How to Do a Competitive Analysis and Outrank the Competition

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
Key Points
  • Competitive analysis is the process of evaluating your competition for the sake of improving your own SEO strategy.
  • As you begin your competitive SEO analysis, conduct targeted keyword and SERP research.
  • Systematize the way you collect data to create a smooth and replicable competitive analysis process.
  • As you analyze your competitors, look at their organic rankings, site health, technical SEO implementation, content, backlink profile, page load speed, mobile friendliness, user experience, social media, customers, USPs and differentiators.
  • Use tools to make your competitive analysis process more efficient, agile and scalable.

Do you remember when your middle school guidance counselor used to say you should never compare yourself to others? Well, apologies to guidance counselors everywhere. In the world of organic search, competitive analysis is key.

A competitive landscape analysis can give your search engine optimization strategy concrete benchmarks against which to measure your performance. This can help you to outmaneuver and outrank the competition.

Want to differentiate your brand with content that fills the gaps your competitors are missing? Want to strategically acquire links using off-page SEO to boost your backlink profile and gain a competitive advantage? An SEO competitive analysis helps you understand the content to produce and the strategic outreach needed to catapult you to the first page of search results.

WHAT IS COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS?

Competitive analysis is the process of identifying your competition, exploring their business strategy and understanding the competitors’ market share. It focuses on the competitors’ strengths and weaknesses relative to the broader market (think SWOT analysis) that will help your own competitive strategy evolve.

Within the marketing realm, a competitive analysis can lead to highly actionable insights. You will often uncover new learnings about audience interests, preferences and behavior.

Through the lens of SEO, however, a competitive analysis reveals the marketing strategies and tactics that your SERP competitors use to rank high in Google. These may be new competitors like small businesses that sell similar products, or indirect competitors targeting long-tail keywords. A thorough analysis exposes their marketing efforts and reveals opportunities on which you can capitalize.

what goes into a competitive analysis

WHAT GOES INTO A COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

It’s critical that you determine your goals before you dive into a competitive landscape analysis. Your goals will shape the questions you ask, as well as the format of the final deliverable. Are you looking for gaps in your content strategy? Do you want to rank number one for a specific keyword? Or do you want to uncover the secret of your competitions B2B SEO strategy?

Identify direct and indirect competitors

While building an enterprise SEO strategy, an industry competitive analysis will focus on the other major players that are competing for the attention of your target audience. One of Nike’s competitors is Adidas, for example. There are very good odds you already know who your company’s main business competitors are.

An SEO-focused competitive analysis is a little different. This one doesn’t just explore your direct business rivals. It also identifies the top competition in the SERPs for your priority key terms. Nike’s top competition for a certain keyword, for example, may be an up-and-coming indie brand or even a player that’s not a business rival at all, like Runner’s World. Findings like this can lead to meaningful brand insight that can’t come from anywhere else.

To identify your top competitors, first identify your priority keywords and analyze the search results for those keywords. You can do this individually (who’s the top result for a specific keyword?) and collectively (after viewing many results, who is consistently outranking you or making their mark?) You can also use a tool like Spyfu or SEMRush to find your competitors via their overlapping keywords and total organic traffic.

Determine your competitive analysis data collection methods

There are plenty of great ways to run a competitor analysis. But the only way to produce meaningful insight is to keep your method consistent. Once you identify the tools you’ll be using and the factors you’ll be looking for, systematize your process and make it repeatable. We recommend keeping a master spreadsheet of all your competitors and their data so you can easily compare results. Add your site to the spreadsheet, too. Compare it across the same metrics.

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How to do a competitive analysis

You should now have a list of both direct and indirect competitors. Next, we’ll explore how to perform competitive analysis using your preferred SEO tools.

Organic rankings

Competitive analysis questions you should ask when examining a brand’s organic ranking strength include:

  • How much organic traffic does the competitor pull in?
  • What are their top-performing keywords?
  • How many keywords are they ranking on page one for? What about position one?
  • What is the search volume for their top keywords?
  • How many long-tail keywords are they targeting?
  • What is their domain authority?
  • How many pages do they have indexed?

Technical SEO factors

The technical factors that impact your competition’s crawlability can make a big difference in their organic performance. So it’s important to check out the technical aspects of your competition’s websites during a brand competitive analysis. Otherwise, you won’t be getting a complete understanding of why your competitor’s content is performing well in the SERPs.

