At the end of July on Tea Time SEO, we were joined by three well known experts in the search industry, including Sophie Gibson to discuss competitor analysis. Looking at your competitors and what they are doing, drives brands forward. If you know what you’re up against, you can ensure you’re doing more to stay ahead of the game and avoid missing out on any opportunities.
Sophie goes into detail after her talk at at Tea Time SEO on how to find out who your competition really is, and what you can do with the information you uncover.
Are they really a competitor?
Usually, starting competitor research begins with having a discussion with your client – a client will know who their direct competitors are in terms of product or service, but in the Organic space the competitors can be quite different.
It’s always interesting to hear from the client who they think they are close to, and use this to frame ideas – even better if you can get them to tell you why they think they’re a main competitor. They might give you one brand as an aspiration of what they want to be like, they might have a friendly ‘rivalry’ with another company – all this information is useful to have. It can tell you what types of things this specific client holds valuable, and gives you additional background and context to your research.
To better dig into this, the question “are they taking customers away from your service, or not?” is a great one to think about, or to ask directly. Sometimes, however, who they compete with in terms of customers may be different when looking at online competitors.
Sometimes clients can get really specific about certain keywords or competitors, when actually the services they run might not actually be that comparable, or the keyword isn’t right in terms of customer intent, or it might not be the same customer base that they’re chasing. Being able to show a client data behind why you’re choosing these ‘different’ competitors is important here.
If they’ve come to you with a firm idea in their minds, your data could play a key role in convincing them otherwise. For example, using a competitor gap analysis and looking at what percentage of keywords are shared between your client and competitors in the SERPs can show you what you need to know.
What are they competing with you for?
Another aspect to think about is checking for different competitors, depending on the type of activity, such as links, content and rankings. There might be a completely different site you’d view as a competitor for links, compared with SERP competitors. For example, with a travel client you might look at the Telegraph travel section as a link competitor, but it might not be something that you’d be looking to compete against in terms of online rankings or customers. Just Eat for instance found that it wasn’t competing with Deliveroo but more so TripAdvisor, and more recently Google themselves.
Competitors also may vary depending on the specific vertical within your own site, so remember to pay attention to these.
Are they close enough to do a comparison?
Your client may want to be the next Big Name Brand – but can you compare? It’s no good comparing your site against a big name brand that dominates in the SERPs, as you’re not going to be able to accurately see how they stack up. Looking at VE data will show you if you’re comparing against a brand with an already high organic traffic share.
If you are a niche stationery retailer, you can’t compare with Amazon despite them very much being a direct competitor for most keywords. Looking at visibility explorer you can see that Amazon is clearly the dominant player (as we would expect).
Excluding Amazon, the market looks very different.
The information here does not show a clear comparison of how your client stacks up against this competitor – the large range of values on the left axis makes it difficult to see any trends in your own data, as you will miss any smaller movements and improvements which show progress.
Instead, if you’re comparing the site with the ones which sit nearer to you in terms of market share, you can better compare your progress against brands that also started in a similar place to you. Looking at the market share report and pulling back in Amazon for stationary terms, you can see the number of keywords they are ranking for in the market.
Amazon is a big player in the marketplace and ranks for more than 18 million terms. However, within this market share report, focusing on the stationary sector, Amazon has 6,600 common keywords with Paperchase and they have more than 33,000 ranking terms. The market share report gives a fairer representation of the players of the market. The market share report gives a fairer representation of the players of the market.
It’s also worth checking where your competitors stack up on other aspects of what makes a website, that you can compare – so looking at blog content, links and content topics instead of just keywords. For example, if you can see that content on average is poor across your main competitors, then you know where to focus your energy to get a competitive advantage.
Some aspects of a competitor may be really strong performing, which even with lots of energy put into them, you still may not be able to bring your site into a place where you can accurately compare them. Use this information to really put your effort towards something that everyone else is not doing.
Another thing to bear in mind is that your competitors may change during the progression of your SEO work, so it’s worth checking in and revisiting who your competitors are as you are making progress.
Use competitor insights from the client to get your SEO work implemented
As we know, it can be hard to get SEO recommendations implemented – especially if the client had a specific competitor in mind or keyword they wanted to target going into the project. If it’s hard to get complete buy-in from your client, you’ll struggle throughout the SEO project, so by initially finding out how they view themselves in terms of the competition you can find really good ways to frame your recommendations against.
Is their ‘aspirational’ competitor doing the thing you’re recommending? Great, tell your client that they are doing it, and frame your SEO insight as something they should get implemented in order to keep up.
Is this competitor not doing the thing you’re recommending? Great, frame this as you are getting ahead of the competitor by doing something they are not – you can beat them by filling in the gap a competitor has missed.
Trainline added FAQ schema markup to their location landing pages – gaining additional sitelinks underneath their result for the phrase “london to paris train” giving them increased SERP real estate – this prompted Eurostar to also implement FAQ schema to attempt to gain this rich result – by saying, “hey this is what the competitor is getting from this, if we implement we could also benefit” – and in this case, they both gained rich results.
It’s a really great way to build a case as to why they should be buying into the project and the work you’re doing – as without that, it’s really hard to make any progress at all.
Thank you Sophie for sharing your insights and tips. In the autumn we will be running a new series of Tea Time SEO and will be delving more into competitor analysis and competitor audits.
Few things are as frustrating as a competitor analysis that doesn’t yield actionable insight – but local SEO competitor audits can go down rabbit trails pretty quickly. This framework is designed to help you identify which one to go down first so you can find actionable information faster.