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SEO | Apr 19
Elise Dopson on December 9, 2019 (last modified on September 2, 2020) • 24 minute read
But if you’re not in the top five spaces, your competitors might be.
How did they get there? What SEO strategies are they using? And more importantly, how can you overtake them to get a share of the top 5 clicks?
We’ll cover all of those answers (and more) in this guide.
Before we dive in with the tools you can use to do SEO competitor analysis, let’s iron out why it’s important to add this activity to your to-do list.
Chris Bardsley of BW Marketing explains that SEO competitive analysis “ties into the method that I would say is most valuable for small-scale SEO campaigns: ensuring on-page content is in line with the expectations of the user, and can be found by Google for that term.”
“So often we come across sites that don’t take the SERP into consideration, trying to rank a product page when all of their competitors are performing well with blogs (for example).”
“Understanding how to piece together a campaign in this way is crucial to competitive analysis,” Bardsley adds.
*Editor’s note: A great starting point to analyzing your competitors’ SEO performance is to begin with your own. Grab our Google Analytics SEO dashboard to find quick wins, and plan around existing mistakes that could make it harder to outrank your competitors:
Now we know why competitor analysis is important, you might be wondering how you can actually dig into your competitors’ SEO strategy to unpick ways you can overtake them in the SERPs.
But with so many SEO metrics to dig through, it’s confusing to know where to start–or what you should be looking at.
That’s why we asked 47 experts to share their favorite SEO competitive analysis tools. We’ve listed them below, alongside each tools’ different use cases:
Ahrefs is a tool with tons of SEO use cases.
“My best tool for competitive analysis is Ahrefs [because] it gives you the ability to research your competitors by accessing their backlinks, how much organic traffic they receive, which are their top pages for links, or most engaging content,” says Brosix‘s Nikola Baldikov.
“You can also check their DR, UR and Ahrefs ratings. The tool helps you find content gaps between you and your competitors. You can even receive information about their PPC campaigns, their paid keywords and landing pages.
Daniel Wittler of Stodzy Internet Marketing agrees: “Ahrefs does a fantastic job of showing me my competitors traffic value and organic research as well as what referring domains they have so that I can use it as a strategy to build links myself”
“One method that has proven to work very well when conducting competitor analysis is to analyze any keyword gaps. This identifies any keywords related to your niche that your competitors are ranking highly for, but you’re not,” says Adam Lumb of Cashcow Ltd.
“Of course, you should still conduct your own analysis on the keywords themselves to determine their value – e.g. whether they will make you money or will form a supporting article. There are many tools that allow you to select between 1-5 competitors which will do the work for you.”
Topic‘s Ryo Chiba adds: “One method that never fails is to use a tool like Ahrefs to look at a competitor’s top organic keywords, excluding branded keywords.”
“This quickly gives you an understanding of which content has resonated with their audience and can serve as inspiration for how to produce content for yourself or your client.”
Paul Bromen of Helpful Habitat summarizes: “It is my one stop shop to check out where my sites rank and how the competition is doing. For rival sites I can see what links they are getting, what articles they are putting up, and roughly where their traffic is coming from.”
“The Content Gap tool from Ahrefs is extremely effective at finding what keywords/topics competitors are using that your site or a client’s site is not,” says Kyle Kasharian of 9Sail.
“It’s a great way to find additional language to use on service pages, and also can be a source of blog topics to create content using low difficulty keywords that competitors are currently ranking for.”
Brooklin Nash explains: “Start by identifying your top 3 content competitors (domains ranking on page 1 for your top keywords by traffic). Use the Content Gap tool to identify all of the keywords these competitors are ranking for that you aren’t covering at all. Narrow the list down by search traffic and relevance, and you should be left with a few hundred new keywords to fold into new content ideas.”
Looka‘s Christine Glossop adds: “Once you know what content your competitors are performing well for, you have an idea of 1) what your potential customers are interested in and 2) where you’ve been failing to deliver.”
Using this feature, 2ndKitchen‘s Levi Olmstead says their team “can look at my competitors to see what they are ranking for and what are the big traffic drivers for them.
“I can then attempt to build better content and can take that traffic from them – and prioritize it based off of the keywords that have the lowest keyword difficulties.”
