Competitive research is the foundation of any strong marketing strategy. It’s important to identify your competitors and their marketing tactics to help you differentiate your offering.
There's a reason to dive deep into your competitive research. We can all easily rattle off the names of the biggest competitors, but what about those that don’t make the “top of mind” list?
By ignoring them, you’ll get a false sense of security that opens you to trouble. You could develop the wrong strategy or leave a big portion of keywords untapped. Guarding fully against every threat means knowing the full scope of your competition.
Start with a competition analysis
How to find your competitors
Finding your competitors doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. The first step is to identify the keywords that your site ranks and runs ads for. If you don’t have a list of seed keywords, don’t panic.
There are a number of tools that you can use to create your list of keywords, including Google’s Keyword Planner.
Once you’ve built out your keyword list it’s time to move on to finding your competitors.
Searching your keywords on Google
This is the easiest way (and the most manual) for finding your competitors online. A simple Google search of your keyword will display other companies that are ranking on your seed keywords.
It’s also important to pay close attention to the paid results that are listed on the SERP. These companies are bidding to appear on the SERP for this particular keyword and oftentimes will be direct competitors of your company.
Knowing your competition helps you create a well-rounded marketing strategy. It’s crucial that you know every threat — no matter how strongly they stand out in your mind.
Sometimes a competitor isn’t the biggest; they’re just the most memorable. Make sure that you watch out for less-recognized names who could be pushing harder for a share of your audience.
A new approach when you research competitors
Going forward, you’ll be finding the giants when you enter a new niche AND ALSO finding domains that get more out of their ranks. They might not rank for the most keywords, but they are ranking often for the most valuable keywords.
Understand who really dominates the niche
This is your time to find the giant. It might seem simple on its own. The dating industry has brands that boast major recognition. However, that’s often limited to 2 or 3 sites, you want to be cautious since “top of mind” competitors don’t always equal against big threats that could have slipped by.
Catch the stealth competitors no one thinks of
Most people would seek out competitors that rank for a high number of keywords, but you know something wiser: quantity doesn’t necessarily rule here.
If you keep this in mind, you can do more than just be alert. You can learn from and emulate a competitor that has focused and valuable SEO. You gain more ground when you add competitive analysis into your SEO work.
Effective SEO: focused and valuable
Think again of the domain that ranks for more keywords than any other in the niche. Many of those keywords on their long list could easily be irrelevant, throw-away keywords. If you’re going to look for a domain whose SEO delivers meaningful traffic, skip the keyword count and look at who is ranking on valuable keywords.
The more competitive the keyword, the more it would command a higher cost per click in AdWords. The same idea holds here in SEO.
Keywords like these pull a lot of weight. They:
- Draw higher costs on the PPC side
- See more activity and searches
- Have a stronger click-through rate (They deliver traffic.)
We consider clicks from these keywords to be more valuable to a domain than other keywords would be. Every organic keyword gets an assigned SEO value. Total up the clicks these sites get from those rankings, and we can trace a domain’s changing SEO value each month.
Identifying Softer Target Competitors
As we’ve seen, a Google search will likely give you the heaviest hitters in your niche.
To find low-hanging to middle-range targets, you simply have to plug your website into a tool like SimilarWeb.
It will give you a range of statistics about your website. You want to pay attention to the section that says “Similar sites”.
Pull individual metrics for each competitor
Now that you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to get key metrics for each site. This is so you could have a very thorough and precise look at your competitors’ web assets.
For each competitor, find the following metrics:
- Organic keywords – the number of keywords the domain ranks for
- Organic monthly traffic – the total estimated traffic the domain gets
- Domain score – the overall authority of the website from 1 (low) to 100 (high)
- Link sources or referring domains – the number of domains that link back to the site
There are other metrics that will come into play in the next step, but this is what you need for now.
Why the concentration on domain and link profile?
Imagine that you’re running a relay race and you’ve been given the baton 100 meters behind the guy in the top spot. Chances are, no matter how great of an athlete you are, you’ll have a difficult time winning the race because your competitors haven’t stood still.
The great news is, link building is a relay race that you can win even if you started behind.
The number of new referring domains tells you the rate at which your competitors are acquiring new links and where they’re coming from. This means that you know exactly what to do to get ahead.
In some lucky cases, you’ll even find that a competitor’s link growth isn’t advancing at all.
Remember, any marketing strategy, including digital marketing, should start with competitor analysis. An SEO strategy is no exception. But also, it doesn't end as a one-time task you check off your list. Building it into your ongoing strategy and decisions will help you establish yourself as a more authoritative voice in your space.