Chapter 2. Understand competitors’ SEO performance

In this chapter Carla Thomas delves deeper understanding the performance of sites using examples from the finance and insurance industries. Of course, these principles can be applied to many industries.

Within the insurance and financial services, the user journey is considerably more complex than – for example – a low-cost retailer. Why? Financial and insurance decisions are often a larger monetary commitment or investment that may span a considerable amount of time and impact an individual’s quality of life. This makes viewing, understanding and analysing competitor content essential. Not only to see what is working within the sector, but to establish how to go a step further in your strategy.

The first and most crucial step is not only identifying competitors and benchmarks, but how you chose them.

Your direct and indirect competitors may be different from your SERP competitors, but both carry equal weight in importance. Your business competitors are those that offer the same or similar products to you. For example, within home insurance in the UK, Aviva and GoCompare may be considered direct and indirect competitors of another provider. Your SERP competitors are those who compete with you on the premise of ranking, meaning they are higher up in the SERPs than you or dominate more of the SERPs. For example, in finance this would be a publication such as the Financial Times.

Identifying a small selection of your core business and SERP competitors will reveal best-practice tactics for both the content itself and for appearing in the SERPs.

In addition to your competitors, you should monitor two industry benchmarks. The first should be the best of the best. They should be doing a great job in positioning their online presence and act as your inspiration. The other is a business that isn’t doing such a great job. The purpose of these benchmarks is to always have what good and bad looks like at the forefront of your mind.

2. Content types

As the financial and insurance industries produce a variety of content types such as copy, video, infographics, and podcasts, evaluating competitor content types in the SERPs is essential to know where to dedicate your efforts for measurable results. Evaluating ranking content types will enable you to make well-informed decisions for your strategy with the goal of visibility and traffic. For example, the query ‘investing in stocks for beginners’ returns web pages, videos results and ‘People also ask’ snippets:

The high positioning of video results tells you that, as well as producing text-based content, video is popular among searchers of this topic, so Google prioritises it. If business scope allows, making a video part of the strategy is advisable.

The ‘People also ask’ feature is a great way to understand what, specifically, people want to find out around the topic. This can then inform the body of your content.

There are many different crawlers in the market which will let you see the competitor performance in the SERPs. Authoritas’ Content 360 lets you crawl any competitor you have set up in your project area.

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Carla Thomas

Content Strategy Consultant at Builtvisible

Carla is a Content Strategy Consultant at London-based organic performance agency Builtvisible, specialising in on-page optimisation, link building and digital PR. With a marketing career spanning over five years her portfolio includes top e-commerce, leisure and insurance clients. Extremely passionate about creativity, this can be seen through her ‘outside the box’ thinking and results-driven approach. Outside of work she is a resident foodie, avid reader, traveller and film addict.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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Screaming Frog allows users to crawl competitor sites and gather useful information such as headings, tags, word count and publish dates, which can also help to identify trends. It is important to cross reference this with SERP performance to find what is not working and quickly identify competitor blind spots. To dig even deeper, use a social tool such as BuzzSumo to gauge if and how their audience is interacting with it. Needless to say, strong engagement rates often come off the back of great content and yield results.

3. Incorporating the purchase funnel

As mentioned in the introduction, a complex conversion funnel requires a tailored approach. Bucketing and analysing competitors’ existing content through the awareness, consideration and decision stages can indicate how effective their user journey is. Do they have pages for those looking for more information, those weighing up their options and those who are ready to convert?

A deep dive will give you an idea of what to incorporate, and what not to, which you can then work into your strategy. Any common gaps revealed could also become quick wins if filled by your business. For example, a user starting their journey in the awareness stage on a competitor site may hit a wall if there is no consideration stage content. Therefore this would be an opportunity for your business to provide this content and potentially attract these prospective customers.

BuzzSumo is also great to gather performance metrics. These will give you the dos and don’ts for each stage, helping to maximise your strategy. A personal takeaway I have discovered is the effectiveness of video at the awareness stage is rarely replicated during decision-making.

4. Search rankings

Use SEO software tools to explore where and how your competition is ranking for your target keywords and identify opportunities. Analyse the features of top and low performing pages to reveal where you can and can’t compete. This ensures and reassures your efforts are being exercised in the right places. Look for features for identifying keyword gaps that you could target and win. Everyone has their own favourite to use. There are many in the marketplace and Authoritas has a keyword ranking tool and SEO visibility explorer tool which allows you to see where your competitors are ranking in the SERPs helping to identify gaps

Looking into the search intent behind keywords is just as important as identifying competitor rankings. Once you have gathered your competitors’ ranking information, investigate the pages to understand whether the SERPs are favouring informational or transactional pages for your target keywords. As Google incorporates user activity into its algorithm, it has a pretty good idea of whether people are looking for more information or are ready to buy based on keywords used by the searcher. As a business, you would want to make sure any pages being created or updated to fulfil an intent is targeting it correctly.

As we can see below, the term ‘income protection for self-employed’ largely favours informational pages with eight of the top ten results being long-form content pages, with an answer box featured snippet taking the top spot.

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This tells us those searching this query require more information and that therefore any pages being created on this topic should be informational.

5. Link performance

Gaining backlinks is becoming increasingly challenging, however, obtaining them in the financial and insurance sectors is exceptionally difficult. If a competitor is gaining backlinks, investigate it. The acquisition of backlinks often indicates a site’s strongest content and give you a list of tactics and potential prospects for yourself.

Find out why, how, and where they are getting backlinks. Knowing which high-authority sites are linking to competitors will reveal which topics and formats are getting the most attention from other sites.

All five tips pay essential parts within a content audit for the financial and insurance industries. In a time where content and link building are becoming more saturated and trickier to navigate, it’s important to tailor your approach and utilise the strategy and performance of others to inform your own.

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