If you don’t know who your competition is, and how strong they are, how do you hope to succeed?

Competitor research, or analysis, is one of the most important first steps towards accomplishing online marketing results and a successful SEO campaign.

Online SEO Competitive Analysis

Once you have determined what the focus of your website is and who you are targeting, you need to perform a competitor analysis. Understanding your online competitors is critical to the success of your SEO. Your competition is any organization holding top spots in the SERPs (search engine results page) for your targeted keywords. You must look at their strategy, tactics, keywords, as well as a variety of other factors. There are many tools available, all of which provide part of the picture. Some research and analysis of reported results is necessary to assess the big picture. No one tool will tell you the whole story.

Your job is to create a site that is as good as your competition and then work on being better. In some instances the competition has done a very poor job of SEO and you will easily be able to rank higher than them by following best practices.

Identify who your competitors are – Don’t just list the top companies that come to mind and think of competitors in the traditional sense. In SEO you need to perform keyword searches for your targeted keywords and see who shows up at the top. Analyze the top 3-5 listings, or if you have the resources and time perform research on all competitors that rank on
page one.

The following analysis should also be performed on your competitors and your own domain for benchmarking purposes.

Traffic Ranking – You need to know how well is your competition ranking overall and for targeted keywords. Knowing who is ranking for your keywords helps you find possible new competition and helps you to understand what type of competition they are to you.

Keyword analysis – Keyword research enables you to identify what keywords your competition is targeting and ranking for. Perform your own keyword research and then compare and expand based on what your competitor analysis discovers. Keyword analysis is an extremely important step and will drive your entire SEO campaign from site organization and structure, links and anchor text, and all content (body copy, headers, meta info, alt tags, etc.).

Links – A link checker tool does just that, checks link popularity and reports inbound links. This is a great tool to see how many links your competition has and who is linking to them. How many links they have gives you an indication of how much work you have in store for yourself. If you have 12 links and the average competitor on page one has over 1,000 links your campaign is going to take some time. Where your competition is receiving links from gives you a starting point on where to target your own link campaign. If sites are willing to link to your competition, they should be linking to you as well and you should be using this as part of your link building strategy. An easy way to perform this is to type “links:www.yoursitehere.com” and perform a search. Make sure to deselect links from the searched domain

Broken links – Looking into your competitor’s on-site links is more about finding weakness in their website. If there are broken links, dead links or improper redirects, you will have learned that your job just became easier.

Navigation Structure – By reviewing your competition’s navigation you may be able to uncover some useful information. Listed below are some questions you might want to ask yourself while reviewing their navigation:

What keywords do they find most important to target?
How do they structure their topics?
How strong is their navigation linking?
Do they use keywords in their text-based links or do they use irrelevant terms in a Flash based navigation?

Index checker – See what pages are indexed on the major search engines. Search engines prefer authority sites for topics. In order to be an authority you must have a good amount of index able and unique content. If your site is extremely deep with relevant, targeted, and organized content there is a good chance the search engines will view your website as an authority on your subject matter. Research how many pages your competition has indexed and compare that to your own site. To see how many pages are indexed type the following into your search engine of choice: Index: yoursitehere.com

General popularity – Alexa and Compete are two websites that offer information enabling you to view traffic trends and where your site traffic stands in relation to your competition.

Page rank check – See where competitors sites fall in Google’s general representation of a websites popularity. This is primarily based on link popularity and a website with a high PageRank will tend to have a higher position, but not always. There are many factors taken into account.

Domain age – When performing your research you may notice that those listed on page one generally have older domain ages. Domain age is an important factor that goes into website rankings. Well-established sites typically have older domain names and are considered as more relevant with search engines. If you are looking to buy a domain name take the domain age, as well as existing links (preferably in your industry) into account.

Domain registration and renewal – The domain age, renewal date, and how much time is left until the domain expires are all signals that may be used to distinguish between legitimate or spam sites and legitimate domains. Spammers tend to let their domains expire quickly, have newly registered domain names, and do not pay for them multiple years in advance. Domain registration and age does not tell the whole story though, domains may be parked (bought and never used) or a new company name that an established company 301-redirects to.

Meta information – Titles and descriptions are extremely important ranking factors that vary by industry. There are general averages of word lengths for these important tags but by researching your competition you will be able to see the average length for your industry, and as long as it is within acceptable best practices, you will know how long to make yours.

Site URL Structure – Researching URL structure and file naming structure of competitors will assist you in performing this task on your own website.

Human review – Nothing beats getting into your competitor’s site and digging around the code, content, design, and site structure.

Content review – The top ranking pages on search engines provide a good gauge of the volume of content you should have to compete. Search engines look at industry averages, and every industry may be different. There is no hard and fast rule as to how many pages of content or the word count per page that you should have. Base your decision on the top ranking sites in your industry.

Social media reach – To find out if social media is right for your niche take a look at the competition and see if any of them have implemented SMO programs. See if they post videos on youtube, have albums on photo sharing sites, created a facebook fan page and have a linkedin profile to start with. Do they have a thriving community or is it just the owner and his wife participating and liking what they have to offer? Again, this is just a gage, they possibly did not implement well or even have a strategy, but it will give you an idea of what you need to do first in your set of priorities.

Social media reach – To find out if social media is right for your niche take a look at the competition and see if any of them have implemented SMO programs. See if they post videos on youtube, have albums on photo sharing sites, created a facebook fan page and have a linkedin profile to start with. Do they have a thriving community or is it just the owner and his wife participating and liking what they have to offer? Again, this is just a gage, they possibly did not implement well or even have a strategy, but it will give you an idea of what you need to do first in your set of priorities.