How to take a peek under the hood of your competitors and start ranking higher

Once you decide to embark on an SEO journey, make sure you know your enemies. Otherwise, you may spend months trying hard to make it to the top only to find out your competitors are too hard nuts to crack. 

So, it’s always better to look around before you jump into the race. But no worries if you skipped this step. It’s never too late to start learning from your competitors, and in this post, we’ll walk you through the whole process. Our tips will help you find out what works well for others and adjust your SEO strategies accordingly. But before we delve into analyzing the competition, you’ll have to figure out who your main rivals are.

Examine the SERP landscape

You probably know who your business competitors are, but they do not necessarily compete with your website in search. In fact, the bakery down the street that keeps you awake at night may not even have a Google My Business account. At the same time, some businesses you’ve never heard of will dominate the search. 

Your SERP competitors may even be out of your business niche. Many product companies run a blog, where they publish all sorts of informational content. As bloggers and also publishing giants produce the same sort of content, it turns them into product companies’ SEO rivals.

Anyway, you won’t find it hard to identify your SERP competitors. If you only target a few keywords, like the ones describing your tool’s features, you may scan the SERP manually. 

Meanwhile, if you try to rank for dozens or even hundreds of keywords, googling every single one of them is not an option. Let the SEO tools help you instead. SEMRush, SE Ranking, and Ahrefs will come in handy here, just to name a few. They will identify which websites rank for the same keywords as yours. Domains that have more keywords in common with your website than others will top the list. 

Measure your competitors’ strength

Before we start to dig dipper, it’s worth to check on some general metrics that show how strong your competitors are. To get the full picture you’ll have to consider a lot of things: websites’ MOZ DA and Alexa rank, the total number of keywords the domain ranks for and its traffic volume, domain’s age and the number of backlinks it acquired. 

The above-mentioned SEO tools will help you with this task as well. You may almost all the data in SE Ranking: use SEO/PPC Competitors research tool to identify your competitors and find out what their traffic and keyword total is. In the Competitors tab of your project, you can check in batch your competitors’ MOZ DA, Alexa rank and backlinks metrics.

You can also use Ahrefs batch analysis to get some data – it returns the traffic, keywords and backlinks stats, and also shows Ahrefs’ own DA metrics.

To find out the website’s domain age, you may use Domain Age Checker from SmallSEOTools.

Anyway, to gather all the data, you’ll have to use separate tools. So, the right approach would be to create a spreadsheet to further compare your website to its competitors. Here, you will fill in all the metrics for every domain. If you’ve selected a reasonable number of competitors for comparison – and I advise you to keep it under 10 – you’ll be able to quickly benchmark your website against your rivals.

If you find out that your competitors’ websites rank for more keywords, boast higher DA and have more backlinks, it will explain why they keep outranking you. And still, don’t feel desperate. 

There’s nothing you can do with your website’s age, but you can add new content to your website to increase the number of keywords you rank for as well as get the right kind of backlinks. And analyzing your competitors will help you do things right.

Find new keyword opportunities

The keywords you already target would partially coincide with the keywords your competitors rank for – that’s why they were identified as your rivals. But your competitors’ websites will also rank for some keywords you’re currently missing on. So, by analyzing your competitors’ pool of keywords, you may enrich your own website.

The best part of it – you won’t have to go through the lists of all the keywords manually. There are several SEO tools that can compare your website semantics with the ones of your competitors.

I’ll take SE Ranking as an example here. In the SEO/PPC Competitor Research tool, you can enter your website’s domain next to the two competitors of yours to see how your keyword clouds overlap.  I’ve taken Betty Crocker culinary website as an example. SE Ranking identified Allrecepies and Taste Of Home websites as its major competitors. In the Missing keywords tab, there are thousands of keywords both competitors rank for while Betty Crocker website doesn’t.

Among these thousands of keywords, one can find some high-volume and low-competitive ones the website hasn’t covered yet. Use filters to easier find these hidden gems. 

You can further export the keywords you’ve discovered to transform them into the new content pieces. Just remember to adjust your content plan.

Fine-tune your content pieces

Covering new topics is just one part of an efficient content strategy. Another thing you can do is compare your not-so-well-performing older content pieces to your competitors’ pages that rank higher than you for the same keywords.

To find which competitors’ pages rank better than yours, switch to the Common keywords tab of SE Ranking SEO/PPC Competitor Research tool. Here, you can compare your website versus one of your competitors. If we take a look at keywords both Betty Crocker and Allrecepies websites rank for, we’ll see that the latter ranks much higher for some keywords. In the URL column you can go to the competing page and check what kind of content it offers.

What matters here is the way your competitors use keywords and how well their texts are structured. It’s also important to understand which points the texts cover. You can analyze every text manually, but mind that though well-worth it is really time-consuming. Or you can use another software to help you.

WebSite Auditor from Link Assistant is a great tool for content analysis. It’ll tell if you failed to use keywords in meta tags, alt and h tags or if your content piece is too long or too short. Besides, you can run a TF-IDF analysis of the page. It compares your content to other texts in SERP and tells you if you’ve overused some words or if there are some words others use while you don’t.

In some cases, TF-IDF analysis can reveal that you have not fully covered the topic. For example, you have a travel blog and you’ve published a post on vacationing in Bali. Let’s say WebSite Auditor advises you to add immunizations keyword to your text – this would mean you haven’t spread on this aspect while other authors did. Search engines will think you’ve not fully covered the topic, and thus your website will be of less use to the readers. As a result, they may not rank your page high.

Fine-tuning your older content pieces is always a good idea, as it doesn’t take many efforts, but it can help the pages get higher rankings.

Adjust your link-building strategy

Now, let’s talk about backlinks that remain one of the major ranking factors. First, measure your backlinks profile against your competitors. Check how many links they on average acquire monthly as well as what kind of backlinks prevail in their profiles: high-quality links from authoritative domains vs trash links, dofollow vs nofollow, anchor links vs nacked links. 

You can easily get all this data from the Ahrefs Site Explorer module. In the Overview tab, you’ll find a chart demonstrating the website’s backlink profile growth. Here you can check if the website is growing steadily or exponentially or if, on the contrary, it used to grow faster in the past. You can also see how many links a website acquires monthly. Analyze your major competitors and use this data to understand how many backlinks your website needs to get monthly to become competitive.

Backlinks quality matters no less than quantity. In the same Overview tab of Ahrefs Site Explorer, you can see the distribution of website’s backlinks across different DR ranges, and the proportions of do-follow and no-follow links. If you go to the Anchors tab you can check which anchor text the backlinks have (full/partial keyword match, generic, naked kinks, etc.) 

In the Backlinks tab, you’ll find all the websites backlinks and you can check where they come from (blogs, forums, directories, etc). It’s good to identify here the percent of backlinks from the website in the same niche.

You should not necessarily mirror your competitor’s backlink profile, but it’d be great if you could keep the quality same-niche backlinks ratio close to that of your competitors. Getting a low of low-quality backlinks from irrelevant sources instead, as a rule, doesn’t cut the mustard.

Finally, dig into your competitors’ backlinks profiles to find new linking opportunities. Go through the list of Referring domains in Ahrefs and single out the websites you’d like to get a backlink from. See, if you can get in touch with the webmasters and start a partnership.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re just launching a new SEO project or you’re sick and tired of being outranked, analyzing your competitors will help you develop an efficient SEO strategy. Find out what helps your competitors stay at the top of SERP, and do better to kick them out. If you put all the data you get into action and work hard, in some six months time you’ll be the one at the top with your competitors wondering why your website is better than theirs.

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