It’s a tale as old as ecommerce. You’ve done the hard work of setting up your website and product pages, but you still can’t figure out how to rank high on search engine results pages. You wonder what other stores are doing that you miss out on. Thus begins the journey to conducting an SEO competitor analysis.
SEO competitor analysis is a practice to better understand your search engine optimization opportunities and learn how to get the most out of your SEO content.
What is SEO competitor analysis?
An SEO competitor analysis is a systematic review of websites you compete with in organic search engine rankings, with the goal of learning how you can improve your site’s position. SEO competitor analyses can help you improve your approach to keyword targeting, content strategy, backlink opportunities, and more.
Why is SEO competitor analysis important?
SEO competitor analysis allows you to gauge the competitive landscape for your site’s niche and find opportunities to rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). By studying the tactics of competitor websites, you can see which keywords they rank for, how highly ranked pages are structured, and whether there are trends across multiple highly ranked competitor pages that you can adopt to improve the performance of your own pages. Competitor analysis can also reveal SEO opportunities in the niches that competitors aren’t currently serving. By reviewing competing sites, you can paint a picture of where competition is fierce and where there is untapped potential to target relevant keywords.
How to conduct an SEO competitor analysis
- Determine your goals
- Identify your competitors
- Compare rankings
- Review SEO tactics
- Make changes based on your insights
1. Determine your goals
Your approach to competitor analysis may change depending on what you’re looking to learn. You can use competitor analysis to reverse-engineer success or to identify SEO gaps. With the former, you’ll look to understand what your competitors are doing right; with the latter, you’ll assess what they’re doing wrong. Amanda Cruz-Lombraña, global SEO team lead at Shopify, reminds organizations to tie everything back to their north star. “Before diving into a competitive analysis, establish a clear goal to avoid getting lost (or wasting time) in the process,” she says. “Ask yourself if your goal is to identify broad topics that generate high traffic volumes, product-related topics that drive on-site conversions, or a balance of both. Keeping your North Star and target audience in mind will help you make objective decisions throughout the analysis while ensuring your efforts align with your business goals.”
2. Identify your competitors
Choose the websites ranking at the top of the SERP for your target keywords—the search terms most relevant to the content of your site. Focus on sites with a similar business model to yours. For example, most searches for products will have a mix of reviews and roundups (e.g., “Our List of the 15 Best Hand Saws”) and actual product pages. If you are selling a product, identify three to five direct business competitors, and focus on what they’re doing to ensure that their product pages rank.
You can find these competitors by searching your target keywords and scrolling through the top results on the SERP. Alternatively, you can use tools like Semrush and Ahrefs to get overlap reports, which identify your most common competitors across all keywords you rank for.
3. Compare rankings
Once you have your competitive landscape mapped out, it’s time to compare your own site to the competition. Use Semrush’s Keyword Gap analysis tool, or a similar tool from Ahrefs or Moz, to create the following three lists. (To keep the list manageable, start by adding no more than 10 to each list.)
1. Missing keywords
These are keywords that your competitors rank for that your site doesn’t. Typically, these terms correspond to web pages or products on competitors’ sites that your site doesn’t have. Consider whether you can add similar pages, collections, or products.
2. Low-competition keywords
These are keywords that are relevant to your own business that competitors don’t rank for. Low-competition keywords are the SEO version market gaps—you may have a larger opportunity to win them. For example, if you sell handsaws, you may find that while your competitors rank high for the search queries “electric handsaw” and “small handsaw,” none of them rank for “handsaw for trees.” This would be an opportunity to position one of your products for this term.
Keywords where the competition ranks above youThese are words and phrases that you may need to use more effectively to improve your SERP rankings. You’ll learn more about how to do this in the next section.
4. Review SEO tactics
Use the pages that rank ahead of you to understand how you can improve your rankings. The goal is to find commonalities—features that the high-ranking competitors share that your site may be missing. SEO tools like Semrush can help automate this process, but it will always require some manual judgment. There are many SEO factors to review in a competitor analysis, here are some of the most important:
- Content types
- Content thickness
- Title tags and meta descriptions
- Page speed
- Rich snippets
- Backlink profile
Are the top results individual products, collection pages, articles, or homepages? If they’re a combination, which is most prevalent? This can help you understand whether you have the right type of page to target a given keyword.
How does the word, image, and video count on the top pages compare to yours? More isn’t always better, but if the top-ranking pages have 1,500 words and your page only has 250, it’s likely you’ll benefit from adding more written content. Surfer keyword research tool provides a quick way to see word count for top rankings.
Title tags and meta descriptions
This metadata is the metaphorical sign in front of your store, beckoning people to come in and click on the link to your site. Higher clickthrough rates in search results lead to higher rankings over time. Are top competitors using descriptive or catchy language that you could learn from? For example, the title tag “Handsaws for Trees – Our Curated Collection” will likely entice more people to click than just “Handsaws.”
Check your page’s performance compared to your competitors’ pages using Google’s free PageSpeed Insights tool. If top-performing pages have a stronger score, that’s a good indication you should consider improving your page’s technical SEO performance.
A rich snippet is a snippet on a SERP that shows more than just a page’s title tag, meta description, and URL. It may contain an image, a rating, a price range, or other useful information, which increases the likelihood of a user clicking on it. For search engines like Google to use your content for rich snippets, you need to use structured data. Google Search Console can also provide you with an overview of your site’s rich snippets for comparison to competitors.
Backlinks are a crucial part of SEO success—they indicate to search engines how trustworthy your site is. Use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to check your competitors’ backlinks to both specific pages and their domain as a whole. This will give you ideas for generating more backlinks for yourself, plus a sense of how far off you are from competing with them.
5. Make changes based on your insights
When you complete this exercise, you should have three lists of action items, which will help you improve the content on your website and help it rank highly versus your competitors. First, you’ll have ideas for new keywords to target with new pages you create for SEO. Second, you’ll be aware of keyword gap opportunities—common search queries that your competitors haven’t targeted; you can create new content to fill these keyword gaps. Lastly, you’ll have a list of ways to improve your existing content to make it more SEO-friendly.
SEO competitor analysis FAQ
How do I find competitors in SEO?
The best way to find your SEO competitors is to identify the keywords you’d like to rank for based on potential search traffic, then assess which pages are currently ranking for those keywords.
What can I learn from SEO competitor analysis?
SEO competitor analysis can provide you with ideas for new pages, data on keyword competitiveness relative to search volume, and action items to improve your site’s SEO.
How can I monitor my competitors’ SEO strategies over time?
The best way to monitor your competitors’ SEO strategy is through an automated tracking tool like Semrush. It can notify you when new pages are created or when they gain new backlinks, giving you direct insight into their SEO efforts. A website change detection tool like Visualping is also effective for staying on top of competitor changes.
How often should I perform SEO competitor analysis?
The three best times to perform an SEO competitor analysis are as part of an annual strategic review, when there is a major search engine algorithm change, and when you are building or rebuilding your site.
What is the importance of analyzing my competitors’ backlinks?
Backlinks are an important ranking factor. Analyzing your competitors’ backlinks can tell you how likely you are to rank ahead of them. If you have significantly fewer backlinks (or referring domains) compared to your top competitors, it will be hard for you to outrank them. Conversely, if you have a much stronger backlink profile than a particular keyword’s top competitors, you’ll have a good chance of “winning” that keyword.