If you’re planning a new online venture or are just tired of losing to your competitors in organic search, most likely, you need to perform a competitor SEO analysis. Even if today your site ranks number one for a certain keyword, this status is not permanent. Over time, other sites — your competitors — might learn how to optimize their content and get ahead of you. This is why SEO competitive analysis should be a constant initiative for any business.
What is an SEO competitor analysis?
The SEO competitor analysis is the process of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your competitor websites. Basically, you need to answer the following fundamental questions:
- Why do your competitors occupy the top spots when it comes to specific queries?
- How do they collect traffic?
- How do they convert users into leads?
- What do they have that we don’t, and vice versa?
By answering these questions, you will be able to properly develop an SEO strategy for your site and make the necessary improvements that will have a real effect.
When should I perform SEO competitor analysis?
You should analyze your competitors’ websites continuously, especially if you are interested in attracting users from organic search. But it is clear that not everyone can do it every month or even once a quarter. So let’s consider the main situations when it is really necessary to perform SEO competitor analysis:
- When starting to promote your website, you need to develop an SEO strategy, and it is impossible to do without competitor analysis.
- If your site’s ranking jumps a lot, you need to understand what is happening at the top. Find out which newcomers got ranked Top 10, and who lost their positions and why.
- After a Google Core Update. Every time Google rolls out a global update, you need to analyze the changes in the rankings of the top dogs, your own site, and, of course, your competitors. This will help you identify what exactly has changed in Google’s algorithms.
Usually, we perform a global analysis of competitors and the top sites every three months, as this allows us to check and properly adjust our SEO strategy. We also constantly monitor changes in the top results for the most relevant requests. For this, we check the ranking of our site and those of competitors at least once a week.
Continuous analysis of competitors allows us to keep abreast of the situation and respond quickly to any changes in the top search results.
Now that you know the purpose of SEO competitor analysis, let’s figure out how to do it correctly.
How to perform competitor analysis?
Let’s start with the fundamentals by defining who can be considered a competitor to be included in the analysis.
Step 1. Find your true competitors
At first glance, there’s nothing complicated here: we take a competitor’s site that ranks in the Top 3 or Top 10 for the relevant queries, and do what they do. However, you need to realize that not every site at the top is going to be your direct competitor. And here’s what I mean:
- Not every business that you compete with “physically” will be your competitor online. Let’s say you have a physical store and you’ve launched an online store. But there’s no guarantee that the thriving businesses next door will be as successful online.
- Not all sites at the top will be your competitors. Google promotes diversity of content and tries its utmost to understand what exactly users need when they enter a particular query into the search bar. That is why for a single query, in the Top 10, we could see online stores, aggregator sites, pages with articles and reviews, and so on.
To identify your online competitors, you need to do the following:
- Collect a list of sites ranked at the top for the key queries relevant to your business.
- Among these sites, identify those that rely on a similar business model.
How to find your real competitors?
You can use any tool that can provide you with a list of the top 10 search results for the key phrases. At Halo Lab, we prefer seranking.com. It allows us to view SERP separately for specific queries. You can find this data on the My Competitors → SERP Competitors tab in the ranking report.
The report will show you the sites at the top. Among them, we need to choose those that use a similar business model. In this example, we’ll take websites providing services. Usually, we check 50–100 primary requests; with this many, you’re unlikely to miss anything.
Ahrefs offers a similar report. In the Keywords Explorer tool, we can also see the top sites for a key query, as well as the changes history in the SERP for that query.
This is convenient when we start analyzing competitors not yet having our own ranking history. Also, Ahrefs can show you the competitors when analyzing a site’s domain.
However, like most tools that automatically detect competitors, they show the sites that are most commonly encountered for ordinary search queries. And this is not entirely correct — оften the list includes sites the business model of which has nothing to do with yours.
If there are no sites in the top 10 that work on a similar business model as you, the following tips might help:
- Let’s say you have created a unique product. If nothing similar, either by name or by properties, was ever made before, the users will not know about its existence, and so they most likely will not search for it. In this case, classic SEO promotion will not suit you, and you can focus on the problems that your product solves to find relevant requests.
- Check whether your request really fits, as generic keywords will likely be of little use. In such cases, you need to be more specific. For example, if you have an online store that sells air conditioners, you don’t need to analyze SERPs for the “air conditioner” query. Instead, add commercial phrases and a location to make it more specific, for example, “buy air conditioner in Dubai.”
Now that we know our competitors, we need to figure out how they collect traffic.
