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Published on

January 30, 2024


search engine optimization, SEO

SEO competitor analysis is sort of like a chess match.

You’ll typically begin with a set framework or approach, much like a chess player will begin with a popular opening or defense. As the match, or competitive optimization stretches beyond the initial moves, your success will be predicated on how well you anticipate your opponent’s moves and how far into the future you can think. Digital marketing experts shouldn’t venture forth without competitive analysis and a comprehensive understanding of their industry’s search landscape.

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In SEO competitor analysis, every piece of the puzzle counts

It’s easy for beginning chess players to give up pawns or even bishops and knights, assuming that relinquishing those pieces won’t hurt much because they aren’t as important. Similarly, digital marketers may think that competitive analysis only comprises keywords other companies rank for.

The truth is that competitive analysis involves looking at which keywords other companies rank for, as well as delving deeper into their on-page SEO tactics, backlink profiles, content strategies, and other factors that influence their online visibility. By studying these, you can identify gaps in your own strategy, discover new opportunities, and get insights into the tactics that might work for your website — sort of like how chess masters study historical games and moves to understand the dynamics of their opponents’ strategies.

Consider this blog your ultimate chess, er, competitive analysis for SEO guide

In this guide, we’ll walk through a step-by-step process for conducting a comprehensive SEO competitor analysis. We’ll cover:

  1. Establishing a game plan.
  2. Identifying your main SEO competitors.
  3. Analyzing their website structure and on-page SEO tactics.
  4. Investigating their backlink profiles and strategies.
  5. Diving deep into their content strategies and keyword targeting.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge and SEO tools you need to effectively analyze your direct competitors and refine your own SEO approach based on actionable insights. So, let’s get started and dive into the fascinating world of SEO competitor analysis!

Related: 3 Advanced Keyword Research Strategies for SEO & Content Marketing

Plan your SEO competitive analysis carefully

Chess players often have a plan of attack before and during the match, depending on their opponent or their preferred way of playing. Establishing a game plan (and not being afraid to change it as the match wears on) helps players maintain any advantage they have. Before diving headfirst into the world of SEO competitor analysis, it’s crucial to have a well-structured plan. This ensures that your efforts are purpose-driven, organized, and yield actionable insights.

Your plan should have clear goals and objectives and ways to measure your performance against those goals. Start with what you’d like to achieve with this analysis. Do you want to improve your keyword rankings, get insights into backlink opportunities, or refine your content strategy? To answer those questions, you’ll have to determine which metrics matter most for your goals, and what success criteria to use. The metrics could be organic traffic, keyword ranking positions, domain authority, or others; and the success criteria some measure of improvement in those categories.

Don’t be afraid to narrow down your focus on indirect vs direct competitors or on just on-page or off-page SEO, for example. In other words, don’t try to climb the mountain in one hop. Start with manageable pieces and work your way up. To fit everything together, you’ll want to establish a time frame. Maybe you’d like to improve your on-page SEO for 10 words relative to a competitor over the course of four months.

By setting clear goals, equipping yourself with the right measurement metrics, and having a defined timeframe, you’re setting the stage for a productive SEO competitor analysis that can significantly shape your digital marketing strategy.

Identify your competitors

Let’s say you sell chess equipment. You’d like to research other similar companies to determine whom to compete against. Would you like to build a strategy targeting primary or secondary competitors? Primary competitors would be other chess-equipment vendors — companies that offer similar products or services as you. Or, would you like to target secondary competitors, like chess instructors, that have a slightly different product range or target audience?

To identify competitors, you can start with basic keyword research to see what companies offering chess equipment frequently appear in the results. If you would like to boost brick-and-mortar sales via local SEO, you can even do a Google Maps search to see if any other chess vendors are located near you. Expend some resources researching here. There may be industry reports or sales information from other vendors that will help tell you which brands you’ll have to build a strategy for.

You’ll also compete for SEO rankings with different types of competitors and varying budgets.

Organic search competitors might not necessarily be in the same industry, but they will rank for the same keywords as your website. Paid search competitors are companies bidding on the same keywords as you in paid search campaigns. They may have a bigger budget than you do and likely target a broader range of keywords with their campaigns.

