SEO Competitive Analysis: Plan, Features, and Tricks You May Have Forgotten About
The analysis of the strategies competitor’s search engine optimization is a necessary process for any modern product. This is an attempt at finding out the recipe for success, to determine the directions, analyze the components, and consider every element.
Depending on the goal you want to achieve, the direction of the analysis might also change. For example, to increase the link’s weight, you can study the backlinks of your closest competitors. You can also enhance your set of keywords by analyzing what works well for other sites.
The competitive analysis of the strategy of search engine promotion is more than the inspection and comparison of search results. To succeed you must not only collect data but also interpret it correctly. Most often this process is divided into three components: technical, the content, and backlinks. And the results yielded answer the questions of any webmaster:
- Who should I consider to be my competitors?
- How do I identify direct and indirect competitors?
- How can I identify the main elements of a competitor’s strategy?
- What are similar projects doing better?
- What are the strategic advantages of these approaches?
- What are competitor weaknesses that can be used to create a more successful offer?
- Which keywords are the most effective?
- How many and what kind of backlinks does this produce?
- What strategy of communication with users will bring more results?
- What resources (money, time, skills) does each selected element require?
- What are competitors and similar projects missing?
- And, most importantly, what from this can be used to benefit your project?
How to do Competitor Analysis
To gain valuable data from the competitor analysis, you should begin with why you need it and your desired results. To do this, you need to separate the goals and intentions of the users you are fighting for. A recent study that was conducted by Google and released in 2019 revealed that the needs directly determine the keyword selection and how people interpret the search results. It is behavior that forms the aims, also known as search goals. In contrast to the current most common division of intent into four groups, Google has identified six main states of need:
- Surprise me.
- Help me.
- Cheer me up.
- Enlighten me.
- Impress me.
- Capture me.
And three categories of needs:
At the same time, Google’s existing recommendations suggest separating the aims of requests as follows:
- requests to “find-out”
- requests to “do”
- requests to “find a website”
- requests to “visit-in-person”
In practice, these recommendations help you determine the four main types of intent or a search query’s purpose:
- Informational – this includes all queries that can be answered shortly and concisely. For example, “Mark Twain’s birthday” or “DIY photo book”.
- Navigational – this includes branded queries. For example, a “Facebook advertising account” or “Amazon books”.
- Commercial– is the market and product research that is conducted by users themselves before purchasing. For example, “The Ten Best Gift Ideas” or “Telephones for men, a gift review”.
- Transactional – are queries with a well-defined action and a well-formed selection. For instance, “buying Harry Potter”.
It is important to separate queries because most of the keywords may relation to informational questions. For example, there are almost eight million pages that contain information about Mark Twain’s birthday.
But if the purpose of our query is just to find out the date, then why would you click on the links when the answer is available directly under the search bar?
Although the set of keywords could theoretically fit our site, the request with informational intent did not bring traffic. On the other hand, imagine that we are looking for a good gift for someone that likes Mark Twain.
By adding two common keywords that indicate a different user intent, we have moved from informational requests to commercial ones. By the way, pay attention to how big of a role pop-up suggestions with similar queries and visual content play. Can we turn the same informational request into a transactional one? It’s easy, simply replace the word “idea” with “buy”.
So, the end of a search phrase can determine its character, but it’s the seed keywords that are the most valuable to us. It is equally important that the high compliance user’s transactional intent will not generate more traffic or sales. A more popular search query will be displayed higher in the ranking of search results, regardless of its intent or purpose.
Key Words and Money Phrases
Different user intent is reflected in different keywords. For each type of intent that you would like to work with, you will need your group of keywords as part of the site’s search engine optimization. Particularly effective keywords are also called “selling” or “money phrases.” These phrases are always accompanied by a high level of organic and paid competition, and include:
- a comparison of competitors
- search queries to find discounts and offers, including special codes and promotions
- search intentions to form an opinion about a product, such as searching for reviews
- narrowly targeted inquires about the sale
When analyzing a competitor’s keywords, it is important to look at everything from the user’s side. The goal is to understand what questions the user will ask about your product or service and provide them with the most accurate answers. For example, if you are focusing on transactional intent, then you need to select a group of keywords that reflect the sale as much as possible. They are also called transactional or commercial keywords. If we are planning to only sell books, then we can use the expression “buy a book” as a starting point. Enter this into the Google Keyword Planner to get recommendations for related and consonant expressions.
