Just before we finished Tea Time SEO for the summer we had three great speakers from the Women in Tech group join us to share their top tips for how to carry out a competitor analysis. Read Julia’s advice on how to tackle an competitor analysis here!
As a freelancer in SEO, I get to see many different websites in different industries. Each of them always holds a surprise and in some cases, a template that has been proven successful in many cases, simply will not work. That is true for all aspects of SEO, but in this Tea Time Talk, I focused on competitive analysis. Before we come to my tips, let me demonstrate how I usually approach a competitor analysis and I will take the brand wecoffee.io as an example. Please note that the below is a reduced version of my usual competitor analysis for demonstration purposes.
How to approach a competitor analysis
In the first step, I always ask my client whom they see as a competitor. This usually helps to understand their business better and what they are trying to achieve. In this case the following three brands were mentioned amongst others: AndCo, WorkClub and Work.Life. The second step is a look at the tools, my go to tool is ahrefs.com, to see whom they list as competitors. Please note that this only works properly if the website is already ranking for relevant keywords. I export that list.
In the third step, I take a look at some specific keywords that are most relevant to the business. Those have been identified in the initial client consultation with a short keyword research to identify the terms with highest search volume and user intent. In this case the keywords that have been identified are: “free workspaces London”, “co-working spaces London” and “hot desking London”. (Please note that you might need more than 3 keywords depending on the business.) I export the SERPs for those terms into a separate tab in the Excel sheet and I add the domains at the bottom of the exported list from Ahrefs which I later deduplicate. (This is just in case that any of them was not on the original list which is the case if your website is not ranking for the keywords yet.)
You should now have a comprehensive list of domains that are competing with your website in some way. In the next step, I identify which of those competitors are most relevant and I will take again the previously identified keywords. For this step, it makes sense to have more than 3 keywords to look at, but we keep it simple in this example. I add for each domain the ranking position for the identified keywords. If that domain is not ranking for the keyword, the ranking position is entered as “200”. Once they are all in the list, I add a column where I calculate the average rank and a column that counts the 200 values. If the value “0” appears, I replace it with “0.5”. Those two numbers make up an overall score for each domain. (Please note that you don’t need any complicated formulas to do this, VLOOKUP, IFERROR, AVERAGE and COUNTIF do the job.) In the last step, I sort the column with the overall score from smallest to largest. You now see the domains first that rank for most of your keywords in the highest position. In the below example, hubblehq.com appears first as it ranks for all three keywords in the highest positions.
Before I use this data for any further analysis, I look at each of the domains to ensure they really can be considered a competitor. In certain cases, you might end up with websites like Wikipedia or newspapers in your list. In the above list, I would make a note for hubblehq.com and wework.com because those businesses are specialised in renting work spaces whereas WeCoffee provides a platform to find existing co-working spaces and coffee shops where freelancers can work from on an hourly basis. The business model is therefore different. Work.life and andco.life on the other hand would get a positive comment because the client had already mentioned those as being a direct competitor because they follow the same business model. You will see next why you want to verify each competitor before moving on, so here are my tips:
Tip #1: Always ask yourself why you are identifying competitors
Over the past few years, I have worked mostly within the affiliate sector for industries such as online gambling and crypto currency trading. Both industries are highly competitive and the brands you are trying to drive traffic to are themselves quite good at their SEO and general marketing efforts. In the traditional sense of the word “competitor”, only other affiliate websites in the same industry should be seen as a competitor, but once you take a look at the SERPs, you quickly notice that you are competing with business partners such as the casino or the broker for the same keywords. Even if the business describes those as partners, for SEO they are competitors as they want that featured snippet or top position as much as you do!
Why is this even important? It matters because you are not just working on a list of competitors, you are aiming for useful insights that go into your SEO strategy. What is it that you want to find out?
In the first instance, you want your on-page SEO. Therefore, you look at those in the top positions in the SERPs to identify additional keywords to target, to structure your pages and website architecture. For that purpose, all the identified competitors can be treated equally. You can look as much at the casino’s website as you draw inspiration from another affiliate site.
A successful and long-term SEO strategy though also takes off-page into account. Looking at your competitors’ backlink profiles will give you some clear direction as to where your outreach efforts should be. But is this an even playing field? Does your recently launched affiliate website have the same chances to get a link as a reputable broker with a strong brand that has been around for a long time? The answer is: No. Unfortunately, the affiliate is in a much worse position. You can still look at the backlink profile of the broker for additional insights, but if you want a feasible outreach strategy for your business as quickly as possible, start looking at those websites that play in the same league as you. You can still shoot for the moon at some point in the future.
Tip #2: Consider breaking your offering down into verticals and identify competitors for each
This is another example taken from financial trading. In this case, it does not matter whether we are looking at a broker, an affiliate site or even a news aggregator. What we are now looking at are topical groups or verticals.
Competitors have been identified and they are listed in a comprehensive sheet with some data. You now start looking at those websites and you might notice that they offer a range of products and only one of them corresponds with your offer. It could also be the other way around where you have a website with multiple verticals whereas a competitor only acts in one of them. These learnings can be applied to any industry, but I stick to the example: In my case I was looking at websites that offered crypto currency related content, forex trading, stocks, shares and commodities – a wide range of financial investments that all target a different audience and mostly have different degrees of regulation, reputation and maturity in financial markets. To make it short, I ended up with a lot of data that was not useful for what I was trying to find out. By breaking my analysis down into the different verticals, not only had I made the dataset a lot easier to handle, but I also gained the much-wanted insights in less time.
Tip #3: Even if “nobody is doing what you do”, you are still competing in the SERPs
With this one, we again come back to the question what a competitor really is and what we are trying to find out. The client was building a marketplace for non-refundable flight and hotel bookings. Those that could no longer make the trip, could offer their tickets which then could be bought by anyone.
In the initial client consultation, I asked whom she would see as a competitor and her answer was: “I don’t have any competitors because nobody is doing what I’m doing.”
As it later turned out, she was right, but only for one half of her business. Her existing website was already attracting users who were looking to sell their flight and hotel bookings. That side flourished and it also seemed to be a walk in the park SEO-wise. But for her business model to work and to bring revenue, she also needed to attract those users who would buy somebody else’s ticket.
The initial keyword research brought up keywords like “cheap flights to vegas”, “cheap holidays”, “best flight deals”, “compare flights”, “last minute hotel deals” and so on… That changed the game completely because all of a sudden it was a David vs. Goliath situation where her website would compete with the biggest brands in travel. Apart from that, there was a strategic disadvantage because the travel offers on her website would always only be for very specific dates and destinations where others can provide full flexibility.
Just because nobody else is doing what you do, does not mean that you won’t be facing some serious competition in the SERPs.
Know your industry, know your product, know your audience
I’m not calling this the bonus tip, because it is almost obvious based on the aforementioned tips, but one thing has become very clear in all of this: You need to fully understand the product and the business model to recognise these pitfalls, to know what type of competition you’re facing and how to get the most out of it.
Interested in learning more? Watch our Tea Time SEO episode and see what our other speakers had to contribute to the discussion!