Related: Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Migration Checklist

Perform on-page SEO analysis

Perhaps the first competitor you’d like to analyze ranks well for “high-quality chess boards.” You can begin your analysis of their on-page SEO with that keyword in mind. Go to the website and review the site content for depth and relevancy. Is the blog post about high-quality chessboards just a few paragraphs of unhelpful gibberish, or is it a useful guide for finding the best chess equipment?

From there, you can look at the more technical pieces of that vendor’s SEO strategy. Is it easy to navigate from the page that ranks for “high-quality chess boards” to other parts of the site? When you do navigate between pages, are the URLs clear and correlated with what is on the page itself? Are there thoughtful metadescriptions and title tags on every page? Do images have robust alt tag content?

Of course, competitive analysis wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at the raw keyword rankings. Use software and simple searches to see what words the competition is targeting and how relevant those keywords are to your goals and shared product offerings. You’ll probably spot some low-intent keywords that might not help you sell products as much. Maybe you’ll spot some keyword gaps that will help you focus on keywords you rank for that your competition doesn’t.

There is a whole host of things that go into SEO ranking. Any crack in your competition’s strategy represents an opening for you.

Check out the off-page SEO strategy

Competitive SEO analysis goes beyond what’s on the site itself. Off-page SEO is just as important to building a flywheel for SEO rankings that will help you churn out an ongoing strategy. Looking at backlink profiles, social media presences and link-building strategies can help paint a fuller picture of what competitors are doing.

Use SEO tools to see what, if any, pages link directly back to the vendor’s website. Maybe they were able to secure an article on that is helping them rank for “polished wood chess sets.” Maybe someone wrote up the vendor on a review site and included a backlink with nice anchor text. These types of keywords will be harder to rank for unless you have a strategy for acquiring similar, quality backlinks.

Social media also plays a role in SEO. Competitive analysis should include in-depth reviews of social behavior. You can check for:

  1. Platform presence: Identify which social media platforms they’re active on.
  2. Engagement levels: Check their follower count, post engagement, and overall activity.
  3. Content strategy: Examine the type of content they post and its frequency.

Finally, look for link-building strategies. Maybe all of the backlinks are via earned media, like the Forbes or review site example. Maybe your competition is active on industry forums or other sites where they can provide links back to their website. Check for brand mentions elsewhere and see if the company has partnered with influencers to drive eyeballs to their owned properties.

Related: Fishing For SEO Results to No Avail? Try Topic Clusters for SEO

Analyze content depth and breadth

Now for the good stuff. This is where you really want to comb through competitive content to see how they organize their approach. Look at and record the types of content competitors use. Maybe the high-quality chess board brand uses lots of blogs and infographics but doesn’t have a video presence. That may be an inroad for your SEO efforts. (Yes, video SEO can help results immensely).

When going over the content, make sure you mark the top-performing content. Look at engagement metrics like shares and comments. Check page traffic data on content that performs well to see where visitors come from. Catalog competitors’ content approach so that you have a holistic understanding of what they’re publishing and why. As you build your competitive compendium, you’ll likely notice places where you can improve your own strategy as a direct response to what the competition is doing.

Competitive SEO analysis is an ongoing effort

In chess, you’d be remiss if you only studied opening moves without understanding endgame sequences. In competitive analysis of SEO, conducting a thorough investigation is a multifaceted effort. By systematically working through each area — from competitor identification to content analysis — businesses can gain a holistic view of their industry’s SEO landscape, enabling them to strategize effectively and stay ahead of the competition.

Sound competitive analysis allows you to remain one step ahead of others vying for airtime in your space. Benefits also include:

  1. Informed decision making: SEO competitor analysis provides a wealth of data that can help guide decisions related to content creation, keyword targeting, and more.
  2. Resource optimization: Instead of shooting in the dark, understanding the competitive landscape allows you to allocate resources more effectively, ensuring a higher ROI on your SEO efforts.
  3. Spotting trends: Analyzing competitors can also highlight emerging trends in your industry, which you can then capitalize on before they become mainstream.
  4. Avoiding mistakes: Observing the pitfalls and errors your competitors make can help you sidestep similar mistakes, saving both time and money.

And, remember, SEO competitor analysis isn’t just a one-off activity but should be an ongoing effort. The digital realm is ever evolving, and staying updated on the competitive landscape will ensure your strategies remain effective and relevant. Armed with this foundational knowledge, you’re now ready to get your hands dirty with competitive SEO analysis.

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