Just recently, a friend of mine asked me to have a quick peek at his website, as he felt some of his keywords didn’t perform as well as before. Some other websites outranked him in Google, and he wondered why. In such a case, it often pays to do a quick competitive analysis. In most cases, it’s not necessarily your site that’s performing worse; it’s other sites doing better. Now I know he’s all about content optimization and uses our plugin. First, I checked the configuration of the Yoast SEO Premium plugin, but all seemed to be in order. What else could have happened?
If you want to do a competitive analysis to optimize your SEO efforts, there’s actually quite a lot you can do yourself, without having to hire an expensive SEO consultant. Let me take you through the steps!
Step 1: Define your keywords
It’s very important to use the right keywords in a competitive analysis. If you insist on using your, possibly branded, company outing as one of the main keywords, you might not even have any competition, let alone any decent organic traffic to your website. An example: if you are offering ‘holiday homes’, but insist on using the keyword ‘vacation cottage’, you are selling yourself short. Match the words your customers use.
Proper keyword research will be of help, not just for this competitive analysis, but for the entire SEO optimization of your website, so please put some effort in it.
Step 2: Analyze these keywords
Once you have defined the keywords you’d like to check against your competitors, the next step is obvious: do a search for these keywords. See who your competitors are by writing down who ranks higher than you.
If you are on page two in Google and want to do a competitive analysis with the number one, there is probably a lot to gain. But you should probably accept the fact that your rankings will go up step by step, and that the high ranking websites, depending on the keywords, might have a higher marketing budget than you to back their ranking strategies. It could be the main reason they rank so high. Don’t give up; our mission is ‘SEO for everyone‘ for a reason. Climb to higher rankings step by step and try to increase your marketing budget along the way.
Check the keywords and make them long-tail or add local keywords (city name, region name) to them, if needed. Do a thorough analysis. Google Trends will tell you what keywords have more traffic in the target markets for your business, and (free/paid) tools like Ahrefs.com and Searchmetrics.com will give you even more keyword insights.
Climbing up in rankings a (few) step(s) at a time
Sometimes, you can achieve a big improvement in your rankings. But if your website is ranking 6, it’s easier to climb to five or four first and then target the top three. Again, that top three probably has the marketing budget to go all out, where your immediate neighbors in rankings are struggling like you. Beat them first; it’s easier. Having said that: if you have the opportunity to dethrone number 1, 2, or 3, of course, go ahead and do so.
Step 3: Check technical differences
You’ll need to check a number of things to determine on which aspects your competition is ahead of you. The next step of your competitive analysis, after listing the keywords you’d like to perform this analysis for, is to see if there are any technical differences.
There are so many ways to check your site speed, which we have mentioned quite often already, like Pingdom and Google’s speed tools. No need for me to explain all that all over again. But, in a competitive analysis, speed insights will tell you if there is a huge difference between you and your main competitors in terms of serving the website and the user experience difference that goes with that. The faster the site, the happier the visitor, and the happier the search engine.
Https and SLL are about serving a secure website to your visitor. It’s becoming the default and for a good reason. Serving a secure website is about delivering the best user experience and gaining trust from your future customers. It is only logical to rank a secure website over a non-secure one. Again, there are multiple ways to check SLL/https in a competitive analysis. A nice overview is given by Builtwith.com, which gives you a ton of technical information, including SSL certificate, etc. You can obviously check your browser’s address bar for this as well, but Builtwith could give you some more insights while going over all other details. Like what CMS your competitor uses (and if he/she upgraded his/her WordPress install and you didn’t?).
Mobile-first. Mobile parity. Mobile UX. It’s all about mobile these days. It makes sense, as most of today’s website traffic is from mobile devices, exceptions aside.
A good mobile website is about getting your visitor to the right page as soon as possible. This has to do with speed, with deciding about top tasks on your website and with a clear and pleasant, branded design. Go check the websites of your competitors and see where they are clearly outperforming you. Test this, using for instance:
Step 4: Find content opportunities
Although technical optimizations are crucial, the quick wins will probably be in the field of content. What have you written about your company and products, and what did your competitor publish on their website?
