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“How am I being outranked by a much smaller competitor?” This is a question we get all the time here at Blue Corona. Or how about “how does this one company rank first for every keyword I search related to my industry?!”
This scenario is incredibly common and a lot of seasoned business owners don’t understand that Google and the other search engines can’t necessarily see how your business looks in “the real world.” The search engines can only judge you based on what they can see online! That’s where a competitor SEO analysis can help—so you can see how the search engines view YOU vs. your competitors.
SEO is a zero sum game and analyzing your competitor’s websites is a critical step which you should take very early in the optimization process. Think about it – there are only ~10 websites (excluding the map / local listings) on the first search results page and most searchers never venture past page one on Google, Yahoo and Bing. In order for your website to move onto page one of Google, Yahoo and Bing, you must leap frog a (currently better optimized) competitor! This makes competitor analysis a critical step to take early in the SEO process.
Before performing an SEO competitor analysis
Before you begin analyzing a competitor website, make sure you put analytics in place to track your own website. Looking at metrics for a competitor website isn’t much help if you don’t have an accurate picture of your own website and online marketing strategy! Some basic information worth tracking and monitoring:
- Visits per month
- True visit-to-inquiry conversion rates
- Visits from non-branded organic search
- Page by page word counts and keyword densities
- Inbound links – number and quality
It’s also a good idea to set-up a keyword research campaign prior to analyzing competitor websites. Keywords are the basis of SEO. Pick the wrong keywords and you’ll be boasting in public about your site’s rankings and crying in private about how you don’t have any website traffic or leads! Too often companies (mistakenly) assume that their competitors know the keywords that generate the best results.
Based on analyzing thousands of websites from a variety of industries, it’s highly unlikely that your competitors know which keywords generate the best results. Most companies are simply shooting in the dark – taking the “ready, shoot, aim” approach. Many home service businesses (still) get their online marketing and website strategy from their current or former yellow page, TV or radio sales reps!
SEO Competitor Analysis Checklist
SEO competitor analysis – step 1
In order to perform a competitor analysis, you have to pick some competitors! When the word competitor is uttered, many business owners immediately think of businesses in the area with whom they compete. While these might be competitors in a traditional sense, they may be unimportant from an SEO perspective.
When we talk about competitors from an SEO perspective, we’re talking specifically about the websites that rank on the first page for the keywords you’ve identified as important for your business. If you’re a plumbing company in Maryland, and you’ve identified “Maryland plumbing companies” as a target keyword phrase, perform a Google search for that phrase and see what comes up.
Excluding the local map, the first three results for “Maryland plumbing companies” are actually directory websites – not other Maryland plumbing companies. Few Maryland Plumbers would consider Findoha.com a competitor, but from an SEO perspective, they are.
This example also illustrates the necessity of running an SEO keyword research campaign prior to investing in an SEO competitor analysis. If you don’t know your target keywords, it’s impossible to identify competitors.
So, identify the keywords worth targeting and then perform some searches on Google, Yahoo and Bing (although let’s be honest – Google has over 70% market share – if you’re just getting started, start there!). Ideally, you’ll want to analyze 3-5 competitor sites.
In some markets, you’ll find that the same 3-5 sites appear for most of the search terms you’ve identified as important (these folks have likely done their homework too). In this case, your job is much easier. However, in other cases, you’ll find different websites for each keyword phrase searched. Unfortunately, you still have to analyze these websites. If you’re operating with tight budgets or you’re in a time crunch, reduce your analysis to the top 1-2 sites instead of 3-5.
SEO competitor analysis 101- step 2
There are dozens of methodologies for performing an SEO competitor analysis. Every company – including Blue Corona – has their own “special sauce” and the contents of that recipe extend beyond what we can cover here. A basic competitor analysis must look at the website in general strategic terms as well as specific SEO elements.
Analyze competitor website for:
- Domain age
- HTML/CSS website or tables-based design
- Primary “calls to action”
- Tracking – yes / no
- Total pages and pages indexed
- Service area
- Social media – yes / no (and if “yes” – # of friends, followers, subscribers, etc.)
Remember – SEO means nothing if you can’t or don’t convert visitors into something of value (subscriber, leads, sale, etc.). You shouldn’t just be looking at competitor websites from an SEO standpoint. You should also consider their strategy for turning visitors into conversions. Some companies do a great job of getting visibility, but a horrific job of translating visibility and traffic into leads and sales.
Specific competitor SEO questions:
- Do they have a keyword in their URL?
- What is their title tag on the homepage and other “core” site pages?
- Are they leveraging a “core” page and “feeder” page strategy or taking a more traditional approach?
- How many words are on their homepage and subpages?
- What are the keyword densities on their homepage, subpages and feeder pages?
- Who are they linking to and who is linking to them?
- What is their PageRank?
- Are they using cross-links and if so, what anchor text is being used?
- Have they optimized their site for local search?
- Are they utilizing article marketing and online press-releases?
- Do they blog and at what frequency?
Take this information for each of your competitors and construct a matrix that allows you to cross-compare multiple metrics across multiple competitor websites. You should quickly begin to see some patterns emerging. While no one knows the exact algorithms each search engine uses to determine which sites rank where, reviewing the competitive landscape on a regular basis should help you identify some of the factors that are important for a high-ranking website.
SEO competitor analysis 101- step 3
You’ve put tracking in place on your website, gathered baseline data, performed an SEO keyword research campaign, identified competitors and analyzed their websites – in general terms and from an SEO perspective – and now it’s time to do something! Companies that consistently rank high in the organic search results do two things:
- They treat SEO as an on-going process – not a one-time project.
- They establish and promote themselves as “the” authority for whatever they do in the markets they serve.
If you’re in business for the long haul, don’t attempt to “trick” the search engines into ranking you above one of your competitors. Earn the right to outrank them by laying the foundation and doing the work necessary to become a trusted authority in your industry and marketplace. Use the competitor information and research to point your ship in the right direction and then put in place a long term strategy with smart goals to guide you and accurate tracking to create accountability for producing results.
Our Free SEO Competitor Analysis Tool
For small (and not so small) companies that don’t have the time or expertise in-house to perform this type of competitor SEO analysis, Blue Corona has developed several cost-effective and turn-key competitive SEO analysis packages. Drop us a line to learn more or get started with a free sample of our SEO competitor analysis below:
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers