Ask any CEO who her competitors are and she will quickly rattle off a list of rivals through gritted teeth. These are likely competitors that directly compete for the same or similar products and services.

But what if I told you that she is losing business to companies that don’t even compete in the same space, or sell similar products or services?

What is a search competitor?

Simply put, your search competitors are those domains that rank for the same keywords you do. They might be traditional business competitors as well, but this isn’t always the case. It doesn’t matter whether they’re competing for the same customers as you. By targeting the same keywords as you, they’re competing for the same visitors as you.

Why track your digital competitors?

First of all, they are taking eyeballs away from your site by ranking for the keywords you want to own. Whether they sell competing products or services or not, they have taken your potential visitor away from you, and with it, a chance to sell to that visitor. Any site that is ranking ahead of you for keywords that could drive potential customers to your site, is a digital competitor. Period.

Second, your online competitors can provide insight into keywords you are not currently targeting, but should. For example, if you’re a Swedish clog shoe maker, and someone’s blog owns the term “are clogs comfortable?”, you should probably consider stealing some of that traffic!

How to find your organic competitors

One of the simplest ways to find out who you’re up against is through a simple search engine query. Search for one of the primary keywords that are central to your products and services in Google and see who comes up. At the top of the search engine results page, you might see some paid results. Don’t disregard these just because they’re not there organically; the fact that they’re paying to rank for that keyword says a lot.

Let’s get back to our Swedish clogs…

No paid results here, but there are plenty of organic results certainly taking quality traffic.

This DIY competitor analysis isn’t the only way to sniff out your digital competition. Tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz, SpyFu and MarketMuse can provide valuable insight into your online competition. SEMRush has a collection of particularly powerful tools that we use at Brafton a lot. Here are a few great ones:

Organic Research Competitor report (SEMrush)

The Organic Research Competitor report gives you a broad overview of your online competitors. Type in your URL, and you’ll be presented with a list of domains that rank for the same keywords as you. These may be business competitors as well as organic competitors; many times, they’re both. Let’s take a look at what comes up when we look at Bath & Body Works’ domain:

Some of the results are to be expected: The Body Shop, Lush and Yankee Candle are all well-known brands that sell similar products to Bath & Body Works; they’re all business competitors. But another URL – freeshippingday.com – is also listed as a key competitor.

Free Shipping Day is a coupon website and an online shopping holiday. It’s not competing for Bath & Body Works’ customer base; in fact, it encourages people to shop at the store by sharing coupons and discounts. But it also ranks for many of the same keywords as the retailer, making it a search competitor.

Exploring all of your organic competitors can help you gain a greater understanding of what your readership really wants to find. A website that’s ranking for similar keywords is likely also ranking for a few that you haven’t thought of. Disregarding a particular website just because it’s not your traditional competitor could leave you blind to potential traffic that could impact your bottom line.

Keyword Gap analysis (SEMrush)

Simply knowing who else is ranking for the same keywords you’re targeting isn’t enough. You should also know for which specific keywords your competition is ranking higher than you. That’s where the Keyword Gap analysis tool comes in handy.

Let’s look at how Bath & Body Works stacks up against The Body Shop.

Hand sanitizer, a product both stores sell, has a high search volume. Bath & Body Works is in the fourth search position for this keyword, while The Body Shop trails behind in 20th place. When it comes to foot scrub, The Body Shop has Bath & Body Works beat by six spots.

Seeing the keywords your competitors are using to boost their own site traffic can help you develop new marketing strategies to bring in potential customers. This way, not only will you appear in more search results, but you’ll also capture the attention of potentially new readers who may be searching for a term you only recently adopted in your content marketing strategy.

How to beat the digital competition

Once you know how you’re doing compared to your competitors, you need to work hard to either get ahead or stay ahead. When you’re competing against other domains for SERP rankings, it’s all about having a relevant, informative website, and that, of course, is where content marketing comes in.

Step 1: Research and ideate

Before you begin writing, you need to come up with a plan that will work to bring in more readers. After completing the keyword research, you should have a list of keywords that you want to target. Use these as inspiration for topic generation.

Step 2: Content map and create

Before we begin writing a piece of content at Brafton, we create a Content Map. We answer questions about the intentions of the article and conduct in-depth research to determine related topics to cover. As a result, we ensure we’re creating the most comprehensive piece on the web about that topic.

Step 3: Ensure content quality

Beyond the content mapping process, there are certain tools that can help you make sure your content is as effective as possible. SEMrush’s SEO Content Template is great for this.

The template gives you a few suggestions, like how long your article about foot scrub should be, which semantically related keywords you should use and who you should attempt to get backlinks from.

MarketMuse provides a similar report, which gives suggestions about article length, complementary keywords and winning headlines.

Some companies shy away from the idea of analyzing their competition. But getting to know who you’re up against is the best first step in getting ahead. You want your website to stand out against other websites with similar information, and diving head-first into competitor analysis is an important component in creating a strategy that succeeds.

If you haven’t yet explored what’s helping your search competitors win coveted SERP rankings, why not begin today? Start with that DIY competitor analysis technique described earlier; you might be surprised by who’s siphoning your readership.

Molly Ploe is a Marketing Specialist at Brafton. When she's not writing, she spends her time reading, going on walks and drizzling honey onto ice cream.