Click all menu items
What are the main pages, what is your competitor trying to sell? And how did he/she manage to rank above you? See how focused their menu is and what pages they link to from there. We’ve found that placing ourselves in the mindset of our visitor pays off much more than writing about all the amazing SEO stuff we managed to add to our plugins, or all the SEO knowledge we share in our courses. What’s the end goal of all that SEO? It’s serving your website better to Google, which will lead to better rankings. You might not care about what schema.org does, or what XML sitemaps are, but if they benefit your business goals, you probably want to add them to your website.
See if your competitor tells a better story than you. And improve your story. The main menu of your website should be targeted at your visitor, not as much at explaining all the awesome things you came up with.
Category pages or product pages
If you have a shop, it could be interesting to do a competitive analysis of your competitor’s shop structure. Is he or she trying to persuade the customer on a product page, or already on category pages? In a market where there are a gazillion products, ranking in each and every niche is tough! It’s probably better to optimize most of your category pages. Write appealing, quality content, make these pages cornerstone and try to rank a lot of ’em. Here’s more on optimizing that category page of your online shop.
Your competitive analysis will tell you which of these pages are optimized by your main competitors. Optimize yours accordingly and, obviously, better.
A sitemap can show you the site structure of your competitor, be it via an HTML sitemap or XML sitemap. It can tell you, for instance, if he or she is targeting certain long-tail keywords via the slugs of the pages, and a few clicks to their pages will tell you how their internal linking is done.
You can find that sitemap on most sites at example.com/sitemap.xml or example.com/sitemap_index.xml or at example.com/sitemap. Sometimes a website simply doesn’t have that sitemap, but tools like Screaming Frog and Xenu might help you out. Crawl the site and order by URL.
The main question here is: do you have a blog? A blog makes for dynamic content, keeps your site current and, if you post regularly, Google will find all kinds of interesting, recent ‘Last Updated’ dates. If you don’t have a blog, and your competitor has and ranks better, get a blog. Your competitor has probably woven that blog into their content strategy.
Step 5: Compare UX
Great UX makes for better time-on-site, more pageviews, and a lower bounce rate. I’m not going into this too much here, as I think in a competitive analysis you should focus on other things first, but I wanted to highlight two things: call-to-action and contact.
A great call-to-action helps any page. Regardless of whether it’s to drive sales or engagement, every page needs a proper call-to-action. Simply go over some of your competitor’s pages and see how they went about this. See if you can grab some ideas of this and improve your own call-to-action. Oh, and remove that slider and/or video background. That’s not a call-to-action. That’s a call to no action.
Contact page & address details
Your contact page and your address details could be the end goal of a visit to your page. If so, check how the competition created that page. Did they add structured data, for instance? Is there a contact form? Did they make it easier to find these details than you did? Adjust accordingly, if comparing this sparks some great ideas.
Step 6: Perform a backlink analysis
Last but not least: if all seems reasonably the same, and there is no logical way to explain why your competitor outranks you, it just might be that the other website has a great deal more relevant links than you do. Or simply better ones. You’d have to check Ahrefs.com, Moz’s OpenSiteExplorer or, for instance, Searchmetrics for this.
Follow-up on your competitive analysis!
At this point, you know the main differences between your competitor’s site and your site. This is the moment where you start prioritizing optimizations and get to work. First, take care of low-hanging fruit, and fix things that are easily fixed asap. Next, determine what issues might have the biggest impact on your rankings, and solve these as well. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you will have no problem with this. I’d go for any speed and content issues first, and try to get some more backlinks in the process.
If you can’t solve any of these issues, feel free to reach out to any of our partners. They can probably help you out, or perform an even more thorough competitive analysis for you!
Read more: ‘3 SEO quick wins to implement right now’ »
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