Chad Hetherington

Businesses and their marketers have been analyzing competitors for… pretty much forever. Healthy competition is a good thing for business. But to take advantage of that pressure and improve your business, you have to gain a complete understanding of both current and potential competitors. That calls for some competitive analysis.

Well, the same goes for search engine optimization (SEO), which hasn’t been a thing for forever and only became important for business in the ’90s. Performing an SEO competitor analysis is a critical step in content and search engine marketing, and is absolutely necessary if you want to rank on a search engine — and especially if you want to stand out from (and ahead of) others in your industry.

Let’s break down everything you need to know about SEO competitor analysis, including how to properly perform one and which tools can help you conduct them more effectively.

What Is SEO Competitor Analysis?

Before we go any further, let’s break down what exactly an SEO competitor analysis is. In short, it’s a strategic process that involves analyzing the online presence, strategies and performance of your SEO competitors. 

And why are these analyses important? To gain valuable insights that will help you improve your own SEO efforts and online presence. Basically, it’s about learning and evaluating how well (or not-so-well) your competitors are doing in terms of search engine rankings, organic traffic, keywords, content and other SEO-related aspects. Throughout the process, you’ll be able to identify opportunities to enhance your own website’s visibility and performance in search results pages (SERPs).

We know that competition is healthy for business, and the same is true here. If a competitor of yours is doing really well, ranking on page 1 of Google — maybe even in position 1 — it only motivates you to do better for your own business. That healthy competition is what helps you innovate and, in the long term, provide a better experience for your customers.

There’s also an important distinction to be made between direct competitors in the market and SEO competition. In reality, company Y may have more sales than you, but it’s company Z that is doing better SEO work. In this case, company Z would be your focus of the analysis.

Why Is Competitor Analysis So Essential?

The short and sweet of it is this: Competitor analysis is essential simply because it helps you do better by developing an understanding of the current state of the SEO landscape in your industry. It helps you benchmark your SEO efforts against your competitors.

The longer, more detailed and benefit-explaining version of that is as follows.

Identify Strengths, Weaknesses and Gaps In Your SEO Strategy

By performing a competitor analysis, you can more easily identify aspects of your SEO strategy that you’re doing well — and not so well. The same is true for your competitors. What are they currently good at, and what would make their content better?

Once you’re privy to all the strengths, weaknesses and gaps of you and your industry partners, you can take what you’ve learned and apply it directly to your own SEO marketing efforts.

Unlock New Ways To Reach Your Audience

If you never check in on what’s happenin’, you’ll never know what’s happenin’. For all you know, before you start running regular competitor analyses, your competition could be employing some new-fangled strategy that you had no idea existed. And it could be working. Really well.

Learning is always a good thing and (almost) never a bad thing, so if you can add another way to reach your audience to your toolbelt, you should. Especially if it has proven effective.

Drive Organic Traffic

The result of all of this (and yes, we’ll outline how to properly analyze your competitors in just a moment), is that you get to optimize your SEO strategy in new and better ways. The outcome? Increased organic traffic to your website, higher-quality content and a more robust understanding of your industry’s SEO landscape.

How To Research and Analyze SEO Competitors

With all of the following in mind, it’s time to learn how to actually conduct some SEO competitor analysis. We’ve gathered what we feel to be the 6 most essential steps to an effective competitive analysis. Other blogs will have 10, some 5, but we’ve landed on 6.

So without further ado…

1. Identify SEO Competitors

The first step is to identify who your main SEO competitors are in your industry or niche. Emphasis on SEO. For the intents and purposes of SEO competitor analysis, these are the websites that rank well for the same keywords or topics that you’re currently targeting or wish to target.

Remember, the organizations ranking well on Google for certain keywords may be completely different from your actual market competitors — or maybe they’re not. Whatever the case, punch a keyword into Google, analyze the SERP and make note of the brands that are popping up frequently.

2. Conduct a Keyword Gap Analysis

Analyze the keywords your competitors are targeting and look for gaps. This involves identifying keywords they are ranking for as well as the ones they might be targeting but haven’t achieved strong results for yet. This will help you identify opportunities for your own content and SEO strategy.

For example, we use tools like MarketMuse and Semrush at Brafton. Conducting keyword research within MarketMuse is great because it will automatically analyze your SEO competitors’ keyword usage and literally tell you which they’re using well, which they’re not and some that are not missing altogether.

3. Focus on Intent Over Volume

A high search volume doesn’t always equal high traffic or even high conversion. In fact, it seldom does. Search intent is a much more important part of SEO than volume alone. If you can give users exactly what they’re looking for, you’ll be better off — from both an SEO and conversion point of view.

4. Find and Fill Content Library Gaps

Searching for, discovering and filling both keyword gaps and content library gaps will help you gain an edge over your competition.

For the keyword part of this strategy, it’s all about finding keywords that your competitors are ranking for that you are not, but would like to be. Once those have been identified, running a content gap analysis will help you understand where there may be gaps in your own content strategy. Equipped with the keywords and content types you need to level the playing field, you can get to work on your digital marketing strategy to amend those rifts.

5. Monitor SERP Rankings

Monitoring SERP rankings is a major part of the SEO process and can provide valuable insight into your competition. A competitor’s website, like yours, will naturally fluctuate as time passes, strategies change and Google makes updates. Keeping an eye on the search results pages for your target keywords will help you learn not only who your SEO competitors are, but how they’re performing over time for your keywords.

6. Analyze Backlinks and Technical SEO

This step is easiest done with a specialized tool, like Ahrefs or Moz. Conducting a backlink profile analysis on a competitor’s website will help you develop a sense of the type of backlinks that they’re building. This will give you an idea of which links are reputable or industry-standard.

When to Conduct a Competitor Analysis

SEO competitive analysis isn’t a one-and-done type of deal. For maximum effectiveness, they need to be carried out regularly. That said, there are a few important moments when conducting an analysis is particularly useful:

  • When you’ve launched a new website and are just getting started on your content strategy and SEO efforts.
  • When you’re in the planning phase of a robust SEO strategy.
  • When you notice that your competitors are outranking you for particular keywords.
  • When your rankings have dropped. 

Finding the Right SEO Competitor Analysis Tools For the Job

The SEO and content market is chock full of helpful and valuable tools that make our lives as marketers and SEO professionals much easier. But there also lies the problem: How do you know which SEO tool to choose, or which one is best suited for your business? Well, let’s answer those questions now.

A good competitor analysis tool should provide features that allow you to complete the following tasks with relative ease:

  • Keyword research.
  • Rank tracking.
  • Competitor analysis.
  • Backlink analysis.
  • On-page optimization.
  • Technical SEO auditing.
  • Site health monitoring.
  • Local SEO support.
  • Reporting and advanced analytics.

We’re partial to a few options here at Brafton, such as:

With any one of these options, you should have most of what you need to complete a robust analysis of your SEO competitors. 

Happy ranking!