Even Sun Tzu knew that marching blindly into battle was foolish. To win the war for rankings, you must “know your enemy” — in this case, your SERP competitors.
SEO competitor analysis reveals your rivals’ strategies, gaps in their armor, and holes waiting to be exploited. Master this process, and you can expertly position your blog for industry domination.
In this detailed guide, I’m revealing the top competitor analysis tactics I use personally to build profitable blogs that rank – both for myself and my clients. Let’s find out how to compare your website with competitors!
Affiliate disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, so I may earn a commission if you buy anything using them. There’s no extra cost to you – and I only recommend products that I’ve both used personally and think are awesome. Thanks for your support! ❤️
Why Do Competitor Analysis in SEO?
Let’s face it – only 10 websites can get on Google’s front page for any keyword. The rest go largely unseen.
That’s why competition is at the heart of good SEO practice.
To be successful with your blog, you need to understand exactly where it fits in among all the other sites vying for the same keywords.
Learn About Your Niche
Doing competitor research helps you truly understand your niche. By studying sites that (currently) outrank you, you can quickly grasp which tactics work best in your space.
You can find out:
- How top sites in your niche structure and format their content
- Where they get their best backlinks from
- Which keywords bring them the most organic traffic
This gives you a much clearer idea of what search engines want to see from authority sites in your niche.
It also reveals the tactics and strategies you should emulate to beat the competition. Understanding successful competitors sets a roadmap for your own SEO success.
Unearth Your SERP Competitors
You might think you already know who your competitors are.
But your competitors in the physical world or on social media may well be totally different from your competitors in the SERPs.
In SEO terms, your direct competitors are the sites ranking on Google’s front page for your most important keywords.
And once you get deeper into keyword research, you’ll soon notice certain websites that keep showing up again and again.
Identify Promising Keyword Gaps
Another reason to do competitor analysis is to spot promising keyword gaps.
I normally like to identify 3 to 5 competitors, then reverse engineer all of their top ranking keywords to see which ones my own site is missing out on. Based on that intel, I can easily decide which content to prioritize next.
Scope Out Backlink Opportunities
When doing competitor analysis, you can easily examine all the backlinks that a competitor site has earned over time, along with their corresponding anchor texts.
This allows you to dig deeper and look for opportunities to get similar backlinks for your own blog.
After all, if that big site linked to your competitor’s page, what’s stopping it from linking to yours as well? Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting your site in front of the right person to make it happen.
How To Do An SEO Competitor Analysis That Gets Results (My Proven Tactics)
This is a step-by-step walk through of my typical SEO competitor analysis process. I normally use Semrush for this. The all in one dashboard covers everything I need to do a detailed SEO competitor analysis.
We’ll look at three main areas of competitor analysis:
- Keyword opportunities
- Backlink opportunities
- Content analysis
#1. Find Your Competitors
You could do this manually, as follows.
Type your most important keywords into Google, and note down the most similar websites to yours that show up in the top 10 (top tip, if you’re not in the same country as your target audience, use a VPN to get the most accurate results).
But doing this manually is a laborious and long winded process.
#2. Explore Their Keywords
Now we know who some of our competitors are, it’s time to dig deeper and start exploring their keywords. We can approach this task from several different angles of attack.
Run a keyword gap analysis
Let’s run a keyword gap analysis to find keywords that our competitors rank for but which we don’t – yet. I do this every time I start working on SEO strategy for a new client.
This process not only helps you find new keywords to incorporate into your existing posts, but also find opportunities for creating entirely new content.
Here’s how to do a keyword gap analysis in Semrush.
First, head over to the Keyword Gap tool and enter the root URLs for your blog’s top competitors (that you found in the previous section). Here’s what it should look like when you’re done.
📌 Tip: Choose the competitors with the highest number of overlapping keywords. That way you’ll get the most comprehensive and useful results possible.
Scroll down until you hit the All keyword details section. Select the “Missing” tab to see a list of all the keywords which your competitors rank for but you don’t.
In the below image you can see that my site is missing 68 keywords that my competitors are ranking for (that’s not a big number, in some comparisons you might see tens of thousands of missing keywords).
Not all of them will be the right fit (some of these are just variants of keywords that I’m actually ranking for). So it’s important to use your common sense and knowledge of your site when you review the list for promising opportunities.
Once you find a keyword you like the look of, click the blue “Add to keyword list” button at the top of the section, to add it to a handy list in Semrush.
Look for new opportunities
This is my favorite part of keyword research – finding exciting new content opportunities.
For this one, we’re going to start our process in the Organic Research screen of Semrush.
Just type in the home page URL of your competitor of interest, and hit Search.
