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How to do an SEO Competitor Analysis: Checklist and Template (2021)

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A thorough SEO competitor analysis is nowadays the most valuable resource that site owners can obtain to maximize content, boost site performance, and bolster business goals.

Today, there are billions of websites offering products, services, and information. The challenge that most businesses face is optimizing their website’s content to be ahead of competitors in terms of site traffic, engagement, and overall visibility on search engines like Google.

Websites are undeniably necessary if you want to succeed in an ever more virtualized world and reach your business goals.

“A WEBSITE CAN CONTAIN TONS OF HELPFUL CONTENT YET REMAIN LARGELY INVISIBLE”

That’s where thoroughly conducted SEO competitive analysis comes in.

A lot of people are not familiar with SEO, even less with competitor SEO tracking, so it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.

In this guide, we’ll help you familiarize yourself with the general process of conducting an SEO competitor analysis, as well as the tools you can use to successfully learn how to optimize your content.

Why is SEO Competitor Analysis Important?

In simple terms, boosting your site’s organic traffic will help you achieve your business goals. To do that, you’ll first need to identify who your SEO competitors are. Take note that these aren’t necessarily just your business competitors — we’ll discuss that further in the “Identifying Competitors” section.

Furthermore, an SEO competitor analysis checklist will help you:

  • Pinpoint best practices in your field/industry;
  • Identify your competitors’ strengths and apply these data to existing efforts;
  • Identify your competitors’ weaknesses and take advantage of them by filling in gaps; and
  • Understand how to leverage things such as the SERPs (search engine results pages) to gain insight on top keywords and content.

Getting Started with Your SEO Competitor Analysis

Some of the most commonly used tools for SEO competitor research are:

  • Ahrefs
  • PageSpeed insights
  • SEO Audit Template

Let’s understand how these tools will help you effectively examine each SEO metric

Ahrefs

Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset that can help you to easily and consistently extract data on keywords, industry competitors, site traffic, backlink growth, and more.

A user-friendly platform, it also provides free learning materials so you can maximize your subscription. Ahrefs provides incredible insights on both your website and your competitors’ performance based on several SEO metrics.

As we go through this guide, we’ll provide several examples in terms of SEO metrics which can be easily gathered from Ahrefs.

Ahrefs offers a 7-day trial plan for $7, as well as monthly and yearly plans to suit your needs.

PageSpeed Insights

PageSpeed Insights is a Google tool that analyzes the content of a webpage and generates a report on the page’s performance, field data, core web vitals, and lab data on both mobile and desktop devices.

It’s free, straightforward, and easy to use: simply key in a web address and it will provide insights on how the page may be improved.

Based on both lab and field data, PageSpeed Insights will rate the page through a Performance Score, which indicates whether your page’s performance is “Good,” “Needs Improvement,” or “Poor.”

In addition to the rating, it may also make a couple of suggestions regarding areas to be improved such as proper sizing of images, removal of unused JavaScript and CSS, and reduction of initial server response time, among others.

SEO Audit Template

An SEO competitor analysis template will help you gather, consolidate, and organize data from your competitor’s SEO analysis research.

It is usually a spreadsheet or document within which you can input data based on various metrics from your SEO research, such as the ones listed below.

We’ve created a free downloadable SEO audit template based on the metrics discussed in this guide. You can sort, filter, and customize it according to your needs, or feel free to create your own template based on your preferred metrics.

Now that you’re familiar with the basic tools for in-depth competitor analysis, here’s a checklist of things to look out for when doing your research:

Identifying Competitors

Now, it’s time to identify your competitors. Who are they?

SIMPLY PUT, YOUR COMPETITORS ARE YOUR SEO RIVALS

Like we mentioned earlier, these aren’t always automatically the big players in your industry or your direct business competitors.

Although that is a fair starting point, your actual competitors as far as SEO is concerned can be identified through these methods:

a. Manual Keyword Identification

You can acquire core keywords based on your business (for example: “video streaming platform,” “content marketing tools,” “keto snacks”, etc.) and input them in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer tool to see which websites rank the highest.

SEO Competitor Analsys - Using Ahrefs for manual keyword identification

This can also be done via a Google search by simply keying in your core keywords to see which websites rank high on the search results.

Tip: If you’re searching via Google, using a VPN and setting it to the correct competition location is very important so that you get accurate search results.

Also, keep in mind that you should use an incognito tab or go on private mode to avoid SERP personalization.

b. Finding competing domains through Ahrefs

You can also opt to simply input your domain to Ahrefs Site Explorer to get a Competing Domains Report.

