How to Do an SEO Competitor Analysis

Completing SEO competitor analysis is key to ensuring your website is ahead of your competitors and stays in front when it comes to organic searches.

Your competitors can provide essential information regarding your own SEO strategy;

  • Identify areas that work well and create aligned strategy
  • Learn from their mistakes and improve those areas in your own website
  • Determine what works and what doesn’t work in your industry
  • Ascertain which SEO tasks should be a priority
  • Establish your competitors’ SERP rankings and what needs to be done to outperform them

Useful SEO Tools

Ahrefs is an online tool that has an extensive index of backlinks, keywords and content that enables identification, search and analysis of these key areas. 

Google provides a useful template to log findings on important areas.

1. Identify Your Top Competitors

The first step is to identify the top websites that are competing for SERP ranking in organic searches, although these may not be the same as the direct business competitors. For example, if you’re a local hairdresser there may another salon close by that you view as your main competitor. However, from an SEO perspective, they don’t even show up on an organic search as they don’t have a website. 

To determine the top websites for keyword searches we first need to establish what keywords users are likely to use. Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tool will provide the search volume for a particular keyword or set of keywords:

If the search volume is low, Ahrefs tool ‘Also rank for’ will provide a report that shows the most popular similar keywords used in organic searches:

Using these keywords check the Ahrefs SERP overview page for the top five websites:

If your website is a blog or e-commerce, you may need to approach the search through competing domains rather than using keywords. Ahrefs Site Explorer tool can identify competing domains:

Site Explorer > enter your domain > Organic search > Competing domains 

Add the top five websites to the Google log:

2. Analyse SEO Metrics

The next step is to get an overview of the competitive market by comparing the SEO metrics and stats of the leading competitors against your website.

Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool is able to complete the SEO metrics and stats for all the competitors websites at once:

Batch Analysis > Competitors domain name > Analyse 

The key areas to focus on for this stage are:

Domain Rating (DR): DR rates a website’s backlink profile, a high DR score means a website has a strong backlink profile. It’s important to be realistic when identifying competitors based on DR score. For example, if one site is DR40 and the other is DR60 there is some work to be done to get to DR60. However, if one is DR30 and the other is DR90 it’s like comparing an independent grocery store to a large chain of supermarkets, they aren’t really competitors. 

Ahrefs Rank (AR): AR provides the next level of granularity for DR and helps with the comparison of sites with the same or similar DR scores to identify which is stronger. A lower AR score means a stronger website.

Number of referring domains:  A lot of referring domains can be a sign of a strong website but it is dependent on the quality of the links. DR is a more accurate way of determining strength of links because it rates both quality and quantity.

Estimated organic search traffic: The higher the score, the higher the SERP for organic searches are.

Number of keyword rankings: The higher the score, the higher the SERP for organic searches are.

Add the data from each of the above areas for each of the five competitors to the Google log.

3. Backlink Growth Trends

Link building is a key SEO ranking factor, therefore to effectively compete, it’s essential to understand what links and backlinks competitors have and what their growth trend is. 

To do this use Ahrefs Site Explorer:

Site Explorer > Enter domain > Overview > Referring Domains graph > Set to ‘One year’

This graph provides the total number of links each competitor currently has and the trend over the last year. To provide an average  monthly cumulative growth or decline take the amount of links today minus the amount of links from this time last year and divide by twelve. 

Complete the same search and calculations for each of the five competitors.

To analyse the graphs review whether there has been steady growth or if there are particular increases or decreases at certain times. Steady increases could be down to long-term link building strategies or a natural increase as the business becomes more popular. 

Spikes could be specific content doing well with consumers, targeted link building efforts or an unfortunate negative SEO attack. To get more of an idea which it is use the Ahref New Referring Domains report:

Site Explorer > Referring domains > New > use the date range to filter for that period

If there are mostly links from specific content such as guest posts and resource pages this may be due to targeted link building, or, if the links are for the same page then it suggests that specific content has done well. 

If the domains seem irrelevant it could be a negative SEO attack (this can be reviewed further using the New Backlinks report on Ahrefs).

For now, add the link growth trends information to the Google log but save the graphs so that they can be used for more in depth analysis if required. 