Dan Reeves of Dandy Marketing also uses this tool by “specifically look[ing] at the competitor’s blog.
“Enter www.competitordomain.com/blog or blog.competitordomain.com. This will allow you to see what content is driving them traffic and give you an insight into the type of content that works.”
“You can then use this to inform your own content strategy and hopefully steal some of your competitor’s traffic.”
“Another benefit of this is that if you find a specific piece that also has a lot of links you can recreate this better or provide an alternative angle and use this new piece of content to go after their backlinks as well,” Reeves continues.
The Top Pages report in Ahrefs is another well-loved feature, as Hey Marketers‘ Corey Haines says: “I like to keep it simple and go straight to the Top Pages feature in Ahrefs for each competitor.”
Haines adds that this report allows them “to see which pages are ranking for keywords and get an estimate for how much traffic they get, how many backlinks they have for that page, and the keyword difficulty for the top keywords that page ranks for.”
CVOnline‘s Pitart Casanova adds that the Keyword Explorer feature “unfold[s] an insane amount of data and opportunities to tackle through on page and off page optimization.
“Through the Keyword Explorer we discover related relevant search terms, that we weren’t using in our domain yet, as well as the sites are ranking for it.”
In fact, this report is the second-most popular feature that Ahrefs has:
Ahrefs also have another feature called the Link Gap Analysis report.
Evergreen PR‘s Leigh Greenwood explains: “It’s a great idea to use Ahrefs to conduct a link gap analysis every quarter in order to understand where your competitors are gaining links and therefore the potential earned media opportunities that might be open to you.”
The Advisor Coach‘s James Pollard adds: “This helps me understand where I can and cannot compete.”
“For example, if a site is ranking in the top 10 for a particular keyword with only two backlinks, I know I can compete. If it has 300+ backlinks, I probably don’t stand a chance. Ahrefs’ Site Explorer helps me pick my battles.”
“For link-building, we use Ahrefs’ backlink profile for analyzing how our competitors naturally acquire links and figuring out what their SEO strategy is, if they have one,” writes Shine Colcol of SafetyCulture.
“We put their domain in Site Explorer, go to their Backlinks, and use the right data only. This saves us a loooot of time looking at details we don’t need to know.”
Colcol adds that they find the “right” data using filters inside this report:
By applying these filters, Colcol says: “We’re able to see what type of content our competitors get the most number of links from, what kind of websites link to that type of content, etc. Eventually, we can apply relevant SEO tactics in our context.”
Brendan Hufford from SEO for the Rest of Us adds: “I also look at the competitions Best by Links in Ahrefs to see if they have any content that has gone “link viral” that we can create something 10X better around.”
According to Ana Cosmatos, the team at Page 1 Solutions think “the rank tracker tool in Ahrefs is one of the most helpful competitive analysis SEO tools.”
“Rank tracker compares the positions of a site on Google’s search results for specific keywords. The competitor report is shown as a side by side URL comparison for all sites, displaying exactly what location on the Google search results page each site ranked for separated by keyword and highlighting the top ranking pages.”
“The displayed report allows you to sort as well – i like to sort by volume to show how a site and it’s competitors rank among the most heavily searched keywords with the most traffic volume.”
Cosmatos concludes: “With this tool we can also track how a site is improving or declining over time in the rankings.”
“With SEMrush you can easily see what keywords your competitors are successfully using. You can also discover your competitors’ website traffic, audience, lead generation sources, advertising strategies, and more,” Blog Tyrant‘s Allison Hott says.
Ratynski Digital‘s Alex Ratynski adds: “SEMrush just has such a large number of features (many of which people don’t even know about) and they contain a wealth of information that’s extremely useful for competitive analysis.
“They even have a number of reporting tools built specifically for competitor analysis. For example, SEMrush lists a live update of your “main organic competitors.” They base this off of the types of KWs that your website is ranking for/targeting and other websites that are targeting the same or similar KWs.”
Jordan Terry of TorHoerman Law says the Gap Analytics tool inside SEMrush “is the one invaluable tool I use to conduct SEO competitive research.”
“It allows me to compare competitive keyword gaps, backlinks gaps, and bulk gap analytics with competitors of my choosing. The ability to compare multiple analytics at once allows the user to have a more comprehensive understanding of market trends and competitive shifts, especially if the tool is used frequently.”
