Best Practice

The Ultimate No-Fluff Guide to SEO Competitor Analysis Guide

Looking for a step-by-step detailed guide on SEO Competitor Analysis? Check out this no-fluff guide to help conduct your own analysis!

Looking for a step-by-step detailed guide on SEO Competitor Analysis? Check out this no-fluff guide to help conduct your own analysis! 

As you know, the SEO landscape is continuously changing. Search engines' algorithms are always evolving, with new rules and triggers emerging frequently. Your competitors' marketing efforts are also shaping new dynamics that can have a direct effect on your SEO. Keeping up with the evolving landscape can be difficult, especially as a small business. Crafting a fail-proof SEO strategy requires multiple components - including an SEO competitor analysis.

We’ve prepared a fluff-free 8-step guide on how to conduct an SEO competitor analysis that you can use right now to support your small business digital marketing efforts. Conducting a competitor analysis is a crucial step because guess-work in SEO does not fare well. Fear not - If you follow the steps laid ahead, you can discover hidden opportunities that you can use to capitalize and grow traffic to your business.

Let’s just jump right into it. 

8 Practical Steps for Conducting SEO Competitor Analysis

SEO competitive analysis is about discovering companies that are ranking in the top 10 SEPS (search engine positions) for your potential keywords. In the analysis, we research and assess the strategies your competitors use to be able to rank in search engine results. The analyzed strategies include targeted keywords, on-page optimization, content type & quality, and backlink strategy..  

Now that you’ve got the outline of what we’re going to do, let’s dig in.  

1. Find your ‘exact’ SEO competitors. 

Not all search results for a keyword are your competitors.  

If a company appears in the search result for your keyword(s) it does not necessarily mean they’re your business competitors. 

Your competitor is the one who provides similar products or services as yours. 

Let’s look at an example. Suppose you’re a coffee shop owner, trying to rank for the keyphrase ‘best roasted beans’. You do a quick Google search, and you find other similar coffee shops in your city, already ranked on the SERP.  But, you also see giant websites like Forbes, Business Insider, or a coffee magazine who also rank for the same keywords in a commercial article. 

Are those giant websites your business competitors? Of course not. 

Your competitors will be the other businesses similar to yours. It is these businesses whose SEO strategies you’ll want to re-engineer in order to craft a roadmap for your SEO success. 

So what’s the best way to discover who your exact competitors are? 

Here’s the free way: 

  • Gather 3-5 keywords you want to rank for that closely relate to your business.
  • Google those keywords.
  • Copy the URLs from the SERP, and paste them in a spreadsheet.
  • Analyze businesses that are repeating, meaning they’re ranking on all of those keywords. 
  • Short list them as your business competitors.

Note: you should turn off Google's personalization setting

  1. Head to the Google homepage.
  2. Click Settings in the bottom right-hand corner.
  3. Click Search settings from the menu.
  4. Under Personal results, click Manage.
  5. Click the toggle switch to disable personalized results.

This process can be super daunting if you’ve got hundreds of keywords you want to target. 

That’s where SEO tools come to the rescue. They not only pull the data within seconds, saving you time and effort, but also their data is accurate. 

Here are industry-standard SEO tools today: 

  • SEMRush
  • Ahref
  • Similarweb
  • MOZPro
  • KW Finder
  • Google Search Console 
  • UberSuggest 

For small businesses looking to begin their SEO journey, utilizing Google Search and Google Search Console should be the first step - they’re free! Tools like UberSuggest and KWFinder are good tools for beginners as well because they’re easy to use - however they do require a subscription. Enterprise level solutions include SEMRush, Ahref, and Moz. While the results from all of these tools may vary, don't overthink it. At the end of the day, these tools only give you ‘estimated’ data, using machine learning. 

That’s why, along with SEO tools, you’ll also need to use your best judgment. 

PRO TIP: hire an Expert Keyword Specialist to conduct your keyword analysis which includes SEO competitor analysis.  Expert Keyword Specialist have one or more of these enterprise tools.  You get access to the most advanced tools and expertise of an expert.  

Now, let’s move on to the step #2 on the checklist. 

2. Check Domain Authority of Competitors 

The next step to SEO competitor analysis is finding the domain authority of the shortlisted competitors. 

What is a domain authority?

Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs)”, says Moz. 

In simple words, it’s the strength of a website on a scale 1-100. 

There a lot of depth to domain authority, but for the sake of brevity, here are a few things you should know: 

  • Domain authority is an important factor to do your research, but it is not a Google ranking factor. 
  • It ranges from 1-100, with 100 being the greatest positive signal.
  • Approximately 40 factors contribute to the domain authority score; the most prominent ones are backlinks, quality of backlinks, quality of content, social signal, and rooting domains. 
  • Generally, websites that have hundreds and thousands of backlinks tend to have higher domain authority. For example, Wikipedia has 100 as its domain authority score. 

Now the bigger question is - how do I calculate the domain authority of my competitors? 

Well, there are SEO tools for that too! 

Any industry-standard tool, like Moz’ Free Domain Authority Checker, which we’ve talked about earlier, will suffice.

