The Illustrated Guide to Competitive SEO Analysis

Beginning a new SEO campaign should never begin with a blind leap. Each niche has it's own qwerks and items that make the products or services stand out, and customers react differently to different strategies used for marketing. One of the most important aspects of SEO is being able to properly analyze your SEO competition, not only for weaknesses, but also for strengths. The process you use to "size up" the competition should highlight your SEO targets, and give you a fundemental insight of how to set up your new campaign.

With that being said, it can be very confusing on how to get started. Different industries, products, markets, dynamic consumer patterns and the ever-changing Google landscape don't make this easy. Hundreds of factors go into making a site successful, so where do you begin?

Facilitating this process should not be a difficult or overwhelming task. We found an image created by Aleyda Solis, that simplifies analyzing the competition's SEO. This illustrated step by step guide shows the different factors to take into consideration when identifying SEO competitors, gathering keywords, planning out your strategy, and selecting your path to SEO success:

Illustrated Competitive Analysis Workflow Chart
Image used with permission from For full resolution image, please download from

The Four Competitor SEO Analysis Phases

Seem like a lot to take in? Let's not over-analyze shall we? Taking a closer look at the image above shows us that the process of analyzing your competition's SEO is divided into 4 main phases.

1. Identify Your SEO Competition

Planning a new SEO strategy can be tough, especially when you are venturing into a new industry or client focus you don't know anything about. The first phase makes this process easier, by letting you highlight who is relevant within the industry or keyword target you are targeting.

When mapping out your competitor's SEO roadmap, don't limit your focus to companies or websites that offer the same type of services or products. Instead, keep an open mind to analyze any website that ranks and competes for the focus keyword. Contrary to public perception, there is no "set it and forget it" SEO strategy. Tools such as Alexa Top Sites, and SimilarWeb can help you identify who your main competitors are for a given keyword phrase.

2. Breakdown Your Competition's SEO Strategy

Once you have your list, break down the areas that make the site rank where it does. Look at the factors, both on and off-page, used in the markup of the sites. How does the site use the keywords? Does it use them effectively? How is the content marketed and broadcasted to consumers and search engines?

This stage is especially important, as it can expose additional opportunities hidden within a competitors site. When designing a webpage, many SEO's get caught up in being "too close to the forest to see the trees." This means that a page can be so focused on trying to rank on a given keyword or catch-phrase, that they lose focus of the bigger picture. Broad match keywords, website design choices, content structure, and site flow can identify how you can improve on what you are already seeing. Don't tie yourself to the exact match keyword, instead look at the factors of why the site is successful both in search engine position, and consumer conversion rate. Need help finding what keywords to use? SEMRush and SuggestMrx have tools available to help you target the most searched for keywords. After all, you don't want to target something no one is looking for, even if a competitor does.

3. Comparing The Competition's SEO vs Your Site

At this point, you should have a pretty good list of the sites you will be competing against, a list of keywords that are relevant to the subject matter, and a good idea of what Google seems to like, based on the SERP positions. Need a head start? You can use MOZ's Open Site Explorer to view a website's popularity, and see if your predictions are correct.

Take a moment to list out what you have learned so far about your competition's SEO. This list should include:

  • Keyword Relevance
  • Keyword Choices (exact and broad-match)
  • Target Keyword Search Volume
  • Current Ranking Pages
  • Backlink Profile Analysis
  • On Page Content Analysis
  • Off-Page SEO Structure and Keyword Placement
  • On-Page Design Effectiveness
  • Any other Search Engine Optimization that seems relevant

We don't expect you to go out and type in a ton of search phrases just to see what a competitor ranks for, we're not that mean. Authority Labs, Positionly, and Advanced Web Ranking each offer a way to display the rankings of your competition in search engine results.

4. Select and Implement Your Target Keywords

Implementation. This phase is where you will be focusing your short-, mid-, and long-term keyword focus, and really breaking down the areas of your site that can be improved. Once you have the data from your competition, it should be easy to spot the holes in your existing SEO strategy.

Spend quality time going over the elements of your site, page by page. If using a shopping cart system where a page by page analysis isn't possible, look at the on page elements where valuable content can be added, or where possible SEO roadblocks can be removed. Focus on the keywords with the highest relevance, largest search volume, and business profitability. When implementing what you have learned, stay focused on the two main goals of what you are trying to accomplish: higher ranking in the SERP, and increased conversion rates from users taking the desired actions. Even when focusing on ranking for a keyword, you don't want to alienate your users by creating a page aimed solely at search engine ranking. Not only are these types of pages hard to read, these are also the types of pages Google targets with algorithm updates. Once you have your site all cleaned up and optimized, take a moment to use MOZ's On Page SEO Grader, or Quicksprout's SEO Report Card tool to see your results.

competitive seo analysis

Author Credit:

We would like to thank Aleyda Solis for putting together this wonderful graphic. You can visit her on Twitter page, or by viewing her profile page on MOZ. All images and any quoted content on this page were used with her full permission.

David Kley is the Owner and Lead SEO Analyst for Web Design and Company.
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