How to Create an SEO Strategy That Beats the Competition
How to Create an SEO Strategy That Beats the Competition
Danny Shepherd, CO-CEO • Intero Digital • July 29, 2022
Competitors are the worst. We can all agree on that. The world would be instantly better off if they just didn’t exist. Or at least your bottom line probably would be.
Alas, as the internet just keeps growing. (Fun fact: 175 websites are created every minute!) So, too, does the staggering number of blogs, vlogs, forums, podcasts, memes, cat videos, and, yes, even competitors.
However, you shouldn’t let the constant fear of business competition get in the way of your success. Go forth and take back the internet. Better yet, continue reading to learn how to implement key SEO strategies to win back your competitive edge and come out on top.
Why an SEO Analysis of Your Competitors Is Necessary
The best marketing strategy is one that is full of top-tier content, remarkably authentic, and engaging for your target audience. As the saying goes, a strong offense is the best defense. After all, top performers didn’t get to the top by letting others outrank their Google search results. And neither should you.
To be No. 1, you must have more than engaging stories, eye-catching infographics, and spectacular images. You must also remain diligent and aware of what your competition is doing to stay relevant in the ever-changing marketing world. A competitor analysis can even give you a marketing advantage when it comes to search results.
A Winning Strategy to Reverse-Engineer SEO
When conducting a competitor SEO analysis, you will be able to identify potential strengths and weaknesses that can inform your strategy. You can also incorporate and improve outside methods in your internal marketing efforts to boost brand exposure and beat competitors at their own game. Here’s how to get started:
1. Identify your potential competitors.
You can only begin to analyze your competition’s SEO methods if you first know who your competitors are. If you already know, congratulations! You’re already on the right track. In most cases, you can find your direct competitors with a quick Google search or by keeping track of all the relevant marketing you see within your business’s niche.
There are four types of online competitors:
- Direct: These are businesses that offer the same product or service as you, or at least a near-identical one. McDonald’s and Burger King are direct competitors, for instance.
- Indirect (or substitute): These are businesses that target the same niche or market as you but offer different products and services. For example, McDonald’s sells burgers, and Domino’s sells pizza, but they both target folks who have a hankering for fast food.
- Perceived (or replacement): These are businesses that are in entirely different industries but can compete because their products or services meet market needs. This could look like Apple or Samsung boasting phone camera capabilities when Canon, Sony, and Polaroid once dominated the picture-taking market.
- SERP: These competitors are websites that are competing for keywords that you, too, want to rank for. Furthermore, it’s important to note that your SERP competitors are not always your direct market competition.
Fortunately, locating your competition is easier than you might assume. With keyword analysis, you can identify your direct and SERP competitors by seeing which businesses are ranking for your common products or target searches. Audience research (such as surveys, Google Analytics, and spending reports) is also necessary to find perceived competitors and potential common interests.
Remember, even if you think you don’t have competitors, the truth is that you do. Once you’ve identified your competition, you can then begin analyzing their tactics and creating SEO strategies with their specific techniques in mind.
2. Use SEO analytics to gain insight.
To reverse-engineer your competitors’ SEO strategies effectively, you’ll need to gain insight and metrics. These metrics include site structure, domain authority, traffic volume, domain age, backlinks, and indexing stats. Tools such as the following can make analysis a lot easier:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
3. Analyze your competitors' site structure.
Site code, page load speed, functionality on mobile devices, and page intent are all important when making your SEO strategy. Take the time to analyze how your competitors are implementing the more technical aspects of SEO. Doing so can help you improve those methods or add new techniques for even greater results.
Begin by answering the following questions:
- How are the URLs and on-site navigation set up?
- Is the site set up with HTTPS?
- What tags are they using on their page titles, headings, and images?
- Do they have keywords in their headings, meta descriptions, or copy? If so, what are they?
- What languages and regions are they targeting with their hreflang tags?
- Do they have specific categories and tagging for products and blog posts?
- How fast is the site?
- Are they using accelerated mobile pages (AMP)?
- Is there any anchor text in the copy? Does it lead to any internal linking?
- Are they using any calls to action? If so, where and how often?
- How much attention do they seem to pay to the buyer’s journey?
You can take your answers to the above questions and use them to further strengthen your website and mobile applications beyond your competitors’ capabilities. This might look like optimizing images, boosting speed, improving navigation, and implementing tagging best practices across all pages.