As you can see, we are offered almost 600 options, as well as additional keywords that can be included to narrow down the original query.
In addition to the Google Keyword Planner, you can use Google Autofill by entering the part of the key phrase that you are confident in and writing its sentences and synonyms.
This approach only provides general matches, but it is still a good start. Alternatively, you can use SEO competition analysis tools like SEMrush, Ubersuggest, or Wordtracker. Another way to learn how you will be searched on the Internet is through social media. For example, Quora can help you identify the most popular questions related to your industry.
You are most likely to get two lists of keywords as a result, organic and paid. Organic words are the keywords that need to be mentioned in your site’s content for search bots to correctly determine your activity and context. The better and more naturally you use organic keywords in your content strategy, the better the results will be.
All keywords have several basic characteristics that help you use them more effectively:
- Average Monthly Volume – the approximate level of popularity of a keyword and its close variants among users
- Competition and Index – shows how popular a keyword is among advertisers. The level has three values: low, medium, and high, and refers to the demand for a particular query among all Google requests. The index has a numerical value and displays the ratio of available advertising slots to occupied ones for this query.
- Cost per Click – is the average price per click for a keyword. It is based on historical data and the current competition. It can be displayed as an average, or as the lowest and highest current bids.
The key steps of the keyword research algorithm:
- Step 1. Evaluate your site’s current results, the average monthly volume, clicks, and the overall traffic.
- Step 2. Determine the search intent of current and potential users.
- Step 3. Determine ways to meet these requests and create separate groups of keywords and phrases.
- Step 4. Evaluate the complexity of each group, compare the competition, cost, and traffic.
- Step 5. To evaluate the similar indicators of your closest competitors, similar sites, or leaders that you want to match, highlight the common and unique words.
- Step 6. Complete your groups according to your competitors’ results.
- Step 7. Try to find the missing keywords with a high volume of queries and low competition.
- Step 8. Evaluate and edit the results.
Domains and Backlinks
Once you have sorted out your keywords, it’s time to find out what your competitors are doing. If you do not know who your competition is, we will show you how to find out below. But now it is important to understand how to assess the quality and authority of those competitors that you know about or to whom you would like to be equal. The site’s authority determines the users’ opinion about it, but the two main components are the weight of the domain name and the quality of the content. Read more about how to conduct a content audit in our article – Website Content Audit.
For example, open the Barnes & Noble website in the service SimilarWeb.
We see the basic universal metrics for any domain: the total number of visits, the average duration of a single session, the number of pages viewed, and the bounce rate. By examining this data, we can assess whether users spend enough time on the site, as well as how relevant the offered content is. The higher the match, the lower the bounce rate.
Let’s look at the geographical data. This is especially important if we are opening a local business and we need good ideas for local promotion. This means that a large percentage of international traffic may indicate that the selected site uses a different model that would not be suitable in our case.
It is also important to recall the period for which data is provided. For example, in this screenshot, we do not see all the users, only the geography of those who visited the site over the past month. Once we determine whether the selected site is suitable for us, we can try to find out its main sources of traffic.
Here it is important to note that, for example, a small percentage of social traffic does not mean it has a weak social media presence. This is the percentage of all the traffic to a website in a month that was generated by social networks either organically or through advertising. The selected example indicates that efforts are focused on attracting search traffic, while all other channels are equally involved.
You should also pay attention to the segmentation of social traffic. Again, this does not determine the effectiveness of maintaining a profile on a particular social media platform. Moreover, a social network can be used exclusively as an advertising platform even without an existing page.
So, the authority and quality of a domain determine the number and quality of the backlinks referring to it, the relevance of users’ geography to the site’s activity, as well as the effective use of different channels to attract both paid and organic traffic. Let’s consider the value of backlinks in a little more detail.
SimilarWeb offers basic information in the form of the five main referring sites and the five main sites visited after closing the page of interest.
But backlinks can provide much more useful information about competitors. To obtain more detailed data, use the SEMRush backlink analysis tool.
