Competitor analysis is apart of any SEO campaign. There is so much you can learn from what your offline and online competitors are doing with their site. But just like every aspect of online marketing - it's extremely time consuming. In my past agency experience and at my current job at Raven Tools, I've compiled a suite of various tools that I use to analyze my clients' competitors. There's a lot of tools in this list, so I broke them down by what I use them for in the competitive analysis. Let me know if I missed any of your favorites!
SEMRush has a great feature that allows you to input any domain you're interested in researching and it will return a list of the keywords they believe they are targeting - and where they rank! Basically they are analyzing the site's content, tags and other on-page factors to determine what words/phrases they are using the most. While there is a handful of keywords you'll probably be able to disregard, in the few seconds it took you to run the report, you can get some great insight into what they're probably working on. It's also great as a sales tool!
It says it all in the name, doesn't it? Compete allows you to compare multiple competitors at once and they'll generate a list of the terms they believe each competitor is targeting and receiving traffic for. As an extra bonus they estimate the total number of unique visitors for the sites you entered so you can get an idea of who has the bigger market share.
SEO Book's competitor research tool will analyze your competitor's website and determine what keywords they are targeting, which of those terms are sending the greatest amount of traffic - and which of the terms are providing the greatest value. It's a great way to get quick insight into whether or not keywords you're considering targeting are performing for your competitors.
We know which keywords they are focusing on, but what links do they have that could add the most value to your site?
Site Finder is a link researching tool by Raven Tools that is powered by MajesticSEO and SEOmoz. Basically you input a keyword you're interested in ranking for and it will analyze the top ten organic results in Google for that term. The tool will look at the backlink profiles for each of the ranking websites and determine which links are providing the most value and that you should target.
Open Site Explorer is a tool created by SEOmoz that allows you to input a domain (or multiple domains) and analyze their backlink profile. Similar to Site Finder, it will qualify those backlinks and help you decide which are the most important for you to target. It's one of the few tools out there that is up-to-date and gives you the ability to analyze the backlinks of the sites you're most interested in comparing at once.
Link Diagnosis, powered by iAcquire, is a great way to get a quick analysis of a competitor's backlinks. It does a great job of filtering out low-quality links and grouping together duplicate domains so you're not sorting through (sometimes) hundreds of the same domain. They use a Strength score to determine how high-quality the links are, and it's a good way to quickly see if the links your competitors have are high-quality or just average links.
It's not enough just to know where your competitors are now, you need to keep track of where they are going. There are multiple tools you can be using in this strategy, so instead of listing them I'm going to explain what you need to accomplish:
- Track their rankings in your favorite SERP tracker tool. It's just as important to see where they are ranking as it is to see where you are. Keep an eye on when they are improving and how their rankings have improved each quarter. This should probe a few questions like "what are they doing right/wrong to increase/decrease their rankings?
- Track how many pages and links they've built over time. With just a few quick search queries you can take note of the number of pages they have indexed in the top search engines. While it's not 100% accurate, if you look at the data once a quarter you can start to get an idea as to whether or not they are focusing on content development. Same goes with their backlink profile. Are you noticing a strong rise in the number of inbound links they have? And if so, which ones do you need to go out and get?
- Use your favorite social media monitoring tool to keep an eye on mentions of your competitors. This can help you keep tabs on blog mentions from them, where they are advertising, where they are guest blogging, and where they are focusing their marketing efforts. It's not only a good way for you to find other opportunities to expand your online marketing campaign, but it's also a good way to figure out where you don't need to be investing time. Take note of which promotions aren't resonating in your industry and decided if it would be in your best interest to come up with something different.
The tools and theories behind competitive analysis for SEO are very similar to what you would do for your own site. Treat your competitor as if they were a prospective client. Survey their SEO strategy. Look at the HTML markup. And above all, ask "why?" It's one of the most important questions in the marketing world (both online and offline). Why are they ranking higher than me? Why does Google think this page is so important? Why are so many people linking to this post? It's your classic hypothesis and testing situation. Figure out why you think something is happening and see if you can prove it with your own site.
The bottom line is, think of your competitors as an extension to your marketing team. They are doing a lot of research for you, and you need to be taking notice of it and utilizing it.