How to Do an SEO Competitor Analysis

The world of SEO offers many tactics to improve your online presence, and an SEO audit can be a useful way to uncover what’s working, what’s not, and where you can improve— but what if you want to shift the focus to someone other than yourself? Doing a thorough SEO competitor analysis provides valuable insights about where you stand in your industry and how much effort it will take to increase your organic visibility. To help, we thought we would break down some of the processes we use in our own SEO as well as our website redesign audits. Here’s what you need to know:

Please note: This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links. Rest assured, these are all tools we use regularly and recommend accordingly.

The Benefits of Analyzing the Competition

Some companies have a general idea of how they measure up against the competition, but to beat them you have to be strategic — and that means uncovering the tactics they’re using to be more visible online. A competitive SEO analysis helps inform your own marketing efforts by:

  • benchmarking your online visibility in comparison to others in your industry;
  • uncovering the keywords and backlinks your competitors use to drive traffic; and
  • giving you better insight into where you should be focusing your SEO efforts.

SEO can be extremely competitive, and even the slightest advantage can give you an edge. Taking a deep dive into your competitors’ metrics will allow you to pinpoint the best strategies to pursue moving forward, whether that be targeting more .edu domains when building backlinks or writing content on a previously unexplored topic.

Getting Started: SEO Competitive Analysis Tools

Although some aspects of a competitive analysis should be done manually, more technical and accurate insights will require an investment in a tool. There are many options on the market, although functionalities and the depth of insights provided vary from tool to tool. At Pure Visibility, we mainly use Ahrefs and SEMrush to complete the competitive analysis portion of our audits, although there are other options that will get the job done. We’ve compiled a list of the best SEO audit tools here.

When exploring SEO tools for competitive analysis, you will need to choose an option that has (at minimum) the following capabilities, allowing you to see:

  • backlinks of a chosen domain,
  • organic keywords and keyword rankings of a chosen domain, and
  • estimated organic traffic of a chosen domain.

If you don’t want to outsource your competitive analysis but also don’t have access to these or other tools, we recommend taking advantage of trials where you can. For example, Ahrefs offers a full-feature seven-day trial for $7, and SEMrush offers a free seven-day trial.

How to Do a Competitive SEO Analysis

Once you have chosen your competitive analysis tools, it’s time to jump in and do the actual analysis. We recommend a simple Excel or Google Sheet to track the metrics of each domain and to make notes on interesting discoveries. (Remember to include both your competitors and your own URL so you can benchmark yourself.)

Competitive Keyword Analysis

Evaluating the number of organic keywords a website ranks for (and the positions those keywords rank in) gives you a clear picture of how your competitor is showing up in the search results. With a minimum of 75% of clicks going to the first page of search results, competitors with high-ranking keywords present the biggest threat to your website traffic.

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer Tool for Organic Research
Ahrefs’ Site Explorer Tool for Organic Research

For example, let’s say we’re a company that sells cloud solutions and wants to get a better idea of what our top competitor, IBM, is doing. By dropping the URL of their cloud services page into Ahrefs’s Site Explorer, we can see the organic keywords they rank for and in what positions (red box). We can also see information on organic traffic and keywords over time in the Organic Search section (red arrow).

Unfortunately, it’s not enough just to note the quantity of keywords and how they rank; you also need to determine the quality and relevancy of those keywords to your own business offerings. Look at the terms driving the most traffic to the competing site and ask yourself what they say about your competitors’ larger SEO strategy. Are they primarily relying on branded terms to drive traffic? Are they using keywords with varied search intent (informational, transactional, etc.)? Are there keywords they’re ranking for that you’re not?

Evaluating the bigger picture of your competitors’ organic search presence will help you identify new opportunities for content creation or optimization, including terms you may not have considered before!

Competitive Backlinks Analysis

Backlinks (the links pointing from other websites to yours) are one of the most important factors Google considers when ranking content in search engine results, so you should consider both the quantity of quality of your competitors’ backlinks when performing an audit.

Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for Backlinks Analysis
Ahrefs’ Site Explorer for Backlinks Analysis

With our IBM example, you can do this by using Ahrefs Site Explorer, selecting the backlinks metric, and then ordering by domain rank. This will give you an idea of how much you may need to invest into your own link building strategy, and what websites you would want to target as part of that strategy. (To narrow it down, you can use the Link Intersect tool to see which websites are specifically linking to your competitors, but not you.)

It’s important to note that similar to organic keywords, more does not always mean better. If your competitor has a high volume of low authority or spammy backlinks it could actually be hurting their online presence, so it’s important to dig deeper and not take the number of backlinks at face value.

Website Traffic and Engagement

Looking at your competitors’ site traffic and engagement will give you a better idea of how you measure up in terms of attracting visitors and providing them with valuable information. We like using SEMrush’s Traffic Analysis tool for this, since it provides not only the number of estimated visitors for a domain, but also the number of pages per visit, average visit duration, and bounce rate.

Using SEMrush for Competitive Traffic Analysis
Using SEMrush for Competitive Traffic Analysis

For context, a good bounce rate is typically 50% or lower, and an average of 2 or more pages per visit is a good minimum to aim for. If you aren’t meeting these metrics but your competitor is, it’s time to take a hard look at your website’s content, user experience and calls-to-action (CTAs):

  • Is the content useful and relevant to your users’ search intent, or is it full of marketing jargon?
  • Can visitors easily navigate the site and find the information they’re looking for?
  • Are you using internal links to tie together relevant pages?
  • Are CTAs clear and relevant to the page and stage in the marketing journey?

Being honest with yourself about whether your website is serving your target personas and driving them down the marketing funnel will go a long way in improving not only your organic web presence but also your overall marketing strategy.

Viewing competitor traffic sources with SEMrush
Viewing competitor traffic sources with SEMrush

You can also look at traffic sources in SEMrush to see if your competitors are driving site visitors through channels you may be neglecting, such as organic social media or pay per click.

Competitive Content Analysis

Now that you’ve gained insight by analyzing the data in your competitive analysis tools, it’s time for a more manual process that involves actually looking at your competitors’ websites to get a feel for the type of content they are writing. Are they leveraging graphics or video? What type of calls-to-action are they using? Do they have content targeted at multiple stages of the marketing funnel, and if so, what kind? (How-tos, case studies, free trials, etc.)? Doing a manual review of your competitors’ websites will likely give you ideas on how you can improve your own content, or new marketing tactics you may want to incorporate into your own strategy.

To narrow down this process, we recommend using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer Top Pages section to find your competitors’ top pages by estimated organic traffic, and beginning your evaluation with the highest performing pages.

Using Ahrefs for Competitive Page Analysis
Using Ahrefs for Competitive Page Analysis

Putting It All Together

With your competitive SEO analysis complete, you should have a spreadsheet full of metrics for high-level comparisons (number of keywords and backlinks, engagement metrics, etc.) as well as the insights you’ve gained from looking beyond those numbers to the deeper implications they have for your own marketing strategy.

Remember, the point of a competitive analysis is ultimately not about your competitors, but your own visibility and how it can be improved. This could mean a new content strategy, link building efforts, on-page improvements, or even exploring new marketing channels like pay per click. And although these revelations and the amount of work ahead may be daunting, you’ll now know the path forward for a stronger marketing strategy!

Have questions about improving your organic visibility? Contact the SEO experts at Pure Visibility.