Crawl competing websites and observe their use of tags, internal links and redirects. Note any errors. Take a look at the URL structure and site architecture. Pull up the sitemap and note its structure (90% of the time you’ll find it at yourcompetition.com/sitemap.xml). Then pull up the robots.txt file and note what’s blocked (usually found at yourcompetition.com/robots.txt). Use a web developer toolbar to check out the competition’s use of JavaScript. Explore factors that impact rendering (like lazy loading). Finally, document the different types of schema markup they’re using. 

This will give you an overall picture of your competition’s technical health. Benchmark it against your own. If they’re outperforming you? Before you can hope to compete with your content, you’ll need to get your technical components in top shape.

Content

Your content-focused competitive analysis can take place across the site as a whole. And it should also be performed on an individual page level whenever you produce new content. Use a tool like Ahrefs to perform a Content Gap Analysis and identify the areas where the competitor’s content falls short. Also note their top-performing content.

content gap analysis

Then run a more granular check on the competitor’s content.

  • How much content do they have on their ecommerce category pages?
  • What additional information do they provide on their site?
  • Is there a resource section, knowledge base or blog?
  • If so, how in-depth are the articles?
  • How much of each type of content is there?
  • Finally, how well-optimized is each page?
  • Do they have fresh and compelling meta data on each page?
  • Can you identify a headline strategy? An internal linking strategy?

Backlink profile

Your competitors’ backlink profile tells you two vital things. First, it puts a number on the amount and type of backlinks that are connected to strong organic results. Second, it lets you identify websites that are linking to your competition but not to you. These insights can help you add targets to your link-building strategy. You can also run a broken backlink-building campaign and produce the content that will fill in the gaps.

Bonus tip: Identify websites that are linking to more than one of your competitors’ websites but not to your site during your competitive analysis. These are prime candidates to link to yours as well given their tendency towards linking within your vertical.

Backlink profiles can also add another layer to your content analysis, showing the competitor content that people are linking to the most. Log the type and quality of this content. Note whether it’s connected to the top-performing content or keywords that you’ve already identified. 

Page load speed

Benchmarking your site speed against your competitors is an important comparative data point, as Google factors in page load time in its rankings. (See Google patent 8,645,362.) A slow loading page can get dinged by Google even if the page is well optimized and has a certain number of backlinks.

Testing tools such as Pingdom, Google PageSpeed Insights and WebPageTest are useful in evaluating your site’s loading times vs. your competitors. If your site is markedly slower, it will make a difference.

Mobile friendliness

Remember the good ol’ days when people couldn’t stop saying Mobilegeddon? In these post-Mobilegeddon times, checking for mobile friendliness is a little more involved than running each site through Google’s mobile-friendly test tool. (That’s a great start, though, since it’s Google’s own tool). We can almost definitely assume that your top competitors already have responsive sites with mobile-first design. So running a manual check on mobile usability will give you more information.

mobile friendliness

That means, yep, picking up your phone and actually using your competitor’s site.

  • How long do you scroll?
  • How many images are there?
  • And how much content is there?
  • How do they handle interactive elements?
  • If applicable, what desktop information are they hiding or minimizing for mobile?

Again, during your competitive analysis, pay attention not just to the home page and major categories but to the competitor’s top-performing content.

User experience

The site speed and mobile usability check brings up a major point. Google cares a lot about UX. So check your site’s usability as a whole, using hard metrics when possible and using more subjective metrics like a ranking system as needed.

  • How complex is the main navigation?
  • Do they use a mega menu or a standard one?
  • How many clicks does it take to get to a product?
  • What tools and interactive elements assist the experience?
  • How accessible is the website? And how smooth is the checkout process?
  • How well-designed is the site? What doesn’t work?

Social media

Look at your competitor’s social signals on every major platform: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and others as they fit your brand. Note the likes, shares, followers, engagement, amount and type of content and the most popular content.

Are they focusing on any topics or conversations where your brand voice is missing? Are any complaints or areas of frustration from their audience something that you could easily solve? Search for new SEO opportunities to target among all of this data.

Customers

Broadly categorize your competition’s top-performing content by audience persona and position in the awareness funnel.

  • Which personas are they really connecting to?
  • Which ones are they leaving behind?

You can see the latter as missed opportunities that your own brand can pursue.

USPs and Differentiators

Scan competitor pages and note the value propositions they use, ordering them in your spreadsheet by frequency.

  • What seems to be working for them?
  • What gaps can you fill?
  • And what can your website uniquely offer?
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BEST SEO COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS TOOLS

Even the best methods of competitive analysis will fall flat without the right tools. We recommend using a blend of SEO tools to automate certain steps of the process and keep it scalable and agile.

