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SEO Competitor Analysis: A Step-By-Step Guide

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A critical part of any SEO strategy is competitor analysis. This guide explains how to conduct one for your site, including keyword and rank analysis.

If you want to improve your rankingsRankings
Rankings in SEO refers to a website’s position in the search engine results page.
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on search engineSearch Engine
A search engine is a website through which users can search internet content.
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results pages (SERPs), it’s essential to perform a competitive SEO analysis to learn where your competitionCompetition
Businesses generally know who their competitors are on the open market. But are they the same companies you need to fight to get the best placement for your website? Not necessarily!
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ranks and for what keywords. When you know what your competitors are doing well and what opportunities they’re missing out on, you can use those insights to boost your own rankings and, by extension, your organic traffic. A proactive approach to SEO competitive analysis helps you understand:

  • Where keywordKeyword
    A keyword is what users write into a search engine when they want to find something specific.
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    opportunities are
  • What types of content users respond to for specific keywords
  • What SEO strategies are working for competitors in your space
  • Where you should focus your time to optimize for conversions

Use this SEO competitor analysis guide to learn about the benefits of competitor analysis in SEO and how to execute it effectively.

What is SEO competitor analysis?

Competitor analysis SEO is the process of identifying websites and brands that ranks higher than you on SERPs for high-value queries related to your product, service, or company. Learning what’s working for your competition enables you to apply those insights to your own SEO strategy. Your business might have done competitor analysis for everything from product development to marketing strategy to uncover opportunities and find inspiration to improve.

Why is an SEO Competitor Analysis important?

In short, keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. Using SEO competitive analysis, you can see where competitors are spending their time and resources, as well as how they’re responding to industry trends. Just as important, competitor SEO analysis allows you to uncover gaps in your competitor’s strategies. Whatever the case is, you can use your findings as inspiration to create new content and target high-impact keywords.

When should I perform an SEO competitor analysis?

We recommend running a competitive SEO analysis at least twice a year and perhaps even once a quarter, depending on your industry and level of competition. But beware of drawing too many conclusions from this analysis. Remember, your competitors aren’t perfect, and they aren’t doing everything right all the time. Use their strategy as inspiration without creating a carbon copy.

How do you perform an SEO competitor analysis?

Start learning from your competitors by following these six simple steps.

1. Identify your SEO competitors

The first step in a competitive SEO analysis is to learn who your competitors are. A good way to do this is to jot down every competitor that you know of off the top of your head. This can include your direct competitors and indirect competitors.

  • Direct competitors are competitors you likely know about who provide similar services/products/software you do. For example, say you’re a kitchen supply store that sells a type of can opener. When you search for “can openers” in a search engine like Google, you’ll see other retailers that sell can openers in the SERP. Those are your direct business competitors.
  • Indirect competitors are brands and websites that you’re competing with for rankings on SERPs, despite them not selling a similar product/service/software. These can be encyclopedias or news sources, social media sites like Pinterest, content creation sites like YouTube, or individual bloggers.

From there, start googling high-value keywords, and see what the SERP surfaces. You may be surprised by some of the sites that outrank you. Solutions like Conductor's Explorer feature give you a high-level look at the most up-to-date SEO competitor research to see how all the content on your domain is performing compared to your competitors.

Keep in mind that you may find you’re competing with massive brands and companies that it’s simply not feasible to go head-to-head with. For example, you probably won’t want to compete for too many keywords with Amazon. Pick your battles wisely.

2. Identify your most important keywords

At this point, you probably already know or have a good idea of what keywords you’re targeting and which are most important for you to drive consistent organic traffic. That said, if you aren’t currently tracking keywords, or are unsure which ones are most worth targeting, check out our keyword research guide to get started.

Uncovering the search intent of competitor content through keyword research

The most important thing you can learn from analyzing your competitors’ keywords is that you can start to learn why they’re targeting those queries and what search intent they’re trying to satisfy. If you can understand why your competitors are focused on certain topics, you can see where you’re missing out on content, but also find opportunities to improve on your competitors’ content and find an angle they may have missed.

For example, you may find that a competitor has a great article about picking the right kitchen appliances, but they also failed to address a specific question around that topic or target “people also ask” questions on Google. This process can help uncover short, and long-term keywords that could be worth targeting and gives you an idea of what topics you can offer a unique perspective on and which keywords are actually worth fighting for.

3. Research your competitors’ SEO strategy

In practice, we recommend that you approach your response to SEO competitive analysis using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) framework.