This feature is so well-loved that Max Falb of Fueled adds: “The most useful tool for competitor analysis is the keyword gap analysis from SEMrush.”
“We always like to use this tool when we notice a competitor that is beating us in certain SERPs and we use it to see which keywords specifically they are outranking us.”
“From there, we take the keywords they are beating us in and take a deep dive on their site, anchor text, backlinks, high performing pages, etc (which all can also be found through SEMrush) to really understand what they are doing better than us.”
According to Toni Mastri of MARION Marketing Agency, “the SEMrush Organic Research – Pages report is invaluable while doing a competitive analysis for SEO.”
Mastri continues to add the three-step process they have for this tool:
“For example, if you’re an industrial pump manufacturer, you’d do a search for “industrial pump manufacturers,” then plug in the domain names of the top results. This report tells you which topics your competitors are writing about, and how well each topic performs.”
“This type of SEO competitive analysis will help you build a winning content marketing strategy and dominate the search results,” Mastri adds.
Luke Wester of Miva, Inc also recommends to “identify your competitor’s best content then use the Domain Overview tool in SEMRush to find out what keywords they are ranking for. This allows you to reverse engineer content that can out perform your competition.”
“Page Optimizer Pro allows you to plug in your website and your direct competitors for a certain keyword. It will then tell you where your page is lacking in comparison to those competitors who outrank you for that specific keyword. It covers both on page copy, metadata and some technical stuff too.”
Baise adds that it’s his favorite SEO comparison tool for two main reasons:
COBE MEDIA‘s Jason Acoca thinks: “One invaluable tool to conduct a competitive SEO analysis is Amazon’s Alexa Traffic Rank.”
“Information is plentiful and it offers value at ease. The Alexa Traffic Rank tool is easily integrated into your Google Chrome Browser offering you powerful information at the click of a button.”
Acoca explains: “The Alexa Traffic Rank tool is a cross between Google Analytics, a detailed keyword analyzer, among other features that are available for a monthly subscription.”
“However, I use this tool to analyze my own website and others to confirm specific flaws in web development, SEO, and even to see if the website is claiming to be more popular than it really is-something you’ll notice often when checking website analytics with this tool.”
Bimbo Lawal of CONVO digital adds: “Alexa’s traffic report help sees where competitors get most of there traffic and how they’re getting it.”
Bobby Reed of Capitol Tech Solutions thinks: “For a specific search term, the most valuable tool is Google itself.”
“We search for the term, and see what comes up number 1 for that term. We then analyze the content on that specific page, and determine what elements are good, and what we can emulate on our own pages.”
Reed says they do this by asking a few key questions:
It’s a tool (and tactic) also used by Shufti Pro‘s Martin Damien: “For a comprehensive SEO competitive analysis, I start by researching top industry keywords, and carry out a google search against top 10 results.”
“For about 5 of the top posts on a SERP, I analyse content in depth and check for keyword density. Design of the blog post and UI/UX details are major indicators that help with a competitor analysis.”
Elementive‘s Matthew Edgar summarizes: “When evaluating the competition, be sure to review the SERPs you want to rank in so that you can see not just the other sites like yours fighting for the top spots but also to see the features Google has included (and remember to check from different devices and different regions).”
“Given the features, your strategy on how to earn those rankings will need to change so that you have the best chance of standing out.”
But it’s not just Google search results that can help, as Anand Iyer adds: “Google Page Speed Insights is a fantastic tool to conduct page speed analysis of your competitors.”
“Google’s algorithm favors websites that provide a better user experience and loads fast. By conducting page speed insights analysis, you can build a fast loading page and increase your chances of ranking better than your competitors.”
Plus, Ryan Watson of Marketer Abroad says: “An under-appreciated factor that always gets overlooked but IS a ranking factor is schema.”
“Take 3-5 of your competitors pages that are ranking well. Run their pages through Google’s structured data testing tool. See what schema they’re using on these pages and take what you are missing and add it to your own competing pages.”
SpyFu have a range of SEO competitor analysis features inside their tool, as Jennifer Noto of Carolinas IT explains: “Spyfu allows you to view the SEO performance of any company and ranks your keywords in comparison to your competitors.”
“It’s a really easy way to find out your competitors top-performing keywords and discover their PPC ad spend.”
