If you ask musicians about their source of inspiration, they would often say: “Listening to famous artists.” Business is no different from music in this respect. Ideas are in the air, and you will hardly launch a new product without already having a couple of competitors.
There is good news, however. By analyzing your competition, you can improve your SEO strategy, predict the competitors’ moves and get a step ahead of them. In this article I’ll share the ten steps you should include in your SEO strategy if you wish to find out more about your competitors and outperform them in the search results.
Define Your Competitors
Start with building the list of the “best” competitors you have. There are three types of competitors:
- Direct – they sell the same product/service as you. You might know them all from the start.
- Indirect – they sell other products/services but also have a product line or supporting goods that compete with yours (like McCafe that competes with many other coffeehouses).
- Perceived – they offer a different product that can be an alternative to your product/service (like the children’s books publisher may become an indirect competitor to a mobile game company).
Defining your main competitors helps you reach many goals. You will learn what your potential customers are getting from your rivals that you don’t offer yet. You will understand how to use their weak points and even their advantages to your product or service.
There are a few ways to get a list of competitors. You can simply google them. Usually, your direct rivals are targeting the same keywords as you. Go to your Google Search Console to search your best keywords and check the SERP for them. You will see many companies that offer the same or similar products/services. Choose those you consider to be your direct competitors for these keywords.
The other way is faster: just check out your favorite SEO tool for the list of competing domains. I used Ahrefs.com to do it for the Barnes & Noble website.
After creating a list of competing websites, sort them out into the three groups I mentioned above. Of course, you don’t have to analyze all the rivals you find online (there may be thousands of the websites). Pay close attention to those who rank higher than you. Your goal is to get into the top 10, so monitor those who are already there.
Prioritize Traffic Sources
Traffic is one of the primary goals of the websites. But if it brings no leads and money – it is worthless. Sites are getting their traffic not only from search engines. If you take a look at your Google Analytics dashboard, you will see lots of traffic sources there: direct, search, social, referral, etc. You can see how your website performs in all these channels and what sources bring you the most traffic.
It would be great if you check the traffic channels from your competitors. Since we don’t have access to our competitors’ dashboard, we should use external services that offer this opportunity. SimilarWeb’s extension for Chrome does a pretty good job in analyzing the traffic sources for various domains.
We see here that TripAdvisor gets the most of the traffic from the search. You can click every source to get the breakdown by the platform. Thus, if you’re running a travel website, pay more attention to keywords and other means of driving traffic from search. For other niches, you may need to pay more attention to social sources or PPC ads.
Analyze Competitors’ Keywords
The problem with the competitors’ keywords is the same as with their traffic sources: you can only guess what keywords they target on their product pages and blog posts. You need to use keyword tools to find out what keywords your competitors are targeting.
What’s in it for you? In general, it saves you time for keyword research. Piggybacking competitors’ keywords is a popular tactic to use in your marketing strategy. If you’re in the same niche, you may wish to target the same keywords. So it’s worth trying out those that already bring your competitors the highest amount of traffic.
You may be enticed to use the keywords that have the highest search volume. But it may be the wrong move. You will hardly outperform the “big fishes” in your niche and will scarcely rank for these keywords. Ahrefs Keyword Difficulty metric may help you with that and suggest how hard may it be to rank in the Top 10 search results for a given keyword. But you should check other metrics like estimated traffic and the number of clicks that top results get.
Another good idea is to intercept the competitors’ target audience in the process of purchase and drive their attention to your product instead. It’s easy to do using their branded keywords and presenting your brand as an alternative to your competitors’ services. Pay attention to their keywords that contain words ‘compare to,’ ‘alternative,’ ‘vs,’ ‘better than,’ ‘cheaper than,’ etc.
You may be disappointed by the low search volume of those keywords. But they have a high potential for driving the leads that are at the beginning of the decision process. You can create various content that targets those keywords: landing pages, how-to articles, guides, etc. Everything that may convince a person who hesitates before buying a product or service. And there are high chances that your competitors don’t include those keywords in their marketing and SEO strategy.
Content is Key to an SEO Strategy to Outrank Competitors
New Google’s sophisticated algorithm evaluates many things in your content. It’s not just raw keyword matches but their synonyms, combinations and even intent matches. Your content should fall in with the users’ search intent and answer their issues in the best possible way (and better than your competitors do).
