When you’re trying to get a particular keyword to rank at the top of page 1 on Google, an effective strategy is to analyse competing website pages that currently rank at the top of page 1 in the search results, and compare these with the page on your website that currently ranks highest for the keyword, and see what you can learn from the websites that rank higher than you.
Below we outline a simple 5-step process for doing this. Competitor SEO analysis is more specific than standard ‘competitor analysis’ which would typically go broader than just SEO. The purpose of competitor SEO analysis is to analyse what is currently making the competitor websites rank higher than you.
Step 1: Identify your keywords
Normally, you would have just 1 main keyword in mind, however, it is helpful to also have some closely connected keywords too, including plural or singular variations of the same keyword, different keywords that share the same search intent, or more specific variations of the main keyword.
See this blog on keyword research for tips and advice on how to identify the best keywords to focus on, and if you want to know our recommendation for a really simple and low cost tool for doing small-scale keyword research on demand, we definitely recommend the Chrome extension Keywords Everywhere.
Step 2: Search for your keywords on Google
First search for the main keyword, and then starting with the top search results, open new browser tabs for any website results that look relevant.
Repeat this process for any connected keywords that you may have identified in step 1 above, however, it is likely that the same websites will come up for all keywords, assuming the keywords are closely related, so this is more of a ‘double check’, just to see if any new websites join the top rankings when close keyword variations of your main focus keyword are searched.
Step 3: Analyse the websites that rank high
When analysing the websites that appear at the top of your Google searches, your main focus should be on true competitors, i.e. companies reasonably similar to yourself.
For example, if the top result is a Wikipedia article giving a definition of your keyword, and you’re an online shop that sells the item you’re searching for, then the Wikipedia is hardly a competitors website, so in this instance, keep scrolling until you find genuine competitors that rank high on page 1.
That said, do pay some attention to all the top search results. If a dictionary definition ‘meaning of this keyword’ type of article appears at the top (as in the example given above), this may mean that you should incorporate a section on your own websites landing pages that has a heading “What is a [Your Keyword], or maybe “What are the main types of [Your Keyword].
Once you have multiple tabs open with all the top-ranking competitor pages that you want to analyse, look at each page and website in turn, analysing it for on page SEO best practice.
It is best to not just go by what’s on the immediate landing page on the competitor websites, but to also pay careful attention to what other content links internally to that page, and what helpful links out may be contained on that page. It could well be that the search engines are regarding the high-ranking page as a great central resource that links out to a lot of helpful information, and has relevant pages linking into it, and the page itself may not have that many great features making it rank, it could easily be a whole network of pages that make it rank so well.
As you analyse each competitor website, try to decide which features and information on each website is helping it to rank well, and which elements of the content are not necessarily helping it to rank, or possibly the page is ranking in spite of that content being present.
Step 4: Compare competitor websites with your own
When you started this process of competitor SEO analysis, you probably had 1 specific page in mind on your own website that either already ranks somewhere in the SERPs for the target keyword, or should rank, because it’s the most relevant page on your site in relation to that keyword when you did your keyword mapping.
The next step is to compare the best-practice SEO ideas identified on competitor websites in step 3 above with the SEO relevant features on your own website, paying particular attention to the competitor’s ranking page and your own website’s target landing page.
And also don’t forget to compare the network of linked content on the competitor website high-ranking pages, to the network of content linked to your own SEO landing page that you’re optimising.
Your aim is not to create a clone of any 1 competitors website or webpage, nor should you copy and paste anything which would be plagiarism. Instead, try to absorb multiple ideas from competitor websites that are good, see how you could adapt these to fit the style and realities of your own website, and then introduce these.
You want to learn from the best features on each top ranking website, and ignore the rest. Also you may decide that while some things on competitor websites are great, for example a competitor may sell 100s of types the product and you only sell 2 or 3 different types – this may not be something you can easily imitate, so you may decide to not include all of the features you notice on your website, even if they are helping the other websites to rank.
A few examples of ideas you may glean from doing competitor SEO analysis, and what you may decide to do about each:
- You notice that your competitor website has a video embedded at the top of the page, above the fold (i.e. before you have to scroll down the page). This video is produced by your competitor, so you definitely don’t want to copy it, but you may decide that you can do a better video of your own, and embed that.
- You notice that your competitor has reviews embedded on their website, from a 3rd party reviews site. You also have plenty of good reviews, but hadn’t yet thought of embedding them on your landing page, so that’s something you could action.
