Why SEO competitor research is important (and how to do it)

There are many optimizations you can make to your store, and great content you can add. In doing so, you’ll give your store the best possible chance of ranking in search results and attracting even more valuable customers.

However, it isn’t just your content that’s trying to climb SERPs. For every piece of content you create, there are many other brands and competitors doing the same thing targeting the same audience. And if you want to make sure you climb to the top, you need to understand what those competitors are doing well, and what you could do better.

Today, we’re going to look at competitor analysis for SEO - why it’s valuable, and 5 easy steps to conducting your own research.

What is competitor analysis for SEO?

SEO competitor analysis is the process of researching and assessing the competition your brand faces in SERPs. It involves looking at everything from keywords, SERP placement, content, backlinks, technical optimization and more, to determine what you can do to better enhance your own SEO strategy. 

This research allows you to build a strategy based on what works by examining and comparing your brand against competitors. Rather than building in a vacuum where you’re essentially guessing what might work or using only best practices. You’ll be able to understand who your SEO competitors are, keywords you should be looking into, how to improve your content, and where to look for backlinks.

You may already have an idea of who your brand competitors are, but these aren’t necessarily the same as your SEO competitors. The difference being that SEO competitors are those who you are competing against for keyword ranking on SERPs. For example you may know that Brand A is one who you see as having a similar target audience and product, but it may not be ranking higher for your target keywords. Whereas Brand B you may not see as strong a brand competitor, but they’re consistently ranking high for your target keywords. There can of course be overlap, and you may notice that a brand you already consider a competitor is also strong SEO competition. These could be seen to be your “true” competitors, so analyzing them is even more worthwhile. By conducting SEO competitor analysis, you’ll be able to find out who your true SEO competitors are and learn from them to improve your strategy and climb above them in search rankings

5 easy steps for conducting competitor analysis

1 - Identify your competitors

Step one in competitor analysis? Find your competitors! Start by going through your target keywords, and plugging these into Google. It sounds simple, but it’s the best way to find a starting point for your analysis. Here are a few basic steps to follow:

  1. Create a list of your target keywords, including any off-shoot/cluster keywords. E.g. if a target keyword is “hiking equipment” the some related keywords might be “hiking shoes”, “what to bring on a hike”, “where to buy hiking gear” and so on.

  2. Enter each keyword into Google, taking note of competitors, their ranking, and the kind of page content that ranks. I.e. is it a product page, a resource, blog etc. Repeat for each keyword.

  3. Collate the results of this task. For each keyword, note similarities in content type. Overall, note any sites that come up frequently and their average position in SERPs. 

This will give you a solid starting point for keyword and content analysis. 

It’s worth noting that there are some sites that will rank on the first page of results that you’ll want to omit from your analysis. This includes those like Wikipedia, news or large media sites, and so on. That’s because they aren’t “true” competitors - they aren’t competing with brands for user attention. They also aren’t specific to your niche. For example, an article about decaf coffee from Wikipedia isn’t worth trying to rank against, however a “Best decaf coffee brands to try” from a site that specializes in coffee reviews may be worth trying to outrank. 

We mentioned earlier the difference between a brand competitor and an SEO competitor. Whilst you should focus on analyzing SEO competitors, there is still value in conducting some research and analysis on brand competitors. The reason being, if there are shared audiences and target markets, then there’s a strong chance they’re also targeting the same keywords and ranking. However if they aren’t also an SEO competitor, then there may be something they’re not doing well. It’s important to understand this, so you can compare against stronger competitors and your own content. This will further enrich your analysis and resulting strategy.

2 - Examine keyword gaps

In identifying your competitors, you may notice that there are keywords which your competitors are ranking for and you are not. You may also notice keywords where you do rank, but not highly i.e. low on the first page or on the second or third page of results. This is what is commonly referred to as a keyword gap, and this is an opportunity for your brand. 

Take note of any keywords that fit the description for a keyword gap, along with the kind of pages that do rank. If you rank for the keyword, but not highly, consider this “weak” content that could work to refresh or improve. If you don’t rank at all, consider this “missing” content that you could create. Ask questions about the content that does rank highly. 

  • Why might this content rank high, but yours doesn’t or at all?
  • What type of content is ranking? 
  • What content is missing from your site, and why? 
  • Is the page you’d like to rank technically optimized?

You should also look into additional keywords that aren’t currently in your target list, but would fit your brand and target audience. Look at who ranks, and consider if you could add content to your store that would allow you to rank. 


3 - Analyze pages for content and optimization

Now it’s time to dig a little deeper and understand the content that’s outranking you in search results. After all, the reason it’s ranking is because the search engine has determined that the content and user experience is worthwhile to users. That means it’s worthwhile for your analysis to figure out ways you could improve your own content. 

