How to Make Competitor Analysis an Integral Part of Your SEO Toolkit

Every day, your ideal customer is bombarded with hundreds of emails, ads, social content, and messaging from companies just like yours. In this hyper-competitive environment, simply putting your own spin on the same tried-and-true topics just won’t cut it.

How to Make Competitor Analysis an Integral Part of Your SEO Toolkit

To truly make an impact in today’s crowded marketplace, you need to understand your company’s strengths and weaknesses as they compare to your competitors. That’s where competitor analysis comes in. When used effectively, competitor analysis can do far more than just allow your brand to benchmark its content performance with others in your space. In this article, you’ll learn how a thorough competitive analysis can help you succeed online, including:

  • Recognizing your competitors so you can build a robust corresponding digital strategy
  • Optimizing existing content
  • Analyzing keywords to improve your content, attract new audiences and increase your search volume

Content Summary

Are You Overlooking This Cornerstone of Competitor Analysis?
Five Elements To Include in an Effective Competitor Analysis
Keyword Research
Keyword Gap Analysis
Backlink Gap Analysis
Advertising
Social Media
Putting Your Competitive Analysis Into Action

It’s clear that marketers have some significant hurdles to overcome to reach their audience to engage and build their brand community. Every day, your ideal customer is bombarded with hundreds of emails, ads, social content, and messaging from companies just like yours. Putting your own spin on the same tried and true topics just won’t cut it in today’s environment.

To make an impact in today’s crowded marketplace, you need to understand your company’s strengths and weaknesses as they compare to your competitors. That’s where competitor analysis comes in. By conducting a thorough competitive analysis, you can understand where your competitors are falling short of meeting customers’ needs, and how your brand can close those expectation gaps.

Are You Overlooking This Cornerstone of Competitor Analysis?

Most brands performing competitor analysis for SEO start with a list of their primary sales competitors and document their presumed content marketing strategy in a competitive matrix, looking at:

  • Where they rank.
  • What they’re spending.
  • Who their target audience is.
  • What their unique selling proposition is.
  • What their prices are.
  • What their benefits are.
  • What content they’re producing.
  • What they’re sharing on social media.

While these points are important to understand, this approach skips the crucial first step of identifying your competitors in the first place. While your list of sales competitors is a good starting point, Aoife McIlraith, Vice President of Marketing for Semrush, notes it’s equally important to understand who your online competition is too.

That means brands need to expand their intelligence gathering. “When it comes to competitor research, you have to start high and go deep if you really want to win.”

Judith Lewis, a social media and digital marketing trainer and consultant, finds that her clients have a similar blind spot and tend to focus on the companies they know. “You have to be checking out your actual competition, rather than your perceived competition,” she said. “With Semrush, I can do a competitor audit to discover companies you wouldn’t even realize are going against you for certain keywords or to identify keywords that weren’t on your radar but should be.”

Understanding your customer pain points is the key to kickstarting the competitive research process for Amy Higgins, Director, Content Strategy, Salesforce.

“We start by researching the questions our prospects and customers have, ” Higgins said. “What are their pain points? How can we help? If you limit your searches to product names, industry nomenclature, or direct competitor analysis, you are missing a huge piece of the puzzle. People search to find answers, not products. The key to capturing their attention is to give them the easiest solution, fast.”

Once you have your core list of competitors, you’re ready to get started with these five fundamental competitive analysis activities.

The truth is we’re competing against everybody else on the internet with a website or blog that is trying to rank for the same topic or content, even if they’re in a different category. – Aoife McIlraith, Vice President of Marketing for Semrush

Five Elements To Include in an Effective Competitor Analysis

Ready to dive into competitor analysis? Here are the five components that will help your brand succeed online and how to get started.

Keyword Research

Ranking high for the right keywords entails first knowing what they are and then devising a strategy that will help you drive traffic. The first thing to consider in keyword research is search intent — how potential customers would look for your content, McIlraith said. “I might talk about my brand or my products one way, but looking at related keywords offers a better understanding of how users would search from the outside, for example, by using an unbranded search term.”

Keyword research’s ability to get into the mind of your customers is why Kevin Getch, Founder & Director of Digital Strategy at Webfor, finds it to be the most interesting aspect of SEO strategy.

“Keyword research helps you really understand how customers are thinking, what problems they’re trying to solve, and where the opportunities are,” he said. “Once you’ve done in-depth keyword research, you can align your strategy by categorizing those keywords based on the user’s intent. For example, whether the keywords they’re searching for are more top of the funnel (informational) or whether they have a high purchase intent (transactional).”

Keyword research can also expose your competitors’ priorities, Diana Richardson, Semrush’s social media and community manager noted. For example, suppose you notice a pizza restaurant developing content around gluten-free diets. In that case, you might deduce it is expanding its business into pies that people with dietary restrictions can enjoy. Or you can see where it might offer line extensions, such as to-go dough or a pizza-making class, that could factor into your future.

Once you identify the right keywords, marketers then have to determine the viability of ranking for certain keywords in terms of cost and resource allocation. “I often give the analogy that it is like knowing where the gold is buried and how much work it’s going to take to dig it up so you can prioritize your efforts in the right places,” said Getch. “Ultimately, it’s about supporting an amazing customer journey, ensuring that your brand is visible, and providing value to your customers at every step of their journey.”

Keyword Gap Analysis

Just as important as identifying what keywords you are ranking for is knowing which keywords you are missing that should be part of your content strategy.

“Keyword gap analysis is foundational to any effective content strategy,” Kathleen Atkins, Director, Corporate Marketing at Digital Realty. “It should be layered with a strategic approach to owning the narratives most important to your priority buyers through the delivery of the most useful content available on the topic areas.”

