Competitive analysis usually starts out as the long tedious process of searching Google for your most important keywords and seeing who shows up. That’s one way to do it, but there are some great tools that can help, too, and probably provide more thorough results.
The first thing you need to do is identify a few of your most important keywords. You should already have an idea of what those keywords are, but if not, there are a few things you can do:
- Use your noggin and think of obvious keywords
- Look at what keywords your competitors are using on their most important pages
- Run some searches in Google’s Keyword Planner tool
- Run your website or competitors URLs through SEMRush and SpyFu
To do this manually, I recommend running through those first three bullet points above, in that exact order. Think of potential keywords, see what a few of your competitors are optimizing their sites for, and then verify how valuable those keywords are by using Google’s Keyword Planner.
Think of keywords that have purchase intent, rather than research/information-seeking intent. For example, if you sell contact lenses, start with keywords like “buy contact lenses” and not keywords like “how long can I wear contact lenses.”
That’s the manual way of approaching keyword research, which I think is great because it gives you a better feel for what’s happening in the search results and can also result in a large list of keywords that might not have shown up in another tool.
But if you hate keyword research, or if you just don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, you can use a tool like SEMRush or SpyFu. Both are very similar and both can get you going for free. You get a lot more data with paid accounts, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Keyword Research With SEMRush and SpyFu
Both SEMrush and SpyFu are easy to use. Simply enter your URL (or a competitor’s URL) into the field on the main page and each will spit out some data. You’ll see both paid keywords and organic keywords, both of which are useful.
If you are using the free versions of these tools, you are limited to seeing only the top five keywords in SpyFu or the top 10 keywords in SEMRush. This might be enough to get you started, but you’ll get a lot more valuable info out of the paid versions. Check out this blog post if you want to do some extremely valuable in-depth competitor keyword analysis using a paid SEMRush account.
How To Find Your Online Competitors
There are various ways to get this process started:
- Ask your client (or boss)
- Use SEMRush
- Use Spyfu
- Search Google using your top keywords
- Use SimilarWeb.com
- Use the “Related:” search operator in Google
Ask Your Client or Boss
If you work with an agency, or if you’re a new in-house marketing employee, ask the owner of the business you work for who they think their competitors are. I always start here, because there have been many times where a client of mine named off a competitor site that did not show up when doing keyword searches (maybe they rank for a keyword I didn’t think about). These are also sites that your boss feels most adamant about beating in the search results.
It’s important for both you and management to understand that competition in the search results is not always your competitors in real life. Some of your real life competitors might not rank well at all in the search results, in which case competitive analysis will not be as valuable. It’s still useful to know who your real-life competitors are though because it will help you understand the entire landscape of your industry.
SEMRush and Spyfu
If you used SEMRush or SpyFu to find your keywords, you probably noticed that both tools also report on paid and organic competitors. These tools make this entire process extremely easy and fast.
The biggest drawback of using these tools is that just like with keyword research, the free versions show only limited data. SpyFu shows only your top five competitors and SEMRush shows only the top 10. If you have the paid versions, you get a TON of URLs. This method is much better than doing it manually.
Search Google Using Your Top Keywords
If you don’t have a paid account with SEMRush or SpyFu, you’ll need to do this manually. Now that you have a seed list of keywords from the process in the first section of this article, it’s time to use them.
Ontolo used to have a great tool that would allow you to enter a list of keywords and it would automatically search Google for all those keywords and count how often competing sites would show up. If a site showed up 10 times for 10 keywords, it’s a pretty good indicator they are kicking butt in your industry. Unfortunately, that tool no longer exists but you can still use that concept do this manually.
Start by searching Google for your top keywords and see which ones show up frequently. You can eyeball it to save time or you can really dig in for more data. If you want to dig in, change your Google search settings to show 100 results and download a Chrome plugin like Link Grabber (or use this sweet bookmarklet if you’re old school) to extract the URLs from the search results page. Search your keywords, compile the URLs in a spreadsheet, sort alphabetically and count! You’ll end up with a large list of competitors and the specific pages that are ranking for those keywords.
SimilarWeb is a great free tool that lets you enter a URL (such as your own) to identify similar sites. You only get 10 results with the free version, but the great thing about this site is that you can enter your competitor sites to find more related sites. After a few runs, I usually end up with a solid list of at least 10-20 good competing sites.
Use the “Related:” search operator in Google
This is a long forgotten search operator that I never hear anyone talking about anymore, but it’s one of my favorites. It works a lot like SimilarWeb, but this data is coming straight from Google. These are the results that Google feels are most related to your site (or your competitors).
Find What Your Competitors Are Doing Right
You should have an amazing list of competitor URLs by this point. The next step is to figure out why they are ranking well and how you can emulate the things they are doing right.
