SEO Competitive Analysis: A step-by-step Framework for Boosting your Rankings

January 13, 2024

Kachi Eloka

Pro chess players always do one thing before a game — analyze their opponent’s previous games. This strategy allows them to understand the logic behind their opponent’s moves, find weaknesses, and predict a winning tactic. 

It’s the best way to prepare to play a smart game.

An SEO competitive analysis is similar. It gives you insight into who your competitors are, what makes their SEO strategies successful, and how you can outrank them. 

It also reveals keywords to target, backlink opportunities, and how to improve your website’s organic rankings. 

Not sure where to start? No worries, we’ll walk you through step by step.

What are the typical components of an SEO competitive analysis?

Before you roll up your sleeves and get to work, there are some foundational things you need to understand first. 

These three components are the building blocks of SEO competitor research. They help remove the guesswork on what keywords your competitors target, where they get quality backlinks from, and the performance of the content they publish.

  1. Keyword and content analysis

This evaluates your competitor’s keyword rankings and performance on the search engine result pages (SERPs). It includes topical authority and content optimization techniques. You’ll dive into unique and shared keywords to learn where they’re outperforming, as well as where gaps exist. 

You’ll also use this to evaluate the ranking potential for your target keywords. Then check how your current approach compares to top-performing standards in your industry. 

  1. Backlink profile analysis 

This allows you to delve deep into your competitors’ backlink profiles to discover their most valuable sources of inbound links and the content that’s attracting the most backlinks. Many companies still invest in building high-quality backlink profiles to ensure a steady inflow of qualified traffic.

When analyzing your competitor’s backlink profiles, pay attention to the following:

  • Number of linking domains: Look at the number of referring domains and the Domain Authority (DA)/Domain Rating (DR) of the backlinks.
  • Links from authority sites: How many links are from high-DA websites?
  • Links from relevant niche sites: Are there industry-specific sites that link to them? 
  • Anchor texts: Are the highlighted texts to the linked page relevant and descriptive?
  • Link type: Are the backlinks do-follow or no-follow? Do-follow backlinks are more valuable for SEO, as they pass link authority to the linked website.

This information will be useful when you do a link-gap analysis and start outreach to secure more backlinks.

  1. Technical SEO analysis

This focuses on the health of your competitor’s technical infrastructure, particularly the aspects that impact website performance and search engine rankings:

  • Site speed and performance. Evaluating page speed metrics and making sure yours loads faster
  • Mobile responsiveness. Assessing the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) on smaller screens (mobile devices, smartphones, and tablets)
  • Site architecture and design. Assessing URL structure and navigation to understand how competitors serve their content
  • On-page SEO. Examining elements like meta tags, headings, content structure, and keyword usage

When to conduct an SEO competitive analysis

Several indicators can suggest that it’s time to conduct an SEO competitive analysis. This includes disruptive updates to search engine algorithms, long periods of stagnation in traffic or rankings, and stronger competitors entering your market.

These are some key indicators that an SEO competitive analysis is necessary:

  • You’re not seeing the results of your current SEO efforts. Have you been working on your SEO for a while, but not seeing the results you want? Then it’s time to take a step back and assess your strategy. 
  • You see a sudden or gradual drop in organic traffic or search rankings. Did the SEO reports show your website’s ranking for specific keywords suddenly drop? Have you noticed fewer visitors coming to your site? It’s a sign that your primary keywords might be increasingly competitive to rank for. It could also mean that competitors are doing something different to attract attention. 
  • You’re making changes to your website. When changing your website, such as a redesign or new content strategy, assess the impact on your SEO performance. This will help ensure that your changes are helping to improve your SEO, and not hurting it.
  • You’re launching a new product or service. Before launching a new product or service, check how your competitors rank for related keywords. That way, you can identify the keywords to target and develop an SEO strategy to rank for those keywords.
  • A new competitor enters the market. Have you noticed new players appearing on the SERPs for your target keywords? This might be a sign of increased competition in your niche. An SEO competitive analysis will help you identify these new challengers, assess their strengths, and predict their potential impact on your rankings. 

Whether you’re dealing with a drop in rankings, stagnant organic traffic, or increased competition, conducting a competitive analysis arms you with the insights to craft a winning SEO strategy.