- The competitor landing page has a simple H1 title at the top of the page, in large font, that exactly matches the keyword you are targeting. Your own page mentions the keyword, but also has a few extra words that make it sound much more specialist and specific. Consider removing these, assuming your page is about more than the specific thing mentioned in your title.
- The competitor ranking page is a product category page with 39 products listed. Your website has just 3 products, but they are all highly customisable products with a lot of variations once you browse to the 3 product listings. If it doesn’t interfere with the user experience, consider reducing the number of variations on each of the 3 products, and increasing the number of products. For example, if you currently have 3 products and each product is available in 3 sizes and 3 colours, consider creating 9 products in 1 size per product, with 3 colour variations each, even if splitting it out into 27 products all with different sizes and colours is going too far and making it hard for the user to navigate to what they want – whereas 9 may actually be easier, assuming they all display on the category page without having to go onto a 2nd product results page.
- The competitor may be very well known and have a lot of brand recognition and maybe you don’t. This isn’t something you can easily change, short of doing a lot of PR, paid advertising, and general activities to raise awareness such as attending trade events and exhibitions and ideally doing a talk or presentation there.
- The competitor may have a lot of backlinks pointing to their website, but this is also something you can’t quickly fix (without using spammy black-hat techniques that don’t help), and potentially is something that will happen to your page after it ranks as a result of other changes, and doesn’t need to happen before that – see our blog on link building for SEO, where we explain this concept in more detail.
- The competitor website’s ranking page loads faster and scores better on Core Web Vitals than your own, and additionally, is several MB lighter than yours. Speak to your SEO agency or website developer about reducing the size of images, videos, bloated code, and other ‘heavy’ elements on the page, and see if you can improve the load speed and other CWV measures. Sometimes this is as simple as resizing 1 image, other times a complete website rebuild on a different CMS (platform) is needed, so whether or not you can implement this change easily depends on the way your current website is built.
Step 5: Apply the changes and review the results
Usually, after analysing 3-5 top ranking competitor websites, you pick up quite a few good ideas to apply to your own website, and after actioning these amends, you will then want to leave your website unchanged for a few days or weeks until Google has fully crawled and digested the changes you have made, and the re-assess your new ranking position, and repeat the process if you’ve not made as much progress as hoped.
Occasionally, despite having created the best possible landing page, and the best network of related content, and you are confident your website is now far more helpful, relevant, and technically sound from an SEO perspective than any of your higher ranking competitors, the ranking results still don’t come after several weeks. This is where a little patience is sometimes needed, especially with more competitive keywords, e.g. keywords with more than 1000/month UK search volume for example are often slow to move up the ranks on Google.
If rank changes are slow on Google, you could try checking rank positions on Bing, which at the time of writing seems to respond far faster to SEO tweaks. If you’re ranking well on Bing but not on Google (yet), this may be a good indication that the Google rankings will follow, if given enough time – sometimes 3 or 4 months can be needed (worst case scenario, normally it is far faster, and a week or 2 is sufficient to see the general direction the rankings are going to move at least, even if they don’t reach their optimum position for a few more weeks).
Another common issue we’ve found that can explain poor initial results after applying all of possible ideas you can identify from competitor sites, is that your domain is too new for Google to trust it properly – we tend to find that domains that have been indexed for 6 months or less tend to rank lower than their more established counterparts, all other things being equal.
Applying the changes 1 at a time and waiting a few weeks between each change helps you to analyse the relative impact of each one, and double check that none of the changes actually send the rankings in the wrong direction. However, if time is not on your side, you need results fast, you may want to apply multiple ideas that you’re confident represent definite improvements, and create a separate list of ideas that you are not so sure about, for careful split testing in due course once the initial large batch of changes has been made.
Competitor SEO Analysis - Conclusion
Competitor Analysis for SEO purposes can be extremely effective and is quite logical – if a website is ranking well, there must be a good reason, and as you examine the top ranking websites, you can often see why, learn from them, and start to rank well yourself.
Your aim is never to become “as good as” the currently ranking top results – you want to add some unique content or functionality of your own to your own website, so that you can outrank the competition, not just rank directly below them.
Additionally, after analysing multiple sites, you should be able to bring together a broad range of ideas into 1 website (yours) that is a better combination than any of the other individual websites out there currently.
And then when you add to that that you’ve analysed the areas on the competitor websites that are probably not helping them to rank, and make sure these are not present on your own site, then all ways round, you have every chance of ranking success!