To improve your SEO campaign, it is vital to perform a competitor review to understand what you are up against and what you should focus on to rise higher in rankings. Trying to figure out the next steps to take to improve your own online marketing can be overwhelming, and auditing what your competitors are doing helps take some of the guesswork out of it. You only need a few simple tools (a mix of both free and paid) and some time on your hands to get the job done.
Although anyone is capable of running a competitor analysis, there are an extensive list of things you should review and not all of them are super obvious. This guide will outline the basics on how to uncover your competition, what you should be looking for and how to take all the information to mimic what they are doing, but better.
Find Your Competitors
A competitor analysis, of course, starts with researching who your true competition is. If you get this wrong, the whole trajectory of your audit is going to be skewed. However, it is fairly simple to find out who is ranking for your targeted keywords. The Google Ad Preview tool can be used to put in your keywords and the exact location your audience would be searching from. You will then see which companies and specific websites are ranking on the first page. There are other tools out there that do similar things, but we tend to use this one the most.
Once you are on the first page of results for your keywords, we recommend documenting the competitors that appear in the map pack and in the 1-3 spots for organic. However, the websites you should pay most attention to, will depend on where your site currently ranks. The ultimate focus should be on those ranking higher than you. For example, if you are already ranked as the first organic spot, then your attention should be directed to those in the map pack.
Create a spreadsheet to document all the competitors ranking for your key terms. This can be done by adding in columns for their website url, current placement for each keyword, and any other important information you may want to note during your audit.
Audit Their Google My Business Listing
For the competitors ranking in the map pack, check out their Google My Business listings and compare it to yours. Some of the elements to review include:
- Name: Do they have any spammy text or are they keyword stuffing? Many times you will find listings with direct keywords or their city/location added to their company name. This is against Google’s guidelines and the name should be your official business name and listed exactly as your it is represented everywhere online. So for example, a family lawyer located in Miami, FL named Smith Law Firm should not have a GMB listing title Smith Law Firm Miami Personal Injury Lawyer. Smith Law Firm Miami would also be a no-no. You must list your exact firm name without any location identifiers or keywords. However, some businesses may organically have their keyword or location within their official or DBA name, so if this is true, they are fine to use their real name. If after reviewing, you find that competitors are using spammy business names, you can report them to Google by suggesting an edit.
- Address: Companies that rank in the map pack are normally the closest to the city in the search term. For example, the businesses that will show up highest in the map for a Miami search term will be closest to the city center and not in the outskirts of a neighboring city. Remarkably high authority sites have a chance at ranking in the map pack even if they are not directly in the city bounds, but it is a harder goal to achieve. Check out the businesses ranking in the map pack to compare their location to yours. Obviously it is harder to change this factor, moving offices or business locations is a major decision and process. However, reviewing these details can give you an idea if your competitors have an edge due to their location.
- Category: Google My Business allows you to select numerous categories for your business, but only 1 category will show publicly for any given search result. Check to see what categories your competitors are using. You may want to switch up what you have selected for your listing.
- Reviews: If all the listings ranking above you have more reviews than you do, set a goal to obtain even more. Make sure you receive authentic reviews from satisfied clients and get them gradually. There is a huge influx of fake/spam reviews on Google and the best defense is to build up a wall of positive feedback. Don’t only compare the quantity of reviews, but the quality as well. Also make sure you reply to the reviews; your competition’s replies can give you ideas on improving your own.
- Website: Most of the time the website url on the listing isn’t going to tell you too much, but sometimes it is an area of spam. There are Google listings that include a keyword stuffed name, virtual office address, and a website that is very generic without clear indication of what company created it. These type of listings should be reported to Google, especially if you cannot locate them as a real place.
Review Their Backlinks
There are various online tools such as Ahrefs and Majestic that allow you to check backlinks of your competitors. These are paid tools, but they are definitely worth the investment when trying to link build and improve SEO for your website. Once you are able to see what backlinks a competitor has, review them one by one to see if there are any opportunities for you to get the same backlink. Keep in mind you only want to obtain high quality backlinks (See this guide on determining trusted websites) and those that are relevant to either your topic/industry, location or both.
In addition to trying to get these backlinks, you can also get ideas on new opportunities your competitor does not have. For example, you may see a backlink from their University. You may not have went to the same University as your competitor, but chances are the school you graduated from may have a similar backlink opportunity. Another example could be a competitor sponsoring a local event which then linked within their event page to the business website. That specific event may have ended, but you could find a similar upcoming event to sponsor and receive a backlink as well.
