Competitor Research for SEO: What, Why, How

Person in straw hat hiding behind a fence looking through binoculars.
Pssst … I want to let you in on a little secret: SEO is about beating the competition, not the algorithm.

And since everybody wants to rank on Page 1 of the search results, you need to understand better who is ranking there already for the keywords you want to rank for, too, and why. Enter competitor research.

To skip this step in your SEO strategy could be disastrous. You’d be shooting in the dark, wasting effort, and likely not seeing good results. So in this article, I’ll give an overview of what competitor research is, why it’s important, and how to do it.

What Is Competitor Research for SEO?

Competitor research in SEO analyzes your online competitors to understand better why they are ranking in the search results so that you can meet or exceed their efforts on your own website. It’s one of the best ways to understand your business and gain valuable insights to improve your SEO strategy.

Why Is Competitor Research in SEO Important?

Depending on the search query, search engines like Google can serve millions — sometimes billions — of search results pages. But you only need to worry about winning against the results on Page 1. These are your competitors and who you should focus on.

Competitor research in SEO does a few things:

  1. It helps you identify who your online competitors are for any given keyword (remember, competitors change from keyword to keyword).
  2. It helps you get clarity on your own website, messaging, and brand when you see how your competitors are presenting themselves.
  3. It helps you reverse engineer the potential factors that are helping your competitors rank so you can outdo them.

Armed with this data, you can work on your own webpages so that they are least imperfect compared to your competitors.

No one webpage will ever score perfectly on every single factor in any given algorithm that is applied to a search query by a search engine. So all webpages are imperfect.

The goal is not to get every single thing right on an SEO checklist; the goal is to get at least as much right as your competitors — and a little more.

How Do You Do Competitor Research for SEO?

There is no one right way to do competitor research, but there are many steps you can take to get a robust picture of your online competitors, including:

  • Assessing first the market (not the online) competition so you can highlight your strengths and reduce perceived weaknesses on your website.
  • Perform keyword research, so that you can later do research on who your competitors are for each keyword (and also find out what your market competitors are ranking for).
  • Find out which domains are ranking for any given target keyword and what their rank is on Page 1 of the search results.
  • Analyze competitor webpages to find out which on-page and off-page ranking factors they’ve implemented that might influence their rankings.
  • Dig into the competitors’ link profiles so that you can better understand their inbound links, including who is linking to them, at what rate they are acquiring links, and even if they have broken links.
  • Check your competitors’ sites for performance issues that might be hindering their rankings, then make sure your website is not having the same issues.
  • See which keywords a competitor recently lost rankings for so you can swoop up that opportunity.
  • Do SERP research so that you are going beyond your competitors in just the 10 blue links section of the search results.
  • Analyze the competition’s website architecture to see how they have structured their sites for SEO.

Competitors often change, and that is one of the reasons that websites lose rankings. So do competitor research on a scheduled basis or when needed as rankings drop.

For a complete step-by-step guide on competitor research, see: How to Do Competitor Research for SEO.

Final Thoughts

Rankings on Page 1 of the search results are up for grabs. If you go about optimizing your website and webpages the right way, you have a chance to grab them.

Step 1: Do all the SEO best practices you know of to lay the groundwork for website rankings. Then, find out what your competitors are doing for any given keyword so that you can further optimize your webpages to beat them.

We can teach you how to take your competitor research and turn it into actionable SEO tasks. gives you and your team everything you need to supercharge your SEO strategy. Sign up for membership and start training today.

FAQ: How does competitor research help in understanding online rivals?

As online business is ever more competitive, understanding your competitors is vital in order to gain an edge and remain ahead of them. One powerful tool that can provide invaluable insights is competitor research.

By studying the strategies, strengths, and weaknesses of your online rivals, you can gain a more thorough knowledge of the competitive environment and make educated decisions to expand your own business. Let’s explore how competitor research helps in understanding online rivals and how it can shape your overall business strategy.

Competitor research allows you to gain a comprehensive understanding of your online competitors. By studying their websites, social media presences, marketing campaigns, and customer acquisition tactics, you can identify strategies to attract and engage customers. Competitor research gives you valuable insights into their unique selling points, target audience profiles, and messaging strategies that you can then apply toward fine-tuning your own marketing efforts.

This process enables you to conduct a thorough market analysis. Investigate your competitors’ pricing strategies, product offerings, and customer reviews to identify gaps and opportunities within the market. With this data at hand, it can help inform product development efforts, price adjustments, and customer service improvements aimed at meeting and exceeding the expectations of your target audience.

By keeping tabs on the online activities of competitors – content creation, SEO strategies, and partnerships among others – you can gain a deeper insight into their long-term goals and direction. With this knowledge in hand, it may spark innovative ideas and strategies within your own business that help you stay one step ahead of competitors and gain an edge.

You can also gain experiential insights into industry best practices. Analyzing the successes and failures of your competitors helps you learn from their experiences and avoid common pitfalls. This knowledge can save you time, resources, and potential setbacks by adopting proven strategies while avoiding ineffective ones.

Competitor research plays a crucial role in understanding online rivals and shaping your business strategy. Utilize it to position your business for success in the competitive digital landscape.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

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