Why is Competitor Analysis Important for SEO?
While strategy and planning are both integral to an effective SEO strategy, understanding the competitive landscape is equally as important to make informed decisions. Using SEMRush’s analysis toolkit, it is possible to get a comprehensive view of where the competition stands and the tactics that contributed to their success, as well as the areas of missed opportunity that can be capitalized upon. The major areas of competitive intelligence are:
- Keyword Portfolio
- Content Strategy
Assess Your Competitor’s Top Performing Keywords
One of the core offerings of the SEMRush platform is the ability to review the keyword portfolio for any given domain. To start, enter the competitor domain URL in the main search bar within SEMRush:
From the main site dashboard, find the ‘Organic keywords’ segment:
This will give you a quick view of the top performing organic keywords for a given domain. Clicking ‘Full Report’ in the bottom left-hand corner will take you to the full list of indexed keywords. This full report will give a histogram of keywords over time, along with trend, volume, and competition statistics.
By clicking the heading rows in the table, the keyword data can be sorted by any of the given dimensions. Using this keyword data in conjunction with manually reviewing the competitor site will give a better understanding of targeting goals, as well as content strategy and tactics.
Comparing Keyword Portfolios
SEMRush also has the capability to compare multiple domains side-by-side. In the left navigation bar, look under Tools and find the Domain vs. domain tool. Multiple columns with individual search boxes will be displayed:
Input the domains to compare into the search columns and then hit GO. SEMRush will display a keyword list similar to the single domain keyword portfolio, though it will show rankings for each given domain side-by-side. SEMRush also provides a visual representation of keyword overlap in a Venn diagram by pressing the Chart button at the top of the comparison table:
With a better understanding of a competitor’s keyword portfolio, it is easier to analyze site content and user experience within the context of a competitor’s goals. An easy and quick way to do this within SEMRush is to analyze the landing pages for a competitor’s top keywords to understand the on-page tactics that contributed to those top rankings.
The keyword portfolio overview provides a SERP Source for each ranked keyword, which shows the exact page linked in organic search, as well as the SERP results that come before and after your competition for added context. Clicking through to this SERP Source will display a cached version of the search results page as detected by SEMRush when the crawl was completed:
Take this opportunity to learn from the competition. Analyze how they implement heading and title tags, keyword variety and density within the content to maintain consistency and focus on the targeted phrase(s). This example shows results for how to get likes on facebook – HubSpot currently holds the #1 spot for this phrase. A look at the landing page provides some useful insight into the strategy used:
- The keyphrase is used in the heading (H1) tag, before any other content appears in the body.
- The first subheading (H2) tag uses a slight rewording of the same keyphrase
- Large internal link/call to action that cross-promotes content, while including the keyphrase in the anchor text
- Content URL contains keyphrase (blog.hubspot.com/ marketing/ get- more-facebook-likes)
Estimating Ad Spend
SEMRush aggregates one of the most comprehensive live databases of organic and paid search data on the web, second only to Google themselves. Using the paid research toolkit within SEMRush will allow you to understand a competitor’s paid search campaign with regard to:
- The number of keywords bringing visitors to their site through paid search.
- The amount of traffic they generate through paid ads.
- An estimate of how much your competitor is investing in paid search.
- A comparative chart of their key competitors in paid ads.
Using this data affords insight into a number of factors: if your competitor has a dedicated landing page for their paid campaign, whether they are they using benefit-driven headlines with keywords, and how they are structuring ad copy such as keywords, benefits, incentives and CTAs. Trends over time allow for an at-a-glance view of how volume trends fluctuate throughout the year.
Using HubSpot as an example again, we can see that HubSpot’s strong organic performance has almost completely replaced their paid search traffic, from over 6,000 targeted paid keywords at the end of 2013 down to only 81 as of April 2015.
Understanding Competitor Link Portfolios (Backlinks)
SEMRush provides a fairly robust interface to understand and identify backlinks, as well as attributes such as anchor text, canonical linking, follow/nofollow, and TLD (top level domain) distribution. The backlinks overview display provides a macro view of a given domain’s backlink portfolio:
From the overview, the full backlinks report can be customized to show data from a domain level, down to a page-by-page index of links that displays the source and target (landing) URL in addition to the anchor text. The report also includes DFS (date first seen) and DLS (date last seen) to give an idea of the age and accuracy of a given link.
Understanding your competition and learning from their triumphs (and failures!) is a great way to inform your strategy decisions for your own brand or business. By doing a little bit of legwork and looking at your competition through an analytical lens, you can quickly and easily identify opportunities for growth. Knowing is half the battle!
Andrew Peron, SEO Account Manager for UpCity, has serviced top-tier brands such as Henri Bendel, Limited Brands, and Havaianas. When he’s not doing SEO kung-fu for clients, he enjoys cycling through Chicago and writing content for his digital marketing and SEO blog, Indexed Marketing.