Keyword gap analysis can uncover topics your audience expects you to weigh in on that you’ve overlooked. It can also help you identify topic niches your brand can focus on and for which you have a high likelihood of creating high-ranking content. Using a tool like Semrush makes it easy to compare your site and competitors side by side to discover such insights.

“You don’t want to optimize for something just because your competitor did, but you might find a keyword that sparks a new way of talking about your brand that you hadn’t thought of,” Richardson said.

“Before I even joined Semrush, this was a tool I used consistently because it gave me a quick way to show exactly which keywords my clients should be targeting,” McIlraith said. “It was so spot-on that I found they were frequently shocked at how I was able to get that level of detail on their competitors.”

JJeff Baker, CMO, Brafton, likens backlink gap analysis to a review site that shows you all the places your friends have recommended that you haven’t checked out yet.

“It’s like, four of your five friends recommended this place, so why haven’t you been here yet,” he said. “Translated to SEO, it means you’ve practically been invited to gain a backlink, but you haven’t knocked on the door yet.”

Baker cautions that marketers need to make sure they look beyond their primary keywords to understand how pieces of content as a whole are ranking to uncover where the best backlink opportunities lie.

“I think content tracking is more important than keyword tracking,” he said. “Keyword tracking only measures a tiny piece of the puzzle. In reality, a piece of content doesn’t rank for one keyword, it ranks for dozens, or even hundreds of variant keywords if you’ve done an excellent job on your content writing. Each of those keywords has its own search volume and can drive its own traffic to your site. If keyword tracking is myopic, content tracking is comprehensive.”

Semrush’s backlink gap analysis tool—part of a completely refreshed suite of comprehensive backlink analysis tools—takes this more holistic approach into account, following a simple three-step process:

  1. Compare domains. This should include your offline competitors and the online competitors you’ve uncovered at the start of the competitive research process.
  2. Find prospects. Semrush analyzes these websites’ backlink profiles to discover untapped backlink opportunities.
  3. Receive domains to target. You’ll receive a list of domains to target in your link-building campaigns, including details on the anchor text and links your competitors have earned and similar sites to target.

In addition to generating a list of potential backlinks to pursue, the tool also highlights broken competitor backlinks. This knowledge provides a warm opportunity to reach out to the site owner to provide a helpful link to high-quality content on your site that can improve their user experience.

Advertising

In addition to tracking organic content, competitor analysis is equally helpful for scouting paid strategies, including organizations’ traffic, the types of ads they’re running, and even their budget. “Clients often don’t realize how much they could or should be spending on paid search, but telling them how much their competitors are spending really puts it into perspective,” Richardson said.

When researching competitor advertising strategies, you can discover their most profitable copy, where they are spending the bulk of their budget, and their top-performing keywords. At a high level, your research should include:

  1. Paid keyword positions. The number of keywords that bring users to your competitor’s domain via Google’s paid search results, the estimated traffic coming from these paid keywords, and that traffic’s estimated cost.
  2. Advertising competitors. What websites are competing with you in paid search results. How many common keywords are they bidding against you for, and the total number of ad keywords they’re paying for.
  3. Ad copy. Analyze live examples of your competitor’s ads. View their headlines and calls to action, how they incorporate their target keywords, and the landing pages the paid traffic drives to.
  4. Ad history. Analyze the paid keywords that brought users to your competitors’ domains and the maximum position an ad earned for those keywords.
  5. Ranked pages. Track the competitor URLs that rank in Google’s paid search results. Look at the amount of traffic brought to a particular page from paid search, the number of keywords a page ranks for in paid search, and the number of backlinks leading to those pages.

Social Media

Brand managers know the importance of social media tracking, but a stand-alone tool can often be cost-prohibitive. Semrush’s integrated social media toolkit is helpful to not only track your brand mentions but also observe competitors’. “Consistent tracking shows you what content they’re putting out and offers much clearer insight into their social media strategy, such as what channels they are posting on the most and how much engagement they’re getting than you would find by just scrolling through their feed,” says McIlraith.

Social media tracking should start with monitoring engagement with your brand’s social media posts and your brand’s social mentions. What post types sparked engagement that delivered against your business objectives? Which topics and hashtags drove the desired actions?

Lewis uses Semrush’s social media tools to measure competitors’ publishing cadence, and for advance scheduling of clients’ posts. “Time poverty is a problem for everyone, and this relieves a huge burden when they can schedule their entire week in an hour or two without having to pay for a separate platform.”

Use your initial social media tracking as a benchmark to compare against your competitors’ efforts. After you identify your competitors’ best performing content, use those insights to:

  • Address unanswered questions
  • Reprioritize post formats
  • Deliver higher-quality takes on their most successful content

Putting Your Competitive Analysis Into Action

When used effectively, competitor analysis can do far more than just allow your brand to benchmark its content performance with others in their space.

“Many brands start SEO exercises thinking they’ll just find out a few things about their known competitors, but by the time they’ve finished their reporting, they’ve recognized new organizations and brands to watch closely and new places where they can dig deeper” , McIlraith said. “To win, you have to know who your competitors are and then build a robust corresponding digital strategy.”

Competitor analysis also isn’t limited to being useful only in the initial digital strategy planning stages, either.

“Great content is never one and done,” said Higgins. “Many marketers miss the opportunity to optimize content after they hit publish. On my team, we block time on our editorial calendar to optimize older posts. Then, we look at the lowest hanging fruit—assets that could use simple updates to move from page 2 to page 1.”

As a final step, Higgins’ team goes into Semrush to look at the keywords or search terms originally targeted, compares them with the keywords for which the page has ranked, and looks at incorporating any new keywords the tool suggests for optimizing the content. “By giving yourself space to continually improve your content, you’ll attract new audiences and increase your search volume,” she said.