If you want to climb to the top of Google search results, there’s one simple thing you need to do ASAP.
It’s not on-site optimization, link-building, or even technical SEO.
It’s SEO competitor analysis.
See, if you’re scratching your head and trying to figure out where to start when it comes to SEO, your competitors are the perfect starting point. Their websites contain a goldmine of information, including what works and what doesn’t in your industry, which keywords to target, and what you need to do to outrank (and outperform) the competition.
In other words, it helps you rank higher, get more organic traffic, increase your conversions and grow your business.
And the best part? Running an SEO competitive analysis is simple. It all comes down to understanding what’s working for your competitors, and using that intel to your advantage.
In this post, we run through the essential things you need to know to do an SEO competitor analysis. We’ll look at what a competitive analysis is, dive into the steps to conduct one, and share some of the best tools to make the process easier. You’ll also find a handy checklist that covers everything you need to do to start outranking your competitors on Google.
What is SEO competitor analysis?
SEO competitor analysis is the process of researching your competitors’ websites to understand which SEO tactics are working for them. With this information, you can reverse-engineer their most successful strategies into your own SEO strategy. Plus, competitor analysis in SEO helps you pinpoint exactly what you need to do to outperform others out there.
In short, it takes the guesswork out of SEO.
There are plenty of ways to run an SEO competitive analysis. However, the foundational principles are the same. It’s about learning:
What works for your competitors in terms of SEO
What your SEO strategy is currently lacking, and
Where the SEO opportunities lie for your website
To do this, you need to know which keywords they’re ranking for, the type of content they’re creating, and how they’re building authority for their site through links.
So how exactly do you get all of this information?
How to do a competitor website analysis
1. Figure out who the competition is
Before running a competitor analysis, you need to know WHO your competition is.
This isn’t necessarily your business competition. While you might know who the key players are in your industry, this doesn’t mean they’re your biggest competition when it comes to search engine optimization. In fact, the SEO lay of the land often looks very different to your industry competition.
The best way to illustrate this is with an example.
Let’s say you own a boutique leather wallet shop in Colorado, along with an eCommerce store. You might be targeting keywords like “handcrafted leather wallets usa” or “best leather wallets in colorado”.
But when you run a quick search for those keywords, guess who comes out first in the top 10?
The same goes if you’re a property agency. If you’re trying to rank for a property news blog or property inspiration post, you’re suddenly competing with publishing powerhouses like CNBC and Forbes.
It comes down to this: When you’re looking for SEO competitors, you want to pinpoint the websites that are ranking for your target keywords on organic search. You might even have different competitors for different keywords, or different pillars of content.
But how do you find these competitors?
Easy. Run a Google search for those keywords, and write down a list of the top 3-5 domains. Try to do this on multiple computers and in incognito mode. This ensures your search history isn’t significantly impacting your results.
At the same time, keep a close eye on which competitors are ranking in featured snippets or local packs, if you’re a local business. These are also prime positions that can help grow your organic traffic.
If you need a helping hand, there are plenty of SEO tools out there that also offer competitor analysis features (more on this later). However, even if you’re using a tool, it’s still a good idea to manually run a search to see who comes out on top.
2. Pull key metrics for your competition
Once you know who your competitors are, it’s time to get an overview of their strengths and weaknesses from an SEO standpoint. This provides essential insights into what they’re doing well and, more importantly, HOW they’re doing it. It also helps you pinpoint where the opportunities lie.
In order to peek behind the curtain and gather high-level SEO insights about your competitors, you’ll need to have an SEO tool such as Moz Keyword Explorer, SpyFu or Ahrefs.
Once you’ve got that, hop on and type in your competitor’s domain URL — much like you’d do if you were conducting an SEO audit of your own website.
Look for key metrics including:
Domain insights, such as domain authority, country, age and rating.
Organic search traffic volumes
Top ranking keywords
Backlinks, or the number of referring domains
Once you know all of this information, you have a top-level view of how strong the competition is. Take a look at their key metrics, and compare them with yours. This will shed light on the gaps, and help you get an idea of the legwork you’re going to have to do to increase your rank on search engines.
3. Run competitive keyword analysis
After getting an overview of your competitors’ SEO performance, it’s time to dig deeper and gather keyword data. This is also sometimes known as a keyword gap analysis.
In a competitive keyword analysis, you’re trying to look for keywords that your competition is ranking for, and you’re not. These could be keywords that you overlooked but could rank for, or ones that you’re currently ranking for but could improve on.
To get an in-depth and accurate analysis, it’s best to compare two or more competitors.
Keep in mind that it also takes time to rank for keywords, and it requires a lot of work. Prioritizing is essential here — look for relevant keywords that are higher in search volume, or more likely to convert. It’s also a good idea to look for keywords where your website is currently ranking in positions 4-15. With a little bit of work, you could boost your ranking for these and get more traffic without having to start from scratch.
If you’re not sure where to start, don’t stress. There are plenty of tools to help you along the way.
For example, Moz Keyword Explorer allows you to pop in your competitors’ domain name and see which keywords they’re ranking for.
Let’s say you’re running a bakery and want to create content around baking recipes. Once you know your competitors, you pop them into the Ranking Keywords tool like so:
Within the analysis, you’ll get a list of keywords your competitors are ranking for but you’re not. Export these as CSV, and start digging.
4. Study their on-site SEO, user experience and content
SEO competitive analysis tools are also a great way to pinpoint how well your rivals are doing from an on-site SEO standpoint.
Use these tools to dig into which content is performing well on competitor domains, which pages are driving traffic, and get more insight into their content marketing strategy.
