If you build it, they will come… except someone else may have already built it the same way and failed. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to start building from an established foundation, one that has already proven to work and one that you can emulate? The exact same philosophy can apply to search engine optimization in the form of a competitive analysis. Before you start any SEO campaign, it is of critical importance to get a good lay of the land, and this means analyzing what the competition is already doing (and succeeding at) so that you can start from a much more well-informed position.
Laying Out the Road Map
Competitive analysis in SEO is important because it is through this type of analysis that you are able to glean the mission critical information on which you can base your own SEO efforts. The data that emerges from analyzing the competition, like a tool like “Backlinks” from Neil Patel, will reveal what tactics are (and aren’t) currently working in the industry.
You can also get a better sense of potential keyword opportunities by identifying where your competition is already the strongest, as well as where they are weakest and you have the chance to capitalize on an untapped segment of the market for comparatively fewer resources.
Conversely, you can attempt to replicate what is already working for them, significantly reducing your overall costs and shrinking your time frame, because you are not wasting resources on strategies and tactics that don’t work. You’re starting from a proven formula for success. By going through the process of completing such an analysis, you can better understand how many high value backlinks you’re going to need to outrank the competition, for example, or how many .edu or .gov links are pointing at the site you are trying to outrank.
A Case of Relative Position
Think about what this would look like if you didn’t have this data available to you. Let’s say, for example, that you are training to run a marathon and you’ve placed a friendly wager with a colleague about who will finish the race in the fastest time. Choosing not to perform a competitive analysis, in this context, would mean that you have next to no idea how fast you need to be. You have no idea how you stand against this colleague.
Knowing the time of the world’s fastest marathon runners is irrelevant. Looking up the average marathon time provides some context, but it doesn’t provide the specific information about your colleague. If, however, you’re able to get a history of the marathons that this person has run in the past five years, then you have a much better idea of the time to beat. Then, as you train for the marathon, you’ll know how far behind (or ahead) you are, and you can adjust your strategy and training routine accordingly.
A competitive analysis in SEO works in much the same way, except it’s even more specific and detailed.
What a Competitive Analysis Entails
Unsurprisingly, the first step involved in performing a competitive analysis is identifying who your competition is in the first place. From a search engine optimization perspective, the natural inclination is to seek out your search competitors. That’s certainly part of the equation and you will likely start out with a few high-level keywords, particularly those for which you’d ideally want to rank in Google.
What you’ll find as you make your way through the first round of your competitive analysis, though, is that additional critical keyword phrases may come to light. It’s possible that you were looking at the wrong keywords. That’s okay. Indeed, that’s great news, because it means that you’ve identified where you shouldn’t be spending your resources so you can better focus on where you should be directing your resources.
You might also discover that some of your biggest competitors might not even be in the same niche! If you run a content-based site with shopping guides, you may be competing against retailers and resellers, as well as other product review sites, blogs, and more. Business and SEO competitors aren’t necessarily the same thing.
When you’ve identified your key competition, you can start to run a more comprehensive competitive analysis. This will yield information about who is linking to your competition (and not linking to you), what anchor text is being used, the type of link being used, the domain score, the page where the link appears, when the link was first seen on the page (link age), and more. Through this analysis, you might reveal where your own backlink opportunities might lie, as in through resource mentions or guest post possibilities.
Beyond backlinks, another side of a competitive analysis is to see where your competition ranks for a certain keyword and your website does not. This can also provide more information from which you can evaluate the relative keyword difficulty. The objective then is to reverse engineer the tactics and strategy employed by the competition in order to rank for that keyword.
This is akin to the marathon example above, because you want to get ahead of the competition on these specific keywords and you want to know what it’ll take to get there. It may be better to target relatively lower difficulty keywords if they’ll yield better net results.
Planning for Success
Before you are able to draft a suitable SEO campaign strategy, you must first know what the goal posts are, how the competition is already getting there, and where the best potential opportunities may be for your own projects. A competitive analysis can yield remarkable insights into not only who your competition is and for what keywords they’re already ranking, but also about how they got there with backlinks, term frequency-inverse document frequency (TF-IDF analysis for on-page keyword strategy), and overall on-page and off-page optimization tactics. In short, you can learn what they’re doing, so you can do it better.
Don’t wander into the murky seas of search engine optimization without first creating your map. You can’t find your way if you don’t know where you’re headed.