The Importance of (and How to Do) a Competitive SEO Analysis
“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 considering 55 percent of clicks go to the top three listings on the search engine results page, that top spot is the place you want to be.
What many seasoned business owners don’t understand is that it doesn’t matter how great your company is—Google and the other search engines can’t see how your business functions in “the real world.” The search engines rank your business based on particular online factors, and if your competitors are outranking you, it’s because of these factors. That’s where a competitor SEO analysis can help—so you can see the exact elements that are making your competitors’ web pages more relevant and authoritative than yours.
SEO (search engine optimization) is a zero-sum game and analyzing your competitors’ websites is a critical step which you should take early in the optimization process. It’s arguably the first step to take before you start an SEO campaign. For your website to move onto page one of Google, Yahoo, and Bing, you must leapfrog a (currently better optimized) competitor!
What Is an SEO Analysis?
An in-depth SEO analysis includes a review of your website’s content, code, structure, and offsite authority and then gives you an SEO “score.” A competitive SEO analysis takes that score and then compares your web presence to your top competitors. While there are more than 200 factors that affect a page’s search rankings, the ones that matter the most are:
- Whether or not your website is secure (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Whether or not your website is mobile-friendly
- How fast web pages load on your site
- Whether a web page has the correct schema markup (a type of website code)
- The quality of your web pages’ content
- The length of your web pages’ content
- Presence of social signals that point back to your website
- Presence of quality backlinks that point back to your website
- Whether or not you have optimized images on your web pages
- Past user behavior and search intent for similar queries (Google’s RankBrain)
If your competitors are outranking you for specific search terms, it’s likely because of one of the factors above.
Caution: Don’t Get Blinded by Shiny SEO Rankings
Remember, rankings don’t equal business growth. You can rank number one for every single search term and still go bankrupt if none of those searchers convert online or call you. In other words, having an SEO strategy and ranking well in Google’s organic search results isn’t enough. Your SEO strategy should be part of a comprehensive marketing strategy that also takes into account things like conversion rate optimization—how well your website pages convert visitors into leads.
SEO Analysis Step 0: Using Search Analytics to Find Your Baseline SEO Score
Before you begin analyzing a competitor website, make sure you put analytics in place to track your own website. You’ve got to get a baseline. Looking at a competitor’s metrics 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 (for local companies, visits in service area)
- True visit-to-inquiry conversion rates
- Visits from non-branded organic search
- Page by page word counts, keyword densities, and speeds
- Inbound links—number and quality
It’s also a good idea to set up a keyword research campaign before analyzing competitor websites. Keywords and keyword phrases, the actual searches your prospects use to find a company like yours, are the basis of SEO. But know that all keyword phrases are not created equal. Some keywords have more commercial intent than others, meaning users that type certain key phrases are further down the buyer’s funnel than others. 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 exactly 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 Analysis Checklist
How to Do an SEO Analysis: Step 1
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 TheBlueBook.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 your 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 86% 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.
How to Find the Best Target Keywords
There are many SEO tools to which you can subscribe to find your top keywords, but you can get a pretty good view by using a combination of Google Ads’ Keyword Planner, the free tool Keywords Everywhere, and two areas of the search results page: the “Searches related to” and “People also ask” sections.
Another go-to SEO keyword tool our analysts use is Answer the Public. It identifies the top questions and phrases related to a keyword and is helpful in finding questions to answer and topics to talk about.
How to Do an SEO Analysis: Step 2
There are dozens of methodologies for performing an SEO competitor analysis and plenty of SEO “score checkers.” Each of these SEO checkers—including Blue Corona’s proprietary SEO analysis tool—uses their own special sauce and the contents of that recipe extend beyond what we can cover here. However, the best SEO score checkers look at the website in general strategic terms as well as specific SEO elements.
Analyze competitor websites for:
- Domain age
- HTTP vs HTTPS
- 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 domain authority?
- Are they using cross-links, and if so, what anchor text are they using?
- Have they optimized their site for local search?
- Do all their images have keyword-specific alt tags, titles, and file names?
- Are they utilizing article marketing and online press-releases?
- Do they blog and at what frequency?
- Are they answering queries as wholly as possible or only at surface level?
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.
How to Do an SEO Analysis: 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.
Get a Free SEO Competitor Analysis
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 SEO report 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.
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