Every business is expected to analyze the competition, gather information about them, and make informed decisions. Gone are the days when a business can run a campaign (e.g., targeting a keyword) that no one cares about.
In the process, wasting time and money. You don’t want that to happen to you. Do you?
Competitive research is the simple practice of tracking who your competitors are, what steps they are taking in their business, and how they have successfully gained traction and still remain visible in the organic search.
The goal of a competitive research is to gain competitive insights by leveraging their data to improve your own campaign.
If you do it the right way, analyzing your competition can help you gain an unfair foothold in your field. Trust me, this could be the best action step you have ever taken in your SEO endeavors. All it takes is a bit of research!
Whenever we perform an in-depth study and go deeper into our competitor’s websites and other web assets, we always discover how our website stacks up in terms of social media presence, keywords, backlinks, referrals, and more.
To get started with competitor research, follow this simple 3-step process:
- Identify your top competitors.
- Analyze the competitors top keywords, links, and types of content they publish more often.
- Leverage the data to improve your overall marketing strategy
a). Identify your top competitors: Local businesses already have ideas on who their competitors are. However, it doesn’t matter whether you’re marketing to international consumer or locally, the truth is that every business has a direct and indirect competitor.
Essentially, you want to find the top players in your industry. I’m talking about businesses and websites that are competing against you in the search engine results pages.
It all starts with a simple search on Google.
Enter your keyword (e.g., landscaping design ideas) into the search box, assuming you want to rank for this search term. Here’s the result:
Then, scroll down the page and you will find the top Competitors and similar sites for Gardendesign.com.
b). Analyze the competitors top keywords, links, and types of content they publish more often: Identifying your top competitors is good but it doesn’t end there. You have to examine their website as well. Spend some time on their website to see how their pages are structured, the overall user experience (UX) of the website.
If it’s a content website, check if it’s easy for users to find the latest content and how much engagement (comments, social shares, backlinks) the posts have generated.
Talking about user experience, it’s important that you consider these questions:
- Does the website have a simple and seamless navigation, and does it clearly state what it offers?
- Does the website clearly tell the visitor what action (e.g., download an ebook) to take and how to go about it (Add to cart)?
When analyzing your competitor’s website, check for loopholes or opportunities that you can take advantage of. Essentially, focus on how easy it is to read the content. Make your content valuable and timely.
Talking of user experience, you have to avoid creating “mirage content.” This is a concept I learnt from Benji Hyam, founder of Grow and Convert.
He explained that the reason why most companies’ blogs are not read is as a result of “mirage content.”
That is, content that seems good and attractive on the surface, but after reading it or going deeper into the content, you realize it’s nothing but high-level fluff.
Mirage content is bound to happen when:
- The content creator has little or no experience on the given topic
- There’s lack of specificity on the topic. Hence, the author couldn’t go straight to the point and do justice to the topic.
Generally, when a person has experience with, for example, social media marketing, then it being specific will be easier.
Sadly, If you’re still publishing mirage content, you’re burning your bridge that connects you with potential customers. There’s a chance they will live sooner than you expect.
The solution is simple: Hire only proficient and experienced writers to produce compelling and valuable content for your company’s blog. More so, you could train your writers, show them how to be specific and thorough by drafting an outline first.
A valuable content will improve user experience on your website. Every other factor is secondary.
Another aspect of user experience is providing value outside of your blog.
For example, if the website doesn’t encourage visitors to subscribe to a newsletter by offering a valuable lead magnet, or they have no opt-in forms on their web pages, then that’s your opportunity.
It doesn’t matter how great their content is, you can maximize your own content by collecting email addresses of your visitors and start building relationships with them.
Is the call to action (CTA)s distinct and catchy enough to lead the visitor towards the desired end goal (e.g., filling a form, downloading a report), that’s another weakness that your competitor has; which can become your strength if you tap into it.
Google takes a user’s experience on your website seriously. So check how well your competitors use storytelling, colors, and graphics, as well as interactive elements to evoke emotions and engage with the audience.
For example, Unbounce, a landing page solutions company, uses a clear and instructive call to action on its resources’ page. Just take a look:
Find top keywords of your competitors
Once you’re done analyzing one of your competitor’s website, you need to find their top keywords as well. Of course, it makes sense if you’re targeting the same keywords and wants to rank for them in the top organic search listings.
