Content and SEO go hand-in-hand — you’re not likely to find success in one without the other. SEO not only streamlines the content creation process, it also ensures your content reaches the right people in the SERPs.
For many brands, the competitive landscape in organic search is intimidating. This is especially true if your competitors have a long-term strategy to dominate the SERPs. That’s why it’s essential to perform a comprehensive SEO competitor analysis. By researching your competitors’ top keywords, top pages, backlink profiles and more, you can enhance your content strategy and boost organic traffic.
What is SEO Competitor Analysis?
SEO competitor analysis is the process of understanding your competitors’ SEO strategies to rank higher in the SERPs. Although there’s a significant focus on keywords, it also includes analyzing your competitors’ top-ranking content, both on- and off-page SEO tactics and backlink profiles.
Your analysis should reveal what SEO tactics are working for your competitors and how you can replicate that success. It should also show where your competitors are falling short and how to take advantage of their shortcomings. Most importantly, this knowledge should amplify your content marketing strategy and provide valuable insights into what your audience finds relevant and useful.
It’s important to note that it can take a long time to surpass competitors in the SERPs (sometimes even years!) and can require significant resources. That being said, with the right strategy and experienced content creators, rising in the ranks is much easier.
Finding SEO Competitors
SEO competitors are the brands that rank for the keywords you want to rank for. Oftentimes, your SEO competitors are different from your direct business competitors. For the purpose of this analysis, you’ll want to focus on brands that you can compete with (or already are) in the SERPs. Below are a few different ways to find those brands.
Keep track of your competitors using a spreadsheet, which will come in handy later when recording other data.
Using Ahrefs for SEO Competitor Research
Using Ahref’s Site Explorer, enter your domain and navigate to the Competing Domains report to see the sites ranking for a high percentage of the same keywords as you.
Use the Organic Research Competitors report to see all of the websites that compete for the same keywords as your site. Simply enter your domain in the search bar and select the Organic Research section, then the Competitors tab.
Moz’s Domain Analysis Tool (Free)
Enter your domain into the Domain Analysis Tool, then navigate to “Top Search Competitors.” This will show the sites that compete for the same keywords as you.
Make a shortlist of keywords that are top of mind to your brand, products, services or industry (commonly referred to as seed keywords). Then, enter those keywords into Google. The top 3-5 sites for each keyword will be your top SEO competitors.
No matter which method or tool you use, it’s important to avoid guessing who your SEO competitors are. If you try duplicating the SEO strategy of a non-competitor, you’ll likely fall flat or rank for irrelevant keywords. It’s also wise to have a mix of competitors that you’d like to surpass in the short and long term. Don’t automatically exclude large, established brands that you’re unlikely to compete with today.
Find Your Competitors’ Top Keywords
Having a solid keyword research strategy is vital to success in content marketing. SEO competitor analysis can help you discover new target keywords and can help narrow your focus to keywords with the best ROI.
Now that you have a list of SEO competitors, it’s time to explore your competitors’ top-ranking keywords. You can focus on keywords that you feel you should rank higher for and/or keywords that you don’t currently rank for, but your competitors do. To have a reasonable chance of ranking and increasing ROI, take keyword difficulty and volume into consideration when selecting target keywords.
Ahrefs is an excellent tool for exploring your competitors’ top-ranking keywords. Using Site Explorer, enter your competitor’s domain in the search bar. You could also explore keywords on the page level if you want to know which terms a competitor’s blog post is ranking for, for example. Select the “Organic Keywords” tab and filter your results by keyword difficulty to get a good idea of how competitive each keyword is. You could also use Moz’s Domain SEO Analysis Tool to look up each competitors’ top-ranking keywords.
Ahrefs Content Gap tool is also helpful here. The tool identifies the keywords your competitors rank for then subtracts the keywords that you rank for — providing a list of keywords to target.
