Competitor analysis is one of the most important aspects of SEO that many webmasters and web marketers neglect. For us working in the SEO industry this is the start, know thy enemy, but for many webmasters that don't have the finances to hire an SEO expert this is the missing link.
So without getting too technical here are the basics any webmaster can use to understand the competition and the targeted market.
Successful competitor analysis follows this basic structure:
- Discover who your real competitors are
- Analyze competitor websites
- Analyze competitor backlinks
- Analyze competitor's social media presence
- Create a research-based strategy
Discover Who Your Real Competitors Are
The first step in competitor analysis is to discover your key challengers, the real ones. Which websites rank highly for your targeted search terms?
Of course, you will be concerned mainly with any sites that rank above you for your primary targets. Do not worry about news or informational websites that do not compete with your site by selling products or services.
Therefore, you can ignore Wikipedia, CNN, E-how and similar resource sites. Only worry about business and service providers that challenge the search rankings for your money terms.
If you rank highest for a particular keyword, study the websites that are trailing you closely to ensure that they do not overtake you in the future.
Analyze Competitor Websites
Once you have identified your real competitors, the first step is to analyze their sites internally. Check for content and technical issues.
Among some of the internal factors to check for are:
- Do the targeted keywords appear in the first and last paragraphs? Are they at the very start of the article?
- Use of related keyword In addition, to the ranking keywords, how many related keywords, synonyms, etc. does the web page include?
- What keywords are in the title tags, headings, image alts?
- What type of content ranks best, how-to's, resources, interactive content?
- What length is the content? Are the article, for example, 500 words or 1500 words long?
- Page format:
- Is there any special format that makes the competitor's page stand out?
- Look for the positioning of content, for example, whether the keywords appear "above the fold."
- Writing style: You may want to check whether the page adheres to a particular stylebook for content writing like the Associated Press Stylebook or the MLA Stylebook.
- Link analysis: Check on-page links for density, ratio of internal vs. external links, link relevancy and for other key factors.
Analyze Competitor Backlinks
Backlinks are of extreme importance in the competition for top search rankings. Conduct a thorough analysis of your competitors' backlinks making sure that you include the following items:
- Number of unique linking domains
- Domain authority comparison: Use tools like Open Site Explorer to check domain authority.
- Link diversity: The Google Panda and Penguin updates made link diversity an essential element in search rankings. The important factor here is to make your backlinks look as natural and "random" as possible. Links that lack diversity appear like spam and they will receive Google penalties.
- Link velocity: At what rate do your competitors receive new backlinks?
- Link relevancy: Are the incoming links all highly relevant or are they more diverse with some lacking meaningful relevancy?
- Link ranking: What is the PR or MozRank of the competitor pages? Again, look for diversity. If links are only coming in from high-ranking pages, then it may look too much like SEO to the updated Google algorithm.
- Text links vs media links: What is the ratio of text links to image, video and other multi-media links?
Analyze Competitor's Social Media Presence
Social media is the new battleground in the quest for high search engine rankings. However, many web marketers still do not wage serious social marketing campaigns.
Check to see whether your competitors have their own profile pages on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and YouTube and even more important, how active are they on these platforms?
For example, do they update their pages on a daily or weekly basis? Do they share mostly their own content or externally sourced content? Check to see how they use keywords in their postings and links. Do they target specific demographics?
Create A Research-based Strategy
Once you have gathered and analyzed all of this information, you will need to create a strategy based specifically on your research.
What are your competitors doing right that you are neglecting? On the other hand, what are you doing right that your competitors are missing? Use these discoveries to devise a strategy that can help you overcome your competitors or to maintain your dominance.
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Zarko works as SEO strategist and link builder. He is the founder of Practical SEO Company and advanced SEO Strategist at Dejan SEO. He is also the chief editor and writer for Practical SEO blog.