Remember the age old adage, keep your friends close but, your enemies closer? In the world of digital marketing and search engine optimization, there is no one closer to you in search rankings than your competitors. So why do business’ often overlook this step and jump right to building strategy? There is a wealth of information and competitive advantage that can be gained from finding and analyzing your competitors. When it comes to a thorough search engine optimization strategy, seeking out what your competitors are doing right (and what they’re doing wrong) will help guide you on your way to SEO success.
Determine Your Real Competitors
Find your real competitors, and remember they include any website or organization with whom you are competing with for traffic and visibility, regardless of whether their product or service is exactly like yours. I included this because a complete competitive analysis, although worth it, is no small task so knowing who you’re truly competing against in SERPs is important. You should be able to identify at least one competitor on your own but, here’s some advice on finding some more top competitors. You should aim to make a list of 5-10 competitors in your industry and geographical area.
- Set up a Google Alert to receive email notifications on updates on competing products/services, be notified when other people mention your business, and keep up to date with industry news
- Use industry keywords to search for other businesses on major search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing
- Use associations’ member directories to find other competitors in your niche.
Analyze Which Keywords & Long-Tail Keyword Search Queries You’re Competing For
After you’ve determined the keywords which are most relevant to your business’ product or service through brainstorming what you already know about your business and some preliminary keyword research, you can begin analyzing who else is ranking for those same terms. A commonly known tool that is easy to use is Google Keyword Planner. Enter your competitor’s URL one at a time and discover what keywords Google determines are most closely related to the topic and content on their site. You can also view keyword volume and level of competition.
Use another keyword tool like SEM Rush to enter the web address of a competitor and view what keywords their website ranks for organically. You can also discover new organic competition you may not have found in your own research, and monitor ranking changes for multiple domains.
Scope out the Competition’s Content Marketing
To reap benefits like more brand awareness, improved rankings and increased organic traffic, you need to produce high-quality content regularly. It is one of the most significant tools for gaining qualified traffic online. Learn from your competitor’s strengths and shortfalls by taking some time to explore their content marketing. So what does high quality content mean, anyway? While reviewing competitor sites pages and building strategy for your own web pages, remember these tips:
Purpose: Firstly, it should serve the audience with relevant and useful information. It should be keyword focused, and targeted to the ideal audience. Step one is to build buyer personas so you can use them to guide your content marketing.
Style: The content should talk with visitors, not at them. For blog posts, it should be value-based, not product/service or sales focused. Content should include visuals or other interactive media.
Substance: Not too much information, not too little. Put value before volume. Internal pages should be a minimum of 350-500 words each. Ideal length of a blog post is approx. 1600 words.
UX: User experience is of the utmost importance. The content should address the ideal audiences’ question or problem in an appealing way and be accessible via mobile devices. How quickly the page loads, how content is formatted on the page, its readability, and ease of guiding the user through to their end goal are all critical – and just some of the considerations for UX.
All Hail the Blog
Take the time to review each of your competitor’s websites for an active blog. Take detailed notes on:
- how often they post
- the quality of their content
- is it applicable to the target audience?
- is it relevant, engaging and helpful?
- does it follow best practices?
- Don’t forget social; take a peek at whether or not they’re consistently social syndicating the posts they’re publishing
- Assess total number of views, comments, social shares, and other interactions.
Get a feel for what sort of content (topics, style, medium) your target audience is interacting with on competitor’s websites, what seems to be resonating with them? What’s inspiring them to comment or share with their own social network?
Remember, if any of the above seems lacking or is missing all together, those are golden opportunities to put the work in now to quickly outshine that competitor.
Not only is blogging a vehicle for generating more relevant content for your business in order to be ranked for a larger set of keywords, or improve your current rankings, your target audience will find more value on your website and reward you for it.
Even if you’re of the mindset that your industry borders on boring, you can still easily find relevant and interesting topics which will be found by your desired audience when executed correctly.
It is usually quite easy to track down some data to find out which social networks your ideal audience engages with the most. Simply put: fish where the fish are. The biggest obstacle is obvious; you’re not the only one fishing.
The most popular social media networks that are likely to be utilized by your competitors include:
- You Tube
Explore more than one competitor’s social presence and keep notes on these important indicators of social media stardom:
The following suggestions will need to be adjusted for which network your exploring but, this gives you a good idea of what to look for.
