Market research is always a crucial step in the development of any marketing strategy or plan. To use a sporting analogy, without competitor research, it’s like entering a league without knowing who you’re up against. You don’t know how your team stacks up against the competition. You can’t develop tactics that take into account your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. You don’t even know if you’ve entered the correct league.
Why is competitor research important?
- Understand key selling points of competitors
- Spot opportunities or gaps in the market, both in terms of product/service offering as well as SEO targeting. Conversely, we can then see areas where the market is saturated.
- Identify where competitors have successes (and failures), adapting your plans accordingly
- Differentiate between market competitors and those competing within search
- Provides clarity on your positioning within the market. Subsequently, this allows for more accurate messaging and targeting of your audience.
What are we trying to achieve from competitor research?
We’re not here to create more hoops for you to jump through. Nobody wants that. Instead, we’re looking to provide you with actionable tips to get your SEO campaign up and running. With that in mind, we should be clear on what we’re trying to achieve with competitor research.
Learn from the incumbents
The first-mover advantage is often lauded through cherry picking examples. There are certainly pros to being first, but there are also significant downsides. Part of our competitor research is to exploit these downsides. This can come in a variety of forms. We can see where competitors have focussed their campaigns and therefore seize opportunities. We can also ‘one-up’ them on their targeting through lessons learned from our analysis.
Confirm our strategy & plan
We’ve already looked at buyer personas and keyword research. We’ve likely already conducted a portion of competitor research during these phases anyway. By dedicating time to our competitor research, we can sign off on our strategies and plans safe in the knowledge that we have done our due diligence.
How to conduct SEO competitor research
Step One: Identify Competitors
Obviously we need to understand who we’re up against. Tools can help to automate this process somewhat. Rest assured though that you can run this process manually, it’ll just take a little longer.
Explore topics, not just keywords
Whilst individual keywords are important, as per the keyword research process, you want to explore topics. SEO has evolved past a handful of high value searches to a more topic based environment. We live in a world of semantic search. Make use of your brainstorming as well as autosuggest and the ‘people also asked’ accordions. Follow those rabbit holes.
Differentiate your competitors
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Step Two: Analyse your competitor's targeting strategies
- Ensure that we haven’t missed any large opportunities during the keyword research phase
- Gain an understanding of which competitors are targeting which keywords.
- Identify the most targeted search terms amongst competitors. In this way we can analyse whether alternate searches may offer better short term opportunities.
- Simply load a page and check the browser tab, in browsers such as Chrome they will display the title tag
- Load the page, right click and select ‘page source’. The title tag can be found between thetags
- Go to Google and search site:”example.com”. This will show the pages that Google has indexed, and the title tags will be the blue links.
Headings and Content
Much like title tags, headings and content will give you a fairly clear idea of the type of search terms and topics targeted by competitors. It makes sense, as major areas for optimisation, you can’t hide the type of content being produced!
We did say that these would be more manual checks, but if you do have a subscription to a platform you may as well make use of it. Most major platforms provide competitor analysis. This gives you insight into the search terms your competitors are ranking for. In addition, a function like the domain overview in SEMrush can also be used.
Step Three: Repeat or Differentiate
Step Four: Compare with your own keyword research
Step Five: Dive a little deeper
There are a number of other metrics that can be useful during our competitor research. Bear in mind though, that these require the use of tools, although most do not need a premium subscription.