly search volume for each keyword to the traffic you receive. This data can be found in the new Google Search Console, in the Performance tab.

When you collaborate, come armed with click and revenue data – your results will carry much more weight.

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