Step 2. Analyze content types
At this stage, I start to analyze the structure of the competitor’s site to understand which sections bring traffic. It is important to figure out whether users visit the service pages or pay more attention to the information part of the site — its blog, customer reviews, etc. Naturally, this applies to multi-page sites where you can trace the distribution of content by type. What type of content you end up seeing depends on the type of site you are analyzing. Let’s take www.metallica.com as an example.
How to analyze traffic distribution on a competitor’s website?
For this, I use the ahrefs.com service, as it can show not only the overall performance of a site but also how the traffic is distributed across the pages. The Top pages report can help us with this. This is how I do it; if you use another tool that can provide this data, that’s fine.
Next, we need to download this report and add it to Google Sheets. This is what I usually use when working with spreadsheets, but if you prefer, you can use good old Excel.
Ultimately, we’ll get the following table:
From the table, we need to remove the unnecessary information that won’t be helpful for this analysis. In this case, we need only the URL and Traffic columns. It is also best to delete all URLs with 0 traffic as they will not bring any benefit while only increasing the amount of data. As a result, the table will look as follows:
If the site is multi-page, we’ll see categories in the URL structure, for example:
- Https://www.metallica.com/store/clothing/store/clothing/ — store category;
- Https://www.metallica.com/songs/master-of-puppets/song-25910.html — songs category.
There can be a few categories, and usually, each one incorporates some type of content. In our example, the store pages are product listings and products themselves, and the songs pages are lyrics and music videos. This is radically different content, isn’t it?
And since the content is different, we do not understand why users visit the site in the first place. Does the majority want to buy merchandise or simply watch music videos, or is it somewhere in between? To figure this out, we need to:
1. Copy the URL list to a separate sheet.
2. Select the column with URLs and click “Split text to columns.”
In the next window, specify the following: “Separator” → “Custom” → “/”
Now our URLs are separated by the "/" value.
3. We only need a column with categories. So, we will remove all unnecessary information, leaving only categories and adding the previously collected information with URLs and traffic. Once that’s done, we should get something like this:
4. The first column is our categories or types of pages by content. For convenience, let’s call it "Type of pages." Also, do not forget to designate the home page of the site.
5. Now that we have a list of URLs, their traffic, and the categories they belong to, it’s time to figure out how much traffic different content generates. To do this, we need to select our sheet and make a Pivot table.
6. At this stage, we need to specify Rows: Type of pages, URL, and Values: Traffic
7. To make the analysis more convenient, we can collapse or expand the list of URLs belonging to the category and add a graph. When I do that, my table looks like this:
From this analysis, we see that most of the traffic goes to the main page and then is distributed between the “Store,”“Songs,” and “Tour” sections.
By conducting such a structural analysis of your competitor’s site, you will be able to see what type of content is interesting for users and what you should pay attention to when promoting your own similar site.
Even though this process looks complicated, in practice, it takes from 5 to 15 minutes. Moreover, it can be even more detailed; for example, you can analyze the competitor’s blog pages and understand which sections attract the most traffic. This, in turn, will help you find topics for your articles.
Step 3. Find SEO competitor keywords
When analyzing competitors, it is also important to determine the keywords that bring them traffic.
How to find competitors’ keywords?
The Ahrefs service can help us with that too. The Organic keywords report contains a list of key queries that attract the most users according to the tool’s algorithms.
This information will help you create the semantic core for your site and will allow you to understand which user queries to work out first. It is important to note that sites are also visited through branded keywords. And they are also taken into account in this report. We recommend weeding out such requests during the analysis, as they will not benefit your site.
Step 4: Evaluate competitor pages
Now that we know what type of content and keywords bring traffic to our competitors, we need to analyze what is on these pages.
This analysis is necessary to understand how to optimize the site, how to make it competitive, and figure out what it is your competitors have that you do not. The approach to this analysis will depend on your site’s type, for example:
- Information site — we check the quality of content, infographics, availability of author names, article dates of publication, comments, etc.
- Online store — availability of prices, delivery options, promotions, contacts, unique goods, etc.
- Services website — availability of certificates, contacts, expert pages, details, photos, etc.
These are mere examples, and this list may change for various types of websites.
To better understand what exactly the competitor used and the reasons behind it, we recommend comparing pages manually. For this, you best create a spreadsheet and put all the functionality of competitors’ pages in there.
How to analyze the website pages of competitors?
Suppose we have an online store and are unsure whether to add text to the product listing pages. In this case, we must check the pages of competitors that are at the top. Having checked that, we saw that they don’t have the text either. So the next question arises: How do we optimize the page to make it more relevant? We’ll then look at the TOP once again, as we need to compare absolutely everything that is of interest on the pages of our competitors: how their filters work, what anchors are used for product cards on the listing pages, whether there are short descriptions, and so on.
