5 Steps for SEO Competitive Analysis & Research

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A potential client once asked, “I’d like to rank for the word jewelry.”

“OK,” I said, “And what’s your budget?”

His answer was not surprising to me. “Weeelll, I can spend about $500/month on organic SEO.”

SEOs all around the world are used to having similar discussions on an almost daily basis, trying to explain to potential customers the balance between search volume, domain authority, brand authority, and budget.

In this article, we’ll explore how to perform competitive research in order to formulate a clear, realistic, and cohesive strategy.

How do keyword research and competitive analysis go hand in hand? What is the barrier to entry for my industry? What are terms that my company can realistically rank for, and how long will it take? Let’s explore.

Step 1: Keyword Research

The first step is to first identify the keywords that your site can REALISTICALLY target. For this article, we’ll use “jewelry” as an example. Unless you have the brand authority or budget to compete with companies such as Tiffany.com and Kay.com, the possibility of ranking for the keyword “jewelry” for any small or medium business is practically none.

Instead, your first goal is to find a viable niche within this competitive industry that is achievable. Mindmapping is a great tool to organize your keyword concepts and buckets. Here’s an example of how this process would work:

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There are a myriad of ways to grow your keyword list:

  • Identifying your competitors and typing them into SEMrush to see the list of keywords they’re ranking for
  • Using Spyfu to get a list of keywords they are bidding for
  • Using Keyword Planner to get a list of possible keywords related to a primary term

Step 2: Identify Your Top Competitors

Once you have your keyword list, type those terms into Google and write down the sites that show up in the top 10. Often you’ll see the same sites appearing again and again. You’ll want to identify the sites that rank for many keywords in that niche, and add them to your list of competitors.

Again, SEMrush can be a valuable tool as you can type the domain into the search box and determine their organic traffic and number of organic keywords ranking in Google.

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The more keywords they have ranking in SEMrush, especially for terms with high search volume, the more authoritative the domain is. You can also use SEMrush to search for competitors, but that list is not always accurate and should only be used as a starting point.

In this part of the process, it’s important that you find sites that are “truly” competitive with yours. Comparing “Mary’s Silver Earrings” with “Tiffany.com” would not be a fair comparison. It’s important to identify the long tail terms that you’d be targeting, and finding sites that rank for relevant terms. Do not include the large retail brands in your list – Amazon, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, etc. – as they will simply skew your metrics.

Step 3: Analyze Your Competitors

Now that you know who your competitors are, you need to dive deep into the profile. You can start by grabbing general metrics for them. LinkResearchTools has a great tool called “Juice Tool” that can be used to get the general metrics for each competitor, including Link Velocity, Domain Authority, Inbound Links, Social Shares, Domain Age, and much more. Here’s an example of some of the data:

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These numbers are not enough to form a comprehensive understanding of your competitors; it’s just a start. Next, you need a deep dive into their backlink profile.

1. Download Their Backlink Profile:

Using Ahrefs, you can sort by Domain Rank to view their backlinks from most to least authoritative. This way you can gain an idea of how many high quality links you’ll have to target.

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2. Analyze Their Topical Authority:

Using Majestic’s backlink tool, analyze their topical trust flow and understand their semantic link profile.

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3. Establish Industry Averages:

The Competitive Landscape Analyzer from LinkResearchTools is a wonderful way to establish industry averages, which will give you guidelines to follow when starting your campaign. Some of the metrics you can look at are:

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Money vs Brand vs. Compound Anchor Text

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Placement of Links

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Type of a Site

Step 4: Social Media and Content Audit

Now that you have an understanding of who your competitors are and their backlink profile, you’ll need to research their content marketing and social media strategy. How often do they share updates on social media? What is their engagement ratio? How many active followers do they have? Here’s a template for a social media audit questionnaire that can be used as part of this process.

Evaluate their blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest accounts. This will help you determine how active you need to be in terms of creating and sharing content, and again, to determine your first targets in terms of follower acquisition and engagement ratio.

Step 5: Determine Your Barrier to Entry and Strategy

Once you have a thorough understanding of your competitors, you can create your strategy based on the averages from the data you uncovered.

First you’ll want to know how many links you’ll need to acquire, and the quality of those links, to start showing up in the search results. Of course this will be based on the averages of the sites ranking for the keywords you chose. It’s important to avoid keywords that have a strong presence of sites with massive domain authority, as mentioned above. These domains are tough to beat as they tend to be highly trusted and rewarded by Google.

Next you’ll want to determine how many links based on topical categories you’ll need. For example, if you need 100 links to start showing up, how many of those should be in your direct niche vs. a more generic niche or a related niche? Out of those 100 backlinks, how many should have a Domain Rank of 80 or more? Seventy or more? Between 60 and 40? Figure out a breakdown based on the industry averages so you can set targets for how to sculpt your backlink outreach and acquisition.

Finally, you’ll determine how many articles to share on your blog every week, how many should be keyword vs topically focused, how often to post on social media, how many followers to acquire, etc.

The data you acquire from this research will form the backbone of your SEO strategy, and will create the structure of your campaign. In such a difficult space, it’s important to arm yourself with data, otherwise you will easily waste resources without seeing a return on investment.

Related reading

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