Competition analysis from the point of view of SEO – where to start?

4 October 2018

An inherent part of building an SEO strategy is analyzing the competition in the market we are interested in. A detailed and well made competition analysis can become basis for building brand communication on-line. You should make this kind of analysis even before you start creating a marketing strategy.

A professional analysis allows you to find attractive niches and to create a cost estimation for entering the market.

Aside from SEO analysis it’s also good to check what your competition does in the field of paid advertising on-line. Paid advertising, like sponsored articles can have a big influence on SEO, that’s why in-depth audits on visibility on-line are important.

Competition analysis and SEO

Anyone who did business on-line knows (or should know) that creating a business plan without competition analysis doesn’t end well.

Customers who want to use SEO ask for competition analysis rarely. Many people still think that SEO is just generating a large number of links automatically and only care about results. And they want them now.

The main reason for many misunderstandings and lack of satisfying results from positioning is forgoing competition analysis and open communication between an agency and a customer. Sometimes if we have a tight budget it’s impossible to get the first positions on some markets. It’s not the question of skill, but of resources, time and number of people working on the problem – and all that costs. Sometimes building your strategy around positioning for highly competitive phrases is unprofitable. Where do mistakes like that come from? Agencies don’t always offer this kind of services and customers don’t always know that doing an analysis lies in their best interest.

SEO audits and competition analysis from SEO perspective

The popularity of low quality audits made people forget about the need to build strategy in a complex way making sure all the market variables are in it. An SEO audit should be the introduction to creating a good quality website. Why should you improve technical aspects of the website if your competition did it long time ago and is light years ahead? What should you do if you compete against big brands with enormous budgets, and you want to work in that specific industry?

On-line visibility audit

If you’re planning to start a business on-line, you should begin with:

  • market analysis – find niches,
  • specifying the entry barrier,
  • looking for potential competition,

If you already exist on the market:

  • find out where your company is more competitive then others,
  • try to specify (even subjectively) how visible your company is,
  • look for your biggest competition and see how they work.

This knowledge should answer if it’s worth it to ask experts for help. If it turns out that you have a big competition or problems with answering the questions above analyzing competition is the right choice.

Competition analysis phases

A well conducted analysis has to follow a template. You can’t skip some points. Below you’ll find the list of steps you have to go through while analyzing competition.

Step 1: find your competition

If your company is present on the market for a while now, you probably know your competition. The situation is different when you’re just starting out.

When you start looking for competition it’s best to start with talking to people already present in the trade. They often have many important information on competition and knowledge about data like: website traffic, sales etc.

You can also get good and detailed analysis using tools:

  • tools that allow you to search for common key phrases, like: SEMSTORM, Market Samurai, SEMrush, Searchmetrics.
  • tools that help you find competition: Similarweb or Alexa.

They will show you your biggest competition in search results, common keywords and others, like: page authority, domain authority, trust flow etc.

While doing this type of research you can also see if the phrases you want to be indexed for are the same as the ones you are actually indexed for. Analyze the results. Does the product really reach the right target group?

Step 2: Keywords analysis

Now, that you know the most important competitors focus on analyzing phrases they reach high search results for. If there is a lot of phrases it’s impossible to analyze each of them separately. Especially if we have to analyze a few competitors. You have to look at certain trends.

For an analyst the number of indexed phrases is the most important one. Their number in top10 is an estimation of traffic. Aside from those factors, you also need to look at the keywords alone. Are they generic phrases (ones that only name the product or service), phrases with a low number of searches or typical long tail?

Long tail phrases are hard to find during analysis, since they often have a very low number of searches and most software doesn’t even see them.

Step 3: Analyzing content on website

Analyzing phrases shouldn’t be limited to identifying keywords the competition is present for in search results (and common phrases). A detailed study should answer why the website is not high in the results for a certain key phrase. Finding out which pages from the website rank for which words might seem time consuming. However, some tools show you the URL of a page next to the keyword.

This type of analysis allows you to see how developed is the content on competitors website and answer the question of how to build content on your own website. Competition analysis allows you to find niche content and subjects your competition forgot about. Making sure your website has content the competition doesn’t is a great way to gain an advantage and make sure customers will stay with you.

When you analyze content it’s also important to survey current trends, find out what kind of content users share eagerly in the community. To do that, you can use tools like Ahrefs, MOZ, Buzzsumo. If you want to find trends and places where gaining links will work well, you can use Sentione or Brand24.

Step 4: A detailed on-site and off-site competition analysis

This is the longest and most demanding step of the analysis. If you want to do it really well, you should not rush this part. Technical and semantic analysis of competing websites will allow you to answer why your competition gets high positions for some phrases.

On-site analysis

An on-site analysis is great to see the differences and draw the right conclusions. This type of analysis should show you how much work is yet before you if it comes to optimization and positioning of a website.

Let’s use a simple example:

If your competition has a well-optimized website, your duty is to optimize your own. After you go further with your analysis you’ll find your competitors weak spots and improve them in your own website. However it’s good to start from a similar point and stay conscious of the fact that many things influence positioning.

A well conducted SEO audit is one of the most time-consuming activities an expert does.

When you analyze competition focus on the goals. And those are:

  • finding the weak parts of their website,
  • defining the solutions they used to increase visibility in search results,
  • presenting comparison analysis,
  • creating a list of elements to improve.

Off-site analysis

Off-site analysis starts with surveying links that lead to the competing website and other outside factors that influence the website position in search results. Those factors also include the general visibility of the website. It has a lot of meaning when you create a business strategy.

We want to find out as much as possible about outside links and similar things. It’s a good idea to use software for that. For example: Majestic® or Ahrefs – they contain tools that allow you to analyze competition.

Majestic® and Ahrefs allow you to compare a few domains at one time. They take many factors into account: the number of dofollow links, nofollow links, the anchor-text, the number of graphic links and some that are inherent for the software and sometimes patented.

This kind of analysis will also help you create your own link building strategy. Knowing where your competition leaves their links will give you an idea on what path to take, where to go to leave your own links.

It’s a good place to mention it’s possible to block tools like Majestic® or Ahrefs, but experience shows not many people do it. Probably because it’s a two edged sword – if we block these tools we also can’t get access to a detailed link analysis.

Step 5: Summary of analysis and recommendations

This is where you gather all the data you obtained and compare them to your website. It allows you to see where you are compared to competition. The summary should contain all the recommendations on elements you should improve on your website and outside of it (link profile).

A short summary

Competition analysis is not a service SEO agencies do often. Professional audits should become a standard, especially in very competitive trades and for companies that just begin their adventure with Internet. The best solution is competition analysis coupled with website SEO audit and historic data analysis on traffic in Google Analytics.

This type of complex service is a beginning to further actions. Internet is a medium that’s easy to measure, because every action leaves a trace we can see thanks to advanced tools. Especially since there’s an array of tools available to make it even easier. It’s just the question of finding the tools that work best for you. All of them have strong and weak points, that’s why you should test the available solutions.

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