Search engine optimization (SEO) is always a competition. If your website isn’t ranking for the keywords you want it to, then you’re constantly implementing new tactics and strategies to improve your rankings. If you are rank one, you’re constantly monitoring improvements made by the sites rank two and three to make sure they don’t overtake you. There is no room for complacency in the SEO world.
The Importance of SEO Competitor Analysis
The saying is true; you don’t know what you don’t know. If you don’t know about a tactic or strategy your competitors are successfully using, you’re only hurting yourself — or, in this case, your website’s ability to rank higher or stay at the top.
Understanding and implementing SEO basics alone won’t cut it anymore. As SEOs become more knowledgeable and competition increases, these practices will be even more commonplace. Along with reading the latest blog resources, following industry leaders, and attending conferences, remember you can always learn from the competition.
Identify Your SEO Competitors
Who you may think to be your competitors and your actual competitors aren’t always the same as your SEO competitors. SEO competitors are the websites that steal traffic from you in the search engine results pages (SERPs). They outrank you for the keywords you want to rank for — or should be ranking for — making it harder for you to attract customers and get more leads.
To find your SEO competitors, analyze your own site first. Use Google Search Console or another keyword tool to compile a list of your top keywords. Then perform searches using these keywords in an incognito browser. Who is beating you in the SERPs for these keywords? Make a list of these websites. Is anyone showing up multiple times? Those are your SEO competitors.
You can also use a tool like SEMRush to find a list of competitors for you. This tool automatically identifies competitors for you based on keyword overlap. If you and another website have a high number of keywords in common, the tool may consider them your competitor.
Find Keyword Gaps
Now that you have identified your competitors, you can start to find keywords your competitors are ranking for that you’re not. These are keyword gaps.
These keywords should be related to your business and worthwhile for you to target. Your competitors will rank highly for their brand name, but is it worthwhile for you to try to outrank them for their own brand name? Maybe it is, but maybe it’s a waste of time and effort on your part. Your competitors may also offer products or services that you don’t. Keywords focused on that business segment aren’t relevant to you, so you don’t want to target them either.
You can also put together a list of keywords for queries you may already be targeting but aren’t satisfied with your results after seeing how much traffic your competitors get from these keywords. These are the keywords that you may have crafted content to target months or years ago, only to find out that today the pages aren’t receiving any traffic at all and have the potential to result in substantially more traffic. Sometimes you’ll be on page 3 of the SERPs for a keyword that gets thousands of monthly searches, and by focusing your efforts on improving your rankings, you could start getting a share of that traffic.
You can use a tool like SEMRush to find the top-performing pages for your competitors and then break down those pages even further to get a list of the top keywords. Do you have existing pages created that target these keywords? If you do, could they result in any traffic or be improved?
Perform an Objective, Unbiased Content Analysis
What makes a page’s content good? Does it answer a question someone searched for clearly and thoroughly? Does it come from a trustworthy, reputable source? Is it optimized for the queries and key phrases that were searched for?
The internet is full of more and more websites that can check all those boxes, so how do you stand out in Google? It isn’t so simple to rank on page one anymore. You can’t create content that’s simply as good or equal to what other people create—it must be significantly better.
Study your competitors, especially those who always beat you in the SERPs. You need to take an objective approach and really ask yourself, is their content better? If you can’t answer honestly, ask your peers for help and have them evaluate the content.
Next, you need to find ways to improve your content. Maybe you need an editor or an industry expert to review it. Perhaps your content is thin and needs to be longer and more comprehensive. Or maybe your content is fluffy or bland, and readers lose interest. Perform a content analysis page-by-page, starting with existing pages not receiving any traffic. Compare your content to what’s ranking in the SERPs to understand better what works and what doesn’t.
It should go without saying: never plagiarize. But if you and your competitors have pages about a similar topic and you notice all or most of your competitors have a content section talking about something and you don’t, you should add a similar section of content using your research or experience to make your content more comprehensive. Take that a step further and consider other relevant content additions to your page to stand out.
SERP Analysis: Featured Snippets and Other Features
It’s not enough to target the right keywords and create better content. You have to know the right kind of content to create.
Check the SERPs. Is every result a numbered list? Is there a featured snippet with a question & answer box with an image? Or maybe videos take up the top listings.
Sometimes, the solution to beating your competitors is in your content format. Often, featured snippets can be the fastest way to rank one. About 90% of the time, the data that populates in featured snippets come from pages ranking in positions 1-5, so you don’t always need to be the best organic result to be rank one. You just need to meet the needs of the featured snippet.
Make sure your page provides content in a format that complements the featured snippet or other features. Sometimes reformatting or repurposing your existing content is all it takes to steal rank one away from your competitors.