In the same spreadsheet that you created earlier, enter each competitors’ top-ranking keywords that you’d like to target. You’ll also want to include the top SERP results for each chosen keyword and metrics like the number of backlinks pointing to that domain/page, the Domain Rating (DR), traffic and search volume. These metrics will give you a better idea of how your competitors stack up to your site.
If using Ahrefs, you can find this information in the “SERP Overview” report in Keywords Explorer to see the top results and the SERP position history. Alternatively, you can also enter each keyword into Google and record the top results.
Analyzing Your Competitors’ Content
Your competitors’ top-ranking content can also be a goldmine for discovering target keywords and for analyzing their backlinking efforts.
To find your competitors’ top-ranking content, use an SEO tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs. In Ahrefs, enter each of the competitors that you’ve identified so far into Site Explorer and select “Top Pages” in the sidebar. This report shows the pages that send your competitor the most organic search traffic. Here you’ll be able to see traffic metrics and the keywords that the content ranks for.
Using Ahrefs, you can also discover which competitor pages have received the greatest number of backlinks. This can be helpful to see what topics and formats receive the most backlinks. Select “Best by Links” under the Pages section in the sidebar to see this information.
Enter the top-ranking pages by traffic and backlinks in your spreadsheet. Add the top keywords and traffic metrics for each page into your spreadsheet. This information will be helpful later on if you want to create new and improved content around a topic your competitor has covered, or if you’re looking to optimize existing content.
Study Your Competitors’ Backlink Profiles
Backlinks are an incredibly important part of SEO. That’s because Google considers a domain or page with a large number of backlinks to be high-quality. According to Moz, backlinks essentially represent a “vote of confidence” from one site to the other.
It’s not enough to create useful, relevant content — especially when you’re trying to surpass your competitors. As a best practice, each piece of content you create should have a link-building campaign. Without backlinks, your content is not likely to be featured in the SERPs.
With this in mind, exploring your competitors’ backlink profile is a great way to discover relevant linking opportunities. Ahrefs is one of the best tools to find this information. You’ll get better results if you research backlinks on the page level since most domain level backlinks will be brand-related and won’t be relevant to your site. Enter each of your competitors’ URLs (such as a blog post or category page) into Site Explorer and select “Backlinks” in the sidebar.
Which pages to analyze will depend on your goals. For example, if you’re looking to add links to an existing piece of content, enter a similar competitor page or blog post. If you’re looking for new content ideas, you can refer to your competitors’ top pages by links or restrict your search to their main blog section (such as examplesite.com/blog).
Track the top referring links for each page in your spreadsheet for easy reference later on.
How to Beat Your Competitors in the SERPs
Now that you have a spreadsheet full of useful information about your competitors’ top keywords, top-performing content and backlink profiles, it’s time to use that data. Here’s a summary of the ways you can surpass competitors in the SERPs.
- Perform competitor keyword research to reveal which keywords your top SEO competitors are ranking for. If their top-ranking keywords are relevant to your business and competitive (low keyword difficulty, high volume), your brand should also create content optimized for those keywords.
- Create better versions of your competitors’ top-ranking content. Take note of how you can improve their content, such as adding original research, images or stronger copywriting. Additionally, observe your competitors’ on-page SEO efforts, including the use of inbound links, headers, title tags, description tags and page design.
- Be inspired by your competitors’ top pages by links and pursue the sites that have linked to your competitors. Ranking in the SERPs is incredibly difficult without backlinks and other off-site SEO tactics such as guest blogging, social media activity and influencer marketing. If your competitor has a strong backlink or off-page SEO strategy, it would be wise to replicate that success.
With so many brands prioritizing organic traffic, now is the time to step up your SEO game. By performing an SEO competitor analysis, your brand can replicate your competitors’ success and take advantage of their missed opportunities. Experienced content creators can help you to incorporate the results of your analysis into your content to produce a winning strategy that boosts organic traffic and brand awareness.
About the Author
This post was written by nDash community member Jessica Riva. To learn more about Jessica, check out her nDash profile.