- Total number of fans/followers. Quick Tip: If you don’t have competitor monitoring software set-up, record the date also so when you return to check in on them down the road, you know whether they’ve grown or not, and by how much.
- Total number of daily/weekly/monthly posts; frequency per network
- Fan/follower engagement (comments, social shares, +1’s, retweets, favorites etc.)
- Style/topic of content published
- Frequency of their own, original content – versus – content from outside sources
- Use of network features (how thoroughly a competitor fills in all the profile features available for any one social network)
Perform a Competitors Backlink Analysis
Using high-quality, relevant and engaging content that’s appealing to your target audience is the first step to being in a position to begin link building. Why? Simply because all link building campaigns start with something worth linking to. Before you craft your own link building strategy, use your detective skills (and some handy tools) to scope out your competitor’s links. You’re likely to find some potential link opportunities for your own business too.
Use one of these free website link explorer tools to:
- Discover competitors high-authority backlinks
- Perform an in-depth link analysis
- Distinguish between quality links and spam
- Discover potential backlink sources
If you or your marketing provider can master the task of building high-quality links to your website, it can put you ahead of your competition in search results.
Check Your Own Website (& competitors) for Broken Links
Understanding the landscape of the link profile for your site and competitors can help you further improve your efforts in this critical area of your SEO marketing strategy.
Broken backlinks if left unattended can add up, and they negatively affect user experience (ever been annoyed by the “404 page not found” message when you’re expecting the content you were clicking for? Yes, me too.) They can also work against your site’s ability to improve rankings so it’s important to find and manage them by either removing them or redirecting them to an active URL.
There are several free tools you can use to discover broken backlinks on your own site like Google Analytics. Check out this comprehensive step-by-step guide. You can also use the free tools mentioned in the previous section.
Title elements, or title tags are a good place to start to access your competitor’s search engine optimization. Title tags are one of the most important on-page SEO elements because they communicate to the search engines and users what the content of the page is about. They appear in the search results pages, in tabs in your browser after you navigate to the site, as the auto description when a page is bookmarked, and in some cases, link anchor text on external websites.
Here are some best practices for you to easily analyze your competitor’s title tags and guide decisions on your own site to improve your SEO
Title tags should
- be unique for each page; even if the content is different, having identical title tags on multiple pages is considered duplicate content which can and eventually will get the guilty site penalized by Google Panda.
- include targeted keywords which make sense with the page content, describing what the page is about
- use keywords in the head of the titles & branding at the end (keyword proximity)
- mindful of length; no more than 70 characters
Title tags shouldn’t
- overstuff keywords, called keyword cannibalization. No more than 3 keywords should be assigned per title, per page. Keywords should be spaced throughout the content and page focused.
- shouldn’t mirror H1’s
Are They Mobile?
With the recent Google Mobilegeddon update, you’ll want to know whether your competitor’s sites load and are usable on a smartphone. Notice I said load and usable, they are two different things. So, test it out using Google’s simple mobile friendly test as well as on your own smartphone.
Mobile has become increasingly important, and if you want to compete alongside and eventually get ahead of your competitors, a mobile responsive site is a requirement. If competitors haven’t got a mobile responsive site, and you are redesigning an existing site or launching a new website, you have a golden opportunity to get ahead.
Your competitions marketing efforts in the local landscape is important to note, especially if your business has a brick and mortar location, you can’t overlook the importance of your presence in local search results.
Since one of the keys to local SEO is a presence on popular online directories, investigate where your competition has up-to-date local profiles. Sites like Google My Business, Yahoo Local, Yelp, Yellowpages.com, Bing Places, and any other local directories which may be lesser known but, specific for your industry – check those too.
- Consistency between the contact information on their website and their various profiles
- How well they’ve utilized all the profile features (i.e. including a professional photo, full description etc.)
- Whether they have any local reviews; are they interacting with their audience by replying to reviews, or complaints? Observe their communication strategy.
Your competitor’s presence on directories like these may be strong, or non-existent but, either way, be sure to include time to build out these profiles carefully and thoroughly. You will benefit from the increased accessibility to your business’ information through directory profiles.
Now that you’ve got a good idea of some of the valuable information you can gain from competitor research and analysis, get started! Knowledge is power. With the knowledge of what your competitors are doing well, and not so well, you can improve your business online to outshine them all. Comment below to add your own tips on how you can learn from competitors to improve your search engine optimization.