- Look around their site
- Get links where your competitors are
- Create gap content
- Emulate high performing competitor content
- Monitor competitor mentions
Look Around Your Competitor Sites
This one is probably obvious, but I thought I should point out some things that you might not have considered:
- Do they have a blog?
- Do people comment?
- Do they update it regularly?
- What types of content do they publish?
- Do they link to their social profiles?
- Are they active on those profiles?
- Do they do any events?
- Webinars, conferences, community-based, etc.
- Where are the Call-To-Actions?
- Are they using pop-ups?
- Do they have an email list?
- If so, you should subscribe
- Are they offering coupons?
- Do they have unique and useful content on the homepage?
- What about category/product pages?
Get Links Where Your Competitors Are
Do you love business jargon? Because, if so, you’ll love this “low hanging fruit” link building tactic.
Look at the link profiles of all your top competitors’ websites and try to get links where they have received links. You can use backlink tools like Open Site Explorer (part of Moz Pro – $99/mo), ahrefs ($99/mo) and Majestic ($78.99/mo). If you want something free, and don’t mind limited data and a bunch of ads, try Backlink Watch.
Look for opportunities like sponsorships, forums you can participate in, product reviewers, affiliates you can work with, industry conferences you can attend or sponsor, podcasts you can advertise on, bloggers and influencers you can work with, and so on. Digging through competitor backlink profiles is a long and boring process, but you can learn a lot about your industry along the way.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to get links from every and any site that your competitors have received links from. You need to review these sites for quality, otherwise, you might end up with a Google Penguin penalty. We use Moz tools at Inflow, and we usually start by looking at domains with a Domain Authority of 30 or higher. From there, it’s a matter of reviewing the site for potential spamminess.
Your entire link strategy shouldn’t be based around what your competitors are doing, but it’s a good start.
Create Gap Content
This is the process of researching which keywords your competitors are ranking highly for and where you are not. These are content gaps. Your competitors are getting traffic for these keywords and you’re missing out. You want to fill those gaps by creating useful content that will naturally drive traffic to your site.
I mentioned this blog post earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again – Competitor Keyword Research with SEMRush. Check out steps 5 and 6 of that post to learn the process of finding content gaps. You will need a paid account with SEMRush for this one to work.
Emulate High Performing Competitor Content
There are two tools that I use regularly to find top performing content on competitors’ websites.
- Open Site Explorer
- Buzzsumo (Epicbeat looks like a potential alternative)
Open Site Explorer allows you to find the best performing pages on your competitors’ sites as determined by incoming links. Go to the “Top Pages” report to find this information.
Buzzsumo will show you the top pages as calculated by social shares. This is great because you can sort by social network. For example, if you’re a B2B company, you might want to pay more attention to the content that’s performing well on LinkedIn.
You can also filter by date, language, country and content types (infographic, interview, guest post, etc.). And if you find an article that you want to recreate (to make better, of course), you can use Buzzsumo to see who linked to it and who shared it. If those people liked the original article, they will probably like yours, as long as it’s different/better/higher quality. Reach out to those people when your article is finished.
Monitor Competitor Mentions
If you always want to be kept abreast of what your competitors are up to and where they’re getting links and social mentions, set up some alerts in places like Google Alerts, Talkwalker Alerts and Moz.
Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts
Google Alerts and Talkwalker Alerts are very similar. They have slightly different results, but you probably only need to use one. At one point Google Alerts shut down RSS feeds and everyone moved over to Talkwalker Alerts. This was when people still used RSS feeds. Google Alerts eventually brought RSS feeds back, but I wanted to mention Talkwalker Alerts because it’s always good to have an alternative. Google has a tendency to sunset useful services if they don’t perform well. You never know!
With either one, I recommend setting up at least two alerts for your top competitors:
One for their main domain, without the subdomain or http, for example – competitor.com. If you use the www, the alert will only trigger if it finds the URL with www in front of it, but sometimes sites won’t add the www to the text and you might miss it.
The other alert should be for their brand name if it’s different than their URL. This is especially useful if they have two words in their name. If it’s a brand that has two words placed together, you might want to create an additional alert to catch the mentions with spaces, just in case. You’ll need to use quotes around more than two words to make sure the alerts only search for those words in that exact order.
Moz Unlinked Mentions
The Unlinked Mentions tool in Open Site Explorer works like Talkwalker and Google Alerts but seems to be updated more regularly. You can also set up a notification email when new mentions are found. If you have a Moz account, you might as well set this one up.
Good luck finding those competitors and knocking them out!
*Lego Knockout photo courtesy of pj_vanf