You’ll arrive at the main organic research screen for that competitor. Next, select the “Position Changes” tab at the top, then scroll down to the “All Position Changes” section.
This feature makes it really easy to see which new keywords the site has recently ranked for.
Next, set the filters for “Position: Top 20” and “Position changes: New.”
Click the Apply button and you’ll get a list of all the new keywords that the competitor site has recently ranked for in the top 20 (that’s on the first and second pages of Google search results).
This is a great place to search for fresh ideas and hidden gems to inspire your own content creation process.
Look for lost or declining keywords
The final piece in our keyword research puzzle is to examine our competitors for keywords that they’ve recently lost, or which are declining in the rankings.
We can do this using the same Organic Research tool from Semrush. Just like we did before, put your competitor’s homepage URL into the main search box and click Search.
Scroll down to the same “All Position Changes” section and this time we’re going to set the filters to pull out the keywords that have either declined in the rankings or been lost altogether.
Keep the same filter as before for Position Top 20. But in the Position Changes filter, select “Lost” instead of “New”.
Semrush will now show you a list of all the keywords where your competitor has lost their Top 20 rankings. These could present interesting new opportunities for you to jump in and create content to pick up the slack.
#3. Explore Their Backlinks
Analyzing backlinks is another essential part of a good SEO competitor analysis. Backlinks matter because they act like a “vote of confidence” on the Internet.
Simply put, if a website owner thinks another website is trustworthy and credible, then they’re more likely to link out to it. After all, would YOU want to link to a dodgy, spammy website? I didn’t think so.
So it stands to reason that Google will look more favorably on websites with a large number of backlinks from other, high-quality websites. And that typically leads to higher rankings.
Semrush makes it super easy to view all the backlinks pointing to your competitors’ pages, and provides a number of handy filters to sort and analyze them in more detail.
Let’s take a look at the process of backlink analysis in more detail.
Open up Semrush and click on the Backlink Analytics tool in the sidebar. You’ll see the below screen come up. Just type in your own homepage URL to get started with the analysis.
Then plug in up to 5 of your competitors and hit the Compare button.
You’ll get a summary of all the key information about your competitors’ backlink situation and how it compares to your own.
As you can see above, I’m looking at one slightly smaller competitor (hi Ben ) and two much larger competitors in this analysis.
Metrics to know about:
- Authority Score (AS): An overall score (calculated by Semrush) based on the number and strength of all the domains that point to your site.
- Referring Domains: The number of websites that have linked to yours.
- Backlinks: The number of individual pages that have linked to yours.
Keep in mind when you see competitors with tens of thousands of backlinks, these aren’t always going to be links from high quality sources.
It’s very common (especially as a website moves up the rankings and becomes more visible), for it to become the target of spammy and worthless backlinks.
That’s why it’s always important to open up your competitors’ list of backlinks and examine them more closely.
Let’s do that now for one of these competitors. We’ll go with Niche Pursuits as it’s got the most backlinks. Click on the blue number of backlinks.
Make sure the Page AS filter is set from high to low, so you see the strongest backlinks first. Then, you can use the additional filters along the top of the section to explore your competitors backlinks and look for interesting opportunities.
Here are the Semrush filters I use most often and what they mean:
- Follow: Do-follow links are the most beneficial because they directly pass “link juice” (otherwise known as authority), from the linking site to the target site. Normally, I’d set the “Follow” filter to show do-follow links only, as they’re by far the most valuable.
- Nofollow: These don’t carry the same value, but they’re also worth looking at. Sometimes they come from top quality publications like Forbes or the New York Times (which may have a blanket editorial policy that’s no-follow for all external links). In that case, the link would still be valuable. No-follow links are also good because they signal a natural link profile (as your site would acquire them organically over time without doing any link building).
- UGC (User generated content): These links come from forums or blog comment sections. They usually of low quality and not worth bothering with.
Next up, review the type of domains that are linking to your competitor’s site. Are they scoring links from authoritative media sites such as BBC, CNN, the Guardian, Al Jazeera, and similar?
Or perhaps they’re getting links from domains with any of the following high authority suffixes:
- .edu (used for US educational institutions)
- .co.uk (used for UK educational institutions)
- .gov (used for government sites)
- .mil (used for military institutions)
The sites have strong authority and it’s not always easy to get links from them. So if your competitors have lots of these links, then they’re going to be tough to compete with.
To plan a potential strategy, first examine the content that’s being linked to on your competitor’s site. Do you already have anything similar, or could you create something similar? How can you improve your page so it’s better than your competitor’s?
There’s a well-known link building tactic called the skyscraper technique. It basically involves finding a piece of content on your competitor’s site that’s received a high-quality backlink, then creating a better piece of content on your own site. Finally, you contact the site owner and ask them to replace the original link with yours.
