In this article, we'll explore the process of competitive research and give you the tools and methods to perform your first analysis. We'll look at why competitive analysis and keyword research are linked, how to evaluate what your competitors are doing with their SEO, and how to decide what terms are realistic for your website to rank for.
You may want to start by selecting just five of your most relevant competitors to avoid getting bogged down in this initial phase. Be discriminating. If Walmart.com shows up often, you won’t want to include it in your list of competitors. Ignore the mega brands and focus on sites that are similar to yours—offering a similar product or service, or competing in the same niche.
Tip: Another way to find competitors is to use the "related" search on Google. Type "related" with a colon after it, then the url of the website (e.g. related:www.jimdo.com). This will pull up other sites that Google considers similar, thus quickly/easily expanding your list.
The number in the SE Keywords column can also be of great assistance, as you can use it to determine which sites have a strong presence on Google.
Once again, don’t include large retailers like Amazon and Walmart to avoid corrupting your metrics.
Note: SEMrush is free for the first few searches you do. After that you will need to register or upgrade to a paid package.
Instead of looking for keywords with the words “gift baskets” included—which is what everyone else will be doing—what other terms could you appear for that could bring relevant traffic? A strong term to start looking at might be “gift certificates.” You know that people looking for gift certificates would be amenable to buying a gift basket. If you type the words “gift certificates” into Google, at the bottom you’ll see suggestions for other terms including: “gift certificate template” and “custom gift certificates.” Both of these terms could potentially be used to optimize.
Using this strategy, you are thinking laterally and moving away from the same terms everyone in your industry is advertising for. Then, by using Google’s suggestions at the bottom of the page, you can focus on more specific, long tail keywords that Google deems categorically relevant.
For more step-by-step details on how to get started with keyword research, check out our post How to Do Keyword Research Using Keyword Planner
They key here is to find the right balance between volume and competition. A high volume keyword (short-tail) that you don’t have the authority to rank for will be a complete waste of time. And a low volume keyword that nobody searches for won’t do you any good either. Start by targeting long-tail keywords—keyword phrases that are very specific and include multiple words—until your site has enough authority to compete for short-tail keywords. Spend the necessary time to target those “golden keywords”—the ones with decent volume and low competition.
The combination of Keyword Planner and SEMrush should be enough to help you create a comprehensive list of keywords; enough to get the ball rolling.
The easiest way to perform this analysis is to use a free Chrome extension called MozBar. With this extension, you can check the domain authority of your competitors, as well as their spam score and social media shares. Domain authority is a metric similar to Pagerank, which can be used to evaluate how much potential a site has to rank.
If you have the budget, you can do a deep dive into each competitor’s backlink profile on a more granular level. Here are three great tools you can use:
By performing these steps, you’ll become familiar with each site’s strategy, their profiles, and what they’ve done to gain their current visibility with Google. You’ll also know what sites you can actually beat, and which sites are out of your reach—at least in the first few months.
Next, you’ll need to determine how many quality backlinks you’ll need in order to start appearing for your target keywords. Your ability to earn links will be closely connected with the content you share on your site. Before starting this process, make sure you know what to AVOID so you can earn links without accumulating penalties.
As you build content and earn links, continue working on your social presence. Focus on building relationships with key influencers in your industry, as a few strong influencers are more valuable than thousands of inactive followers.
Competitive analysis can seem overwhelming, but it is an important first step towards improving your visibility. Your SEO strategy will be based on the data you uncover through your competitor analysis and research. If you skip this important step, you'll squander resources and time without getting as much bang for your SEO buck.