Competitor SEO Tracking: A Hands-on, Fluff-free Guide
We’re no strangers to competition.
Think back to our school days, when we were all competing for the highest grades.
What did you think of the A students in the classroom?
If you were an A student yourself, you were probably competing to stay on top.
If you were a B student (or lower) with a desire to succeed, I bet you felt a burning desire to break free from the B and climb to the top.
The way to succeed isn’t just to compete—it’s key to learn from your competition.
You’d want to look to your higher-scoring peers for study ideas. When, where, what and how do they study? How do they practice and prepare for exams? What’s the secret behind their success?
You might even ask to be tutored by one of the A students, or partner with them for projects and presentations.
As a webmaster or content marketer looking to grow your site organically, the situation is no different.
Competitor SEO Tracking: A Hands-on, Fluff-free Guide
You may want to track your competitors to learn from your competitor’s smart moves, find new opportunities to gain backlinks and targeted traffic, and give users something better than your competitors can offer.
Good. You’re set to go.
However, I want you to stop just a few seconds to consider this—what’s the real why behind your competitor tracking plans?
Patrick Delehanty, Marketing Manager at Marcel Digital, underlines the importance of understanding that “why” (your end goal) and to focus all your efforts toward that goal, whether that’s gaining organic visibility, getting mentions or new content ideas.
Having your goals clear—and what you’re looking for in your competitor’s SEO endeavors—will work to your advantage.
Okay, now you’re really set to go. Read on.
Competitor SEO Tracking Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Yes, because it requires energy, patience and analytic skills. It means staying ahead with your main competitor’s news, initiatives, and number and quality of backlinks.
Sometimes it can take a whole team, or at least a very, a very smart plan, to get ahead of your competitors in the SEO game. Sometimes you can do it alone if you have enough time and resources to do it.
However, if you keep that “why” in front of you, your competitor SEO tracking plan will succeed. This guide aims to clear the path a little bit by offering you all the steps to do it well.
In Practice: How to Do Competitor SEO Tracking?
1. Select Your Best Competitors for Tracking: Competitive Analysis in SEO
You may already know who to track, but if you’re still trying to determine what competitors are worth keeping an eye on, here’s how to get started:
- Search Google (the encrypted version or as a logged off user anyway) and other search engines for the main keywords you want to rank for, and see who’s linked—in your niche or industry—on SERPs 1 and 2.
Those are your strongest competitors (note them down!). For example:
As you can see from the annotations I added to the screenshot, I left out Inc.com and NeilPatel.com because I’m way too small in the niche to compete with such big names. However, the other two websites would be good competitors for my blog.
(Worry not, I’ll still have fun and use Neil’s websites for examples in this post—if examples can make a dream come true, somehow.)
Other factors to keep in mind when finding out who your “best” competitors are include positioning on Alexa and on the major social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
If there’s a specific niche community you want to get traffic from, you can see if your competitors also use it and if they get mentioned in community posts by googling this string:
- “competitorwebsite.com” site:communitysite.com
What you’re doing is called Competitive Analysis applied to SEO.
It comes down to identifying your best competitors and tracking their strengths and weaknesses in SEO. This way, you can stay ahead of ranking changes and any potential attacks (like negative SEO).
Monitor Backlinks provides this nice feature for you to see when competitors have content (and rankings) for your main keywords. So, once you have identified your best competitors, ranking gets easier.
But we’re not done yet! Read on.
2. Harvest Competitor Keywords from Tools and Rank Trackers
The next logical step is to harvest—yeah, like carrots! Only you’re going to harvest keywords that your competitors are ranking high for.
If you’re wondering why, it’s simple: Seeing a competitor’s keywords allows you to find out what kind of content is their strength.
You’ll also find out what their audience—your audience, too, since you’re in the same niche or industry—is really looking for.
Then you can track these keywords to see whether your competitors outrank you in the SERPs and respond with better content.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start with Google AdWords’s Keyword Planner. Enter your competitor’s website or content URL in the Search field of Google’s tool to discover what keywords they may be using.
- Refine with SpyFu. This fancy tool allows you to see the exact keywords your competitors rank for, as well as their traffic sources, and ranking gains and losses.
- Get on rank trackers. Add your competitor’s keywords to any rank tracker tools of your choice and begin monitoring. Most tools will retrieve rankings within 24 hours, so you can get a pretty broad picture in 7 days or less.
Here, I wanted to get as many keyword ideas as possible for Neil Patel’s post on boosting blog traffic. The tool returned ideas from words and phrases used in the post, so now I have a broad pool to choose from to tackle the same topic on my blog.
Hint: Some bloggers, like Neil in this example, use the exact focus keyword they’re using for the post (“boost blog traffic”) as the post slug—big takeaway, isn’t it?
However, “website traffic checker” and “increase website traffic” are also good candidates as focus keywords for me.
Next, I looked up Neil’s website on SpyFu:
So, these are the exact keywords Neil’s site ranks for, with rank changes, ranking difficulty and monthly searches. I’m taking note.
The next step is checking how Neil’s site ranks for “boost blog traffic” and “search engine optimization.” I used Serps.com’s free rank checker for this purpose, and I got:
- one of Neil’s posts rank #9 (page 1 in the SERPs) for “boost blog traffic”
- another of Neil’s posts ranks #8 for “search engine optimization”
Now I can use one of my rank tracker tools to monitor changes in the SERPs for both my site and my competitor’s site.
3. Monitor Mentions
Use Mention or Google Alerts to track competitor mentions using your main keywords, so you can reach out to those citing sources for link building and Google Alerts.