However, Vizion Interactive‘s Kritien Matelski argues that one feature of their software is more important than the others: “SpyFu’s Kombat feature is one of the most critical.”
“In addition to showing overlap between our client’s site and that of a competitors, we can easily use this data to understand what gaps there are that we can optimize for advantageously, or, where we need to do more work to ensure that our clients receive their fair share of traffic in cases where competitors are more successful.”
“The most important step is auditing the site and pages to identify gaps with competitors,” says Vishal Srivastava of Trainedge Consulting.
“I use Surfer.com for the audit because it has very specific recommendations for the page you are auditing. All SEO tools show you what’s wrong with meta tags and who is linking to your competitors.”
“But Surfer goes beyond that and compares your content to those rankling in top ten. It tells you whether to add more or remove content, where to add or remove exact and similar keywords and a list of sites that link to more than one of the pages in top ten.”
Srivastava summarizes: “I find their recommendations very action oriented and generally lead to a bump in rankings.”
Georgie Kemp of Impression thinks the best way to do SEO competitor analysis is “on Searchmetrics, using the organic competitor visibility function in alignment with the Google updates function.”
“This can help to understand whether how heavy competitors where impacted from an algorithm update, and how we can learn from what competitors are doing well within a client’s own strategy,” Kemp adds.
“The most valuable tool I have found is Majestic SEO, which is a company who can track the backlinks you and your competitors receive, which of course are one of the main factors in high Google rankings,” writes Dylan Gallagher of White Wolf Private Tours.
“Why is it important to know who is linking to your competition? Because often times, those same companies will link to you, as well, pushing your rankings higher. And Majestic SEO is the tool for you to see those.”
Gallagher adds: “They do offer a free version, although the analysis is limited and not as good as the real deal paid version.”
Alex Cascio says the team at Vibrant Media Productions also Majestic because it “helps us properly analyze backlinks and to see what is most effective compared to our competition.”
“It allows us the properly see what is working and how we can increase our overall trust score which has proven to be highly important in our SEO efforts.”
“I always use Moz’s SERP Analysis feature to analyze competitors who are ranking for keywords I’m targeting in a campaign,” writes Charlie Tatum of Search Optimism.
“This tool tells me the page and domain authority for my competitors, so I can make an informed decision about how hard or difficult it will be to increase ranking for that specific keyword.”
Sparxoo‘s Andrew Bernstein agrees: “Moz Link Explorer is our most invaluable tool for conducting SEO competitive research. With it, you input a link to your competitors site, and it gives you data on their DA, Linking Domains, Inbound Links, and number of keywords ranking in the top 50.”
“It’s free for up to 10 sites per month, so it’s the best free tool, but the paid tool has even more features for competitor keyword analysis making it the best paid tool as well,” Bernstein says.
Most of our experts say they do SEO competitor anaylsis monthly, which makes this tool idea:
Levity Digital‘s Stuart Cooke adds that Moz’s Keyword Explorer feature “allows you to identify your competitors based on the keywords you are targeting. It will show you the competition level of a particular keyword (based on the strength of the websites ranking on page 1 of Google for it) and it will show you what sites are on page 1.”
“This is invaluable as you can compare their metrics and link profiles use other tools to back this up then put together an SEO strategy to outrank them.”
*Editor’s note: If you’re using Moz, grab our Moz Competitor Analysis and keep a close eye on the strategies your competitors are using. It’s the easiest (and fastest) way to spot whether they’re creeping up on you:
“This tool analyzes the top ten pages for any keyword and gives you a comprehensive report on how each of these results fare for various parameters influencing search rankings,” says Anand Srinivasan of Hubbion.
“I try beat my competitors quickly with as few effective steps as possible,” says Logodate‘s Indigo Malik.
“Firstly I conduct my research on content and the keywords in the content, by typing the link into Ubersuggest. I [find] a great way to kickstart my blog and links is to choose topics similar to your biggest competitors, make your blog substantially better.”
“Then all you have to do is outreach to the people who linked to their post, and tell them why yours is so much better. You can also find all the websites linking to them by typing it into Ubersuggest.”
Another tool recommended by Filip Silobod is Screaming Frog, which Honest Marketing Galway use “to check their metadata.”
