Competitor analysis is necessary for the SEO process and should be done with great care. It helps marketers understand their competitors and the market they are in. Competitor research involves identifying direct competitors and investigating competitor keywords. It also involves conducting a search engine results page (SERP) analysis and auditing competitor content. Afterward, you should be able to construct a well-thought-out marketing strategy that will help your business gain authority and visibility over your competitors.
What Is an SEO Competitor Analysis?
SEO competitor analysis, or SEO competitor research, helps marketers determine who is currently getting valuable traffic for their target keywords. It is a way for companies to determine what SEO strategies are working for their competitors, and what may also work for them.
Why Is an SEO Competitor Analysis Important?
Conducting a competitor analysis is helpful because it:
- Distinguishes direct competitors from indirect competitors
- Reveals your position, as well as your competitors’, in the competitive landscape
- Uncovers new keyword opportunities
- Determines what content needs to be edited/created and published
- Identifies ways in which you can help your potential customers
Conducting Competitor Research
Identifying your true competitors is the first step in the competitor research process. Likely, you are already aware of who your competition is.
To start, create a direct and indirect competitor list. On your direct competitor’s list, you should include any business that has the same product or service offering as you and is targeting the same audience. On the indirect competitor list, you should include any business that is serving the same customer needs that you are, but has a different product or service.
It is important to note that there are competitors you may not be aware of, such as online competitors. If you and your local competitors are not invested in SEO, your main competitor may be a different business in another city due to online searches. Consumers may be searching for services online, and you don’t rank high enough for people to know that your business is an option. This will help you understand what competitors you should be focusing on during this analysis.
Investigate Competitor Keywords
Knowing your competitors’ keywords helps marketers find new keywords that haven’t been considered before. By auditing your competitors’ sites with software like SEMRush, you can see on a page-by-page level what their site ranks for.
Start by selecting a competitor and look at their best-performing content or pages on their site. Look at the keywords that those pages rank for and use that to help inform more keyword research and content ideas.
You do not need to pay for specialty software to find the keywords your competitor(s) is ranking for and/or trying to rank for. A free keyword tool you can use is Wordstream’s keyword tool. Simply follow the link and enter your competitor’s URL into the tool. There is also a keyword tool in Google Ads accounts.
No software? No problem. Google can assist you with all of your keyword research needs. Begin your competitor keyword research in an incognito tab in Google. Start by typing in a broad term or phrase and make note of the suggestions that pop up underneath the search bar. These are often related terms or frequently searched keywords. Scroll down to the “People also ask” section. This will help you see what questions the target audience is asking, the content is provided as answers and related keywords. Another way to see what keywords your competitor is using is by exploring their website. They may use a different word or phrase than you for the same service.
Conduct a SERP Analysis
Start your SERP analysis in Google. Search each keyword you have identified to see which businesses come up on the results page. With each of these queries, you will be able to see what businesses are ranking on page one of the Google SERPs. After you search, make note of the rich results, featured snippets, sponsored ads, and paid and organic results.
Marketers can use software like SEMRush to evaluate how difficult it would be to rank for those keywords. The higher the percentage of keyword difficulty, the harder it is to rank for that keyword. Another metric to look at is total search volume. This will give you an estimate of how many consumers you could potentially reach. The SERP analysis will enable you to make educated decisions on the relevancy of certain keywords and whether you should pursue them.
A tool like SEMRush doesn’t have to be used for you to be successful. Explore the different types of pages that are ranking for each keyword you search in an incognito Google tab. See if they are product pages, blog posts, listicles, or other page types. Determine where the audience is in their buying journey based on these results. Think about whether these pages are informative, comparisons between brands, or transactional. Look for gaps in the current SERP. This means deciding if the first result is satisfactory, or if it would be easy to beat.
Analyze Competitor Content
This type of analysis should help you identify what content you should include on your page(s) for you to rank higher than your competitors.
A content analysis requires marketers to examine their content and their competitors’ content. To begin, look at what type of content appears on page one of Google SERPs for specific keywords. The formatting of this content should indicate what type of content consumers prefer to engage with. For example, if you are seeing mostly blog pages when you search, this indicates that your content should be formatted as a blog.
Continue by seeing how often they edit and publish content. Not only should you focus on the formatting, but you should also look at the topics and subjects in the content pieces. Compare your content to something similar to a competitor’s to see who ranks higher, and determine why.
What to Do with the Results
Determine Opportunities and Construct a Plan
You can now use the research and data you have gathered to determine opportunities throughout your SEO and content process. Use the competitive analysis to identify what type of content you and your competitors have for each part of the buyer’s journey. Know what pieces you don’t have, but should be including on your website. Make edits to your current content to better target the audience. If a specific page type or competitor is constantly showing up on the SERP, come up with some UX ideas that you think you could do better. Based on the keywords and results, identify information gaps that you could address.
You have gathered all of this information and are now ready to start planning your next steps. Start by determining who needs to be involved in this. An administrator may need to give you approval before you start working on the plan. Content writers will need to be available for any content-related work. Marketers may decide to be the project manager or have someone else guide the process. Make sure you have conducted keyword research and outlined who your audience is before moving forward. Set measurable goals with metrics that allow you and your team to successfully evaluate the outcome. Understand that your timeline needs to allow a few months to go by before evaluation.
Act and Evaluate
At this point, marketers know what needs to be done and how to do it. Trust what you have learned and use it to gain an advantage over your competitors. The majority of the time, organizations will not see a change in their SEO rankings until a few months or more later.
Be patient and allow enough time to go by before evaluating. Consider alternative options while allowing this plan to run its course. Continue researching your competitors so you never miss an opportunity. SEO is a constantly changing battlefield. Google makes hundreds of updates a year. Stay alert for any significant changes or trends that could impact your marketing plan and strategy.
During evaluation, use those key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine how successful your plan was. Understand what impacted the success or failure of your plan. After evaluating your efforts, consider what you need to do. This may mean you need to conduct further research, change your content strategy, target different keywords, or just keep it all the same.
Learn More About Competitor Research
Competitor research can be overwhelming and confusing to someone who has never done it before. To learn more about our process, you can check out the other resources on our site, or contact us with questions.