SEO is a long process, with the most lucrative keywords being fought over by businesses with big budgets and established brands. Aside from newly coined terms or obscure phrases, every keyword will have a level of competition that has to be overcome to reach a top ranking position. Certain competitive decisions can be made with intuition from years of experience, but there is no need to go with your gut when a simple process can save you from pursuing a losing campaign. With smart competitive analysis, your SEO campaigns can become focused, strategic, and far more likely to succeed.
Before looking at the methods for performing competitive analysis, it is worth understanding the three main SEO goals you are looking to accomplish:
- Assess competition level. The obvious aim is to assess competition level, looking at individual sites and the bigger industry picture. Sites that don’t make it to page 1 will receive little traffic, so you only need to focus on the top properties. After conducting research, you should have a clear idea of the competitiveness of the major keywords.
- Uncover linking opportunities. Researching competitors will uncover a number of linking opportunities that can be used immediately. Many of the pages that link to the competition could be willing to include your site if it offers something relevant, worthy, and helpful. You will need to develop your own link profile, but the best links from all the main sites can be used to provide immediate authority.
- Estimate likely cost and time. Different niches and keywords will bring varying SEO challenges. Thorough competitive analysis won’t be completely accurate, but it will offer an insight into the battle you face for results. When you understand the challenge you face, you can make an educated decision on the time and cost you are willing to invest.
The general methods are intended to give a broad view of a website or page, allowing you to make accurate assessments of on-page and off-page optimization efforts:
- Backlink analysis: Backlink analysis is probably the most important method, as it is usually the biggest contributor to positive rankings. The backlink profile should give you an idea of what is required when all sites have been set up correctly, have quality content, and are optimized for the search engines. Backlink analysis can indicate the authority of the linking page, the topic of the site, and the number of overall links that have been discovered. If your main competitors receive thousands of quality links, with many of them from authority sites, your SEO plan could be long and costly. However, you can often uncover a number of weaker sites that indicate there is an opportunity you can seize.
- Keyword analysis: Keyword analysis can be used to study historic search engine results, find related terms, and see what advertisers have been spending money on. The historic data is useful as you can see how the top rankings have changed over time. Established sites will be good indicators of quality SEO, while new sites may have used tactics that won’t last. Related terms are important as you will need a comprehensive keyword profile if you want to gain the most amount of traffic. Finally, studying historic data from advertisers can reveal the best converting keywords. While paid and organic traffic can vary when it comes to conversions, a keyword with a number of established advertisers indicates a buying term.
- Social media analysis: Social media sharing provides additional backlinks, but high visibility across these social platforms offers more in terms of SEO. When users engage with a piece of content, you can expect to see it shared around the web. Analysis of social media will give an insight into how well the site has been able to engage with audiences, with a strong social presence helping to cement their brand as an authority.
- Content analysis: Content analysis will uncover the most popular articles, videos, and images for a particular keyword. When you have identified your main search terms, thorough analysis will reveal the exact pieces of content that gained the most traction. It is possible to see the number of backlinks, social shares, and traffic levels for each term, making it far easier to shape your content for an audience.
It is extremely difficult and time-consuming to perform these tasks manually, so you will need to employ various tools to assist you. You might not require all of the following products, but even one of them can reveal a lot about your competition.
Majestic offers a suite of link intelligence tools, aimed at SEO and website analysis. Majestic has one of the largest link databases, so you can feel confident the backlink checker will find most of the links pointed at a page. In assessing a site, the tool offers a number of metrics — fresh and historic data, www and non-www — which splits opinion between people looking for simplicity and complexity. While there are many tools favored by SEO professionals, Majestic is highly regarded because of the number of sites they manage to crawl.
SEMrush is focused on competitive intelligence, looking at both paid and organic traffic sources. While there are countless features you can use, one of the most obvious is the ability to find your main competitors and compare their rankings across a variety of keywords. Along with their historical data, you can track the evolution of a site, including a detailed look at their backlink profile. This collection of data should give a clear picture of the elements that will be required for surpassing the competition.
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Ahrefs is another established SEO and competitive analysis tool, offering the chance to study domains, backlinks, social shares, and more. Among the various tools, the domain comparison element allows you to compare five individual sites, offering detailed backlink information. This data includes the overall backlink figures, the main social media platforms, individual page links, IP address variations, and various other factors. It is also possible to study the growth in backlinks, so you can look for patterns in site development. For example, some niches can see quick backlink growth due to spikes in news and attention, whereas other niches can expect a slow and steady growth rate as interest tends to stay the same.
Buzzsumo can help with the content and social analysis methods discussed previously. The main aim of the tool is to uncover the most engaging content and social influencers across the web. For example, you could search for a keyword in your niche, Buzzsumo would then indicate the most popular articles, videos, infographics, and guest posts, allowing you to immediately see how many social shares they received on the popular platforms. This content research is only one element of Buzzsumo, with influencers, top trends, and domain comparison all helping to make it a valuable tool.
By following this simple process, you greatly increase your chances of ranking a site for a number of profitable keywords. SEO is not the quick process that it once was, but it can still achieve the same results when you can follow a methodology. As SEO has become trickier, though, there is more opportunity for business owners willing to be rigorous and focused. Ultimately, the ability to analyze and uncover weak sites can be the difference between a guaranteed success or failure in the search engines.