4. Identify Superfans

Superfans are websites that have created links on a regular basis for products or specific content within competitors’ websites. They are key people to reach out to as we know they are actively promoting similar websites and could also be interested in your website and start creating quality links.

To find superfans use the Referring Domains report in Areas Site Explorer:

Site Explorer > Referring domains > add ‘dofollow’ filter > sort by ‘links to target/ dofollow’

Review the list and identify industry blogs that have a high Link to Target. Once found click on the caret on the Links to Target column to review the types and location of links the blog has created. Ideally we’re looking for regular links across multiple blog posts.

Review the blog to establish what type of blog it is, individual blogger, multiple bloggers or a corporate blog.

Find five superfans for each of the five competitor websites and add them to the Google log.

5. Competitor’s Broken Pages

Broken pages can provide a key insight into competitors weaker areas and this information can then be used to build a better, similar page. Look for broken pages that have backlinks and content that are relevant and add these pages to the Google log. 

These broken pages could form part of your long term link building strategy, create a new and improved similar page then contact the websites that have backlinks to the competitor’s broken page and ask them to swap the links for your relevant, working pages.

To search for competitors broken pages use the Ahrefs Best by Links report:

Site Explorer > enter competitors domain > Best by links > add ‘404 not found’ filter > sort by Referring domains

6. Organic Traffic Breakdown

Understanding where in the world competitors’ organic traffic is from will help guide where your website’s target audience is located. From the top regions and countries we can also determine whether it would be beneficial to include blogs in other languages or look into translating key parts or all of your website.

To ensure you’re focusing on regions or countries that will generate value, also review the ‘Traffic value’, two countries may generate a similar amount of organic traffic but one country over the other will be generating more revenue.

To identify competitors’ organic traffic use Ahrefs Organic Search tab:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain > Overview > Organic Search tab

Add the top five countries and their percentages for each of the five competitors to the Google log, ensuring traffic value has been taken into account in evaluating which are the top five.

7. Organic Keywords

The top organic keywords driving traffic to competitors’ websites can be used to drive organic traffic to your website. By identifying non-branded keywords that rank highly across the five main competitors and targeting these in the content of your website. 

Ensure you are focusing on the keywords for your target country and also taking note of the keyword difficulty score. The keyword difficulty score will guide you on how many backlinks will be needed to rank in the top 10 SERP results for that particular keyword or set of keywords. A higher keyword difficulty score means more links will be required to score in the top10 SERP results, making it harder to achieve a top 10 SERP ranking. 

Use Ahrefs Organic keywords report:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain > Organic Search > Organic keywords

Add filters to exclude branded keywords, show only the top 10 keywords and select the relevant country and take note of the keyword difficulty score:

Add the top five organic keywords and their keyword difficulty score across all five competitors to the Google log.

8. Featured Snippets 

Featured snippets can be a useful way of increasing SERP rankings for a website as it’s not just the number one ranked websites that are included in featured snippets.

Websites ranked two, three, four and five in SERP rankings appear in approximately 60% of featured snippets so this is a good opportunity to appear at the top of organic searches without having to be the top ranked. 

Reviewing how user click rates differ when featured snippets are returned on a search shows that where there is no featured snippet approximately 26% will click on the top ranked website. However, with a featured snippet this changes, approximately 9% of users will click on the featured snippet first, with the remaining 19% still clicking on the top ranked website. 

So as part of the competitor analysis, how many featured snippets each competitor appears in is an important factor to include. If competitor websites appear in a lot of featured snippets it’s likely your website could do the same and this can be included in the long term strategy. To find the amount each competitor appears in featured snippets use Ahrefs Site Explorer:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain > Organic search > Organic keywords > SERP features filter > Featured snippets > Only linking to target

9. Content Gaps

Earlier we identified the top keywords driving business to competitors’ websites, we now want to review whether these (and other) keywords are also driving business to your website. To do this complete a content gap search using Ahrefs Content Gap tool:

Site Explorer > enter your domain > Content gap

Your website will autofill in the ‘But the following target doesn’t rank for’ field and then you will need to add the competitors’ websites to the list above.