Other tools, such as, provides DA rankings for competitors directly in your profile.  

Using Moz’ Free Domain Authority Checker, we can eaily check the domain authority of Coffee Direct (See image below).

In the image, you can see Coffee Direct has a domain authority of 43 – which is pretty decent for a small-to-medium size business.  

Along with the score, we uncover other details including the number of backlinks to the website, where those backlinks came from, newly acquired backlinks, CTR on ranked keywords, and top ranking keywords. 

What can you actually do with this data? Why is checking the domain authority of your competitors important? 

Well, just like you wouldn’t go to a sports match without first understanding your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses and their strategies — in the same manner, you don’t blindly take some keywords, write content, and hope for a #1 ranking.  

If your competitors have a high domain authority of (70+), and you’re a new business with a domain authority of 20, it will be difficult to outrank them. Set your expectations so that you can expect ranking results to improve in about a year or so. 

Here are a couple of more reasons why checking the DA of your competitors is important: 

  • It gives you a true picture of where you stand in the competition 
  • It gives you insightful data like where competitors’ links are coming from, so you can also reach out to them and get backlinks.

Got the DA of competitors noted? Let’s move on to the next step.

3. Examine the top pages of competitors 

This step is what we in the SEO world call ‘Page Level Analysis’. Here, you’ll need to examine the top performing pages of competitors. 

By doing so, you’ll discover: 

  • Number of backlinks on those pages and where the backlinks are coming from.
  • Number of other keywords your competitors pages are organically ranking for, beside the main keyword.
  • The rank in the SERPS for the Keywords 
  • The H1s, H2s, H3s, and on-page content. 
  • What the average click-through rate of those pages 

Why do you need this data? 

With this data, you can begin to craft your SEO strategy. By examining your competitors. You can even get user-experience improvement ideas by examining how those pages are designed and how the content is formatted. 

For instance, if you find a top-performing keyword on a competitor’s site, you can examine the page, and analyze how you should try ranking for it. 

But how can you do this detailed analysis? Of course, with the help of SEO tools.  

There are a couple of ways to access these sophisticated tools. You can pay a large subscription for traditional enterprise tools such as SEMRush or Ahrefs. You can utilize low cost options developed for small businesses like, or hire an expert to conduct the analysis.  

Pro Tip: create an account in a low cost tool specifically designed for small businesses and utilize the competitors from the keyword analysis you commissioned from last Pro Tip in section 2.    

Once you’re done with this, and have gathered top pages’ keywords that you desire to target, follow this next step:

4. Examine backlinks of competitors’ top pages 

This step is super-critical. Backlinks are the biggest ranking factor after content. The more backlinks you have, the more authority you get, and resultantly, the higher ranking on search engines you’ll recieve.

Moral of the story - thoroughly examine the backlink profiles of your shortlisted competitors. 

To do this, you'll need to get help from one of those SEO tools. competitor profiles will include a backlink section for each of your top competitors.  

Here’s what you’ll check:

Number of backlinks 

Examine the number of backlinks for that ‘ranked’ page. The more backlinks that page has, the harder it will be to outrank that page. But that shouldn’t scare you because the number of links isn’t the only thing that matters. Check below: 

Relevancy of links 

Are those links relevant? Are they coming from the same-niche websites? Are those links ‘contextually’ placed in an article? You need to thoroughly examine this because ‘relevancy’ matters the most to Google. Irrelevant or unnatural links can even get a site penalized.

Growing or flat?

Are the number of relevant links to your competitors’ page growing? If they’re growing fast, it will be  harder for you to outrank in the short term. . 

It’s highly likely that your competitors are proactively working to get more links to those pages. In this scenario, your article with zero backlinks will have a hard time ranking on the SERP. 

If those links aren’t growing at all , it’s a good signal for you. Many small businesses have a slow growing number of backlinks, or are flat for quite some time.

DA of backlinks 

Another factor to consider is the DA of those backlinks. If the DA of most of those links is above 70+, it will be tougher to outrank them even if you land more low DA backlinks to your page. Ideally, you should shortlist pages that have low DA backlinks.

5. Determine which keywords are high value, and ‘rankable’ via your competitors

Whether or not the keyword is worth investing in is a function of search volume and competitive factors discussed in section 4. It’s critical to evaluate keyword value and keyword difficulty, so you can set your expectations and balance short term gains with less traffic versus longer term gains with the most competitive search phrases.   

Here’s how to evaluate the value of a keyword: 

  • Discover the keyword monthly search volume. 
  • Discover the click-through rate. 
  • And discover competitors’ bidding price on that keyword. 

A keyword with a high search volume, a high click-through rate, and a high bidding rate means people are actively searching and consuming content on that keyword. 

However, you can’t just shoot for that keyword because chances are that keyword will be tough to rank on.

To determine if a keyword is a viable option, you need to calculate the ‘Keyword Difficulty’. 

For example, in this image, you can see, the keyword ‘Iphone’ has 74 as its Keyword Difficulty. That makes it a tough keyword.

Image Credit: Ahref

6. Discover the GAPS

Even if the keywords you want to use are competitive and potentially difficult to rank for, there is still opportunity to be had! By using a “keyword gap analysis” you can find ‘non-targeted’ keywords that are associated with the main keyword.

