How to Do Competitor Research for SEO

Spying on competitors to improve SEO strategy.

Spying on your competitors is one of the best ways to understand more about your own business, how you present yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to improve your SEO strategy.

There is no one “right” way to do competitor research. Actually, it can seem like an endless journey that takes you through twists and turns and down holes where more research can always be done.

But, to simplify the process, I’ll show you some tried-and-true steps you can take using tools and tips on how to do competitor research for SEO.

Assess the Market Competition

Some businesses already have a good idea of who their market competitors are. If you don’t, start brainstorming the list of all the businesses that offer similar services, products or information as yours.

Remember that your competition changes based on the service/product/information category, so be sure to think in those terms as well.

Some questions you might want to ask as you assess the competitors includes:

  • What is their website like? What do I like about it? What don’t I like about it?
  • How is our product/service/information the same or different?
  • How successful are they? This could be based on metrics like revenue, employee and customer satisfaction, website metrics and more.

Knowing who your market competitors are can help you discover valuable insights about your own business and website. It can help you maximize your strengths and reduce your weaknesses.

It can also help with your keyword research, which I’ll touch on in a bit. Do this exercise several times a year as competition can change.

Tool to consider:

As we move on to the next step, keep in mind that you will sometimes use the following steps and tools to also assess your market competitors online, which may differ from your online competition by keyword.

Assess the Online Competition

It’s often the case that businesses will assume that their market competition offline is also their competition online. That is usually false.

The search results page is an entirely different arena. You are competing for your website’s visibility in the search results for particular search queries (aka keywords). The next section will explain how to assess your competition online.

Tool to consider:

Choose Keywords

Keyword research is the first step in understanding who your true competitors are online — who shows up at the top of Google search results for the keyword you want to own?

As part of your keyword research, though, you will want to look at your online market competitors. Research what keywords they rank for too, and add those words and phrases to your keyword list as potentials to explore.

Tools to consider:

Learn more: How to Do Keyword Research for SEO

Identify Competitors

Once you have a defined keyword list, you can see who is ranking for those keywords. This is something you could do manually (in incognito mode, of course, so that your search history doesn’t bias the results). But many SEO tools out there will give you the data faster.

Let’s use our SEOToolSet as an example of how you can get this data. The Research Summary report gives you detailed information about the domains and webpages that are ranking for your target keywords.

SEOToolSet Research Summary report.
Screenshot of the Research Summary report in the SEOToolSet

In the report, you can see:

  • Which domains are ranking for that keyword, along with data like pages indexed and number of inbound links. Many times, a different page ranks in each search engine.
  • The top webpages ranking for that term along with their rank in Google and Bing.

From there, you can go on to the next step, which is analyzing the SEO factors of those top-ranking webpages.

Analyze Top Competitors

Competing in the search results in many cases is about being least imperfect compared to your competition. So you want to be able to better understand what the top-ranked pages are doing right and where they might be lacking.

Here, SEO tools are invaluable. As an example using our SEOToolSet, you can run the Multi Page Analyzer (MPA) tool (we have a patent on this tool) to see what the competition is doing to rank.

If you have already used the Research Summary report as outlined in the previous section, you can select the webpages in the report to analyze with the MPA.

On-page ranking factors in the SEOToolSet MultiPage Analyzer tool.
Screenshot of the on-page ranking factors in the SEOToolSet MultiPage Analyzer tool

This report looks at things like:

  • The on-page ranking factors
  • The off-page ranking factors
  • How often they use your targeted keyword and where
  • Readability metrics of the webpages
  • Recommendations on how to optimize your webpages based on the competition

(Check out the free version of this SEO tool.)

We also use the SEOToolSet to power the Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin that gives ranking factors in a different format for WordPress users. When you have the plugin installed, you get access to real-time optimization data based on the competitors that are ranking for your keyword.

Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin summary tab.
Screenshot of the Bruce Clay SEO WP plugin summary tab

Data points you can access include ranges for:

  • Meta data word count targets
  • Page word count targets
  • Readability score targets

This data is invaluable as you create content and optimize webpages, so that you’re not shooting in the dark.

Learn more: Want Customized SEO Advice per Keyword? There’s a Plugin for That!

Look at Link Profiles

Spending some extra time getting to know the competitors’ link profiles can be useful. First, knowing how many links your competitor has gives some indication of how strong a role links may play in that site’s ranking, and how many you might need. But that is not always the case.

