Comparing your site to your biggest competitors is useful for a variety of reasons. First, it helps you find missed opportunities. It also clues you into shifts in your industry which could help you stay ahead of the curve. It also gives you a benchmark for growth goals.
Reaching the top of the SERPs and staying there is more challenging now than ever. Although Google webmaster guidelines haven’t changed much over the years, the core algorithm has.
Thanks to regular updates, in addition to major ones like Knowledge Graph, Hummingbird, and RankBrain, Google is better able to filter out websites that don’t meet their standards and boost up sites that best satisfy those guidelines.
I’m not suggesting that you can “reverse engineer” Google’s algorithm. It’s far too complex. Still, a review of top ranking websites can be a good starting point for determining best practices. At the most basic level, a website can be broken down into these components:
Here are three ways to compare your site to your competitors to see where your SEO could be doing better.
1. Website Technology
A well-structured website that is fast, easy to use, and easy to crawl should be every webmaster’s goal. You don’t need a specific technology to accomplish this, but if you’re starting with a new site or considering a redesign, it’s certainly worth checking out the competition.
My favorite resource for this is BuiltWith.com.
They provide a ton of technology information, including:
- Web Server
- Email Services
- Hosting Providers
- Nameserver Providers
- SSL Certificate
- Content Management System (CMS)
- Analytics & Tracking
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Aggregation Functionality
- Document Information
- CSS Media Queries
Knowing your competitors’ website architecture can be useful in terms of establishing parent and child page hierarchy as well as discovering potential product or content gaps. The best and easiest way to determine this is by creating a sitemap. There are several great sitemap tools available, but if you want a free tool that has stood the test of time, it’s hard to beat Xenu Link Sleuth as shown below:
With mobile devices being the most popular access point to the web, page speed is incredibly important. Google has specifically mentioned it as a ranking factor. The WebPageTest tool shows how you stack up against your competition:
If you find your site is underperforming, head over to Google’s PageSpeed Insights for specific recommendations on how to speed up performance. In fact, even if you are best in class, you should still run the PageSpeed test and address any problems cited by Google.
2. Website Content
Organic Keyword Research
Developing the right list of keywords is still important. Chances are, your competitors have already invested a lot of time in developing a killer keyword strategy. Don’t let all that hard work go to waste. Use this competitive intelligence to drive traffic to your site.
My tool of choice for competitor organic keyword research is Ahrefs. They have a large database of search rankings by website. They also make it easy to determine which phrases drive traffic and their potential for ranking.
In addition to listing keywords and rankings, they also list top pages. Better still, they include the number of keywords that a particular page ranks for as well as a list of those phrases:
It fairly common to find a single page, like the one highlighted above, ranking for hundreds (even thousands) of related keywords. It can often be much more efficient to concentrate on creating a better version of a top-performing page than to focus on a single keyword or phrase.
One question in the back of nearly every webmaster’s mind is, “What opportunities are being missed?” What are competitors ranking for that you are missing out on? That doesn’t need to remain a mystery. Just plug your competitors into the Content Gap Tool, as shown below:
You have the option of filtering to:
- Show keywords that any of the targets rank for, but you don’t
- Show keywords that at least two of the targets rank for, but you don’t
- Show keywords that all the targets rank for, but you don’t
- This is a great way to find both highly relevant keyword opportunities as well as some potentially new business opportunities.
Google may not be as dependent on meta tags since the introduction of Knowledge Graph, but having a clear roadmap for both users and search engines is still important. One way to see how your pages stack up against the competition is by using SEOBook’s free WebPage Similarity Comparison Tool:
This tool outputs a comparison of:
- Page title
- Meta description tag
- Keywords (good for competitor intel, not so much for SEO)
- Text and word count
- Top two- & three-word keyword phrases
The most effective way to use this tool is to look for patterns. In this case, each title tag leads with the brand and includes mentions of SEO and search marketing in at least two of the three pages with optimized title tags.
Some would argue this makes you the same as everybody else. That may be true, but if that’s what Google is rewarding, I’m OK with that.
There was a time when SEOs would chase after every backlink a competitor had to neutralize the advantage that link might provide. That all changed with the introduction of Penguin in April 2012.
Links that once held zero value suddenly had a negative value. All the garbage links acquired through indiscriminate backlink mining became dangerous to have in a link profile.
Penguin 4.0 is much more forgiving, but who knows what the future may bring? That doesn’t mean competitor backlink mining is a bad idea. It just means you need to use your head and “score” prospective links to determine if they are worth the necessary effort to acquire. (Pro tip: If no effort is necessary, it’s almost never worth getting.)
Once again, I find the Ahrefs Link Intersect tool to be highly effective in mining competitor links. (For the record, I have no affiliation with Ahrefs except for a paid subscription.)
The tool offers two different filtering options:
- Show who is linking to all the targets
- Show who is linking to any of the targets
Final Takeaways on Competitor Analysis
Content and links will continue to be the backbone of Google’s algorithm for some time. Understanding what you are up against and neutralizing any competitor advantages is an important step when developing an effective marketing campaign. Follow that up with the development of unique and useful content and nothing can stop you from ruling the SERPs.
Featured Image: Pixabay
Various Screen Shots: 4 May 2017 / Chuck Price*