This way you will have a list of top competitors based on the existing keywords where your domain is currently ranking.

You’ll also be able to view and analyze how your competitors are performing in terms of organic and paid searches.

Tip: If you’re using Ahrefs, go to Site Explorer > enter your domain > Organic search > Competing domains

Finding competing domains through Ahrefs

Keyword Analysis

Keyword analysis is the heart of SEO.

To maximize the content that you produce, you’ll want to identify which keywords work for your competitors. To find out which keywords are driving organic traffic to their sites, you can use Ahrefs’ Organic Keywords Report.

Follow these steps for each competitor’s website that you want to analyze: go to Site Explorer > enter competitor’s domain > Organic keywords

Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a list of keywords on which your competitors are currently ranking.

Performing competitor keyword analysis with Ahrefs

From keyword competition analysis alone, you’ll be able to acquire valuable insights to effectively produce and place content on your website.

For example, certain keywords might be useful on your homepage or other landing pages, while some may be effectively utilized in a blog-type article or listicle format.

You can narrow down the list of keywords to the top five or ten keywords so that you can use the most relevant ones.

However, keep in mind that the Keyword Difficulty (KD) Score is also an important consideration when identifying which keywords to use.

Keywords that have a high KD, for example, will be more challenging to rank without extensive backlinking.

Low KD keywords, on the other side, will give you a better chance at ranking higher in the short term.

Both high and low KD keyword results are valuable. You just need to vary your approach in terms of using them to rank higher.

Organic Traffic Analysis

Organic traffic refers to the traffic generated from visitor searches on search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.

It can be analyzed with the help of several tools such as Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools and Ahrefs Site Explorer. It’s important to note that Ahrefs Site Explorer gives you an estimation of organic traffic, and it’s the only tool in the list above that allows you to see your competitors’ organic traffic.

In organic traffic analysis, you’ll look at your competitors’ organic traffic history, which is their website traffic over a set period (Ex. 6 months, 12 months).

Looking at your competitors’ organic traffic history will reveal important patterns, such as months of the year during which certain keywords rank the highest.

You may learn, for example, that a competitor’s website’s traffic significantly increases around December due to keyword searches relating to Christmas (Ex. “gift ideas for men,” “best online shopping websites,” etc.).

With this data, you can identify strengths and weaknesses in your content strategy and maximize your competitors’ weak points to gain a competitive advantage.

It’s also important to study traffic breakdown by location. Again, you can use Ahrefs Site Explorer to do this.

Go to Site Explorer > enter competitor’s domain > Overview > Organic search tab.

Identifying where your competitor’s traffic is coming from will help you identify areas for expansion in terms of geo-targeting, website translation, and content creation.

For example, if for a certain niche, the bulk of traffic comes from the UK, then by correlation, there’s also a chance to reach other English-speaking countries such as the US and Canada.

Competitor organic traffic analysis with Ahrefs

If the analysis returns expected locations, meaning that you’re already primarily targeting content in these locations, don’t forget to also look at the other locations which may have the potential for traffic.

For example, if one of your competitors has moderately significant traffic coming from China or UAE, you can capitalize on that by slowly creating content that caters to those territories.

A good idea would be to translate your website or create a blog specific to a certain country or region’s language and needs.

Likewise, if you do find that you are already gaining traffic from a certain location that remains largely untapped by your competitors, then you can leverage that to strengthen your efforts further.

Backlink Profile Analysis

Backlinks are incoming hyperlinks from one web page to another website. In other words, it’s another website pointing visitors back at you or you directing visitors to other websites through a link.

The backlink profile is the sum of all the links from other websites that direct traffic to yours.

A healthy backlink profile is crucial for SEO because it says a lot about your website’s credibility and authoritativeness.

Simply put, a high-quality site will normally link out to other high-quality sites.

If another website links back to your site, it means that they see your content as accurate and reliable.

It is commonly said that Google interprets these links as ‘votes’ for your site. The more votes your website has, the more trustworthy your content becomes to Google’s algorithms.

HOWEVER, LINKING TO JUST ABOUT ANY SITE WITH SPAM CONTENT WILL PROBABLY RESULT IN GOOGLE PENALIZING YOUR SITE

Quality is equally or perhaps more important than quantity when it comes to link building.

Using a backlink analysis tool gets you your competitors’ top backlinks.

You can use Ahrefs Backlink Checker for this. With its large backlink index, you get full access to your competitors’ links. But start slow, and focus on your competitors’ best-performing links–maybe their top 5 or 10 links, and try to replicate that on your site.