The updated interface not only shows the total number of backlinks, referring domains, and IP addresses, but also gives a good idea of what attributes certain links have, such as sponsored or UGC. The table of backlinks provides more detailed information. The main questions we need to answer are: where the links are placed, what are the main types of references, and what page quality do the backlinks provide.
When evaluating external links, it is very important to properly consider the authority of the referring domain. Almost every analytics tool offers its unique method for evaluating source reliability. SEMRush calls it its Authority Score. Also, you can view the general statistics of referring sites, which top-tier domains are the most common, and in which countries the sites are registered.
Many other SEO tools, for example, Microsoft SEO PowerSuite, also offers a similar overview of the geography of the main referring domains, and you can get more information under the Domains tab. It provides the same data in the form of tables and more detailed information about the main referring sites.
Thanks to the AS indicator, we can note immediately that almost 5% of backlinks are placed on sites with a low confidence rating. This tool is useful for determining which sites transfer the most weight to your competitor’s links. After studying them in more detail, you can offer your links and check whether this approach is justified and effective for your project.
To be successful, it will also be useful to find out which anchor text is used the most often in links. This information is available on the corresponding tab.
As we can seem about 20% (almost 10 million) links use the brand name as the anchor text. Another 10% do not contain any anchor text at all, 5% is for the nook e-brand produced by Barnes & Noble, and another 5% are mentions of the brand using a different spelling. In total, more than 45% of links use the brand name as an anchor text.
How do you turn this data into a strategy? Begin by exporting a list of backlinks from a competing site. Filter out those that are not relevant to your business and find the contacts of the remaining domains. To offer your materials for placement, it is enough to:
- work on the same topic as competitors, but in more detail
- offer an infographic or interactive map
- create similar content, but using more authoritative sources and a more methodical approach
- structure your article around the rebuttal of a competing resource’s article
- pay special attention to the fact that your article’s data contains more accurate or updated figures
- refer to quotes of opinion leaders and experts who also do not share your competitor’s point of view
These are not all of the ideas and combinations, but we hope that thanks to our list, it will be easier for you to start working in this direction.
It is better to do the content auditing last, after having previously studied the main traffic channels, the backlink profile, and the keywords of the site of interest. This initial brand knowledge will allow you to find the necessary channels to get data better and faster. The main question that needs to be answered is, what else is bringing traffic to my competitor? To do this, you can look at several components of any content strategy:
- Does the competing site have a blog?
- How regular are publications?
- What is the quality of the publications?
- Does the blog have many readers?
- What is the level of user engagement?
- How often do users share links to the publications?
- Does the competing site have a YouTube channel or blog?
- What kind of content yields the best results on social media?
- live broadcasting
- podcasts and so on
If you do not know whether or not a site has a blog, it is easy to determine this by doing a simple search with the site operator’s domain name and the link structure of the inurl operator:
If you find a blog, use the tools to estimate the frequency of publications per month.
A total of 20 posts were published last month. Open several to see their quality and volume, you will be interested in:
- the number of words or characters
- the availability of the specified data sources
- the presence of external links to other sites
- the use of images, graphics, video, and so on
To study a competitor’s content strategy in more detail, you will need to create a table with dates, topics, and results yielded by each element of the blog and social media. This way you can find trends that are useful in the creation of your product.
Practice- How to find your competitors
A Preliminary Market Analysis with Google Trends
SEO competition occurs in a market where the supply and demand are balanced, meaning that the very first step will be to determine the situation in the market as a whole. For instance, you want to sell children’s books, let’s use Google Trends and analyze the demand over the past year. When you enter a word into the search bar, the algorithm tells you how you can refine your search.
For example, we have entered “book” and we are asked to choose among all the queries that include the word “book” in English in any context and queries in which the word “book” appears as an idea or the main topic in any language. We will select and compare both options to better understand the differences in results.
The trends are very similar, but it is better to move from general to specific for market research, and topics are more suitable for this purpose. Let’s clarify the results for “children’s books”, fortunately, this topic also exists.
Sometimes choosing a more suitable topic will not bring the desired results, but there are many other ways to get the information you need. Let’s leave the topic of “books” as the main query and open the “categories” menu. There, select “books and literature” and then select “Children’s Literature”.
