Businesses love to know what their competition is doing. It’s probably one of the most frequently asked questions by companies that want to improve their organic program.
If you’re optimizing a client’s site then you know the drill – “How is X competitor ranking for that keyword?” or “How much organic traffic are they getting?” I suppose it’s human nature to want to know how you compare to the Joneses.
Outside of wanting to understand your own and your competitors’ market share, it’s valuable to understand “how” competitors are attaining it. Reverse engineering their tactics is an effective way to beat them at their own game.
Fortunately, much of this data is easily available and quickly accessible. Some of it is free, some not. Here are a few tools that help answer the questions that may be keeping you (or your client or boss) up at night.
Identify Organic Competitors
Let’s begin by defining what organic “competition” is, as it’s not always what one might initially assume.
- Quick, Free, & Easy: The Google SERP. This is self-explanatory and can give you good directional information on who you stack up against. I like to look at who’s ranking highly on top query drivers, but also on my top converting keywords. Businesses ranking well on the “money terms” are potential threats and worthy of monitoring.
- Quick, Inexpensive, & Easy: SEMRush. This is a great tool that allows you to analyze competitive rankings, and much more. Analyze rankings by typing your top keywords into the search box. You will get the same output as going into the Google SERP directly, however, you have the added benefit of exporting this data into Excel, which is very handy. You can also access estimated monthly organic search traffic from competitors within this tool.
- Quick, A Little More Expensive, & Easy: comScore. This is an extremely robust tool that goes way beyond organic search but has some great organic competitive intelligence. The Search Planner – Term Destinations report will show you which sites are receiving the most organic traffic based on keywords you enter into the system. It’s useful in understanding key players in the space.
Once you've isolated your competitors, it’s time to measure up. You can analyze large amounts of keyword-level rankings with SEMRush.
To see what your competitors are ranking for, simply enter their domain into the search box. Click on Organic Keywords for a list of terms they are ranking for in the top 20 positions. By clicking Full Report you can quickly export the list into Excel for easy filtering and manipulation.
By working through this process with multiple competitors you will gain an understanding of both the quantity and quality of terms that they are ranking for. Filtering out brand terms and conducting a deep dive on non-brand rankings can lead to valuable insight.
You can also access some interesting ranking trend data on both you and your competitors. Here’s an example:
Rankings are interesting, but looking at organic search volume over time can paint a full picture of what's happening in your space. ComScore does a great job of delivering this data. The Search Planner – Site Profile report can trend out organic visits (and paid) over time. You can plot yourself and your competition to get an understanding of who is capturing more market share, as shown in the example below.
Answering the “How” Question
As a caveat, there are numerous factors that impact a website’s ability to rank for a keyword. We’ll touch on one of the more important factors here – inbound links.
Open Site Explorer, powered by SEOmoz, is a fantastic tool that will allow you to understand the inbound link profile of both your own site and your competitors’ sites. Simply click on Compare Pages and add your URL and the URLs of sites you want to compare with to get a good high-level view of some main metrics.
The Linking Root Domains value gives you an overview of unique domains that are linking to your site. You can compare this against any competitor as a starting point.
On the Inbound Links tab you can filter to see only followed links from external sites. This data can be viewed at a specific page level or by your entire site. By running through this exercise with competitive URLs you will quickly identify where they are acquiring their links.
The Page Authority value will help give you a relative scale of the “weight” that can be passed from the page that’s providing the inbound link. This can be helpful when determining links that you may decide to acquire for your own site.
The Anchor Text tab is also useful and will show you the anchor text that is most often used within an inbound link profile. Again, you can view this at a specific page level or the entire site. By understanding the number and quality of links pointing to your competitors, and the anchor text that is being used, you can quickly begin to develop a picture of how they are leveraging linking strategies to help move rankings.
With so much data available, it's easy to become overwhelmed. Pick a few key metrics that you're interested in diving into and make it a habit to monitor them over time. Acting on this data can certainly help improve your program’s performance.