Start by looking at the following page elements:

  • Meta title and description - While not a direct ranking factor, the meta data for a page can influence click-through rates and is the first impression a user has of the page’s content. Look at what your competitors write in these spaces, how they’re formatted, and keyword inclusion.

  • Header tags - How is the page formatted/laid out using header tags? Are there keywords included?

  • URL - Pay attention to both URL length, and what keywords they’ve included. The URL may be different to the page title, so take note.

  • Alt Tags - Does the page have alt tags added for images? If so, are there keywords included, and how is the alt tag formatted?

  • Layout - This is more focussed on technical SEO and user experience, rather than keywords. The layout of a page will dictate how the content is presented, and if the layout is messy, confusing, or too long, it can be off-putting to a user. It can also impact site speed. Look at how competitor content is laid out - is it clear and easy to follow?

  • From here, you can start analyzing the actual content itself on a given page. For all pages, you want to look into the following:

    • Keywords - Which keywords and secondary keywords are included, and where? Are there any keywords or placements you notice that you may not have considered?

    • Content quality - Is the written content to a high standard? How does this compare to your own? Use readability tools on both competitor content and your own to compare. 

    • Content length - Depending on the page, the length of written content will be different. For example there may be less written copy on a product page than a blog. And some blogs will vary in length depending on the topic. Are there any high ranking pages with more or less content than your own?

    • Visual content - What visual elements are included on the page? Images and video are especially important in ecommerce SEO, both to product pages and blogs.

    • Accessibility - How easy it is for any one to use a page is vital to search ranking. Elements like color and contrast, font size, ease-of-use for interactive elements like buttons, and so on.

    • Mobile experience - There’s a strong chance that you’re viewing competitor content on a desktop, but mobile is important to both users and search engines. How does the content adapt to the mobile experience?

    Looking into all this detail will give you a clear picture of what you need to do with your own content. 

    4 - Assess optimization strengths and weaknesses

    While you’re reviewing page content, you’ll undoubtedly start to notice the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. And just because the content might rank highly doesn’t mean there’s no opportunity for your site to climb higher. 

    Using the list of page elements from the previous section, assess if your competitors are performing well, or if there’s room for improvement. Do the same for your own content, to get a better understanding of where you’re doing well, and where you’re falling behind. What this exercise will do is start to fine-tune your strategy for enhancing your content and improving its ranking. 

    While the previous section focuses on individual pages, it’s also important to look at a competitor's content strategy as a whole.

    • Do they publish blog content? If so, how frequently, and what topics do they focus on? Can you identify any patterns for keywords, topic clusters, etc.?
    • Do they have any additional content on their site? How-to guides, video series, product use-guides, etc?
    • How is their site organized, i.e. site architecture? What product categories do they have, and how are collection pages laid out and organized?
    • How easy is it to navigate and use their site? 

    This along with assessing individually ranking pages gives a clearer picture of why the site may be ranking, as well as any areas you could capitalize on for your own strategy.

    5 - Research backlinks

    Building authority is essential, and one way to do this is by earning backlinks. These are links from external sites that point to your pages and content. Essentially, these act as a vote of confidence from other domains that your content is worthwhile, and search engines pay attention to this. The stronger the backlink profile, the better chance at ranking.

    Of course, this only applies to quality backlinks. These are links which come from reputable, high authority sources such as news/media sites, trusted industry sites, and other sites which may be considered leaders or influential in a given field. Low quality links typically come from link farms or other sites that may be considered spam. They may also be considered low quality if they come from a perfectly trustworthy source, but the site has low authority such as a personal blog with low traffic. 

    There are various tools online that can give you deeper insight into your backlinks and the profile of your competitors. But if you want to earn backlinks, that takes time and effort on your part. 

    Identify sources where your target audience spends time online learning about your niche, and pay close attention to any high authority sites. For example if you sell coffee, there may be a coffee blogger or industry news site. Look at the content they publish, topics they’re interested in, and which of your competitors are typically linked to. You’ll now have a good idea of what content they’re interested in, and how you can create content that will appeal to them. 

    You then need to approach these sites, and pitch links to them. It may be giving more detail about products you sell, and why you feel their audience would be interested. Or you may want to pitch a guest blog, in order to build your brand reputation and earn a backlink. Consider also identifying unlinked brand mentions. This can happen when a site mentions your brand, but neglects to add a link. The easiest way to earn this link, is to simply reach out and ask.


    Like many other tasks in SEO, competitor analysis is an ongoing process for your strategy. By understanding what content is ranking and why, you’ll better understand what both users and search engines really want from your brand. This will allow you to refine and improve your content, and climb those SERPs.