You have decided that the time is right for your business to assess its performance in the competitive world of SEO. Congratulations. You’re in the Great Game now. (Warning: This post may contain Game of Thrones spoilers and excellent advice).
One of the most prominent drivers behind this decision often comes from unexpected changes in the competitive environment. It could result from increased pressure, due to a competitor’s actions, or from a desire to outperform your rivals leading you to look toward the wealth of opportunities offered by getting serious about SEO.
But who are your competitors? What are they doing online? How do you currently compare? All important questions when creating a future-proof online strategy.
Naturally, this post will start from the very beginning of the process. Firstly you want to identify these competitors. Next, you’ll need to set up a number of ways to measure, and in the future monitor, your comparative performance. Finally you are going to use this knowledge to outperform, outrank and indeed out shine all those who dare challenge your position as “Bristol’s finest kilt maker”.
Online competitors, like disgraced TV personalities from the 70’s, are relatively easy to find – providing you know where to look. These are the companies who are competing with you to rank for the keywords your site targets. So if you are Bristol’s finest kilt maker then your competition is of course Bristol’s second finest kilt maker, but also any site who would target the same keywords you are. It is also highly likely that you will have a different set of competitors for different types of keywords.
A good place to begin is identifying some of the ‘key phrases’ you want to target. Some of which will be easy to establish, for example:
“Kilt Maker Bristol”
“Rent Kilts Bristol”
“Kilt Hire Bristol”
However, if you are looking for a wider range of keywords to target, Google Keyword Planner offers suggestions based on your intended market and also lets you know how ‘worthwhile’ keywords are, in terms of search volume and relative level of competition. Without going too deep into the murky world of keyword research, this allows you to identify your priority terms and then find out who is currently soaking up all that sweet potential traffic.
This intro into keyword research will be useful later on, in aiding the creation of your new online plan, but for now it gives you an important initial insight into your target market. By establishing which sites are ranking for the most valuable terms you can quickly spot many opportunities and threats.
Moving away from keyword research, there also exists a number of tools to help you find organic search competitors. SEMrush, for example, “lists domains the queried domain (your site) is competing against in Google’s top 20 organic search results” and is definitely worth checking out. I won’t go into too much more detail at this stage as I believe most businesses generally have a good grasp of who their competitors are. But this allows for a quick and simple search to identify who you are going to directly compete with and it should also give you an idea of who is performing best within your intended market.
Organic Search Benchmarking
Now you have a rough list of your main competitors it’s time to create a benchmarking document. This initial piece of comparison provides a useful analysis that will shape your online strategy.
The purpose of the benchmarking document is threefold:
• Identify patterns and performance concerns that may help guide recommendations within your strategy creation process.
• Take a picture of the site’s current performance in each market that it operates and compare it to competitors.
• Provide a ‘before’ picture against which to compare the results of your strategy after future recommendations have been implemented.
A good place to begin the analysis would be to run your site, and any important competitor sites, through SearchMetrics. It is one of the most popular SEO analysis platforms, and justified in being so. Searchmetric’s dataset is larger than that of any other SEO tool, and is the ideal for finding information about how a site’s performing against its competition in search.
SearchMetrics can give you insights into a website’s:
SEO Visibility Score, which is a nominal and proprietary score derived from the keyword volume, site position (for the keyword) and average CTR for that position.
Traffic Value: Based on the keyword Adwords value and position equivalent, this currency value is an estimate of what you would pay to achieve these rankings on Google Adwords.
Organic Keywords refers to the number of keywords found in the corresponding index (for the site) in their own data set.
SearchMetrics also allows you to explore a site’s organic search performance in great detail. You can look at the keywords you currently rank for, the position spread of these keywords, your current back link profile and much, much more. Now you have some meaningful data that can be used to identify the key areas that need to improve in order to challenge your competitors.
There are a number of other tools available to further compare your own site performance to your competitors. Sistrix, for example, offers its own visibility score and can show fluctuations in this metric over time. Authority Labs and SEMrush give you more information surrounding rankings in all major search engines, as well as local insights and daily updated data.
These tools should highlight any differences in levels of performance. If you find your visibility is poorer, for example, then you will want to focus your efforts on that. Likewise if your competitor’s site is consistently outranking yours then you should strive to find out why this is the case.
Further Areas for Comparison
Having reviewed overall performance using the aforementioned tools, you’ll have an initial comparison between businesses, and will have most likely discovered there are sites that outperform your own. Now it is time to find out why. Once you have your benchmark document another area you should monitor, and then compare, is the specific on-site elements.
You should inspect the competitors sites’ technical elements, in order to uncover best practices you may have neglected – for example Meta tags – but it is also important to look at the specific URLs that rank for your target high value keywords. What makes that page ‘better’ than yours? Why would Google think that page answers the search query better than yours?
One of the most likely contributing factors is that their content is better optimised, written and/or presented. There will of course be occasions when a competitor’s domain simply has more authority – for example through domain age or backlink profile – but ideally you will be able to discover ideas about how to improve and rejuvenate your own existing content. This may mean updating the pages you already have or even creating more in-depth and relevant articles.
Buzzsumo is a great tool for finding the content that is performing best for a certain topic. Using the tool should provide great inspiration, and help you understand the type of content best suited for your target market. Whether that be “10 tips for buying the perfect kilt” or “Why do you not wear pants under a kilt”.
The processes I have suggested – trying out to find competitors, then evaluating their organic search performance – are relatively straight forward. You most likely already have a strong idea of who your main rivals are but hopefully the steps outlined above can help find companies you may not have otherwise considered.
It is important, overtime, to continually monitor competitor actions and continue to compare organic search performance. The benchmark document can be referred back to, and updated, at any stage during the implementation of your strategy. Spotting opportunities and threats quickly enables you to try and stay on top of your competition and get the most out of SEO.
Using some simple tools following the keyword research process allows you to identify key competitors you may have otherwise ignored. Carrying out detailed research into your organic search performance versus theirs can provide you with a benchmark to measure the success of your strategy and also highlight potential areas for improvement. If you find yourself losing out to rivals in search engine results pages, using both manual checks and tools like Buzzsumo to look at their content can give another strong indication as to why this may be the case.