For this research, we’ll be using SEMrush. Simply enter your competitor’s website URL (e.g., thewirecutter.com), click on the “search” button and you will be served with the total number of keywords generating traffic for your competitor.
There are 1.3 million keywords driving a total of 1.9 million organic traffic for The Wire Cutter website.
To ascertain these keywords, click on the keywords tab to find some of the top organic keywords + where they’re ranked in the organic results.
If you’re own a website or blog that compares different physical products like Headphones, Electric shaver, Router, Laptops, and more, the screenshot above has given you a direction. I’m sure.
You may not rank #1 for head keywords such as:
- Standing desk
- Wireless HDMI
- Electric shaver
But you can target the long-tail variations of these keywords which equally have decent search volumes. All you have to do is click on one of the keywords above, and you will see some of the longer variations (phrase match) that are easier to rank in Google top #1.
Find the competitor’s backlinks
The truth is that no matter how useful the content of a website is, it can’t rank on its own. Before any website can show up high in Google search results pages, it must have trusted links pointing to it.
That’s why you have to take pride in finding out where your competitors are getting their links from, and how you can take advantage of it.
A lot of website owners don’t like the process but it’s damn simple.
If you’re still on the SEMrush analysis page, just click on the “Backlinks” tab at the left-hand corner of the page.
Now take a closer look at the backlinks data:
To know the exact domains/websites these links come from, click on the “Referring domains” tab, scroll all the way down and you will see the referring domains, and when the links first appeared.
Take a closer look at this screenshot, you will see that Thewirecutter.com has more 190k total backlinks from 6.6k Referring domains and 6.8k Referring IPs.
In terms of SEO, the ratio between the number of links and the domains that sent the links is too further apart — which doesn’t make a good link profile.
Note: A Link Profile is the basic collection of all the links pointing to a particular domain.
Let’s get right back to the analysis. If you want to gain more organic visibility than this competitor, strive to achieve a balance or a slight difference between referring domains and a total number of links.
As an example, if the total number of backlinks is 4032 and referring domains fall between 1800 – 2500, then the ratio is fair enough — it means that each referring domain sent 1, 2, or 1 – 3 links which make it unique.
For Thewirecutter.com, it’s obvious that a particular domain links to the website several times. Although, it doesn’t matter at all — for optimal performance in the search engines, try to get each new backlink from a unique domain.
Note: When it comes to SEO, it’s better to get more links from a particular website rather then just getting one link from a website and not utilizing the opportunity to get more links?
Determine your competitor’s social media influence
How well does your competitor fair on social media? It makes sense if you take steps to know how much engagement their content generates, how often people share their posts, what types of content they publish more often, and how much impact they are making on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, et al.
This time, we’ll use one of my favorite tools — Buzzsumo.
Go to the website and enter your competitor’s URL. Let’s use MichaelHyatt.com as an example.
Once you have clicked on the “Go!” button, you’ll find the most shared content of Michael Hyatt, blog posts related to Business, Life hacks, Marketing, and Productivity.
Note: Remember that the level of trust you have with your fans and followers will, in turn, determine how many shares, tweets, likes, comments, and votes your posts will generate on social media.
If you’re just starting out with social media marketing, don’t take shortcuts. Take time to build the relationship first and you’ll reap the dividends later.
Don’t expect to get thousands of tweets, likes, and comments like Michael Hyatt, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan, and other social media influencers.
You can however piggyback on the same strategies used by these social media influencers to gain more traction on on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, among many others. All you have to do is identify the people who shared their posts and reach out to them.
Here’s how. Still using the Buzzsumo results above, click on the “View Sharers” link.
Here are the experts who shared the post.
By simply clicking an expert’s photo, you will be redirected to their Twitter profile. From there, you can connect, retweet their links, write a helpful comment, introduce yourself, send a quick message, or tell them to check out a similar post to the one they recently shared. How cool is that?
Don’t be pushy or tricky when connecting with social media influencers. It’s all about relationship building, so keep it at that. If you succeed in getting tweets, links, or comments from any influencer in the first few days or weeks of connecting with them, great.
But it’s not the norm. It usually happens after months of giving value to these people — retweeting their posts, reading their blogs, attending their events, and supporting them along the way. Make no mistakes about it. When it comes to social media marketing, you have to give first before you receive.
In all, endeavor to use the top keywords, top links, and social media data that you found during competitive research to improve your overall marketing strategy.
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