“The tool is fast and give a quick overview of all the pages and their metadata. you can see which keyword do they focus on and what do they say in their metadata to make people click to their site.”
“Some sites don’t have good SEO and by analysing their metadata with screaming frog you can get a quick picture how well the site is optimised for SEO,” Silobod adds.
It’s an SEO competitive analysis tool also used by BrandExtract, as Chris Wilks explains: “It helps me get an overall view of the health of a competitor’s site.”
“It allows me to see what sort of technical issues the site might be having and allows me to review the quality of important on-page elements (titles, metas, H1s, etc.) and identify any missing elements; all in one place.”
“Kompyte lets you track every website change and other information sources of your competitors in real time,” writes Adrian Siuda of BEE Inbound.
“This allows you to see how active they are, which content the write, which A/B tests they are running and other useful insights. You can for example connect those findings with their built-in keyword tracker and see which changes actually had an impact on their rankings.”
Jacob McMillen thinks that before you start using any of these tools, “it’s important to establish why you are doing the competitive analysis first. For me, it’s always with the goal of either outranking them or determining what the required investment will be to outrank them.”
Stuart Leung at Breazy advises to look “through competitor web-pages [to] provide you beneficial information.”
“By looking at their content you can find how often they’re publishing and what kind of content being published. Take a look at headlines and title-tags to see what they’re optimizing for. This will reveal their strategies and give you insight for your own page.”
“This is a beginner method and requires no fancy SEO tool. My intuition and my brain is enough to tell me how competitive a niche and a keyword is,” Steven says.
*Editor’s note: Looking to suss-out whether you’ve got a strong chance at competing for your competitor’s keyword? Grab our Keyword to Pageview Dashboard and see how many people are already coming to your site after searching for that term:
There are several SEO competitive analysis techniques you can use. One you might not already know is the “camera bag” method.
Terakeet‘s Jonas Sickler explains: “To do a competitive analysis you must think like a photographer and use both a telephoto and a wide angle lens. First, zoom out and capture the landscape to uncover the breadth of your competitors top ranking keywords.”
“Then, pull out the telephoto lens and dive into specific URLs. Dissect every aspect of the content— scope of topical coverage, on-page optimization, UX and visual content, internal links, backlink profile and even social engagement.”
The team at SmartBug Media have a unique competitor analysis technique, as Paul Schmidt explains: “Calculate your SEO share of voice to understand how much organic search market share you currently own compared to your competitors for a fixed group of keywords.”
“Standard competitive analysis will provide insight on how your direct competitors are faring within Google. SEO share of voice analysis, on the other hand, highlights the types of websites that you compete against even if you aren’t direct competitors.”
Schmidt adds: “It’s important to understand your SEO competitors so that you can understand the user intent and topical relevance, that Google’s algorithm values for your high priority keyword targets.”
“By understanding the user intent of each of your high-priority keywords, you can then align your website layout, content and optimizations with your prospects buying behavior and information needs.”
“I am great believer in the triple lock method, whereby you find three justifications/examples of content ideas before progressing an idea,” Dan Rice says.
“By doing this you aren’t just relying on one dataset, you are combining the strengths of multiple platforms and tools.”
“For example we’d look at keyword research from keyword revealer as a starting point, then compare this against findings from Quora/Reddit posts, amazon book reviews and a review of social sharing and backlinks.”
Rice adds: “Ensuring you have multiple justifications and content examples to surpass means you understand what you are up against properly.”
However, be cautious not to assume your business competitors are the sites you’re focusing on. Erin Morris of Young Folks Digital explains: “When it comes to organic search results, sometimes your *actual* competitors are not your *search* competitors.”
“Marketing managers and business leaders, often identify their competitors based on offering — who sells the same stuff to the same people as me — but might be competing with completely different brands in search results. Sometimes, they’re even competing for the same search terms as large scale media publications.”
“For this reason, it’s crucial to understand both kinds of competition: how your actual competitors are ranking (and what keywords they’re chasing) and what the other search results are for your target keywords (your search competitors),” Morris adds.
The tips we’ve shared here will give you a great headstart on advancing your competitors in the SERPs.
As OptimizeMyFirm‘s Leonard Raleigh summarizes: “While we never copy someone’s success, sometimes we’ll get inspiration from their strategies and do something bigger and better.”
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