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L5: Competitor Research & Analysis

In SEO, a company’s competitors can be segmented into two major categories, Business Competitors and Search Competitors

Business Competitors, will sell similar products to you and may operate on-line or offline, however, they may not necessarily do well when it comes to on-line.

Search Competitors, will compete for the same keywords as you’re targeting, but they may not be considered direct business competitors.competitors and search competitors.
An example here could be if Amazon is ranking for “Comfortable Mens Shoes,” which you are also targeting. Your competition could be a search competitor, but you probably wouldn’t count them as a business competitor.

It is important to identify search competitors, because these are the websites that you can learn the most from when it comes to improving your own rankings!

Reviewing what they have done, where they succeed, keywords they are targeting and opportunities that can be developed from their under optimisation will, ultimately, lead to the success of your own website.

You need to analyse the list of targeted keywords that you compiled during the keyword research phase, to determine the competitiveness of your keywords.

There are many paid for versions of keyword difficulty tools. A free SEOMoz trial version, can be found from SEOMoz at the moment. Once an account has been created, make a note of the cancellation date, as they do just take money from your account. Its a good pice of softwear and their blogs/news section is well woth a rerad, very good information on there regarding all elements of SEO.

Using the Keyword difficulty tool

Entering your keywords into the difficulty tool, it will populate information about that specific keyword, such as the local and global search volume and a calculated % of how competitive that keyword actually is.

However, although that information is helpful, even more useful is the list Domain Authority (DA) and Page Authority (PA) of the top 10 results, for the keyword.

The tool also provides the number of linking root domains (LRD) for the top 10 sites that rank for that specific search term. You can get to this data by scrolling down the report and looking at the column titled “Root Domain Linking Root Domains.”

Compare those metrics with your site’s metrics, ask yourself the following questions.

Is your domain authority, and page authority comparable?
Do you have enough linking root domains, linking back to your site?
Most importantly, will it be possible for your site to receive similar metrics in the near future?

After looking at all of these metrics and comparing them to your own website, you need to decide whether you feel that you can compete for this particular keyword. If the answer is no, then you should spend time targeting less competitive keywords until you have built up more domain and page strength.

It’s also important to actually type in your targeted keywords in search engines and test to see what type of results there are. With recent search engine updates, particularly from Google, testing different keywords and different variations is just as valuable if not more so than relying on tools.

Important questions to bear in mind include

Do you notice your competitors, competing for the same terms?
Are any big brands ranking for these keywords?

This type of information could provide you with additional information, on the type of marketing budget your competitors are working with. It can also help you gain additional insight into other ways you could optimise your site besides traditional search.

If you have a brick-and-mortar shop or have retailers that distribute your product, you should be implementing a Google Places strategy. If you’re an eCommerce website, definitely prioritise compiling a product feed.

Likewise, even if the keyword you want to target is incredibly competitive and you don’t think your site can rank in the top 10 of the search results, think about alternative ways you could be targeting for this keyword using different search engine entities.

For instance, Google also has Google News, Google Images, Google Places, Google Store, Youtube, etc…

Analysis of competitor’s website

Another element of competitor research is conducting an analysis of your competitors’ actual businesses and websites. It’s important to gain, an intricate knowledge, of the products that your competitors offer and an understanding of how they market their business on-line.

It is important at this point to focus on different areas of your competitors’ websites and ask yourself, what do you want to learn from them?

There are five core areas, to pay attention to, when evaluating a competitor’s website.

  • User experience
  • Link building
  • Social media
  • Content strategy
  • Onsite/technical SEO

We will now go through each of these areas and teach you what to look out for.

Analysis of User Experience

At this point you should try to browse your competitions websites as a normal user and make notes as you go. Even better, if you can get a friend to browse the website and tell you what they like and dislike, you will gain a lot of great insights from a neutral perspective.

How do they convert visitors into customers?
What is their shopping cart process like?
What signals, of trust are there?
How visually engaging is the website?
How easy it is to find your way to product/service pages?
Are they running any special promotions or deals?

If you can, make notes and take screenshots as you answer these questions.

Analysis of Social Media

Next, we need to look at how your competitors are engaging, with their customers through their use of social media. There can be a lot to learn from this, but it can be quite hard to replicate. A good community and customer base don’t happen overnight. Thus, you need to learn all you can from your competitors. Translate it into what you can actually accomplish, with the resources at your disposal.

How are they engaging with customers?
How many friends do they have?
How often are they updating?
What social media accounts are being used more than others?
What time are they posting?
What are they talking about?

Analysis of content strategy

This is a very important step and you can learn a great deal about how much your competitors are investing on-line, by looking at the content they produce.

When you go through your competitor’s website, keep in mind the following questions:

Does the site have user-generated content, such as product reviews?
Does the site have a blog? If so, what type of content is on the blog?
Does it have an active community engaging with the blog?
On average, how many social shares, or comments does the blog generate, and what type of content is most popular?
What type of resources does the site have? FAQs, News, Guides perhaps a Forum or Informational videos?

Matt Cutts talking about frequently updating your content. Check out his blog!

Analysis of Onsite/Technical SEO

Ideally, your website should be totally sound from a technical SEO perspective, regardless of what your competitors are doing. However, it is still worth keeping an eye on them and seeing if they are using any, innovative techniques to give them the advantage.

  • How many pages your competition have, (on Google;
  • How many links that they have
  • What’s there PA and DA
  • Are they WC3 Compatible
  • When, was their last website update
  • Are they targeting keywords, from their keyword tag
  • What content are they writing, for their mid and long tail keywords?

Once you have a good feeling of the market, approach each keyword and apply your finding to the page that is associated with googles index.

Competitive Link Analysis

This is a very important part of competitor analysis and can often give you the biggest insight into how hard it will be to compete for your target keywords. All other things being equal, links are what will make the biggest difference to how you rank compared to your competitors.

Therefore, you need to understand what will be required to catch-up, or stay ahead of, your competitors.

Analysis of Competitors’ Back-links

To analyse your competitor’s back-links, you need to first compile a data set of all the links that the competitor’s site has received.

A tool that can help you is SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer.

The free version of Open Site Explorer, provides you with 3 reports a day, while the paid version provides you with unlimited reports. To use Open Site Explorer, first type in the competitor’s website in to the search box and select “Search.”

You should land on a page that shows you, all the links that the site has received. Browse through the list of links, especially those with higher domain authorities.

Take a look at how the site might have received these links. You can do this by clicking, on the blue link and seeing exactly where the link is placed.

Below are some common types of links across all domains

  • Directories (Yahoo! directories or dmoz)
  • Blogs or guest blog posts (either corporate or niche)
  • News wires (generally for PR)
  • Links from sponsoring a non-profit organization or event
  • News articles
  • Partnerships with other organizations for studies (white papers, webinars, etc.)
  • Contests/promotions

It is also common, for eCommerce sites, to gain links via retailers and distributors.

Next, it’s important to discover how your competitors might have gotten the links. Did they write up a guest blog post, to get a link? If so, what are the guest blog post submission guidelines for that blog and is it possible for you to get a similar link?

Understanding Competitor Link Metrics

You can do this manually, looking at open site explorer and copy the links that your competition have, however I do recommend, that if you sign up for a free SEOmoz account, you can have the programme complete your competitor link metric information for you.

The SEOMoz link analysis breaks down individual elements that the search engines would be looking for, and compare it against your domain.

The goal of SEO is to improve these metrics. We want a website that has high domain authority, linked to by high domain name authority websites.

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