How to conduct an SEO competitive analysis step-by-step

Remember, you’re doing this to engineer a differentiation strategy. To do this, a McKinsey Global Survey says you need to understand your competitors’ moves. Hone in on the things your competitors aren’t getting right and the mistakes they have made. Then, implement a smarter approach to SEO based on the insights you’ve gathered.

graph from McKinsey survey on reactive strategies

Image Source

Quote from McKinsey report

Image Source

Step 1: Make a list of your SERP competitors

To share visual examples, we’ll use the email marketing software, Moosend as a case study. 

Your SERP competitors are websites ranking for keywords you’re targeting or topics you want to cover. Here’s how to find them:

  • Go to moz.com/competitive-research and enter your domain
  • Click on “Analyze domain” to get a list of your top competitors based on an analysis of all the keywords your website ranks for
  • Transfer this list to a separate sheet as you’ll need it throughout this process
Moosend top competitors list

Image source: Moz

You can also search manually for your main keywords or topics on Google. Browse incognito so that the results aren’t biased. Take note of the pages ranking in the top ten results and add them to your list.

Step 2: Conduct a keyword gap analysis

Using the list of SERP competitors, you can run an SEO keyword gap analysis. This identifies the keywords they rank for and the opportunities you’re missing out on. You can do this for both organic and paid searches.

  • Go to semrush.com/analytics/keywordgap
  • Enter your domain and the domain of up to five SERP competitors
  • Click “Compare”
Semrush keyword gap tool

Image source: Semrush

The results will show you a list of the following:

  • Missing keywords‌ — ‌those your competitors have rankings for, but you don’t
  • Weak keywords‌ — ‌those you’re ranking low for compared to your competitors
  • Untapped keywords‌ — ‌those you have no rankings for, but at least one of your other competitors does
  • Top keywords‌ — ‌the top five keywords you can rank for. You can collate these from the missing and weak keywords list.
SEMRush keyword  overlap report

Image source: Semrush

This report also shows you the search intent behind each keyword. For example, “I” (informational) means the user wants to find an answer to a specific question, while “C” (commercial) means that the user wants to investigate brands or services.

Step 3: Identify and analyze top-performing content

Now, it’s time to identify and analyze the top content that your competitors have published with the ranked keywords.

You can find this by scrolling through the Moz report that reveals your SERP competitors.

Moz content opportunities report

Image source: Moz

Alternatively, select specific keywords and run a Google search for each one. Install and turn on the MozBar browser extension to see a detailed SERP analysis for each top result. 

For the search term “email subject lines for sales”, you’ll see that Hubspot has a blog post titled “150 Sales Email Subject Lines That Get Opened, Read, and Responded To.”

Here’s how to analyze this blog post (and other top content):

  • Click on the blog post link (make sure your MozBar is on)
  • Click on the “Page Analysis” icon at the top left corner of the MozBar
  • Scroll through the “On-page Elements” report to see the meta-description, headings, and alt texts used in this blog post
Moz page analysis icon

Image source: Moz

Also, review the blog post by skimming through it to identify what stands out. Answer questions like:

  • Does this article meet the search intent?
  • Does it include relevant examples?
  • Is it missing any essential information I can include if I create content on this topic?

Finally, analyze localized content to better understand the competitive landscape in specific regions.

This will help you create better-performing content that drives high-quality traffic and conversions. 

Pro tip: To show all of your competitors’ top content for each keyword, we recommend phrasing your queries using the search string “site:[competitor domain] [keyword]”‌ — e.g., “site:wisestamp.com newsletter templates.”

When looking at your competitors’ content, pay attention to visuals like infographics. Knowing how infographics affect user interaction can help you plan your content.

You can create an infographic that impresses and is full of helpful info. This will help bring in and keep your intended audience. That makes your website more visible and engaging. 

Understanding visual content helps your content stand out and say what you want. This, in turn, boosts your site’s visibility and interaction even more.

Step 4: Perform a backlink gap analysis 

A backlink gap analysis is a process of identifying websites that are linking to your competitors, but not linking to you yet. This can help you to identify opportunities to build backlinks from high-quality websites. Look out for high-DA websites and those that are relevant to your niche. 

Run this analysis using the Moz Link Intersect tool (this requires a Moz Pro account). 

  • Log into your Moz account and go to Link Research > Link Intersect
  • Enter your domain and the domains of up to five competitors 
  • Click on “Find Opportunities”
Moz Link Intersect tool

Image source: Moz

You’ll get a list of root domains that link to your competitors. This report also shows the DA of each website and provides a list of the top referring pages for each domain. 

Moz Domains linking to competitors report

Image source: Moz

Click on the article links displayed and take note of the anchor text that links to your competitor. This gives you a better idea of what competitor pages these websites found useful. 