The resulting trend is very different from the original one. Even the peak period is visible, but I would like to get more accurate data on seasonal demand. To do this, you can refine the query so that the graph does not display all search results, but only those related to purchases by selecting “Google Shopping Trends”.
On the last graph, we can see the seasonal demand and peak periods for the selected product and or service in the region of interest. For example, for children’s books, this is the period from the beginning of September to the first half of November, the beginning of March, and the middle of June.
But what does this say about the market? By scrolling down a little lower, you can see the regions where the selected query is popular. For example, in our case, these are Alaska and Wyoming, followed by Iowa, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
But that is not all, you can scroll down a little and check what other queries are popular in this or similar categories. For example, you can add the “books for kids” query to compare trends.
The second trend is highlighted in a different color and you can see that a weaker demand is also present in Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico.
Another method is to use well-known properties or categories of the product that you plan to offer. For example, books can be divided according to the most general criteria into fiction and other genres.
Now you can see that in Montana, Utah, and New Hampshire, as well as Hawaii, fiction books are more popular. In New Mexico, Arkansas, and Iowa other genres are more in demand.
In total, we have got not only a general picture of the seasonal changes in demand but also the segmentation depending on the characteristics of the product offered.
Using Keywords to Identify the Competition
Knowing the market will help you not only measure existing competition but also correctly interpret the results. Let’s see if we can find some suitable companies specializing in children’s literature.
Now, let’s see if we can find anyone offering these services in Alaska.
There are a lot of results and we need to filter out the unnecessary information. For example, let’s try to exclude books about Alaska from the search. By using the intitle operator, we have significantly improved the search results.
Now we will try to leave only the sites selling books, excluding a variety of articles, reviews, and lists. The inurl operator will help to do this, as well as a small clarification for the intitle operator that you have already used.
But the most convenient and fast way to do this is by using Google Maps.
There are about 17 results with good reviews and at least one major Barnes & Noble chain. It is important to identify large and network companies as early as possible since their set of keywords and investments will be very different from small and medium-sized local businesses. Now let’s try Wyoming.
There are just over 20 results and also several Barnes & Noble stores. Now let’s select one suitable store in each state and try to find out what keywords they use. It is better to open each site from the list and take at least a few minutes to study it, then you will know whether the chosen company is suitable for you. For example, for Alaska, you can use Hearthside Books.
To do this, go to the Google Keyword Planner and “find new keywords”. Enter the site address of the selected store and wait for the list to load. Remember to make sure that the language, geolocation, and date range parameters match your query.
A list of 400 keywords has been created, that can now be filtered by competitiveness, the frequency of mentions in search queries, the minimum, and maximum bids, and so on. If you select a second store, for example, from Wyoming, and similarly process its site through Google Keyword Planner, you will receive another 300 keywords and queries that are potentially suitable for your project.
Both lists can be downloaded to your computer and opened in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, which is especially if you want to compare them and mark the repeated key phrases. Another important finding is the bids or prices at which you can use the selected keywords to advertise your site. Even at this early stage, it is possible to roughly estimate how much the cost is to use certain phrases for paid search promotion.
An Example- Existing Businesses
How can you identify competitors if you already have a business and your website has been up and running for a long time? Let’s consider this situation using the example of a bookstore and Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar. For search engine optimization, competing sites mean are defined as the struggle for positions in search results and keywords. Keywords can be of different lengths and degrees of coincidence, but for competitive research, they are best divided by the type of traffic they generate, that being paid and organic. We will analyze organic competitors using SEMRush.
Analyzing Your Site
To do this, enter the site address in the search bar and select the type of domain overview results. The results page will tell us basic information about the site of interest, for example, the number of keywords and backlinks it contains at the moment.
In our case, the results immediately suggest that the site uses only organic search traffic. The methods for evaluating paid and organic keywords are very similar, so it is okay.
Below, we can see the overall traffic statistics for the selected period, being two years in our case, indicating the countries where most users are registered.
86% of traffic is generated from the US, which fully meets our criteria. You can also view a chart of the search results and keyword trends. These tools show how the search results most often displayed the selected site, as well as what changes in search positions over time due to keywords and phrases.
