Any business owner expects competition. It is a sign of a healthy industry, preventing complacency and encouraging people to dream up better ways to do things. Competition affects all aspects of running a company, from business development to customer retention, and in SEO, things aren’t any different.
If you’re starting in an industry, you are probably already familiar with prominent brands or businesses in it. However, other brands are not always your competitors. You could even have SEO rivals outside your industry—your SEO competitors are the people who are the top result in SERPs for your keywords.
A home improvement blog, for example, might want to rank for the keyword “aesthetic home office.” They are competing with other blogs with the same focus, yes, and blogs from retailers like IKEA, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Anthropologie. You can find out who your SEO competitors are by entering your top keywords in Google and taking note of the domains that appear on the first results page. You can also enter your keywords in a competitor analysis tool if you use one. Competitor analysis should always be part of a digital marketing strategy.
Why You Need Competitor Analysis
We’ve previously talked about conducting competitor analyses (Part One here and Part Two here). Search optimization requires plenty of agility; reaching the top of SERPs and keeping your position involves knowing about your competitors as much as your customers.
Google’s webmaster guidelines have remained the same for years, but the algorithm has changed several times since the 90s. Today, we’ve had Panda, RankBrain, Hummingbird, and dozens of minor and significant algorithm updates. The coming Core Web Vitals update will affect rankings once again, and Google’s algorithm has become so complex that many SEOs find it easier to play by the search giant’s rules instead of trying to game the system.
There is still value in locating patterns, though, especially when it comes to competitor analysis. When you’re looking at your rivals’ performance, you have three things to consider: technology, backlinks, and content. Let us look closely at each component.
All webmasters are designers—they want to create a website that combines form and function. Besides having pleasing aesthetics, a website should be fast, easy to crawl, and easy to use. If you want to redesign your site or analyze a competitor’s, you can start by running their URL through BuiltWith, a tool for creating profiles for websites, technology, or keywords. When you put your competitor’s URL through BuiltWith, you can get information on the website’s analytics, widgets, frameworks, CDN, e-commerce platforms, JS libraries and functions, SSL certificates, email hosting providers, webmaster recognition, and so much more.
Aside from knowing the technology your competitors use, you can also check their website’s architecture. Knowing your competitors’ architecture involves creating a competitor sitemap and establishing parent and child page hierarchies in their domain.
With a competitor sitemap, you can uncover offerings you don’t have and topics you don’t discuss, but they do. Moz’s Link Explorer, which SEOs use to find broken links, can help you benchmark against your rivals. Finally, you have to account for user experience. Starting in May 2021, Google will be moving beyond page speed and including UX as a ranking factor.
If your competitors are established, they would have already invested time in developing keyword strategies. While you need to develop a list of keywords based on your brand, you would still benefit from competitor analysis in terms of content. Various web comparison tools in the market can help you check the page title, meta description, keywords, or the word count of your competitors and compare with yours. With a web comparison tool, you can identify the top keyword phrases and look for patterns in your competitors’ content.
Besides on-page data, you can also collect information on your competitors’ social media performance through tools like BuzzSumo, which helps you track trends, mentions, and updates on your brand and your competitors.
In the past, manipulative techniques like backlink spamming padded SEO strategies, and some SEOs relied heavily on it to boost their website’s rankings. Google’s Penguin algorithm update, launched in April 2012, changed that. Penguin ensured that spam backlinks—which used to hold zero value—earned a negative value. Google ensured that people linked to relevant, high-quality websites instead of domains with a bunch of nonsense strings of text.
Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, which gives you an in-depth look at any website’s backlink profile, is a good tool for analyzing competitors’ backlinks. You can use it to find link opportunities on your rivals’ links. You can also use Ahrefs to identify websites that link your competitors and seek out relationships with them.
Today, marketers need to establish their brand in a crowded landscape. No matter what industry you belong to, you will have to distinguish yourself from staggering amounts of content and dozens, or even hundreds, of competitors. Developing an effective marketing campaign involves knowing who your competitors are online. Competitor analysis of technology, content, and backlinks gives you a holistic view of brands that share your niche. Tools like the ones we mentioned above can help you start.
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