Your want to look at:
How often they’re creating content, and whether they create any topical content
The types of content they’re publishing, including videos, blog posts and infographics
Which keywords they’re targeting with their posts
The quality of the content itself, including word count, headings and subheadings, topical relevance, and the media they’re integrating
How they’re linking internally and externally, their link anchor text, and who they’re linking to
Other SEO content strategies, including metadata and headline structures
Do this for their landing pages as well as their blog posts. This information is all valuable and can serve as a best practice when creating your own content.
It also comes in handy when planning your own content calendar.
5. Look at their backlinks
External links are a critical part of any SEO strategy. An essential component of competitor analysis involves figuring out where your competition is getting their link juice from.
Using this information, you can start to work out their link building strategy. What’s working for them? Are they getting backlinks from influencers? PR? Guest posts? Harness this, and apply it to your own strategy.
At the same time, it’s a great way to get an idea of sites that have linked to your competitors, but haven’t linked to you.
These sites have a proven interest in topics for your industry. If you reach out to them with a unique piece of content, or add extra value, you might be able to win a link to your site as well.
Finally, if you’re a local business, this is a great opportunity to figure out if your competitors are getting links from directories that you’re not listed on.
To figure out a site’s backlink profile, you need to use an SEO tool. This part is pretty much impossible to pull off otherwise. But with a tool, it’s simple. Just hop on, pop in the domain name, and look at the backlinks.
Running with the baking theme again, here’s an example using Nigella Lawson’s website on SEMRush:
From this, it’s clear that Nigella’s getting some references from other blogs that are sharing her recipes. Any website that’s looking to compete could try out a similar strategy to build up backlinks.
6. Look for other ranking factors
While keyword analysis, content and backlinks are the most important parts of competitor analysis, other pieces of information can also shed light on key SEO strategies that your competition use.
Keep an eye out for other factors that might affect their ranking, such as:
Site structure and UX, including their navigation, load times, mobile design and customer journey
Social media presence, such as which platforms they’re on, how they communicate with followers, and which type of content gets the most engagement
Ad spend, including Google Ads spend, sponsored posts, and promoted content
All of these insights are also useful because they help you pinpoint areas of improvement in your own strategy.
For example, a competitor might be outranking you because their site is better optimized for user intent, they’re more active on social media, or they’re simply spending more on PPC. Once you’ve got the 411 on why they’re outperforming you, it’s easier to tweak your own site and strategy to suit.
What is the best SEO tool for competitor site analysis?
The best SEO tool for competitor site analysis provides you with comprehensive insights into your competitions’ domain profile, top keywords, backlinks, and high-performing content. With the right SEO tool, it’s easy to dig into exactly what’s working for your competition. Once you have this information, it’s much more simple to pinch their best strategies, and identify gaps you need to fill.
Fortunately, most of the SEO tools have an inbuilt competitor analysis function. If you’re working with an SEO agency, simply ask them to use their existing tool to run a competitor site search. But if you’re doing SEO in-house, here are some of the best tools for competitor site analysis out there:
Spyfu is a dedicated tool to help you track your competitors and figure out exactly where they’re succeeding from an SEO standpoint.
This is one of the most comprehensive tools out there for competitor analysis. Spyfu offers a ton of features, including the ability to pinpoint competitors, figure out which clicks they’re getting, and track their performance over time.
(Source: Blog Hands)
Another heavy hitter in the SEO industry, Moz is a great tool for pinpointing the competition. Their free Domain SEO Analysis Tool includes a dedicated section for top search competitors, ranked by domain authority and visibility. On top of that, Moz’s Keyword Explorer and Link Explorer features are jam-packed with insights on your competitors’ top-ranking keywords, backlink profiles, and more.
Like Moz, Ahrefs has plenty of features that come in handy when doing a competitor analysis. The tool comes with a SERP Overview function, where you can see the top five results for a keyword. There’s also a Competing Domains section, which provides insights on the top competitors for a certain page on your site.
Another highly popular SEO tool, it’s unsurprising that SEMRush is packed with all the essentials to help you run an SEO competitive analysis. On SEMRush, you can run an analysis of a competitor’s domain using Domain Analytics — or conduct a keyword and backlink gap analysis using their dedicated features.
While some parts are accessible on a free account, you’ll have to upgrade to get the most out of the tool.
SEO competitor analysis checklist
To help you out when conducting an SEO competition analysis, we’ve put together a handy checklist below. Use this as you’re going along to ensure you don’t miss anything along the way.
Figure out which tool you’re going to use to run your competitor analysis
Identify your top competitors by running a quick search, and using your SEO tool
Get a top-level view of their SEO performance, focusing on domain insights, search volumes, top-performing keywords and referring domains
Run a keyword gap analysis to see which keywords they’re ranking for, and highlight any opportunities for your site
Study their content to understand their top pages, and use this as a benchmark in your own content marketing plans
Look at their link profile and pinpoint opportunities to build up your own backlinks using this information
Analyze SEO ranking factors on your competitors’ website, including site structure, UX, social media, and ad spend
Take all of these learnings and integrate them into your own SEO strategy and roadmap
Test, optimize, and repeat
There you have it — all you need to know to do a competitive analysis for SEO. By using the right tools and gathering the right information on your main SEO rivals, you’re well on your way to outranking and outperforming the competition.
However, that’s just the beginning. If you want to increase your rankings and revenue on search engines, there are a number of things you’ll need to include in your SEO strategy. To learn how to nail your SEO, take a look at our A-Z Guide.