The combination of web analytics and a thoughtful SEO strategy is a winner. Here’s one of my favourite strategies to ensure you’re beating your competition at SEO link building.
So you already know who you think your competition is, but your first step is accepting an objective assessment of your real competitors. Here’s how you do that quickly (and discover the best domains to give your link building strategy a leg up).
If you have connected your Google Webmaster Tools reports to Google Analytics (as all good search marketers do), you’ll have three months worth of data in your Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries report. Go ahead and set your date range to gather that; then, break out an advanced filter to remove brand terms.
Bear in mind anything in the string is matched, so you can usually filter out all brand queries with two or three filters pretty effectively.
Set rows to 5,000 (you can also spoof this into the URL to gather more data) and export as an Excel sheet. Note: this is a necessary step in Google Analytics, as the export data is set to match the report view.
In Webmaster Tools, there is no need to set a number of results when querying the same data, you just get them all. On the flip side, you don’t get to stack filters, so it can be hard to remove all brand searches from your data. Grabbing data from Analytics instead makes this possible.
Both sources of this data allow geographic filtering, which may be advisable if you haven’t localized your website (and configured your analytics profiles and webmaster verification to segment out in line with your localized web domain architecture).
Now ready a search rank checking tool of your choice to go grab rankings for your top 250 to 500 terms (the more the merrier as your insights will be more accurate, though you may want to cap at 1,000 with larger websites). I use an in-house tool here at QueryClick which, as it happens, has just opened for invites to get free use as part of a private Beta soft launch.
Go ahead and sign up if you’d like to take it for a whirl and follow along. I’ll be using exports from the tool in the next analysis steps.
Go get Google’s AdWords data for the keyphrase set you’ve just exported, setting your bid and maximum bid settings high enough to get average position 1 listings. We’ll run a pivot table against that data so export as an Excel sheet.
Next, grab all the ranking data for your search term list. If you’re using the Searchlens tool, then you’ll be prompted which domains are the top performers for the set after the results are gathered, so you can wait until then to get the best performing competitors, add them to the report and then regenerate.
If using a different tool, search for the highest volume search term in your set that remains tightly relevant to your market (likely a 2-3 word term at most) using your AdWords data, and grab relevant domains from the top 10 to set as your competitors.
To calculate your top performing domains, export your raw ranking data (make sure you can get total results listed against each search term in addition to the ranking positions) and use pivot tables to pull out all the rankings achieved by each domain across each tracked search term.
If you are technically proficient, you may find this step easier using full ranking data CSV exports from your rank checker which you dump into a SQL database. You can then query the database to write CSVs of all ranked results for any domain you choose and also pull the total result data for each term.
With your AdWords Excel sheet handy, add in your CSV export data into a tab for each domain you’re interested in. The CSV exports from Searchlens work perfectly here. Pop open another tab and we’ll use some Excel formulas to create a rank matrix to calculate domain performance.
With our rank matrix created above, we can also calculate the ‘top performing’ domains by deciding on the metrics we care about. I like to use a CTR factor applied against the ranked position (which if you haven’t tried to calculate before, you may find this a good starting point), then include the number of results given for each term as a ‘competition’ factor.
You may also decide to use the marketshare of the search engine in the country you’re running your searches from. These metrics are included in Searchlens’ ‘Search Visibility’ calculation, which you can export along with rankings. I’ve taken those calculations and also graphed up the ranking matrix by domain in the below screengrab.
We can see easily the top performers with this visualization of the ranking data and domain scores. Picking out target domains to analyze the backlink profile or perform SWOT analysis on, or for content-led project research is now easy. Save your sheet as a template and you can reuse it with fresh runs of data or comparison of month on month performance.
With your insight into the true top performers for your set of target terms you can now short-cut the strategies that have worked for the top domains with a spot of analysis.
Using Moz’s Opensite Explorer you can rip through backlink profiles to see where the best value links are coming from, safe in the knowledge that those links have driven performance in Google for a domain in your target territory: as close a guarantee of security and SEO performance as there is.
Bear in mind that this is a reactive strategy, and should slot into a wider SEO project in order to ensure you overtake your competition, and don’t just parrot their best performing strategies for yourself.