Google also evaluates the content length, text format, comprehensiveness, and all that kind of other things. High-quality content is a must in your SEO strategy to outrank competitors. You should fill your website with high-quality content at all levels. It’s not only your blog posts but also product or service pages, FAQs, your about page, etc. Having a blog allows you to utilize more keywords and set up interlinking that also boosts SEO.
Analyze what topics your rivals cover but you haven’t considered yet. You may want to publish articles similar to those that your competitors post to their blogs. In this case, your content should surpass theirs in quality and relevance to your target audience.
But always remember to write for people, not search engines. Google is pretty good now at assessing thin content written for SEO purposes only. And always use internal links to improve the rankings of multiple pages on your website.
Monitor Mentions of Your Competitors
Take a closer look at the online mentions of your competitors. If you see articles and blog posts about your competitors online – it’s a good opportunity to evaluate the source and reach out to the same media source to get your brand featured. You can build a list of media that write about your competitors. If they mention them often, chances are they are covering your niche regularly.
Setting up Google Alerts is one of the easiest and fastest ways to keep abreast of your competitors’ mentions. Just enter your competitors’ brand names and set up the frequency of alerts you wish to receive. You can monitor mentions from social media, news, and discussions as well.
You can analyze how often your competitors get mentioned on the web, what is the tone of those mentions, what information is presented and how it is displayed. Check out how the customers mention rival brands in their reviews, what pain points are they addressing. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to those customers and offer them your solution as an alternative.
Build Backlinks to Your Website
Although the latest researches claim that backlinks are losing their importance as a major ranking factor, they still help businesses to get higher in SERPs. Your competitors are also aware of the importance of backlinks, so you can’t fall behind here.
Analyze the sources where your competitors are getting their backlinks. If you notice a sudden jump in their referring domains number, it usually means that your competitors were building links actively during that time period. And you should do the same.
Check the backlink tools that show where your competitors are getting their links. Then try to get links to your website from the same domains. You can either reach out to the influencers and offer to write a guest post for them that includes a link back to your website. Just remember that quality beats quantity here. It’s better to have fewer natural links from high-authority sites than buying a bunch of links and get banned from Google.
Improve Your Website Performance
The performance of a website affects the users’ behavior. Slow loading speed, broken pages or images, awkward navigation, and other elements may turn users off your website. Some of them will never come back. That’s why website performance improvement should be a part of your SEO strategy to outrank competitors consistently.
Check out the Google Page Speed Insights to learn about your performance issues. Then get rid of everything that slows your website down.
- Remove unnecessary plugins or widgets that don’t provide any benefits for users.
- Consider CDN to deliver your content faster without overloading servers.
- Use cache. Google recommends using the cache on your website to speed up the loading process.
- Reduce the media files size. Choose the tools that allow reducing the size of images, videos, and other multimedia without sacrificing their quality.
Optimize Your Website for Mobile Search
The importance of mobile devices grows day by day. More and more users shop with the help of their smartphones. The time spent on mobile already exceeds that of the desktop. And you can’t beat your competitors if you don’t have your website optimized for mobile search.
Check out your website mobile performance with the Mobile-Friendly test. Go to your Search Console and compare the website performance on desktop vs. mobile. Analyze what needs to be fixed or improved.
Google shows the most relevant results of the mobile search in the form of cards. Utilize Schema.org for your media files as it can help you get your content above the fold on mobile devices.
Consider Social Signals
There is no direct evidence that social signals like shares, impressions, and likes impact search engine rankings. However, they do improve the level of trust that your website gets from users. And user trust is considered to be a ranking signal.
To improve your social signals, you should create a relevant and engaging content that your users will likely share and discuss. By the way, you don’t necessarily need to create different content for every platform you use. Repurpose your content in various forms to post it to on your YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We created a huge article with 75 SEO tips into 75 digestible chunks and posted them tip by tip on our social channels.
When you already know your competitors’ traffic sources, you may dig a bit deeper and find out what social platforms they use and what platforms bring them traffic. Check out how they use those platforms, what content they post there and how they communicate with their audience. Then think what tricks you can implement in your social strategy.
Implementation of an SEO Strategy to Outrank Competitors
Don’t underestimate your competitors! Remember that they must be reading this article, too. And they may already use some of the tips shared here. So there’s no time to rest. You should include an SEO analysis of your competition into your digital marketing strategy and regularly check for new tactics.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution and what is good for one brand may not fit yours or lose its effectiveness over time. So, don’t hesitate to change the vector or discard the tactics that didn’t work for you. And never stop learning from others and consistently create high-quality content as it’s a critical element to an effective SEO strategy to outrank competitors.