“Know thyself, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories” – Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu may not have been an SEO genius, but his advice still rings true when it comes to search rankings.
Figuring out what it is that your main online competitors are doing so that you can do it better (or differently) is a good way of beating them to the top of Google.
But first, we have to identify your “online competitors”.
Online Competitors and Business Competitors Are Not the Same
Although you might know who your main business competitor is, they may not be the main online competition.
Many of our clients have given us a list of their business competitors only to find that the guys stealing all their online traffic are actually a completely different group of people entirely.
It’s important to figure out who your online competitors are for two main reasons:
- With a bit of detective work, your competitors’ websites can tell you all you need to know about how they are ranking. By following their lead, you can give them a run for their money without having to do all the work they did.
- You can see the weaknesses in your competitor’s approach that you can exploit to your own advantage, beating them to the top of Google.
So where do you start?
Bring up Google, open an incognito tab and search for the top 5 keywords you would most like to rank for.
Incognito mode prevents you from getting skewed results if you’re using Google Chrome or are signed into a Google account and gives you a more accurate idea of what your potential customers would see.
If you visit your own website a lot, your website would show much higher for your searches than it would for a typical searcher, giving you an inaccurate impression of where you’re really ranking.
If you’ve just realised that your site ranks a lot lower than you thought, don’t panic! Try not to focus on where you show up; instead, focus on where your competitors are.
The things you want to find out are:
- Who is showing up at the top of the listings?
- Are they a direct competitor to your business?
- Who is second place?
- Are any of your competitors showing up more than once?
- Are there a lot of Google ads for this keyword?
- Are you competitors using these ads?
- Is Google suggesting related searches at the bottom of the page?
- Are the main sites directories or your competitors?
For local businesses, it’s worth taking these extra questions into account, as well:
- Is a map showing up for that search? If so, how many times?
- Is the map at the top of the search results page?
- Do the map listings have a lot of reviews?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll start to get an understanding of who your main competitors are, what they’re doing, and how you can match and beat them.
If a bunch of different websites are coming top for the keywords you’ve chosen, that means you have a different competitor for each top spot, so you’ll need to study each of their strategies for each keyword.
If one website is consistently in first place for all the keywords, it usually means they really know what they’re doing and have put a lot of work into it.
The next step is to pick apart the top 3 competing websites for those keywords.cRemember, these are your online competitors, not your business competitors.
Analysing Your Competitors’ Websites
Pick your number one competitor and search for the keyword that makes them rank the highest.
Have a look at the title of their listing on the search results page, does it contain the keyword you searched for? What does it say in the description? Which ones stand out and why?
You can find out a lot about a competitor’s website from these results alone, and borrowing the best bits from these descriptions can help you later on.
Click through the top rankings and find out where it takes you. Does it lead to a home page or to a specific service page?
The websites with better optimisation will have the keywords you searched for in the page URL.
Next, have a look at how many times that keyword appears in the content on that page.
hit Ctrl + F (or Cmd + F if you’re using a Mac) and search for your keyword.
Does it appear on that page? How many times? Are there any variations of that keyword? (For example, Roof, Roofing, Roofers.)
This number might be anything from 0 on very poorly optimised sites to 30+ on over optimised sites, but the figure will usually be somewhere in the middle.
Now we’re going to look under the hood of your competitors website.
Right-click on the side of the page, away from the text and picture content, and click View Source (also sometimes called View Page Source or something similar).
We are looking for lines starting with the following:
This shows us that the website owner has attempted to optimise the site, along with the keywords they have optimised it for.
This is followed by the title of the page that showed up in the Google search. It’s worth looking through this title to see how many times they have used the keyword you searched for.
If the website has been optimised, this section will usually include a brief description of the page. This is handy to have as it shows you what your competitors think their (your) customers are searching for.
The final step is to go through the rest of your competitors website, taking note of each page. To do this, just enter the URL and add /sitemap.xml to the end (E.G exposureninja.com/sitemap.xml and sometimes exposureninja.com/sitemap_index.xml when you have multiple sitemaps).
This will give you a comprehensive list of all the pages on that website, allowing you to see which page is optimised for which keyword.
Make a note of what they are doing, compare it to what you’re doing, and find out how you can do it better.
Great! Now do the same for your next competitor.
It can seem like a lot of work (and it is!), but narrowing down on what your competitors are doing can give you excellent ideas on how to beat them to the top of Google.
Struggling to find the time to take on your competitors? Get in touch with Exposure Ninja.