One of first things I do when I begin a new SEO campaign is competitor analysis.  I look at this as somewhat of a necessary evil.  On one hand it’s always VERY useful to benchmark yourself compared to your competitors but on the other you need to spend your time wisely because you could have used that same time improving your own site.

Ask the Right Questions

You could literally spend a lifetime just looking at what your competition so it’s good to know what will give you biggest return.  Here are a few good questions that you might want to focus on:

Who are Your Competitors?

It’s very easy to get carried away with coming up with a list of your competitors and a lot of time can get wasted here. Remember, a competitor is only really a competitor IF they are competitive!

Just because there is another business that is doing the same thing across town does not mean they have an effective online presence.  Other websites who are ranking for the same keywords are your true competitors.  Ideally, you should look at 2-3 competitors for each primary keyword that you are targeting.

What Keywords?

I already touched on this above but to define your competitors you’ll also need to define the keywords that you care about.   This is done with some good old fashioned Keyword Research.

Chances are the keywords that you should care about are the ones that you do not know about yet  – and the keywords that you do care about are ones that one one is looking for!

You Should be Trying to Answer a Question

You should have a specific goal with doing Competitor Analysis and it should be based on a good question.  For example: How do I rank for “Barefoot Running Shoes”?

By trying answer this question you’ll likely find additional keywords that have search volume, good places to add backlinks, and good strategies get yourself ranked for that product/service?

How Many Backlinks?

Backlinks are important.  If you and three other sites are competing for the phrase, “Barefoot Running Shoes” then the site that has the most links will usually win.  This does not mean that you should go and use a Spammy backlinking service to try and achieve immediate results.  You should come up with a link building plan and will increase the number of backlinks going to a specific page over a period of time.

This is also known a natural link building and will yield good long-term results.

One thing to note is that the number of backlinks isn’t necessarily the most important factor to look at. I also like to check:

  • The percentage of branded versus keyword rich anchor text
  • Percentage split of links by domain authority
  • Followed versus no-followed links

What Anchor Text Are My Competitors Using?

Anchor text is also very important.  It is the text that is actually linked.

Example: The quick brown fox jumped over the fence.

In the example above the anchor text is the word “fox”.

You can gain much insight into what a competitor is trying to rank for by seeing what the anchor text they are using in their backlinks. Most sites that I see have little link building going on and even less good use of anchor text.  That means that you can use this to your advantage and outrank them by linking smarter – not harder!

How Competitive is the Keyword?

This is one of my favorites – Unless your site has a lot of equity it will probably not rank well for highly competitive words right away.  If you are just starting out it’s a good idea to focus on less competitive keywords.

Wrapping it up

Insight into what your competitor’s are doing can be useful if it yields a list of actionable items.

Knowing your competitor’s back link profiles are packed to the gills with nasty looking spam-tastic paid links probably isn’t terribly useful if you want to keep your nose clean and not buy links.

Actions might include:

  • Improve on-page targeting
  • Create new pages to target newly keywords
  • Build more links with keyword-rich anchor text