Excerpt of a competitor's article with anchor text

Image source: Venture Beat

Pro tip: Connor Gillivan, CMO at EcomBalance, recommends that when looking for backlink opportunities, you should filter sites with a DA of 30–60 as it’s more attainable to get backlinks from these sites.

Step 5: Review technical SEO practices

At this point, you’ll evaluate your competitors’ technical SEO. This includes site speed, mobile responsiveness, and structured data implementation. Use this as a benchmark for your own technical SEO health. It can also help to identify areas where your competitors are underperforming.

  • Go to webpagetest.org and enter one of your competitor domains. This gives you a detailed report on their page performance.
  • Use siteliner.com to find a summary of duplicate pages, broken links, average page load time, etc.
  • Test the mobile-friendliness of each domain with the Chrome Lighthouse extension.
  • You can also manually check their internal linking and URL structure.

Also, run these checks on your domain to uncover gaps in your technical SEO and fix them. 

Step 6: Take action and monitor results 

Using all the insights gathered, outline actionable steps to improve your SEO strategy.

  • Analyze the data and identify key insights to prioritize based on your organic growth goals.
  • Communicate the findings to your team and decide how to implement recommendations.
  • Brainstorm topics tied to your missing keywords and create a content strategy framework that enables you to cover those gaps.
  • Start an outreach program to build your backlink profile. We recommend following tips from experts or outsourcing it, as this can be a very tedious process.

How to ensure your SEO competitive analysis is valuable

  • Define your goals. Are you looking for opportunities to secure backlinks? Do you want to know what type of content drives the most traffic for your competitors? Defining your goals helps you maintain focus during your research. You can then list the actions you need to take afterward.
  • Prioritize search intent. When updating your content, don’t just include every keyword your competitor ranks for. Focus on keywords with relevant search intent.
  • Use comprehensive tools. Many of the tools you’ll use to conduct an SEO competitor analysis won’t be free. If you must pay for one, ensure it includes all the essential tools for full-stack SEO analysis.
  • Focus on metrics that matter. There will be a lot of data you’re looking at during your competitive research. Make sure you extract meaningful insights that improve your business and align with your objectives.

What is the best SEO tool for competitor site analysis?

The best SEO tool for competitor site analysis depends on the insights you need and your budget. 

AI tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz can significantly streamline the process of competitive analysis, offering deeper insights with greater efficiency. They can quickly analyze massive datasets to uncover trends, predict changes in search engine algorithms, and even suggest optimal keywords and content strategies. 

By leveraging AI, you can gain a competitive edge by identifying opportunities and threats faster. This enables a more agile and informed approach to SEO, ensuring that your strategies are proactive and data-driven. 

With AI technologies, you can more accurately forecast future trends, tailor your content to your target audience, and stay ahead of competitors.

These are the top tools we recommend:

  • Moz. Moz offers free and paid competitor analysis tools. It helps to identify your top SERP competitors, keyword gaps, and sites that link to your competitors but not to you. 
  • Ahrefs. Ahrefs is the go-to SEO software for many marketers, including us. Its Site Explorer and Content Gap tools let you analyze any website or URL’s organic search traffic and backlink profile. You’ll see the keywords they rank for and which pages bring the most search engine traffic.
  • Semrush. Semrush is one of the top Ahrefs alternatives. It offers insights for competitive SEO research through its suite of tools. Its free Keyword Gap tool allows you to compare up to five competitors side-by-side and identify the gaps in your keyword strategy. You can also use its Backlink Gap tool to find competitor backlinks and identify sites that can link to your content.
  • Serpstat. One of Serpstat’s best tools is its technical SEO site audit tool. This helps you identify and fix technical errors on your site. It makes sure your website is technically healthier than those of your competitors. It also offers tools for researching the competition for any topic, ad, or keyword.

Boost your organic rankings with guided competitive research

Your SEO competitive analysis is only valuable if you can use it to create a roadmap to top-performing content and high-authority backlinks. 
Through performance-driven SEO, we’ve helped ambitious brands build world-class backlinks and scale organic rankings. Find out how uSERP can do the same for you and 10x your revenue.

Kachi Eloka

Kachi Eloka

Kachi Eloka is a research nerd who writes long-form content for B2B SaaS and Martech companies. She covers topics on search engine optimization, e-commerce, content operations, and social media marketing. In her free time, you’ll catch her watching films or reading fiction.