But for competitive analysis, we are most interested in organic search. The flag next to the name reminds us of which region the results are currently being displayed for. The first item is a list of keywords and phrases used by the selected site for organic ranking. The second item is a list of other sites competing with ours in organic search results.
You should also pay attention to branded traffic indicators. In this case, more than 85% of organic traffic is branded, i.e. it contains part of or all of the entire site names in the search query. Remember that the names can sometimes contain keywords with a very broad meaning, for example “book”, as with our case. This can lead to the fact that the ranking results for this keyword will be treated as branded traffic and affect the data’s accuracy.
The Selection and Analysis of Similar Sites
Let’s go back to the list of organic competitors and look at it in more detail. Click “view details” to go to the full list. Below the competitive positioning map is a table with a detailed description of each site found. Unfortunately, matching keywords does not always mean that a certain site is your competitor. Both a construction store and bike shop will use the word “tool” equally often, and the term “development” is used equally as often by both construction companies and software specialists. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to the competition level.
This is an indicator of how many keywords and queries match the site selected for analysis. Sites with a competitiveness score of 40% or more can be considered direct competitors. In our case, the highest value is only 22%. This means that you will have to check the proposed competitors manually by opening their sites since they do not match your site by more than one-fifth.
Consider the first five results to determine their degree of compliance. Ddbnbooks is a bookstore specializing in rare books located in North Carolina. Grovearcade is a multifunctional facility offering housing and retail space in a picturesque piece of architectural art. Captainsbookshelf and Bagatellebooksare bookstores in North Carolina. In this way, searching by competition level helped you find other bookstores and a single location with a retail section, bars, and cafes. But we did not find a direct match for a bookstore in the format of a bar. Let’s try to filter the search results by the number of matching keywords.
As we can see, the Grove Arcade complex is listed again in the search results, but there are also sites like Yelp, Facebook, and Tripadvisor. This is why you do not need to take the results of the automatic search for competitors based on keyword matching literally. The algorithm does not always understand the specifics of your business or how you use a particular phrase in your content.
We will leave SEMRush for a minute and use Google Search to find more suitable competitors.
One of the first results of an organic search was the Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar that we chose for the first analysis, but we can also find several suitable competitors on the first page of the search or in the Google Maps results. As you can see from the search results, the two main categories of competitors are bookstores with cafes that offer soft drinks to visitors or those with bars. Let’s select one match and then return to SEMRush to continue the analysis.
Again, there is a tendency to refuse paid search promotion, which could be a good opportunity for our site. But when choosing and analyzing a competitor in more detail we are interested in two things: keywords (in this case only organic) and backlinks.
A total of 120 keywords yield organic results, which are especially noticeable at the peak at the beginning of the year.
The selected site occupies the first position in terms of partially or completely identical branded keywords, and the bulk of effective search queries are related services that are not directly related to the topic that is of interest to us. This is also reflected in the branded traffic graph.
Since the store name does not contain potential keywords and matches the brand expressions of the store, we can conclude that no more than 20% of organic keywords can be useful for competitive research in this case. Let’s look at the second example for comparison.
At first glance, there are a lot more keywords and backlinks, as well as banner ads. However, please note that the number of referring domains is not so large and there are more than 100 backlinks per domain. Let’s check the branded traffic.
You can move on to keywords since the branded share is only one-third of the total mass of queries.
5.7 thousand keywords provide almost four thousand organic sessions. Naturally, some expressions work much better than others, and to find out which ones, let’s go to the table.
Only half of the queries where the site occupies the first place in search results contain branded keywords. Even in this case, you can extract something useful and see exactly what keywords users enter. For example, a series of parties or other events that mention the store’s name. Any idea can come in handy.
You can export this data as an Excel or CSV and compare it with your organic results. If the same keywords bring competitors better results, it’s worth turning to content analysis to figure out how to use them more effectively in your texts. You can also remove weaker keywords, add the remaining desired expressions to your list, and process the result in the Google Keyword Planner. This way you will get excellent recommendations on how to strengthen your set of keywords by analyzing similar sites.
How do you analyze a competitor websites? Share in the comments below. What is the best SEO tool for competitor site analysis?