Google Their Company Name
Even when you check a firm’s backlinks, it does not give you the full picture of their online presence. There can still be mentions of their name online without a link or even backlinks the tool did not catch. This is where Googling their firm or business name can help paint an even broader picture. Here are some things to look for when searching for them:
- Social Media Profiles: Check their presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, or any other social network they may be on. See if they are more active than your business or have been marketing themselves a bit differently.
- Article Mentions: Are they featured in the news a lot? Is there just a ton of information on the firm in general? If you search for the firm name and compare to your business search results, who has more information? This will give you an idea of their overall online presence and the amount of effort you will have to put in to compete.
- Directories: What directories do they appear in and which ones are showing prominently? Perhaps their Yelp listing is showing as #3 but in comparison yours is hardly ranking at all. This can help you understand analyze what they may be optimizing more and what online profiles you have that may be lacking something and need an extra boost.
Analyze Their Website Content & Site Structure
Completing a content audit on your competitor’s websites is extremely crucial to understanding how much content and what type of content you should be writing. Content audits in themselves can be extremely time consuming depending on the amount of detail you pay attention to. But even taking a broad overview of their content strategy can give you insight to whether or not your content measures up.
Things to consider and review in a competitor content audit are:
- Title Tags & Meta descriptions
- Page Quality
- Page Quantity
- Keyword Usage and Optimization
- Blog Presence and Frequency
- Use of Images, Charts, Videos and Infographics
This is a very general outline, but within each area you can drill down to very specific details. Overall, you want to see if there is a common thread between those ranking above you. Are they using a lot more keywords in their content than you are? Does their website have 10 pages on a given topic while yours only has 1 page? Taking note of the differences can make it more clear where your website is falling short.
Review Second Level Competitors
Although it is always the goal to be at the top of page 1, reviewing websites ranking on the bottom of the first page or even on page 2 is not a bad idea. They are still relevant afterall, so these competitors can still give you ideas on new types of content to create, additional backlink opportunities, and general insight in how to improve (especially if you are still ranking below them).
How to Implement Better Marketing Tactics to Rise Above Your Competitors
So how do you take all the information gathered in this competitor analysis and apply it to your own website marketing? Reviewing competitors helps you understand who Google considers to be the ultimate authority on a given subject. However, SEO is not cut and dry, so even though you can see a backlink a competitor obtained or a piece of content they have written, it does not mean this element is the reason Google values their site over yours. That is why when reviewing, you need to consider the following:
Determining If You Should Implement a Website SEO Change
- Is this relevant to my business?
- Is this a high quality change or update?
- Does this make sense to users and my target audience?
- Will this make my website better and more powerful for the keyword terms I am trying to rank for?
- Do I understand why I am making this change?
How Many Website Changes Should I Make and When?
It is important to note that sometimes you want to make only a few changes to see If it helps with rankings instead of a lot of changes at once. For example, if you are unsure if your content is high quality enough, try updating one core page that seems to be lacking valuable information. Then wait a week to see how rankings fluctuate. However, if you are trying to obtain new backlinks and there are a handful of high quality options, you can definitely get those at once if you are confident they make sense for your business. Try to check in periodically on your competitors as well to see what changes they are making. Keep the spreadsheet of information you created about them (all the data from your analysis) and you can easily compare notes as time goes on to see what they have been changing and if it has caused them to drop off or stay high in the rankings.
How Often Should I Update My Website & SEO Efforts?
This is a difficult question to provide a concrete answer for, since it really depends on what you are talking about. SEO encompasses so many elements, from keyword research to content optimization to link building and more. There is also no specific timeframe that updates should be applied because of the variables involved like search volatility, algorithm updates, goal changes, website traffic fluctuations, etc. However, it is vital to pay attention to your SEO metrics and be proactive. This means monitoring rankings weekly and monthly. If your competitors are staying above you then try to change things up again within your marketing. Check your Google Analytics monthly for changes in traffic and conversions. Continually link build to your site and form new relationships that would result in new backlink opportunities. And update your content weekly and/or monthly by adding blog posts and updating older information to make it more current. The whole idea is to constantly review analytics and data and experiment with various updates as you go along.
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