Let me share a practical example. This is the part of the table that I use to compare the promoted site with those of competitors:
In the Median column, I can see how many competitor sites use a particular functionality that interests me. The last column contains the data on my website. It also allows me to see whether the competitor pages contain anything special.
Based on this data, I can see what functionality needs to be added to the site and then make decisions concerning on-page optimization. What is important, this is an example containing only a part of the table, and all such tables are compiled on a per-project basis.
Now that we know how to analyze a competitor’s website let’s move on to analyzing more obscure aspects that are hard to notice.
Step 5: Study the backlink profile
We’ll start by studying the backlink profile of competitor websites. For Google, links still play an important role in promotion, and I have touched upon off-page SEO partially in my article titled "Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization." So, we need to understand how much our site’s backlink profile differs from our competitors.
How to check the backlink profile of our competitor websites?
The Ahrefs service will come to the rescue once again. But this time, finding peers will be more difficult because, at the moment, their database is better. For such an analysis, we need the Batch Analysis tool. It allows us to compare several sites at once, but if you are unable to make such a comparison, then simply make a spreadsheet and record all the important information about competitor sites and your own site. We usually use the following data:
We’ll take data on traffic and key phrases to understand what we can expect in the future if we adopt our competitor’s strategy. The number of domains and backlinks shows us how far we are behind the competition. This can give us a rough understanding of how many links we need to catch up with them.
You should understand, however, that this data is a general overview of your competitors, and it will not be enough to develop a strategy for improving your site’s backlink profile. You will still have to consider which anchors to use, which pages to link to, and so on. So this kind of analysis is suitable for getting a general understanding of what’s going on.
Step 6: Conduct a technical SEO analysis
In this case, we’re not going to look for technical errors on competitor sites or perform a technical audit for them. All we need to check are the main metrics, for example:
- The site loading speed (it is important that our site is faster or at least not slower).
- The presence of structured data and their types.
- How their Sitemap is created and whether there is only one or several of them.
- Which pages and sections are closed to the search engine crawlers through robots.txt or a meta tag.
Let’s consider an example of how to analyze the site loading speed because it is one of the key ranking factors. If your site is faster than those of your competitors, it will definitely have a positive impact on the overall ranking in Google.
How to check the loading speeds of our competitor sites?
For that, you can use Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. You just need to specify which site you want to check, and the tool will evaluate and calculate its performance:
For easier comparison, you can also add this data to your table.
Step 7: Spy on competitors’ featured snippets
Featured snippets will help your site get more traffic from SERPs — they are visible and increase CTR. So check if such snippets appear in your search results.
How to check whether your competitor has featured snippets?
The easiest option is to check the key query manually. To do this, enter a relevant query in the search box and analyze what you’ll see. Remember to do it in incognito mode so that the results will be as clean as possible (not personalized).
You can also find it using the Keywords Explorer tool by Ahrefs — use the SERP features filter to see the results.
As a result, the report will show you which pages and URLs get featured snippets. Click “more” to see all the results for the page.
Analyze how the content is organized on your competitor sites to get similar results for your site when it comes to the SERP. This guide by Google will also help you here.
Step 8: Analyze the behavioral data of competitor websites
When a site sits in the Top 10 but not the Top 3, it usually means that everything is fine with its internal optimization, and you only need to work out the details. You can improve your ranking by working on the link profile and by improving behavioral metrics. I have described how to analyze the former in step 5. Now let’s look at what exactly you should pay attention to when analyzing the behavioral metrics of competitor websites.
How to check the behavioral metrics of competitors?
To do this, you can use the SimilarWeb service.
Naturally, you’ll get an approximation, as the exact data can only be seen in Google Analytics, and it is unlikely that you will have access to your competitors’ analytics =)
Here, you can see the total visits per month, average visit duration, page per visit data, and bounce rate. In addition to these indicators, this tool can offer you plenty of other useful information, such as the sources of competitors’ traffic. In general, it is a very solid and free service.
In this article, I described the main aspects that I take into account when analyzing competitor websites. I believe this step is important when working with any site, seeing as such information helps us develop the right SEO strategy!
Here, I gave examples of analysis using services and tools that I use in my work — in my opinion, they are better than equivalents. But if you are satisfied with your other tools, you can safely use them too.
If you have any difficulties developing an SEO strategy or have any other SEO-related questions, contact us, and we will be happy to help you out.