Competitive research is a natural initial step when launching or revamping a website. You must know what your up against, especially when developing your SEO strategy.

This work will help you discover what keywords are out of reach to other websites to approach when attempting to acquire links. The research also may influence your future products or services; you may discover gaps that need to be filled or realize you need a stronger unique selling proposition (USP) to truly offer value and stick out.

Analyzing your competitors’ websites is the ideal way to figure out tactics that work and gain valuable insight into how to outrank them.

By performing SEO competitor research, you will discover:

  • Important keyword trends
  • Organic search optimization tactics
  • Potential backlinks
  • Any blind spots in your SEO strategy

The first natural question is how do I research and analyze SEO competitors? 

 1. Identify Potential SEO Competitors

First, you must identify potential SEO competitors. When identifying SEO competitors, you need to be aware that the guidelines for which companies you’re competing with online are different than the guidelines for which companies are considered competitors offline.

Online, your vying for top ranking Search Engine Results Page (SERP) and competing for keywords, which is why you should start your competitive research with keyword research.

SEO Competitor Analysis: Using Research to Contend with the Best- competitor analysis.

2. Brainstorm Keywords & Keyword Research

You won’t get far in SEO without a good understanding of the importance of keywords – and this also applies to competitive research. One of the best ways of discovering your direct competition is to determine who is ranking for the keywords you would like to target. Once you have this knowledge, you can create a strategy of how to overtake their rankings.

We have a more comprehensive overview of keyword research, but here’s an overview of what you want to look for to get the most out of your research.

Brainstorm keywords you would like to rank for and determine which are realistic. These will often be low-to-medium in difficulty (read – low volume), but feel free to leave in more competitive keywords to see how your website compares to the types of websites that are ranking for difficult words. 

Many SEOs refuse to target keywords that have, say, a search volume of 50 or less per month. But one must consider the value of a customer, especially a lifetime value of repeat customers. For example, if you are marketing business consulting that’s worth $2500 for the first session with the possibility of a repeat buy, targeting a keyword with a search volume of 10 would be wise.

Be sure to add related keywords discovered from keyword tools like our go-to, SEMrush.

Another important avenue is to determine which keywords you are already ranking for, preferably on pages 2-5. These are generally the terms you can move higher. Also, make sure to research the competitors that are outranking you for those terms.

*These keywords won’t necessarily be your target keywords, but they are the seed keywords to use for competitive research.

If you don’t have access to SEO tools, you can manually search the keywords and take note of the websites that are on the first few organic search result pages. There are a few tools that will help expedite this process. SEMrush is excellent for this, as they have tools that will tell you who is ranking for the given keywords; provide related keyword recommendations; and also competitor suggestions based on your current website rankings.

 3. Brainstorm Competitors & Determine Validity

Now that you have competitors based on keywords and current rankings, you should add any industry competitors that you think could be valuable additions to your list. Validate whether these competitors are SEO competitors by checking their keyword positions and search traffic. If they outrank your website, but not by an excessive amount, they are considered your online competitors.

Websites that are ranking far better than yours or are pulling in a high amount more traffic than your website are not your direct competitors – yet.

The purpose of your SEO competitor analysis should be to gain ideas on how to improve your SEO strategy. The strategies of major players are good to know, but their SEO won’t be as directly applicable to your current situation.

SEO Competitor Analysis: Using Research to Contend with the Best-determine validity

4. Evaluate & Compare

Now that you have your list of competitors, you can evaluate them and compare their stats to your website’s stats.

Competitor Keywords & Content

Not every ranking keyword is the result of intentional focus, but knowing which keywords your competitors are ranking for gives you a good idea.

Most keyword tools will tell you which page is ranking for each keyword, but you will want to get more in-depth. You can then use a tool, such as Moz’s On-Page Grader tool, manually read through their site, or complete a site search for those keywords to determine the type of content they are creating in that vertical that helped them to rank.

Evaluate your competitor’s keywords for the:

  • Type of keywords (long-tail or short-tail)
  • Relevance to the industry
  • How many are ranking and at what position on the search engine results page
  • What the search volume is for those keywords

Do your competitors have a universe of pages built around the keywords they are ranking for or one comprehensive page? Are they targeting general, high-volume keywords or specific, long-tail terms? Do they keep their content fresh, like with frequent blogs and updates, or is a detailed evergreen page the cornerstone of their website?

These are the types of questions you want to be able to answer.

Page-Level SEO Comparison

Aside from content-based analysis, additional factors aid in ranking. It’s important to learn about the page-level strategies of your competitors.

You’ll want to get a qualitative account of the pages that are ranking for the chosen keyword. This includes page authority, number of external links, the quality of said links, and their anchor text. Check if they use headers properly and if the keywords are in their headers. The Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool is amazing for this purpose.

Pay attention to your competitors’ backlink profiles. They can tell you more than how your competitors managed to raise their own ranking, and what websites to target to build links back to your website. You’re basically searching for potential backlink targets to add to your link-building strategy.

 5. Additional SEO Competitor Analysis Factors

Check out the age of the website’s domain and the domain authority. Websites that are older and better established often rank better. There is not much you can do to compete with that directly, but it is important to know if it could be a factor in their success.

Knowing the domain authority can let you know if the overall website had an effect on the individual page’s ranking or if it was purely page-level optimization. Keywords that low domain authority websites rank for are often easier targets.

Social media plays a huge role in the popularity of websites. If you find a website that isn’t ranking particularly well for anything but is still pulling in traffic, social media may be playing a major role. It is important to look into how much your competitors rely on social media because that can present an opportunity for you to gain visibility or even professional relationships.

SEO Competitor Analysis: Using Research to Contend with the Best-implement your findings and research

Time to Implement Your SEO Strategy

You asked yourself, “What are they doing?”

Now answer, “Can I do it better?”

What you learned from your investigation should tell you how your competitors approach SEO, what worked for them, and what they are missing. Use that to tell you what you are missing and what you can do better than what they are doing.

Ranking high in the SERPs for keywords that will bring in qualified traffic is the goal of SEO. If you pay attention to the details, you can find more than meets the eye and begin to reverse engineer your way to the top with an SEO strategy that can take down the toughest competition.


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