Backlink profile analysis with Ahrefs

Replicating backlinks means creating content using the same techniques that your competitors used. (Ex.: posting on a forum, publishing a blog, submitting a contact form with a website link, etc.)

There are two types of backlinks you can acquire: dofollow and nofollow.

First off, a dofollow link is a standard link when another website links to yours. It affects your website’s rankings more effectively because search engine bots acknowledge dofollow links. This is why SEO pros say they pass on “link juice,” because they carry the SEO equity from one website to another.

On the other hand, nofollow links contain a piece of code that tells search engines to skip over these links. Hence, the name.

These are usually links from content types such as blog comments, social media, forums, press releases, widgets, and content you’d rather have not related to your website.

There is no fixed number to define the ideal ratio between these two, however, it is safe to say that most successful websites have a greater number of dofollow links.

At the same time, a natural-looking backlink profile will include some nofollow links.

Content Gap Analysis

A thorough content gap analysis can be very useful in identifying areas of weakness in your site.

Content gaps refer to keywords which your competitors rank for, but you currently don’t.

You can easily pinpoint these gaps with Ahrefs Content Gap tool: go to Site Explorer > enter your domain > Content gap.

Content gap analysis with Ahrefs

Depending on the volume that your report returns, you can identify keywords that you may also rank for, as well as find new keywords which you can use on your site.

Identifying content gaps is helpful because then you’ll be smart about creating new content (or improve the existing one).

Instead of simply creating, say, a new article on digital marketing strategies, you’ll be able to do so with an awareness of these gaps in mind, so you can strengthen your content’s quality and maximize it for both SEO and social sharing.

Social Media Analysis

A robust and effective social media plan can drive huge traffic to your site.

As such, looking at the social media channels where traffic is coming from for a certain niche may be very helpful when optimizing content.

While social media presence does not directly affect SEO ranking, you would agree that effective social media campaigns are key to the viral success of most brands, and consequently drive high traffic to their respective sites.

Viral content, for example, may rank high on SERPs thanks to the number of likes, shares, and site visits.

A strong social media presence also attracts more backlinks, and alongside your SEO-optimized content, chances are high that equally high-quality sites may link back to your content.

Some examples of social media channels that have the potential to get the most referral traffic are:

  • LinkedIn
  • Medium
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Quora

UX and Site Architecture Analysis

There aren’t any tools capable of automatically analyzing design and UX at this point. Also, this is something a little bit subjective, especially for someone that isn’t an expert in UX.

The goal here is to evaluate the user experience offered by both your website and your competitors’ websites. You will want to browse your competitors’ websites and also your website and evaluate the points below:

  • Is this website easy to navigate?
  • Is it easy to find information across different pages?
  • Does the website load fast?
  • Is it easy to use on mobile devices?
  • What can I do to improve my user experience?
  • Which website offers the best user experience?

Two key metrics that help you evaluate your website UX, but aren’t definitive, are bounce rate and avg. Session duration.

While a higher bounce rate might mean that the webpage is hard to navigate and doesn’t fulfill the searcher intent, it might also mean that the search intent was easily fulfilled and the user doesn’t need to perform any further actions on your webpage/site.

The same is true for average session duration, so take both with a pinch of salt. These are metrics that directly relate website design to user experience, in line with

Google’s call to evaluate page experience for a better web.
Google is already using those metrics as part of their ranking algorithm, further

highlighting the link between UX and SEO.

WEBSITE DESIGN IS NOT JUST PURELY ABOUT AESTHETICS

It serves an important purpose in SEO. While not many businesses realize this, it is a crucial element of your overall SEO competitor analysis.

Pro Tip: Customer surveys can be very effective here. Here’s an awesome article about this.

E-A-T Analysis

E-A-T stands for the three pillars of page quality, according to Google: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. These are the factors that Google uses to measure how much the algorithm should trust your website and content.

Looking at your competitors’ E-A-T and comparing them with your own will help you identify areas for improvement as well as areas that are performing well (and should be maintained).

Expertise

This refers to a high level of knowledge in the field or niche that you belong to.

If your content is truthful and useful for users, and it’s written by qualified experts in the field, your site’s expertise is considered highly rated in that specific field.

For example, a well-established brand that has been in the industry for many years and has proven expertise in the field may have a brand site whose expertise rating is high.

Authoritativeness

Authoritativeness is drawn from your capabilities to produce high-value content and drive quality conversation.

While expertise refers to the level of knowledge, authoritativeness is measured by how much your website content stands out from others and is therefore naturally recognized by other authoritative sources.

Users should consider your site’s opinion as the authority, a reliable source of insight, and valuable information in the vast sea of content.