Here’s a quick run-down of the most popular competitive research tools, and some actionable ways to use them to uncover hidden insights about your online adversaries.

Ahrefs

Good for: organic traffic, domain authority, backlinks, content gaps, popular content by organic traffic and popular content by backlinks

If you had to use only one competitive analysis tool, you should probably choose Ahrefs. It’s great for providing a range of SEO performance data. The Content Gap feature helps you uncover keywords your direct competitors rank for that you don’t. And Ahrefs boasts “the world’s largest index of live backlinks.”

SEMRush

Good for: all of the above, plus social signals, trends over time, brand mentions

SEMRush is well-rounded and competitor driven, with an impressive ability to track the performance of content and posts over the long term. The Competitors feature reveals thousands of websites that are vying for the same group of keywords—some of which you may not consider competitors.

Moz

Good for: site crawls, backlink analysis, keyword tracking and brand mentions

When it comes to monitoring your own site, Moz is second to none. But because it relies on your actual Google Analytics data, it has limitations when it comes to spying on the competition. Only the backlink explorer and keyword tracking tools were built with competitor research in mind. But the keyword and brand mention tools can also provide competitor insight.

BuzzSumo

Good for: content research, social sharing, brand monitoring

BuzzSumo’s vast content research capabilities give you valuable insight into the competitor content that performs best. This tool is best used for individual content initiatives, helping you consistently produce content that outperforms the competition.

SimilarWeb

Good for: competitor organic traffic, target market research

This suite of tools provides insights for a range of strategies beyond SEO. Because SimilarWeb does have a broad focus, you won’t find the same level of depth with the SEO tools. But it’s helpful for a high-level overview and breakdown of traffic sources. You can also integrate your competitive analysis findings into a big-picture understanding of the landscape.

Alexa

Good for: competitor keywords and backlinks, benchmarks against your competition and audience insights

Remember when a site’s Alexa rank was a big deal? Well, Alexa now lives under Amazon’s umbrella as a full suite of tools. And the Alexa rank (now called Global rank) is still pretty useful. Because a site’s Global rank is constantly changing relative to the popularity of similar sites, it’s a great way to understand the competitive landscape. Note especially the times when your own site’s organic traffic increases but its Global rank goes down. That’s a sign of your competition getting fiercer.

BuiltWith

Good for: identifying your competitors’  web technology stacks

Enter any website into BuiltWith and it will provide you with a full rundown of the platforms and software that are used to run the website. This information can be helpful if you have a specific goal in mind, like determining the CMS of each of your competitors.

iSpionage

Good for: PPC intelligence

Designed for PPC, iSpionage provides information about the competition’s most profitable keywords, ad copy and landing pages. The overlap between SEO and PPC will let you use some of these insights to build keyword seed lists or write content that really connects. 

SpyFu

Good for: competitor keyword research

SpyFu is designed specifically for SEO and PPC competitor analysis. That makes its data targeted and actionable. SpyFu also estimates the monetary value of ranking changes, which can be helpful for prioritization of your SEO efforts.

vidIQ

Good for: YouTube competitor research

This tool takes a look at top-performing playlists and keywords. Its channel audit is especially helpful for analyzing how videos are performing in YouTube.

ReviewTrackers

Good for: review monitoring

customer reviews

Track how your customers respond to your competition’s product/service. This will offer insight into ways to improve and differentiate your own product offering and customer interactions.

Sprout Social

Good for: social media data

It takes a social media-focused tool to provide complete social insight. Sprout Social is that tool, moving beyond the initial data pulls to put the pieces together. This social data can be used as reference when developing your SEO strategy, as it can include conversation tracking around topics to better understand the voice of the customer (VoC) and consumer sentiment.

MailCharts

Good for: competitive email insights

Want to conduct competitive analysis specifically around emails? This newsletter-focused set of tools will keep you informed about your competition’s email frequency and their upcoming promotions. Interested in seeing more than 6,000 emails from Ann Taylor? This tool can provide you with the actual emails and related insights. Similar to Sprout Social, this information can be used as a reference when developing your SEO strategy.

Klue

Good for: keeping all your competitor data in one dashboard

Klue lets you sync your competitive intelligence with other internal departments while also pulling from millions of sources online (including the changes your competitors are making to their websites). Use the tool to gain a better understanding of competitors, their potential customers and your own sales and customer support teams to help augment your SEO strategy.

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