One of the best things about SEO is just how crucial your competitors are to your continued SEO performance. By understanding what is working (or not working) in your particular industry, you have a clear roadmap to your own SEO success.
How to determine your competitors
It is important to keep in mind that your SEO competitors may not be who you would normally consider a competitor. They may not be the local business that you want to beat at all costs. When it comes to SEO competitors, you’ll want to look into those outranking you on Google.
Start by finding a keyword or two that really represents the page you are trying to improve. For example, as an SEO company, we may wish to improve rankings for an e-commerce SEO service page. A keyword we could consider here would be “e-commerce SEO company.”
Once you have identified your target keyword for the page, you can do a Google search for that keyword (keep in mind you may need a proxy if you are looking for data from a different location). If you have access to SEO tools such as Semrush, you can set the location and get your ranking data from there.
The pages ranking well for this keyword are your organic competitors. However, you’ll want to consider the search intent behind the pages ranking. Do they match the purpose of the page you are trying to create?
For example, if we are making a service page and our chosen keyword only provides informational results, we will likely need to reexamine our chosen term to find one with a commercial intent.
This is the only way to ensure you are using the right competitors to match the right search intent for the page you are hoping to improve.
By identifying those outranking you for your target keywords, you’ll have a clear picture of your organic competition. These are the websites that can help you shape your SEO campaign.
Google aims to provide users with the answer to their query. In understanding the websites Google is ranking highly, we can get a deeper understanding of what components users are looking for when they search.
So how exactly can your competitors help improve your SEO strategy?
Determine which keywords are working
Whether you are new to SEO, or an experienced SEO master, you can learn a lot about your industry from reviewing the keywords your competitors are ranking for. Before diving into an SEO campaign, you should always start with keyword research. While there are many ways to complete keyword research, and many factors to consider, you can easily benefit from the hard work of your competitors’ SEO efforts.
If you have access to a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs, you can input your competitors’ domain, and get a full list of keywords their site currently ranks for. By digging into this information, you can see what keywords they rank on page one for, and which have the highest search volume. This can help you understand which terms are providing the best value and what you should focus on.
With a tool like Semrush, you can also organize by search volume, which can help you identify high-traffic keywords. However, you’ll want to make sure that your competitor ranks well for these high-volume terms, otherwise, your focus might be better on a less competitive keyword where you can more realistically gain traction.
Conduct a keyword gap analysis
Similar to determining which keywords your competitors are using to generate traffic, a gap analysis can help improve your content writing game. Tools like Semrush allow you to compare your domain with several competitors, providing you with a wealth of information. Becoming familiar with the keywords that your competitors are ranking for is one of the most critical pieces of SEO research. This not only helps you gain a better understanding of your competition’s strategy, but helps you fill in the gaps on your own site for valuable keywords that you aren’t ranking for.
Once you have a clear idea of the keywords missing from your website, you will have a better idea of the pieces of content that should be created to capture this audience. By creating content that answers user questions, you can improve the topical authority of your website. What better way to decide what users are looking for than by researching what has worked well for your competitors (and then doing it better)?
Write the best content
The content on your competitors’ website can also help you understand how you should write your content. For example, you can get a better understanding of the intent, how long typical pieces of content for this topic are, and what headings and keywords to include. Tools such as Surfer SEO allow you to deeply investigate the content that ranks well for a specific keyword.
Your competitors can also help you up your backlinking game. A backlink is a link from one website to another. Backlinks are critical to SEO as they can improve your website authority (providing they are obtained in compliance with Google’s policies). By reviewing the backlinks your competitors have, and identifying ones worth mimicking or beating, you can improve your backlink profile.
Tools with free tiers such as Majestic and Moz, as well as Semrush, Free tools such as Majestic and Moz and paid tools such as Semrush can help you identify which competitor backlinks have the highest trust flow/domain authority to ensure you’re going after quality link opportunities.
When reviewing quality backlink profiles, you will notice the most successful websites use a wide range of strategies, such as guest blogs, link insertions, interviews, and directories. On the flip side, use may also uncover backlink profiles that have strong metrics, but this performance is built on spammy tactics. This competitor may get penalized for down the line.
Competitor analysis is a great strategy to use at the beginning of the campaign. It allows you to gather strategic data right from the start to understand their profiles better, replicate your competitor’s links, and position yourself properly in the landscape to increase your visibility and authority.
Improve your structured data
Schema markup is a piece of code that can be placed on your site to help provide Google with relevant context about your website. When Google crawls a website, it is only able to read code, and cannot understand the context behind text and images. Schema allows you to provide Google with that context. For example, you can use Schema markup to indicate that a sequence of numbers/letters is a phone number or an address.
If you’re not sure what Schema to add for your industry, you may be able to generate some ideas from your competition. Input your competitors website into the Schema Validator, and you will have a list of the schema code currently present on their website.
Update your website architecture
Reviewing your competitors’ websites can also help you understand what site architecture works for your industry. How are their pages organized? Perhaps you own a skin care clinic where services and content are sectioned into treatments and conditions. Perhaps you are a local business where each type of service you offer has a separate page under a dropdown menu.
The key thing to look at when considering the setup of your website architecture is the URL structure. How close should pages be to the root domain, or how nested should they be into relevant siloes? For example, website.com/e-commerce-seo vs. website.com/services/seo/e-commerce-seo.
Improve your website design
This one is not based on data, but it is about generating ideas for how you can improve your own website. It does require a slight eye for design as you’ll need to be able to draw conclusions about how users are using your competitors’ website. What aspects draw them in? What components help users convert easily?
By reviewing your competitors’ websites you can generate some ideas that could easily be applied to your website to help improve user experience. Perhaps all of your competitors have awards/accolades highlighted on the homepage header. Or maybe they have a contact form above the fold on their service pages. This one doesn’t necessarily need to be a competitor, as you can generate design ideas and improvements from any website – just make sure it is a good one!
If you want to beat your competitors, first you need to understand your competitors. Only once you know their strengths and weaknesses can you up your game and elevate your own website.
From basic on-page SEO tactics, to web design, and off-page SEO, you can leverage different tools to gain a clear understanding of their strategy and beat them at their own game.