Keeping an eye on your website’s search engine analytics is a great way of seeing which keywords you rank for, page specific fluctuations over time, and where you could make improvements. If you feel like your own efforts aren’t effectively changing your ranking, or your site doesn’t perform well in the search engines, it could mean that you’re in a particularly competitive niche. If so, you really need to keep an eye on the competition as doing so will help you pinpoint their successes and failures. Keeping an eye the opposition is the way to win in SEO, even if your niche isn’t particularly competitive. So, where do you start you may ask? The first thing we have to do is identify who your competitors are.
These are sites in your niche – companies that rank well for major keywords as well as those that rank for your long-tail keywords. There are a couple of ways to go about identifying your competitors. Firstly making your own list is a good start and simply writing down your direct competitors website URLs. It’s also a good idea to search Google for each of your more longtail keywords and make a list of the sites that come up on page 1 (or perhaps just the top 5 if you’d like a more manageable list). You could also use SpyFu. SpyFu is a nifty tool that allows you to “search for any domain and see every place they’ve shown up on Google: every keyword they’ve bought on Adwords, every organic rank, and every ad variation in the last 10 years”
Without an account you can see the top four competitors and how many keywords they rank for. You can also add your own competitors. As you can see in the example below, Spyfu automatically pulls in the top 4 competitors. I’ve added Wiggle.co.uk in this example, as they are also bike specialists. The chart shows us how many keywords each site ranks for over time and we can see the trends as far back as ten years. The most useful timeframes to examine are 6 months and 1 year, otherwise we’re getting into historic data, which is interesting but isn’t hugely helpful. What’s interesting though about seeing these stats mapped over time, is that we can spot fluctuations and work out what was responsible. For example, the 2012 Olympics may have been the reason traffic spiked to all sites from March to August in ’12 and again in December. We can also see major algorithm updates and quality results updates here. These can give us hints about how a site was affected and whether they’re not meeting search engines ideal criteria. More on that later… You can click on any of the domains in the top 5 or type in one of your own in the search box, and see their most valuable keywords and newly ranked keywords, keyword rank gains and losses, inbound links as well as keyword ranking history. Semrush is also a fantastic tool for showing keywords and competitors, I recommend you try them both out.
To use Semrush all you have to do is:
Once you’ve got a list of your top competitors, you can delve in and take a look at their keywords, inbound links and such.
If you’d like to get more in depth you can use Alexa’s Competitor Keywords Matrix (premium only). The tool pulls in your keywords and shows where you and your top ten competitors rank for them. The tool can also identify keyword gaps and filter for buyer keywords. It’s a great premium tool all round. You can see in the screenshot below, a table showing the top keywords for wag.com with their top 10 competitors rankings for each. Alexa are currently offering a free 7 day trial for this nifty tool, prices start at $10/month. It’s also a good idea to check the keyword density on each site too.
A tool such as SEO Book’s Keyword Density Checker will easily show you how your keyword density shapes up. SEO Book’s density checker brings up the most repeated one to three-word phrases. You can filter the result by all text, body text, headlines, links, and images. You want to be sure to also check where those keywords are found i.e headings, image alt tags, URLs or meta tags.
The next step is to analyse each of your competitors’ websites, this involves onsite and offsite research. Similarweb does an excellent job of showing traffic breakdowns, engagement stats (average visit duration, pages per visit and bounce rate) and referring sites. Below is a screenshot of the traffic breakdowns, under the table is a breakdown of each source with specific metrics such as actual referring and destination pages. The other great points you should be paying special attention to are onsite factors; whether the sites have a modern responsive design, a lot of content or not (look to see whether they’ve got a blog), what the quality of their content is and whether they use static or dynamic URLs. It’s a good idea to also check their social media accounts as well, to see the mix of content, amount of engagement and number of followers.
Backlinks are hugely important when it comes to determining your Google ranking. More backlinks and Google sees your site as more popular and more of an authority, and so rewards you by moving your site up the SERPs. Open site explorer does a great job of showing backlinks. Specifically where they’re coming from, what anchor text is being used, and whether it’s a follow or no-follow link and if they’re potentially damaging. Don’t forget to use the left-hand nav bar, as there are a lot more metrics to be gleaned.
Now that you analysed some of your most direct competitors you should have some ideas on how you can improve your sites ranking. For example:
Those are just a few examples of the many SEO improvements that can be revealed to you by analysing the competition.
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