Competitive Research & Analysis Guide for Search Engine Optimization

Posted by Mark Thompson - April 6, 2009 - SEO, Tools - 1 Comment

Have you ever wondered what it would take to move above your competitors in the organic search results? To do this, you need to spend a good amount of time researching what you want to rank for and then analyzing your competitors who are already ranking for those key terms. You need to look at what type of search engine optimization your competitors have done, both onsite and offsite.

Let’s start from the beginning…

Keyword Research

Whenever you are doing competitive research for SEO you want to start by identifying what keywords and phrases you want to rank for. If you choose keywords that are too broad you could be lost in a sea of thousands of sites trying to rank for the same or similar variations of those keywords. If you choose keywords that are too defined, you could be optimizing your site for keywords that nobody is searching for.

  1. Start by using multiple keyword research tools to populate a list of potential keywords and phrases
  2. Compile a spreadsheet of all of the different keywords/phrases that you have found
  3. Run those keywords through a traffic estimator to get estimated monthly search volume
  4. Choose 15-20 key terms that you want your site to rank for

*Any optional step if you have the budget would be to test your keyword list in Google Adwords to see what kind of traffic it really is producing.

Competitive Analysis

I recommend creating a spreadsheet that lists the top 10 sites ranked in Google for your top keywords that you want to rank for. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you pull top 10 listings very easily to save you lots of time. See the Free Tools For Competitive Analysis section below.

Once you have identified your top competitors, start to analyze them.

Look at the following criteria:

Onsite

  1. Domain Age: How long has their domain been registered?
  2. Search Engine Friendly Site Structure: Is their website crawlable by search engines?
  3. Title & Meta Description Tags: Are they using your keywords in those tags?
  4. H1, H2, H3 Tags: Do they use H tags for their headlines and sub-headlines in their content? Are they using keywords in those tags?
  5. # of Pages Indexed: How many pages has Google, Yahoo, MSN indexed?
  6. Google PageRank & Alexa Rank: What is their PageRank and Alexa Rank?
  7. Anchor Text: Do they use keyword rich anchor text within their site?
  8. Page Content: Do they have unique, well written content that has good keyword density? Do they have a blog? How often are they updating their content?
  9. Related Outbound Links: Do they link out to relevant sites?
  10. NoFollow Tags or Website Sculpting: Are they using the nofollow tag to sculpt their pages so only the important pages are getting link juice?
  11. Blackhat SEO tactics: Do you notice any unethical SEO strategies that they are practicing?

Offsite

  1. Listings in major directories: Are they listed in the DMOZ directory? Yahoo Directory? Business.com? Best of the Web?
  2. Local Business Listings: Do they have local business listings for Google, Yahoo, & MSN?
  3. Social Media: Do they have any social community profiles? Are they actively involved in niche blogs/wikis/groups?

Link Analysis

It is a true statement that not all links are created equal. Even though link analysis is considered “offsite”, I thought it should have its own section because of its importance with search engine rankings. When you are analyzing your competitors inbound links, you want to keep in mind that relevant, high quality links are worth much more than links coming from broad directories or link farms. Keep an eye on links coming from .edu, .org, and .gov because search engines think of those sites as trusted, authoritative websites.

You also want to see where those links are originating from. If you see that a site is getting 30%-80% of its links from one IP address, it will not bear as much weight, than if you had links from all unique IP addresses. If you are looking to rank locally you want to keep track of the links that are focused on your local market.

  1. Backlink Analysis
    1. # of inbound links: How many links are coming into your competitors site?
    2. Type of links: One way, Reciprocal, Nofollow?
    3. Domain Extension: .com, .edu, .net, .org, .gov, .biz, .info
    4. Anchor Text: What does the anchor text say for the links pointing to those competitors?
    5. IP Address: Where are their links physically coming from?
    6. Deep Linking: What percentages of their links are pointing to the homepage, in comparison with the interior pages?
  2. Analyzing those backlinks
    1. You can take your analysis a step further by analyzing the backlinks, backlinks…if that made sense. It will help you gauge how much weight you can get from a specific site. If you see that a backlink has lots of quality inbound links to their site, you may want to focus on getting links from sites like those first.

Website Analysis of Your Own Site

In order to understand what you need to do to rank above your competitors, you need to run an SEO checkup on your own site. Now that you have performed an in-depth analysis on your competitors you should have a better idea as to what you need to do to improve your rankings and move above them.

Competitive Search Queries

Here are some advanced search queries you can run in search engines to identify other competitors and other sites to get links from.

Try in Google, Yahoo, MSN: # of pages indexed

site:domain.com

Try in Yahoo Site Explorer – # of links

link:domain.com

Try in Google, Yahoo, MSN – Find related sites

related:domain.com

Try in Yahoo and MSN. Replace the domain.com with your competitor and the .edu with whichever type of extension you are searching for

linkdomain:domain.com site:edu

Try in Yahoo and MSN.

linkdomain:domain.com “directory”

linkdomain:domain.com “add url”

linkdomain:domain.com “suggest a link”

linkdomain:domain.com “submit site”

Try in Google, Yahoo, MSN – Pulls sites that only have your specified query in the title

allintitle:keyword/phrase

You can also try SEObay.com’s Find Link Partners Tool to save you some time.

Free Tools For Competitive Analysis

RECOMMENDED TOOLS

Back Link Analyzer: Software based

SEO for Firefox: Firefox extension

SEO Quake: Firefex extension

Xenu: Software based

Rank Checker: Firefox extension

Google Toolbar: Browser Toolbar

Other Tools

MarketLeap: Link Popularity Checker: Web based

MarketLeap: Search Engine Saturation: Web based

Traffic Marks: Web based

Compete: Web based

URL Trends: Web based

Search Status: Firefox extension

Social Scan: Web based

SocialMeter: Web based

SpyFu: Web based

ShowIP: Firefox extension

About the Author

Mark Thompson

Mark is the creator of StayOnSearch and president of Search Creatively, a full-service Internet Marketing Company located in Raleigh, North Carolina. He also contributes to many industry related blogs including Search Engine Journal and is active on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Mark on Twitter