How Competitive Analysis Leads To A Better B2B SEO Program

man analyzing website

If you are not monitoring competitors online, you might be missing opportunities — and potentially overlooking points of weakness in your SEO program.

Whenever we kick off a new program, obtaining a list of key competitors is a crucial first step. This helps us understand the market and uncover various competitor tactics. We often learn a lot by assessing their strengths and weaknesses in keyword strategy, site architecture, content marketing, link building and social media.

Oftentimes, we are asked to present our competitive findings to management and ultimately organizational leadership. In this column, I’ll outline an example of a recent competitive analysis we created, along with how we uncovered opportunities to better aid our client’s SEO program.

Keyword Performance

The first step in SEO-specific competitive analysis is in understanding how well (or poorly) competitors perform for various keyword targets. For this program, there were three elements of keyword performance to consider:

  • Competitive visibility for priority keyword opportunities
  • How competitors perform in relation to each other for priority keyword opportunities
  • Additional competitive keyword visibility and opportunities

We obviously don’t have access to competitive traffic and visitor performance. As such, keyword rank or keyword visibility is one of the few public facing metrics we can compare against.

As priority keywords are defined, compare competitive performance individually and across targeted organizations. Here are two examples of how this might look.

First, a summary of priority keyword performance across competition.

Keyword Comparison 1

In the second screenshot, green shaded cells indicate which competitor had the best position for each applicable target keyword.

Keyword Comparison 2

While priority keyword measurement is important, good competitive research should also reveal keyword opportunities potentially being missed as well. Using the research tool SEMRush, we’ll pull competitive organic (and paid) keyword data and map keywords that overlap our client’s existing keyword visibility.

Here is a screenshot of summary information uncovered.

Keyword Comparison 3

What This Competitive Data Made Us Realize

In this example, competitive keyword visibility helped us identify which competitors to emphasize in review first. We wanted to get an idea of how their tactics may influence competitive position in organic search.

For example, we were surprised that one competitor appeared to be quite successful for priority keywords, concluding that their onsite SEO work was most impactful, since they showed a very limited inbound link profile and almost no social media presence.

In the case of the strongest competitor, they were the only one that had adopted a thorough and consistent content development initiative, surrounded by online marketing communication and social media activity.

A word of caution: Don’t fall into the trap of relying on keyword rankings as a sole measurement of competitive performance. Still, over time and with the right program initiatives, you should begin to see your overarching keyword performance improve in comparison to the competition.

Recommended Resources For Execution

Site Structure

Evaluating site performance is the next step in the process. Here are some general site structure factors we pay attention to but this list can change based on client priorities and circumstances.

  • Navigational analysis of key site components
  • Integration of SEO tagging “best practices” (HTML Titles, Meta Tags, Headings, etc.)
  • Site speed / performance (using RavenTools or Google’s Site Speed Tool)
  • Mobile optimization initiatives

Site Structure Comparison

Be mindful of the difference between site architecture and onsite content marketing initiatives. We review the latter in greater depth and as an individual component of SEO competitive research.

For example: I would classify having a library of online videos as a content marketing initiative but the integration of the Schema VideoObject vocabulary around each video landing page is related to site architecture.

In some cases, it makes sense to compare scoring metrics from popular SEO tools and systems. A word of caution here is that these scores should be reviewed in context with all competitors and, similar to keyword rank, not as a sole measure for evaluating performance.

What This Competitive Data Made Us Realize

Usability across all competitive websites (including our client’s) appeared to be an issue. In this case, however, we concluded that our strongest competitors at least had a clear and distinct connection between home page and key resource-specific landing pages.

The fact that none of the competition had truly explored mobile optimization was surprising, especially when considering all competitors were leveraging video marketing to varying degrees. While developing a mobile-friendly site has its challenges, recent developments in search (Google, specifically) are making it more of a focused priority.

It was encouraging to see that, from a site indexing perspective (we also ran Screaming Frog crawl reports to get the most accurate gauge of site page depth and information), our client was not too far behind in building out a competitive site experience. The opportunity to gain ground would certainly be attainable with refined focus.

Recommended Resources for Execution

  • Screaming Frog
  • RavenTools – using their site auditor and research central components primarily
  • Moz & SEMRush

Inbound Link Profile

While inbound link performance may eventually lessen as a component of organic search viability, that hasn’t happened yet. Until that does happen, SEO competitive analysis isn’t close to complete without a thorough review of your competitors’ link profiles.

The key to a comprehensive review of a competitor’s link profile is in collecting information from a range of sources. Why? Because link reporting tools use different mechanisms for identifying and uncovering the information presented. You’ll gain greater insight when reviewing multiple datasets.

