A lot of marketers are interested in keeping tabs on their competitors' search engine optimization (SEO). And it makes sense -- whether you're just starting out with SEO or have been at it for a while, you want to have a clear sense of the competitive landscape in the search engine results pages (SERPs) so you know where you stand, and how much work you need to do to see some progress.
So ... do you know who shows up, and where, in the SERPs? Do you know how your competitors' SEO strategies should impact yours? Do you know what kinds of questions you should even be asking about their organic search strategy? Well, as you might have guessed, we're about to talk about how to do all of this stuff. Dive in to learn how to perform your own competitive SEO analysis!
5 Simple Steps to Perform Your Own Competitive SEO Analysis
Articulate your buyer personas.
To understand how you want to stand out from your competitors in the SERPs, you have to understand your buyer personas, first. What pain points are you solving for? As a result, how will that impact how they will find you in the SERPs? Will they be using organic search to find you at a particular stage of the buying cycle -- like the research phase? What terms will they be using to find you? Is it industry jargon, or are they using more descriptive phrases to get at what they mean?
This information will help give you a clear sense of what your whole goal of "doing" SEO is ... and more importantly, what it is not. That means there are keywords and topics your competitors will beat you for -- and that you're totally cool with them beating you for -- because it isn't part of your persona targeting strategy.
Once you've thought this all through, you'll be in the best position to move on to the next step of your competitive SEO audit if you have a list of keywords and topics that you think are most important to reaching your buyer persona, and generating leads.
Identify key competitors.
Chances are this has already been done -- it's pretty rare I come across a business that doesn't have some grasp on their competitors. This list, however, could be a little less than comprehensive, so it's your job to stay ahead of the game and see if there are new competitors emerging, or some you had never considered that are edging you out in the SERPs more than you might have expected.
So, how do you do this? It's all about knowing who's in your space. And that means a bit of research. The easiest way to know who’s in your space is to do a Google search for your keywords. Search for your top keyword phrases -- short and long tail -- to see who else is listed with you in the SERPs for those phrases. Those surrounding you are likely competitors since you are literally competing for clicks in the search results.
Also, don’t assume that just because you're in, say, position 3 on page 1, that you’ll always be there. Have a full understanding of who appears below you and on subsequent pages, as well. You may soon find that someone on page 2 is getting closer and closer to your top position.
Additional ways to find competitors include:
- Looking at other search engines. Bing may show you some competitors that Google missed, especially on the paid side.
- Exploring social media users and groups. Social media can help find new competitors you might want to keep tabs on.
- Signing up for Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your keywords, which may unearth other potential competitors.
- Talking and listening to your sales team. They'll get insight from prospects about the competitive landscape all the time.
Explore what the competition looks like.
Now that you have a more comprehensive list of your true competitors, it's time to assess what they're doing that could impact your SEO strategy. Are they selling the same vision? What are their products and/or services? Are their buyer personas like yours? Are they addressing similar personas in a different way than you? What topics are they writing about, and at what volume?
Tools and tactics to help you do this include:
- Searching for branded keywords in Google Trends; this will give you a great trend line of your performance compared to your competitors.
- Signing up for Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your competitors.
- Using Open Site Explorer to mine your competitors’ link graph -- which sites are linking to them, and roughly how many inbound links to they have.
- Using BuiltWith to see what kind of tools a business may be employing. For example, you can easily identify which websites use shopping carts, what type of analytics they're using, etc.
- Using competitive intelligence tools like HubSpot which allow you to plot trending patterns against an unlimited amount of different websites.
Compete, but don't copy.
Ever look at a really skinny person gobbling up pizza and wonder how they can eat that way, and still look great? Well the same rings true for your website. You'll never know with 100% certainty what is or isn’t working for a competitor’s site -- especially what exactly is driving results. I mean, just because they hold the top position for, say, "unicorn hairstyles" doesn't mean they're generating any leads and customers from it. Know what I mean?
What you need to do is differentiate yourself. If you aren’t different, then you're the same. And "same" in the eyes of search engines means redundancy, a good chance you’ll be viewed as duplicate content, and the associated risk of not showing up in search at all.
Being different also opens the door to make you a better, new, more tasty alternative to your competitors' SERP listings. This is particularly true for niche businesses. The more niche you are, the more important it is for you to diversify. You have to demonstrate uniqueness in order to compete, and you have to stand out among the crowd. Create genuinely remarkable content, products, and services, and stand by them.
So don't copy keywords from things like page titles or other content just because a competitor is ranking for it. Be concerned with the keywords that drive results or your business. Similarly, don't aim to go after all the links they have, or spend money on ads just because they do it. Remember, the point of competitive audits is not to copy tactics and strategies, it's to position yourself appropriately in your space.
Define what sustained success looks like for you.
So you've got an idea of where your SEO sits alongside competitors in your space, and you've even started making some topic and keyword adjustments based on this intel. What next?
Well, the whole point of competitive analysis and the intelligence that you gather is to help you make informed decisions. Think about how you will use this information -- whether it be for your content strategy, product or service positioning, social engagement tactics, etc. -- all of which help with your SEO in the long run. So if a better balance of topics is what's unearthed from your competitive audit, that's where you can place resources to see sustained SEO success. Wherever you choose to allocate your resources, this is where you should hold you and your team accountable in the long-term for accomplishing -- driving results that make SEO one of your most important marketing channels.
How do you stay abreast of your competitors' SEO strategies?
Image credit: JD Hancock
Originally published Mar 26, 2013 9:00:00 AM, updated October 30 2019