Initially change the keywords to show in ‘all of the below targets’, however, should this not provide the level of keywords desired this can be updated to show ‘any of the below targets’.

Also, tick the box to ensure that ‘At least one of the targets should rank in top 10’ so that we can see the top keywords.

Dependent on the outcome of the search it may be useful to filter the keywords returned, if there are a lot, focus on the keywords that will be easier to rank for but have a high search volume. Use the Volume filter (500-max) and the Keyword Difficulty filter (Min-20):

Some of the top ranked keywords may have been found in the previous steps so add the top five new keywords to the Google log.

10. Popular Content  

Finding competitors’ popular content and understanding what is driving traffic to those particular pages can help guide new popular content for your website. 

Keyword organic searches have improved significantly and ‘long-tail keywords’ are an important driver. Long-tail keywords tend to be highly focussed searches so ensuring your website responds to users’ log-tail keyword searches will help drive relevant traffic to your website.

To find the popular content on your competitors’ websites we want to review their blog posts if possible, therefore rather than adding your competitors’ entire domain add the URL or subdomain of their blog. You can use Ahrefs Site Explorer to find either ‘Top subfolders’ or ‘Top subdomains’:

However, if the ‘traffic percentage’ is low (less than 10%) just add the entire domain to the popular content search.

To find popular content use the Ahrefs Top Pages report:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain/ subfolder/ subdomain > select ‘prefix’ mode > Top pages

Review the number of referring domains in the RD column and look for the lowest number of referring domains. This is because backlinks can provide a higher ranking, but we are looking specifically for which popular content is driving organic search results. 

Add the top five relevant pages to the Google log.

11. Linked Content 

By reviewing competitors’ most linked content we can target the types of links to create on your website. The most linked content is dependent on the target audience, are the links to listicles, infographics or text content?

Use the Ahrefs Best by links report to show competitors’ most linked content, as in the previous section, use the blog posts if possible:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain/ subfolder/ subdomain > Organic search > Best by links

We can also use this report to identify links we can potentially poach from competitors, this is called the ‘skyscraper technique’. Review competitors’ content and find content that can be improved and create a similar but better page. This new and improved content can be provided to the websites currently linking to competitors’ (now inferior) content and request they swap the link. 

To find links to competitors’ content use the ‘Referring domains’ column, clicking on the number will take you to the list of linking websites. 

12. Pay Per Click (PPC) Keywords

Competitors’ PPC keywords can show keywords that are most likely to be profitable. These could be low ranking keywords that we have previously dismissed but actually have a much higher conversion rate than high ranking/ more popular keywords.

In theory, competitors’ PPC keywords should translate as a worthwhile investment, however, this is reliant on the fact that the competitor has identified profitable keywords. Therefore, when reviewing competitors’ PPC keywords ensure you are undertaking an independent review before paying for these same keywords.

Use Ahrefs PPC keywords report to find competitors’ PPC keywords:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain > Paid search > PPC keywords

Add the five PPC keywords that you deem to be the most likely to be profitable to the Google log.

13. PPC ads

Reviewing and breaking down how competitors are creating their PPC ad copy can steer your website’s title tags and descriptions. 

Well chosen PPC ad copy can increase the Click Through Rate (CTR) for a website. As Google will charge a lower Cost Per Click (CPC) for ads that receive a higher CTR, competitors that are paying for PPC ads will create and adjust their ad copy to attract as much traffic through their ad as possible.

Understanding what users are most interested in is the key to writing effective ad copy and this knowledge can be incorporated in your website’s meta titles and descriptions to increase CTR. For example, if you are providing SEO services, users would be looking for effective advice, a professional service and results that increase relevant traffic to their website, so the ad copy would focus on these key points. 

To find competitors’ PPC ads for a keyword use Ahrefs PPC keywords report:

Site Explorer > competitor’s domain > Paid search > PPC keywords

Conclusion

There are of course always further investigations and more analysis that can be done on your competitors that will provide you further insight into their strengths and weaknesses and how to exploit these in the best way to improve strategy, drive organic search traffic to your website and create interesting, relevant copy to increase links. 

It is an on going process, however, with these tools you have a solid starting point and can continually build strategy to review and keep up to date with your competitors. 

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