Richard Howe, owner and web designer at Colour Rich, set up a Google Alert for each competitor’s brand name:
Whenever they receive a mention within a blog post or article, this alert is a great opportunity for you to get in touch with the author and tell them about how you also offer a similar service. The chances are the author will also add a reference to your site, allowing you to keep up with your competitor’s link building activities.
Mention alert software emails you automatically whenever a new mention is found, so the process is partially automated. Your part is collecting relevant mentions and backlinks that you want to leverage for outreach.
4. Who’s Popular on BuzzSumo?
BuzzSumo is a content analysis tool that allows you to find out what content performs best in your niche in terms of social shares and backlinks.
For competitor SEO analysis, you can hunt BuzzSumo for the most popular content in your niche (competing with yours) and find where it gets linked.
You have to upgrade to be able to view backlinks and sharers on BuzzSumo, but once you do, you have all the data you’re looking for. The number of Total Shares, however, can give you a first good glimpse of the number of backlinks a page got.
Once you have a list of your competitor’s popular content, the next steps are to:
- Analyze each piece for keywords with the help of Google’s Keyword Planner and Monitor Backlinks.
- Make a list of the highest quality linking pages that you can consider for link building outreach.
If you’re interested, you can read a full review of BuzzSumo and its features here.
5. Find Backlinks with Monitor Backlinks
The nice thing about Monitor Backlinks is that you can see whenever your competitors have new backlinks to their pages. And you can find out what those backlinks are. All from one glance at your dashboard.
Go to your Monitor Backlinks dashboard and click the Competitor Links tab. You’ll see your competitors’ domains:
Click on the competitor website you want to check out. You’ll find any new backlinks in the list:
Monitor Backlinks will email you every time it finds a new competitor backlink, so you can stay ahead of the SEO game.
6. What Makes Those Pages So Desirable for Linking? A Closer Look at Your Competitor’s UX
Imagine a searcher coming to your website to find the best, most helpful piece of content in the world… only to see it displayed in 90s-style white type on black background, with flashing banners and automated music.
Bleh. I’d click away! (Or at the very least, as a tech-savvy user, I would read it with the browser option to strip CSS and leave only basic HTML… but imagine having to do that all the time? Still bleh.)
It can get worse when it comes to mobile browsing. Some websites simply become illegible.
Look—your competitor’s most linked pages are also the most visually appealing and friendly to browse across all devices. They definitely played it smart.
When both the content and its container are easy to deal with… there, have a backlink, you deserve it!
So, in addition to the aesthetics of design, here are all the UX factors to keep track of on your competitor’s page, and use to improve your own, if needed:
- Load speed. How fast does your competitor’s website load in your browser? You can speed test it and compare it with your site performance. Load speed is a ranking factor in Google since 2010.
- Readable type and size. How does the font and font size your competitor uses help reading the content of a page?
- Clean design. Does the overall website have a color scheme and a type/white space ratio that makes it easy and painless to read and browse? Does it help focus on content?
- Ads and banners. Where are ads placed, if there are any at all? Are they below the fold, where they don’t disrupt the user’s experience?
- Mobile-friendliness. How does your competitor’s website perform on mobile? How does yours? As of April 2015, mobile friendliness is a ranking factor in Google
Heck, Neil’s NeilPatel.com beat my LuanaSpinetti.com at load speed (the tool I used is Tools.Pingdom.com):
Here are other UX factors that I believe make Neil’s posts good candidates for linking:
- Neil uses big sized fonts that are pleasant for the eye and make reading enjoyable.
- Plenty of white space and nicely-formatted type.
- Ads are unobtrusive, and they’re Neil’s anyway, linking to his services and e-courses.
- Travels at lightspeed on my smartphone!
Do I have something to learn from Neil’s website? Definitely, I do! So, I’m going back to work—and you should do the same. Keep track of your competitor’s UX performance and improve yours where you have to.
7. Results Monitoring: Are Your Efforts Paying Off?
At the end of the day, you want to know if your competitor SEO tracking efforts are paying off and helping you stay ahead of the SEO game.
Patrick Delehanty (who I mentioned earlier) suggests a number of actions for results monitoring:
- Track your organic visibility and rankings for your main keywords, especially the data in your Google Analytics.
- Don’t forget local SEO, especially if you’re a small or medium-sized business that competes within a certain market or region. Take care of your listings and ensure that they’re always up to date.
- Take advantage of Schema markup, which is the fruit of a joint effort by Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Yandex to help their engines understand webpage data. A study at Search Engine Watch reported an increase of four positions in the SERPs thanks to it.
What I do is also check all the factors listed in this post every 1-2 months, to get a picture of any SEO improvements my competitors might have achieved, and check my own website’s changes in the SERPs as well as in traffic and conversions.
Final Thoughts on Competitor SEO Tracking
Competitor SEO tracking is a smart way to learn your competitors’ SEO strategies (that you can apply to your site) and to find new quality websites to reach out to for link building.
With the help of Monitor Backlinks and other analysis tools, you can keep track of all inbound links, mentions and rankings your competitors get and try to snatch some of those SEO points for yourself.
As your content and services meet more and more of your audience’s needs, the more you’ll outrank your competitors—naturally.
And if you were worried about it—no, competitor SEO tracking is not doing negative SEO against your competitors.
You’re only that smart student trying to learn as much as possible from the best students in the class, then become the best and stay the best.
This is healthy competition, so you go ahead and do it!
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