The Keyword Gap Analysis 

The keyword gap analysis is a process to find keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you’re not. Either because you haven’t created content on those keywords, or because the content you created isn’t high-value enough to be able to rank on the SERP. 

But here’s the kicker - not all of those keywords will be worth shooting for. 

Through gap analysis, you’ll need to find keywords that: 

  • Have high enough search volume, but aren’t too competitive. 
  • Are super-relevant to your business’ products or services. 
  • Have no backlinks or low DA backlinks, so you can easily outrank the competition.

For example, suppose you’re a coffee shop owner. You conducted a keyword gap analysis and discovered there are 10 keywords a few other coffee shops in your area are ranking for. Those keywords are related to your product, have high-search volume, and are likely money makers. You can target these keywords and capture  a portion of the traffic for your website. 

Now that you understand what Keyword Gap Analysis is, how do you conduct one yourself? 

Through an SEO tool - again! 

For example, in SEMRush’s gap analysis tool, all you need to do is enter your domain and competitors’ domains, hit okay, and the tool will show you the missing and weak keywords. 

  • Missing means keywords that you’ve missed out on. 
  • Weak means keywords that you’ve targeted, but aren’t ranked because they still could be improved. 

You can then click individual root domains, and manually examine keywords — those are your potential opportunities. 

Have a look at the image below:

Image Credit: SEMRush 

Check out this quick explainer video on the SEMRush tool. 

7. Create a Content and Backlink Plan 

So – now that you’ve gone through every necessary step for your SEO competitor analysis, and you’ve compiled a list of potential keywords that you are ready to publish, here are your two next important steps:

Create a content plan 

You need to create a thorough content plan to keep yourself on schedule, keep your goals in-check, and keep everything organized. 

Follow these simple steps to create a blog content plan: 

  • Create a spreadsheet: You should have all the keywords you want to target listed there, with their important metrics (traffic and CTR).
  • Identify your goals: Do you want more traffic? More conversions? Just more content? Or do you want more brand awareness? State it clearly so every team member can stay on the same page, write content accordingly, and track results later down the road.
  • Define your audience: Define the pain points, struggles, motivations, or aspirations of your audience. Ideally, you should have a clear ‘persona’ of who you’re writing for. Keep in mind that the audience and its intent can differ based on the keywords. That’s why, if possible, write a separate persona for each keyword. 
  • Build an editorial calendar: State clearly when and what content will go live on the website. 
  • Publish and Keep Monitoring: Don’t just publish and forget. Keep track of your content so you can improve along the way, if needed. 

Create a backlink plan 

Chances are, your competitors already have backlinks on their ranked keywords. Even if you write best-in-class content that surpasses competitors in the quality, if you have zero backlinks on that keyword, you’ll have a hard time outranking them. 

That’s why, just after publishing the content, you need to proactively build backlinks. 

Here are the most common link-building strategies: 

  • Steal opportunities from competitors: When you examine competitors through SEO tools, discover their backlink profile. Shortlist all the domains that are linking to them. Reach out to those sites, contribute to their site with content, and in return, ask for backlinks. 
  • Write guest posts: Reach out to the top relevant websites in your industry, and offer them guest posts in exchange for backlinks.
  • Use HARO: It stands for helping a reporter out. Basically, you pitch journalists with useful expert advice or news stories, and they link to your website in return. HARO can be powerful because most links come from either magazines or news sites, who usually have a 50 DA or higher. 
  • Turn brand mentions into links: Research if your brand is mentioned somewhere, but they did not link to you. Reach out to them and ask them to turn that brand mention into a link. 

Whatever backlink strategy you choose, please ensure: 

  • Those backlinks are relevant, natural, and contextual. 
  • Those backlinks are do-follow. (Do follow link passes the ‘authority juice’ to the linked site. Whereas, no-follow does not)
  • Those backlinks are coming from high DA sites. 
  • Those backlinks’ anchor texts are exact or at least partial match with your page’s URL.
  • Those backlinks are ranking on the root domain, and generating fresh organic visitors. 

When all of these boxes are checked, you’ll get powerful high-quality backlinks that will help you outrank your competitors fast. 

8. Monitor results and fine tune strategies

This is the final step! You need to actively monitor every single piece of content, so you can know you’re going on the right track, or you need some improvements. 

For instance, if your goal with a keyword was to improve conversions of a certain product or service, check: 

  • Is the content indexed?
  • What’s the ranking position of that content? Is it improving?
  • If it’s on the #1 position, Is the content getting enough clicks? 
  • What’s the average visit duration of visitors? 
  • What’s the bounce rate?
  • More importantly, what’s the conversion rate of the traffic? 

You must keep an eye over these metrics so you can monitor and fine tune along the way. 

Concluding the SEO Competitor Analysis Guide

SEO is fruitful, especially for small businesses who can’t afford to drain their bank accounts on expensive PPC campaigns. With patience and effort, you can always find potential opportunities to write content, rank, and steal a portion of traffic your business deserves through SEO competitor analysis.

Preston Derrick