  • Your competitors’ strengths
  • Their weaknesses
  • Opportunities to replicate their strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses on your own site
  • Where your competitors are threatening to outperform you and ways to improve upon those areas

The most important thing to remember about successful competitive analysis is to never assume anything. Use the SWOT framework to guide your thinking through your SEO competitor analysis. To organize your work, start an Excel spreadsheet and use Google and your SEO platform, like Conductor, to compile the following information.

Competitors’ top-performing content

Fairly straightforward, in this step, you should use Google, as well as your keyword research platform, to identify the articles and pages where your competitors are ranking well. From there, see how your competing content matches up. This will give you a baseline understanding of which queries to target and which ones may not be worth the fight right now. For instance, if you find that a large brand, like Amazon or Microsoft, has particularly strong content around a topic, you may not want to spend the resources competing against such large companies.

Competitors’ content marketing strategies

Next, you should be able to start noticing some important aspects of your competitors’ content and distribution strategies. Specifically, you’ll see what types of content they tend to focus on, for example, thought-leadership, long-form skyscraper-type content, glossaries, or run-of-the-mill blog articles.

In addition, take a look at the format your competitors are using for their content. Do they mostly have written content, or do they often employ videos or infographics? Trying a different format for your content could be a key differentiator between your content and a competitor and could help you create superior content that ranks well on SERPs.

Finally, pay attention to the amount of content your competitors produce, how long that content tends to be, and the overall quality of your content. All of these factors help determine how your content ranks. Remember, Google promotes helpful content that satisfies user search intent, so producing concise, high-quality content could be the difference you need to outrank competitors on SERPs.

Competitors’ content distribution strategies

In this step, you need to learn how your competitors promote and distribute their content, as well as who owns your competitors’ content strategy. Marketers can often be vocal on social media, which could be a great opportunity to learn more about your competitors, and search strategy in general. This also helps you determine how big of a threat a competitor actually is.

Next, take the time to understand how competitors promote their content and whether they’re good at it. Do tweets to new content pieces get significant engagement? Do they have quotes or shoutouts from high-profile influences? Are they good at PR? Do they work with a PR firm? All of these questions help get you closer to your competitors’ strategies, so you can decide what to emulate and where you can improve to avoid getting left behind.

Competitors’ SERP strategy

For this step, think about where your competitors are appearing in SERPs and what that may say about their larger strategy. Do they often appear in featured snippetsFeatured Snippets
Featured snippets are highlighted excerpts of text that appear at the top of a Google search results page in what is known as ‘Position 0’.
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? Do they employ FAQ schema in their articles? Do they appear in image carousels? Uncovering this information again shows you what your competition is focused on, allowing you to adapt your strategy to get ahead or avoid their mistakes.

Competitors’ backlinking strategy

In this step, ask yourself these questions. How do my competitors acquire links? Do you think they’re buying links? Are they guest posting? Do they have “superfans” that they collaborate tightly with? Do they acquire sites that have a lot of links, which they’ll migrate into their own site? Accumulating links to quality, authoritative sites is part of the backbone of strong SEO. The better your backlinks are, the higher you’re likely to rank on SERPs. Take a look at what your competitors are doing with their links to see if there’s room for improvement.

Analyzing the competitive landscape typically involves a lot of up-front effort. SEO competitor analysis is an ongoing process that should be completed continuously since the SERPs are highly dynamic. The more you focus on SEO competitor analysis, the better you can ensure you don’t miss out on opportunities to boost your own rankings.

4. Establish your content gap with competitors

Next, you’ll want to find keywords that competitors are ranking for that you’re not. This is called a competitive content gap analysis. For each of your competitors, start diving into what you need to do to bridge the content gap based on the keywords you want to go after, their search intent, and the content required to satisfy that intent. Ask yourself what topics you need to cover to bridge the gap. However, keep in mind that your competitors will be ranking for keywords and covering topics that are not relevant to you, so you can likely skip those.

Follow these three steps to understand your content gaps with competitors and what you can do to improve:

  • Complete a content gap analysisContent Gap Analysis
    A content gap analysis is a strategic method for checking and optimizing the content of a website.
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    of your content
  • Complete a similar analysis of competitor content
  • Determine what needs to be done to bridge that gap so you can create necessary content for your site, create content your competitors don’t have or don’t rank for, and/or create content that beats out the competitor

Following the same three steps listed above, you’ll want to take a look at your competitors' link profiles and where gaps exist in your own links. This will start to become clear to you as you’re performing a competitor gap analysis, but really focus on what sites link your competitors and think through how you can create content to acquire similarly strong backlinksBacklinks
Backlinks are links from outside domains that point to pages on your domain; essentially linking back from their domain to yours.
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Remember, Google’s algorithm changes periodically. Pages ranking on page 1 this month for a keyword may drop to page two or worse the next. That said, backlinks from relevant, high-quality, and authoritative sites will always go a long way toward improving your rankings and organic traffic.