There are countless factors that the search engine algorithms apply to a single query to determine results. And the criteria can change from query to query. So links are not the be all, end all. In fact, we often see websites with fewer links outrank those with many links, either because quality of links outweighs quantity or just that other factors took precedence.

Nevertheless, your competition’s link profiles can tell you other useful things like:

  • Who is linking to them and details about those domains. It’s not a bad idea to identify the quality, relevant domains linking to your competition, and then try to get a link from them at some point (using SEO-friendly ways to attract links).
  • At what rate they are acquiring links, which can give you some indication of their link-building efforts.
  • What broken links are on their site, which can be a great opportunity to replace their dead link with your content on the websites that are linking to it.

Tools to consider:

Check Website Health

You can get a quick view of your competitor’s website health by using the Site Checker tool in the SEOToolSet. This can expose performance issues in your competition’s website. Remember, the idea is to be least imperfect.

Site Checker tool in the SEOToolSet.
Screenshot of the Site Checker tool in the SEOToolSet

(Check out the free version of this SEO tool.)

Analyze Single Webpages

Dig deeper into a single competitor webpage to see what they are doing in terms of optimization.

The SEOToolSet’s Single Page Analyzer tool gives detailed information on:

  • Keyword usage and distribution
  • Tags and headings
  • Linking and anchor text
  • Readability
  • Any problems with cloaking
  • JavaScript rendering
  • Mobile friendliness

… and more.

Single Page Analyzer tool in the SEOToolSet.
Screenshot of the Single Page Analyzer tool in the SEOToolSet

(Check out the free version of this SEO tool.)

Find Out Lost Rankings

You can spy on your competitors’ lost rankings and potentially capitalize on that quickly.

For example, if you could identify which keywords a competitor recently lost a ranking for, you could analyze the webpage and see what potential issues contributed to that. Then you can ensure your webpage for that keyword (new or old) exceeds it.

Tool to consider:

Do SERP Research

It’s important to take your research beyond just the 10 blue links. Analyze all the results on the search results page for a target keyword. This gives you more insights into what content you should be creating and how.

Google search results showing different opportunities to rank.

Screenshot of the Google search results showing the different opportunities to rank

Learn more: What Is a Whole-Serp SEO Strategy?

Tools to consider:

  • Ahrefs Site Explorer can tell you if your competition is ranking for featured snippets and how many.
  • Internet Marketing Ninjas’ Featured Snippets+ tool can help you optimize for them.

Look at Site Structure

Having a website structured or organized into silos (reflected in its navigation, links and content) is an SEO best practice. That’s because it’s good for both search engines and your visitors.

Sample SEO siloing structure for a power tools website.

Sample structure for SEO siloing a power tools website

When you need to take a deeper dive into how your competitors support their relevance for rankings, you can look at their site structure. Remember, the name of the game is to be better than them.

Learn more: What Is SEO Siloing?

At the end of the day, it might seem like you can always do more competitor research (and that’s probably true). However, if you follow the steps outlined in this article, you are well on your way to knowing how to beat your competitors.

Competitive research is just one aspect of a solid SEO program. If you’d like to talk about your specific digital marketing needs, contact us for a free consultation.

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 and other social networks from Bruce's author page.
Comments (8)
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8 Replies to “How to Do Competitor Research for SEO”

A proper analysis will give you the opportunity to look closer at what your competitors are doing on a page by page basis. This helps identify any potential gaps your site might have when compared to your competitors. I love the way you provide info in this article and audience who will come to read or finding such information may also like it.

Paula Allen

Aaron: Yes, looking for gaps definitely helps you figure out how to improve your own site and competitiveness. Thanks for reading and commenting!

well I think now I can find much about my competitor lets just try it whether this content is right or not.

This is really helpful for me to understand my competition. Thank you for sharing this information.

Manually and with the help of tools, both are important

Knowing how to analyze your SEO competition is an important step in determining your overall keyword and SEO strategy. There are many factors involved in the process, and without the correct framework, it can get complicated.

1. Do you have a set up in India?
2. Does the team manage SEO for B2B websites?

If so, please have someone reach out

Robert Stefanski

Hi Gaurav, we do have an office in India that can help you. Please reach out to Managing Director Siddharth Lal at slal@bruceclay.com. Thank you!

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