SEO Competitor Analysis in four easy steps

One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization, especially in competitive search markets, is your ability to accurately quantify the strength of your rivals and why they’re ranking for specific keywords. This can be a complicated process requiring meticulous research, but it doesn’t have to be in the initial phases.

There are four principal components you should analyze when performing a competitive analysis on a rival domain:

  1. The authority of your competitor’s domain in relation to yours
  2. The quality of your competitor’s link profile
  3. The anchor text variation in your competitor’s link profile
  4. The organic reach of the strongest domains for your target keyword

Collecting information on these four components will enable you to quickly size up the scope of your search market from a competitive angle, and will help to define the course of your search marketing strategy.

Obviously, the best way to collect this data is by using tools!

Sizing up the authority of your competitor’s domain in relation to yours

SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer is OUTSTANDING for diagnosing the strength of a competitor’s domain in relation to yours. The tool is free (limited to less than a handful of reports) at the moment, but going pro at SEOmoz is always in your favor (Linkscape data alone is priceless).

To get started, run a search for one of your primary keywords on Google, and select three or four domains which outrank you. One at a time, run a comparison for each competitor in relation to your domain, and take a screen shot of the results. Examine the difference between your page and domain authority in relation to your competition.  Also take note of the linking root domains.

By performing this research, you now have a clear picture of how strong your domain is in relation to the immediate competition. Domain Authority and Page Authority are incredibly powerful metrics when it comes to understanding search rankings. For more information about what the data represents, check out this white board friday from Rand Fishkin and Will Critchlow .

Determining the quality of your competitor’s backlink profile

This is a critical step in the competitive analysis process, and there are a variety of tools you can utilize to gather this data. Majestic SEO provides the most comprehensive link data imaginable (due to the massive size of their index), followed closely by Linkscape . But those tools aren’t free…and they aren’t particularly user friendly if you aren’t an experienced SEO. For quick analysis, use Link Diagnosis – it’s free, pulls data from Yahoo Site Explorer, and categorizes your competitor’s links in terms of strength. It also displays the anchor text associated with each link.

Although the data doesn’t represent ALL of the links pointing to your competitor’s domain – it’s enough to get a sense of their optimization efforts with regards to link building. If you see keywords showing up in their anchor text profile – that’s a solid indication you need to get those links…or acquire stronger links with similar (preferably exact) anchor text. enables you to export the data as a CSV file, which is handy for cataloging your competitor’s (as well as your own) link building initiatives.

How to dissect anchor text profiles for competitive analysis

By now, you’ve already played with linkdiagnosis a bit and acquainted yourself with how anchor text plays a role (if you want to learn more about anchor text as a search ranking factor, check this out ) in SEO. The more quality inbound links a site receives with targeted anchor text, the more likely it is to rank for the term (provided you have your on-site term targeting correct).

To really dig into your competitor’s link profile, there is nothing better than Majestic SEO advanced reports. It will cost you about $15 a month to try it ( you get 5 advanced reports per billing period at the intro level), but the data you will collect is worth every penny.

Once you’ve created an account at Majestic SEO and purchased a basic subscription, run a competitive analysis report from the control panel, and opt for the largest advanced report they provide. Once the report is generated, it will appear in the control panel main screen…and you can browse through the data at your convenience. Be sure to explore the “top backlinks” element of the report in addition to the “anchor” section of the report.

By the time you’re done, you’ve just seen everything you need to know about your competitor’s backlink profile. What to do with that data? Get to work crafting a link building strategy to bring your domain up to speed.

Determine the organic reach of your competitor’s domains

My favorite tool for this application is SpyFu Kombat . It’s visually easy to grasp, easy to run tests, and pretty darn accurate.

From the SpyFu Kombat page, compare your domain against two other rivals. Click “fight” – and let the magic happen.

Once the data renders, you’ll see three colorful circles…and hopefully yours is the biggest (be sure to select “organic” from the tab below, and again at the bar chart below the venn diagram). If your circle isn’t the biggest in the bunch, you can at least examine the organic keyword overlap – to determine which phrases you are effectively targeting in relation to your competitors.

The line graph below shows the growth (i.e. organic reach) of your domain’s reach in terms of how many organic keywords you are effectively targeting. This is tremendously important data – and can help you to steer your link acquisition and term targeting strategy. You might also discover a few terms your competitors are targeting that you hadn’t even considered. Be sure to explore every facet of this tool – and leverage it to your advantage (yes, you can export the data if you have a subscription).

So what do I do now?

Well…you just sized up your competition in a big way. Repeat this process for all the keywords you want to target (discover keywords by using the Google Adwords External Keyword Tool ) – that way you’ll understand exactly where you stand in the broader search market. If you’re domain is significantly outpaced by your competition, you’ve got some work to do…but hey, at least you know where to start!

Feel free to chime in with other competitive analysis strategies you’ve found helpful in the comments…and be sure to give this article a tweet if you found it helpful!

Charlie J. Ellis, SEO Strategist