“The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”
The Art of War may be an ancient Chinese military manual published centuries ago. Still, this quote by author and general Sun Tzu is a timeless reference for battle strategy — and even applies to business.
No matter how original your company or products are, you are partially defined by the market and its competition.
Who else offers similar products and services? How do they compare to yours? What makes your company special?
Answering these questions with a competitor analysis will give you deeper insight into what others are doing in the space you share. This will arm you with ideas on how to strategize, tap into neglected niches, and even clarify your value or role in your industry.
But this analysis doesn’t have to stop there. You can go deeper to gain an edge in one of the most crucial but complicated digital marketing battle-grounds: SEO.
Conducting an SEO competitor audit is a way to figure out what keywords you should target, what links you should build, and what kind of content you should create — because it’s already working for other companies in your market. What you learn in the process will help you move to the head of the pack — or lead the way into an untapped niche that your company is uniquely equipped to operate in. This can be done alone or as part of a larger marketing audit.
Here’s how to do it.
For more information on creating a Google-friendly SEO strategy:
1. Identify Your SEO Competitors
If you’ve completed a competitor analysis for your industry, you should already have an impressive list of companies to investigate for your SEO competitor audit.
But take note: this list may not include indirect competitors — companies and websites that siphon your potential customer traffic even though they may not even be in the same industry as you.
For example, if you own a bakery, you will be competing for customers against the local Dunkin’ Donuts and other mom n’ pop pastry shops in your city. But when it comes to web traffic, you’ll also be competing against food blogs or recipe sites.
To find your SEO competitors:
- Know your keywords: Look at your analytics for the list of search terms that are currently leading people to your site.
- Look for leaders: Search for these keywords on Google or an SEO tool to see what websites appear first. Even if you didn’t consider the websites in these results to be a direct competitor before, remember that they are still competing for your traffic.
- Utilize tools: In our DIY Marketing Audit Workbook, we recommend a number of SEO tools that can help you with your research. Additionally, Ubersuggest by Neil Patel is a comprehensive dashboard you can use for many of the tasks in this guide. Moz also has a free domain SEO Analysis Tool that will analyze your site and reveal who your biggest competitors are.
2. Find New Keywords Your Competitors Are Using
Once you know who your search competitors are, it’s time to start conducting an SEO competitor audit. This can be done with a keyword gap analysis, which is a strategy for finding keywords that drive traffic to their sites that you may also benefit from.
- Enter the URL of one of your competitors alongside your URL. This will provide a list of keywords that your competitor ranks for.
- Look for the words that are relevant to your business and have a high search volume and moderate difficulty but that you’re not currently using.
- Make a list of these unused keywords, because you’ll want to target them with new content or updates to your site.
You can also use the Moz Keyword Explorer to reveal the specific page-level SEO of your competitors. If both you and another site have landing pages or blog posts about a similar topic, this can help you rewrite your content to outperform theirs.
3. Investigate Competitor Backlinks
Links from other sites are crucial for ranking higher in searches. The more links you have, and the more authority those websites have, the closer to the top you’ll appear on Google or other search engines.
To find sites that might give you a backlink:
- Utilize Moz’s Link Explorer platform and the Link Intersect tool.
- Enter your domain in the first field and up to five competitors’ domains in the fields below. (For best results, only two competitors at a time are recommended.)
- This will generate a list of specific pages where your competitors have been backlinked and you haven’t.
- Reach out to the owners of these pages to request a backlink.
Pro tip: The most authoritative links are from news sites (including those food blogs in the bakery SEO example mentioned above). For blogs and news outlets, it would be best to approach the writer to let them know about your company, rather than directly requesting a backlink. (They probably won’t even know what “backlink” means anyway.) This gentler outreach opens the door for you to provide soundbites for any upcoming articles they’re working on or even get a feature of your own.
4. Develop Competitive Content
Instead of asking websites to give you backlinks, another strategy is to develop authoritative content that other sites link to.
An analysis of your competitors’ blogs and landing pages is incredibly helpful here. To do this, use the Link Explorer tool again. Enter your competitor’s domain and click on the Top Pages tab. The pages here will be ranked based on the number of links they have leading to them.
Manually review the top-performing links that directly relate to your own business and see if there are ways to improve the pages.
- Would the information benefit from more visuals or infographics?
- What if the article was structured differently and easier to read?
- Could the topic be better illuminated with quotes from experts (who would then be motivated to link to this page from their own website or social media)?
Figure out how you can genuinely improve the content, and then implement it on your site.
Another strategy involves recreating your competitors’ shelved content. Have you ever unpublished a blog post or deleted a landing page? Chances are, your competitors have as well.
Return to the list of backlinks you generated for your competitors and see if any of those links lead to pages that are no longer available. If you have a better resource on your website (or can build one), you can reach out to all the sites with the broken links and alert them to the problem. They might gladly replace the broken links with a link to your site instead.
As Sun Tsu tells us in the Art of War, “What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy.” The definition of being “the best” is simply to outperform all others. An SEO competitor audit reveals exactly what they are doing — and allows you to do it better.
Wilson is the Sr. SEO Marketing Manager at AdRoll.