Trustworthiness

This refers to the level of safety and security that users feel when they visit your website and read your content.

For example, if you ask users for their credit card details, then everything about your site should make them feel safe when conducting their transactions.

In addition to this, reliable backlinks and using an SSL certificate are important factors that contribute to a site’s trustworthiness.

As per Google guidelines, E-A-T is applicable on all types of niches from travel, to gossip, fashion, consumer forums, and more.

YMYL

When it comes to websites that sell products and services, Google holds them to very high standards and hence these sites are categorized as YMYL or “Your Money or Your Life.” All websites that provide information that may impact mental or physical health, safety, and financial stability are also categorized as YMYL.

Websites that come under YMYL category include those of healthcare, legal and financial service providers, and e-commerce websites.

Google holds these websites to the highest standards. YMYL websites, therefore, need to ensure that the content they put out is safe and will not harm anyone consuming the content.

When it comes to YMYL, the bottom line is that your users need to feel safe.

SERP Analysis

SERPs (search engine results pages) are incredibly useful in understanding not just valuable keywords but also the searchers’ intent when they type in a specific keyword.

You can identify this by doing a simple Google search of your desired keyword.

Understanding searcher intent is crucial because it gives you valuable insight in terms of the type of information that your target audience is looking for.

Used to describe the purpose of an online search, search intent also known as a user or audience intent describes the motive behind a specific search.

There are primarily 4 types of search intent.

  • Informational Intent – The majority of searches on the internet fall under this intent with people searching for information on just about everything under the sun.
  • Transactional Intent – A lot of internet users are looking to buy stuff and browse the web to find the best deal hence searching with transactional intent.
  • Navigational Intent – People with navigational intent are looking to visit a particular website. For e.g., someone searching for LinkedIn wants to visit LinkedIn and not any other social media platform.
  • Commercial Investigation – The intent of people using the world wide web to research a product or service they intend to buy shortly is said to be a commercial investigation.

You need to ensure that your landing page matches the search intent of your target audience.

For example, a search on “toy poodle” yields a majority of photos, videos, and articles relating to helpful information regarding the dog breed–whether they’re family-friendly, how to care for them, and how they differ from other breeds of poodles.

This gives you valuable insight on searcher intent: Google is telling you that searchers of this keyword are mainly interested in learning more about the dog breed and possibly getting it as a pet.

It also shows you which types of content are most effective for this particular search: how-to videos, images, straightforward information pages, and articles on the dog’s temperament and physical characteristics.

Using Ahrefs Site Explorer, you can also pinpoint SERP features or featured snippets that your competitors own.

Featured Snippets are Google’s way of quickly answering a searcher’s query. They are the short snippets of text that appear at the top of a Google search result in response to a search query and usually come in special boxes.

To look at featured snippets via Ahrefs, go to Site Explorer > enter competitors’ domain > Organic search > Organic keywords > SERP features filter > Featured snippets > Only linking to target.

Using Ahrefs for SERP analysis

Looking at featured snippets of competitors in the same niche as yours gives your website a chance to also rank high in SERPs.

PPC Keywords Analysis

Analyzing your competitors’ PPC keywords is also crucial because it clearly defines which keywords they are profiting from.

This information will likewise help you strengthen your SEO strategy and plan your PPC marketing.

To find out your competitors’ PPC keywords, you can use the PPC keywords report in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Go to Site Explorer > enter competitors’ domain > Paid search > PPC keywords.

Identifying your competitors’ paid keywords can also help you find low volume, high-converting keywords.

These are keywords that may not be as highly-searched as high-volume ones but have a high conversion rate, which means you’ll likely earn more from them.

Looking at competitor PPC ads can also help you write tags and descriptions that will increase your own site’s click-through rate.

Using Ahrefs, you can go to Site Explorer > enter competitors’ domain > Paid search > PPC keywords.

PPC keyword analysis with Ahrefs

Then, preview an ad for a specific keyword by hovering over the Ad icon. Observe the copy used for the description and take note of their selling points, so you can get inspiration when promoting your content.

Summary & Takeaways

We’ve just outlined some of the basic tools and metrics that you can use to conduct an in-depth SEO competitor research analysis.

You should ideally conduct this type of research regularly, to stay updated on the trends and changes in SEO.

Competitive analysis may be conducted every quarter, or even once a month to maintain optimal performance.

Keep in mind that competition can be useful, especially in SEO, in terms of identifying one’s strengths and weaknesses to perform better.

Be mindful that a thorough analysis of your competitors’ websites will provide you with concrete ideas to develop a robust SEO strategy. This in turn will help you optimize your content and significantly increase website traffic.

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