This method might work well for some, but personally I have qualms about it. Here’s why:
- Lots of people are doing it now (many of them spammy), so it’s becoming cliché, overused and boring.
- You’re asking the site owner to put in the effort of changing the link, primarily for your benefit (and they know that).
- You don’t know what sort of relationship already exists between the site owner and your competitor. Perhaps it’s a friend, someone in their network, or a paid relationship. In those cases, they’re unlikely to replace the link with yours.
Instead, I’d recommend studying the target website in more depth, then pitching them an entirely new and original piece of content, rather than looking to steal someone else’s backlinks.
And, if you don’t want your pitch to go ignored (as many link building requests often do), then I’d suggest first building a quality presence on LinkedIn and contacting site owners through there instead. I’ve had really good response rates that way.
To close out this section on backlink analysis, let’s look at one more handy tool in your arsenal.
Semrush’s Backlink Gap tool lets you easily compare your site to several competitors at once, so you can identify holes in your backlink strategy.
Plug a bunch of competitors into the tool and hit “Find prospects”
Then, click on the “Best” tab to see at a glance all the backlinks that your competitors have, but you don’t. This is an excellent way to find ideas for new backlink outreach campaigns.
Always remember to sort the list of domains by their Authority Score (AS), to make sure you’re targeting only the highest quality domains from your competitors.
These are the ones that will move the needle the most for your site.
#4. Analyze Top Content
Next, let’s examine your competitors’ content to get a sense for its overall quality.
This manual process involves a deeper exploration of your competitors’ top pages, to figure out exactly what makes them perform so well.
Find Top Pages
First, let’s use Semrush to identify top performing pages for a competitor.
To get started, head over to the Organic Research report and select the Pages tab.
In the Traffic column, you can see which pages are bringing the most traffic to this website. I recommend starting your analysis with the top performing pages, especially if they are directly relevant to your own primary topic.
Looking at the top traffic pages also gives us insights into this website’s SEO strategy. They’re targeting a group of high volume terms with the user intent of “is XYZ legit”.
This is a smart strategy, because it allows the site to replicate a similar article structure multiple times for each different keyword variation in the pattern – resulting in easier and faster content production.
Next, I’d open up some of these top pages and take a look at the key factors, such as:
- Use of images (e.g. are they original or stock photos?, how many do they use?, what role do the images play?)
- Use of video (do they use video? is it their own, or from others?)
- Do they use graphs, charts, tables or infographics?
- What does the heading structure look like?
- How fast is their page?
Knowing these factors about your competitors top pages will help you plan your own SEO strategy more effectively.
We also need to understand what content formats our competitors are using in their top performing pages.
- Product roundups
- Comparison posts
- Vs posts
- Alternatives to X posts
- Ultimate guide type posts
What kind of formats are most successful for your competitor? Is their top traffic page in how-to guide format? If so, then you can take inspiration from this and create a similar format for your own page.
Keep in mind, it’s also important to look at the top 10 search results for any target keyword, to make sure you understand which content formats Google is ranking for that keyword.
Content quality is another key factor to examine when doing an analysis of your competitor’s website.
With the rise of AI and generic content, having high content quality is becoming increasingly important to win in organic search. If your competitor has poor quality content, that points to an important gap you can fill by creating better quality content.
So what exactly constitutes “quality of content”?
First, let’s consider EEAT.
EEAT stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. It’s part of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, which their team of human “Quality Raters” use to evaluate the expertise of content creators.
Is it obvious that the post from your competitor is written by an expert in the topic? Or, does the post sound fluffy, generic, and with no real value?
Does the post just regurgitate the content of other top ranking posts on this keyword? Or, has the author added value through a new angle, expert opinion, real-world experience, or other information not easily found in the top 10 search results?
You should also look at the writing quality of the post. Is it littered with spelling and grammatical errors? Or does the writing flow nicely and have an engaging style?
How readable is it? Is the text arranged in dense chunky paragraphs, or is it nicely spaced out with the use of bullet points and lists where needed?
Another thing to check is the publication date, or last updated date of the post. People don’t want to read outdated content. So if the post is over a year out of date, you have a prime opportunity to publish something fresh on the topic and outrank them.
Actionable Next Steps
By now you’ve seen how vital competitor research is for SEO success. You can’t rank easily without understanding the sites already dominating for your target keywords.
I’ve shown you my exact process for exposing competitors’ secrets – finding their best keywords, dissecting their links, and revealing content that works.
With Semrush’s powerful suite of tools, you can easily get the full picture to mimic and outdo your competitors. Grab a Semrush free trial and start analyzing your competitors today!