4. Evaluate your competitors' content strategy.
An effective SEO content strategy is about more than just one moment in the limelight; it’s a long-term solution to build loyalty and offer high-value content for maximum results.
There are three main types of content that you should focus on in conjunction with SEO:
- Hero: Large-scale, few-and-far-between feature pieces designed for a wide audience and to attract new customers to your site. This is the content you hope to see catch on like wildfire.
- Hub: Regularly scheduled pieces that develop brand awareness, encourage engagement, and keep your audience coming back for more. Think of these as a series of guides spread out over a set time frame.
- Hygiene (or help): Informative pieces targeting specific search terms that attract new visitors, but more gradually than hero content. Think of how-to articles like the one you’re reading now.
To inform your content plan, keep an eye on how your competitors are (or are not) implementing these types of content.
However, content isn’t only limited to articles and blog posts. You should pay special attention to content on your competitors’ home, product, and about pages, as well as other critical business pages, to establish the following:
- How much content do they have? How often do they post or update?
- How and where do they implement keywords?
- How do they describe features, benefits, and pain points?
- What kinds of media do they use? How are they using it?
- What is their writing style and tone?
- Is their content data-driven? Where is that data coming from?
Perhaps the most important is to find “content gaps.” These are keywords, topics, or products that your competitors rank for but you do not (and vice versa).
Semrush’s Organic Research Pages report can help you find content gaps by showing you the most popular pages for your competitors. Similarly, BuzzSumo can provide engagement and social share statistics. Create a few heroes and slightly more pieces of hub content, and then publish as much hygiene content as needed to cover all your key industry search terms. Try to close gaps where your competitors have coverage but you do not. Additionally, exploit the areas where you are ranking that your competitors are not.
While getting ideas from your competitors is useful, be sure to differentiate your business from others by creating unique and authentic content. And don’t forget to follow essential on-page SEO content strategies.
5. Investigate your competitors' backlinks.
High-quality backlinks can juice up your SEO in the long term, but they are one of the most difficult, frustrating, and misused aspects of SEO. So reviewing the backlink profiles of your competitors can save you a lot of time and effort.
While you can glean a lot from a competitor backlink analysis, the most prominent items are:
- Content ideas.
- Linking opportunities.
- Forecasting consumer behavior.
A backlink checker like Ahrefs can help you find this information.
A business’s worst mistake is expecting that by merely creating something, others will automatically link to it. That is rarely the case, and more often than not, you’re going to have to knock on some digital doors to get people to take notice.
You can propel your content with social media, syndication, and guest blogging, but tread carefully — one bad link can do a lot of damage, so keep it WH (and by that, we mean white hat).
6. Uncover your competitors' target audience.
Your friends of your enemies are your friends. That’s how it goes. Well, when it comes to competitor SEO analysis, it does, at least. That’s because if your competitors find success selling to a particular group of people, your business likely will also.
Audience analysis tools like Quantcast can provide invaluable demographic, geographic, and lifestyle data about who, what, and where your competitors are concentrating their strategy. You might find that they are targeting audiences you should expand into or that you’re successfully covering an area they are not and might benefit from doubling down.
As we mentioned above, deciphering whether your competitors use hreflang tags in their site structure can also highlight where and to whom they sell.
7. Monitor your competitors' SEO updates.
By nature, SEO is about competition. And it all takes place on a dynamic playing field. That means it is constantly changing. So ideally, you should keep tabs on what the other party is doing.
Once you’ve reverse-engineered the SEO strategy of your top competitors, you’ll need to monitor for updates, performance changes, content strategy shifts, and the like. A monitoring tool like Visualping can help automate this process by emailing when specific changes are made. Also, track your changes in response to your competitor analysis (using tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console) and refer to No. 1 above for any new rivals entering the game.
SEO competitor analysis can quickly become a fixation if you allow it to be. Keep your competitors in your peripherals for any noteworthy changes with the occasional side glance or two, preferably in a non-creepy way.
Reverse-Engineering the Road to SEO Success
Reverse-engineering your competitors’ SEO strategy is a great way to stay one SERP step ahead. Identify the key players, decipher what they’re up to, determine how you can improve upon it, and compile an action plan to get results. Through a combination of best practices, the right tools, and continued monitoring, your SEO competitive analysis will prove a practical resource for your business’s SEO strategy.