Inbound Link Comparison

What do we look for when reviewing an inbound link profile? Here are a few key points for observation:

  • Link building done in coordination with more traditional marketing communication programs
  • Usage of owned assets and connections with partners, distributors and other industry publications
  • Questionable tactics and known spam initiatives identified by search engines

What This Competitive Data Made Us Realize

Two major points of observation were made when reviewing this specific client’s competitive landscape.

  • Only the top competitor was doing anything sophisticated in terms of active link acquisition and in coordination with traditional PR communications. In fact, using Moz Open Site Explorer’s “Just Discovered” report, most of the competitors had not acquired new links very recently.
  • We realized one of our client’s larger competitors had several questionable backlinks (forum spam, obvious text link ad buys, etc.), which led us to believe this competitor might be under search penalty. At the least, it shed light on why its SEO performance with respect to keyword visibility was as weak, even though the organization itself was a fairly significant player in the traditional market.

We found a few arguably questionable tactics with other competitors, as well, but nothing overly significant outside of the previous bullet. Generally speaking, the lack of quality link building done in coordination with traditional marketing initiatives also illustrated a clear opportunity to gain ground by providing a revised focus on SEO initiatives.

Recommended Resources for Execution

  • RavenTools
  • Majestic
  • Moz Open Site Explorer

Content Marketing Efforts

It shouldn’t be a surprise the level of emphasis our organization places on the role content marketing plays in improving SEO performance. I’ve written about this before (here and here, for example). As such, the evaluation of competitive content marketing initiatives is also a critical component of our analysis.

Content Marketing Comparison

Specific content marketing program elements to evaluate:

  • Types of content being developed (blog posts, videos, case studies, etc.)
  • Frequency of content developed (per content type)
  • Level of engagement for content developed (comments, feedback, social visibility, etc.)

It’s also important to review how well (or poorly) competitors connect content marketing efforts to SEO initiatives.

For example: In review of a competitive blogging initiative, we noted that the organization’s blog was focused on employee culture and promotional efforts, as opposed to tackling keyword-specific themes. We can infer SEO is less of a priority (at least in execution).

What This Competitive Data Made Us Realize

It was clear that an ongoing content marketing program was benefiting our client’s lead competitor. With an active blog and an ongoing sales/lead-generation oriented series of assets being created, the organization was organically acquiring links and social presence, even if SEO was less of a priority objective.

While all of the competitors in this space are leveraging video creation in their online marketing strategies, only one (other) competitor had adopted SEO best practices in their video landing page strategy, even integrating the schema VideoObject vocabulary. Not surprisingly, this competitor was also very strong in presence for our priority keyword targets.

Recommended Resources for Execution

Unlike other components of our competitive research, we don’t utilize specific tools or software in direct review of content marketing performance, though inbound link research and social media visibility certainly play a part. That said, all of the tools listed provide points of direction in the review process.

Social Media Presence

Lastly, a competitor’s social media presence helps illustrate the influence they may have in their industry and online in general. While one might argue social media marketing and content marketing fall hand-in-hand, there are often differing objectives for execution.

Social Media Comparison

Some basic observations we make when reviewing competitive social media programs:

  • Types of social media profiles utilized (i.e., Twitter profile, LinkedIn page, etc.)
  • Size of network (per profile/page)
  • Frequency of posts and updates
  • Level of engagement within social media profile (feedback from others and organization’s own response and level of communication within platform)

In addition to profiles, pay attention to the volume of social sharing associated with content marketing assets, blog post initiatives in particular. While the direct impact of social sharing on SEO is debatable, a greater volume of social shares might infer the organization has a wider reach and a scalable way to organically build inbound links and brand awareness.

What This Competitive Data Made Us Realize

For the most part, social media as a whole, was not a major component of any of our competitors ongoing marketing initiatives. We did identify how specific social media profiles and associates in competitive organizations may at least be indirectly benefiting link building and social media visibility through active participation in communities, groups and online conversations, however.

Recommended Resources for Execution

  • Moz FollowerWonk
  • BuzzSumo for identifying social share impact of competitive content marketing initiatives
  • Direct social media profile review

Final Thoughts

For this client, the end goal of our competitive analysis was to provide clarity in direction of our ongoing program. We wanted to ensure we were not missing opportunities and had a greater understanding of some of the obstacles we might encounter along the way. This type of competitive analysis helps set the stage for performance measurement of our program over the long run, as well.

There are certainly other opportunities and metrics to consider in competitive analysis. This column provides several options but every organizations’ own competitive environment call for customization and focus. Arguably, some of these tools and resources may not even be applicable.

Hopefully the ideas listed here provide direction and ideas as for further competitive analysis in your SEO program but let me know what you think! I welcome your thoughts and perspective via comments below.

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