6. Understand your technical website health

Finally, in order to get the most out of your SEO competitor analysis, you need to understand your website’s technical health inside and out. Poor technical SEO and website health could be the difference between you ranking in the top 5 on SERPs and the top 50 on SERPs. Google wants to give users the best and fastest experience possible. So if your site loads slowly or isn’t as mobile-friendly as your competitors, it’s almost a guarantee that your site will slip down the SERPs.

Make no mistake, your website’s health and technical SEO strategy is critical for your rankings, organic traffic, and overall SEO strategy.

Steps to take after completing an SEO competitor analysis

Now that you’ve completed your competitive SEO analysis, it’s time for you to take action to improve your site and create new content based on your findings. In practice, that looks like:

Create and optimize content based on your findings

Your analysis should have turned up several, perhaps even dozens, of opportunities for you to improve your existing content to better compete. It should also have turned up just as many opportunities to create content that’s superior to what’s out there. Break down these opportunities with your team, and prioritize the high-impact keywords and quick wins that could help you leapfrog your competitors on SERPs.

Whether you’re creating new content or optimizing what’s there, look at your competitors’ top-performing content, remember to keep an eye on your keyword data, and employ helpful content creation tools like Conductor’s Content Guidance feature. Then, identify ways you can significantly improve upon it, whether it’s by using newer data to better inform a piece of content, adding in visuals that create more engagement, or doing a deeper dive on the topic that uses more industry knowledge or original research. Then, promote your new content to a similar audience to your competitors targeted.

This strategy can help you:

  • Reach a newly interested audience
  • Get you linked on more sites, some of which may even swap out a competitor’s link for your better piece of content on their site
  • Establish you as an authority in your space
  • Whether you choose to optimize existing pages or create new content, these strategies can help you rank higher on Google SERPs.

Above all, remember that Google promotes high-quality content that’s relevant to user search intent. Your goal for every piece of content should be to create the best piece possible, do that, and the rankings should follow.

Improve your technical website health

Dive into your technical website health, and keep a close eye on it over time with solutions like ContentKing, which monitors all of your site's pages 24/7 and immediately notifies you of any issues, so you can take action before traffic is impacted.

Stay alert to Google updates

Nothing can throw a wrench into good SEO work like a Google algorithm update. One day you can have strong rankings, and the next, you could find yourself in the depths of the SERPs. And to make matters more complicated, nobody knows exactly when Google will roll out a new game-changing update, and nobody fully understands what the impact of an update may be. To stay a step ahead, you’ll want to keep your ears open for any upcoming Google updates.

Monitor your competitors and progress

Now that you know where you stand against the competition and have started to move towards improving your strategy, it’s time for the hard part, which is staying consistent. To stay ahead of the game, you’ll need to continue to monitor your competition and your own progress. However, remember to beware of focusing too much time and energy on competitive SEO analysis. Your competition’s strategy isn’t infallible, and SEO and organic traffic fluctuate constantly. Use your competitors as inspiration, then leave it there.

You can use the Conductor platform to monitor competitor performance by domain, pages, keywords, and featured snippets, as well as if they started ranking for new queries. In addition, you can break down the overall market share for a specific keyword to get a holistic view of your competitors and how much work you need to do to jump up the SERPs. This will also give you the opportunity to see new competitors that you didn’t know of before. We recommend spending some time each month looking for new competitors.

Finally, you’ll need to monitor your progress in bridging the gap with your competitors when it comes to content and links by consistently comparing your traffic and rankings and any fluctuations you notice. In fact, the Conductor Platform can create reports that track your changes that are automatically shared out each week. Lastly, keep an eye on your competitors’ websites and XML sitemap to see what content has been newly published and updated.

Summarizing SEO competitive analysis

In short, competitive SEO analysis is a critical step toward improving your rankings and organic traffic, but it’s a step that’s never actually complete. Performing a competitor analysis in SEO through a deep and continuous process can give you a competitive advantage in your SEO efforts and help you gain insight into your core business. An advanced SEO technology platform like Conductor can be a weapon in your marketing technology arsenal and give you a distinct competitive advantage in your industry in the short- and long term.

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