The Art of Knowing Your Enemy: Basic Competitor Analysis

Sun Tzu, arguably the greatest military strategist in all of Asian history, wrote in his famous treatise The Art of War that knowing oneself combined with the knowledge of one’s enemies will keep one from facing disaster in a hundred battles.

Like most of the fabled general’s main points in that cultural treasure, this particular nugget of wisdom can be applied to the world of business, where competition is innate. Although the environment has shifted to a virtual platform, the core principle of understanding the competition remains valuable.

Competitor Analysis in SEO

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In the realm of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the value of competitor analysis is substantial enough that failing to do so could very well lead to your website tumbling down the search results page rankings. Some symptoms of a lack of this research include missing out on rising trends in terms of new tools and growing demographics, and even getting traffic from all the wrong audiences based on outdated data.

Such indications will inevitably result in negative consequences. There is the problem of getting higher bounce rates when irrelevant visitors stumble upon your site because of wrong targeted keywords.  There is also simply getting left behind in the constantly changing world of search engines because you’re sticking with obsolete tools and archaic methods deemed harmful by the newest algorithm updates.

Successfully doing a competitor analysis, however, will give you a two-fold advantage. The big picture of the goings-on of the entire industry is revealed, giving you general ideas of what works and what doesn’t. It also gives you a closer look at the specific techniques being employed by each competitor and the mistakes they’re making, the former which you can emulate and the latter you can avoid. Therefore, competitor analysis provides your business a comprehensive framework which you can then build your strategy upon going forward.

Identifying Competitors Using Your Keywords

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What many of the uninformed might think of online competitor analysis is simply checking for competitor links on the first page of Google’s search results for the keywords their own businesses are using. This is a very simplistic view that doesn’t give a clearer picture of who else makes up the competition and how they achieve their rankings among other things.

You need to check the search engine results pages for potential competitors that you might have overlooked because they are mostly known for selling products through real world retail outlets and not on e-commerce sites.

You also need to review the competitors’ rankings beyond the first page to see the different keywords they are ranking high for and the ones they don’t rank well for. This allows you to segment them by keywords so you can plan on where to put your research efforts into when you eventually analyze the competitors’ methods in gaining high ranks.

Discovering Competitors’ Content and Backlinks

Of the major factors that decide a page’s ranking, there are two that you can extract from analyzing your competitors. Quality content is one of them. What’s quality content from your competitors? They’re the ones that get a lot of social shares, comments, and links from other sites.

Quicksprout breaks down the number of social media shares of each page of a domain for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google+ on the Social Media Analysis tab. The pages are also listed by the total number of social shares in descending order. The home page, category pages, and the like are irrelevant. Remember that you’re looking for content.

For discovering your competitors’ backlinks, you can use Moz’s Open Site Explorer or SEO Profiler. For the former, all you have to do is enter the domain of your competitor then click on the Top Pages tab. It should show in descending order the pages with the most backlinks. SEO Profiler shows all the backlinks through the Link Profiler tab for the domain you enter. Access to the filters requires you to pay up, though, but the information you gain through the tool is worth the price.

You will have to manually look for the posts that have a lot of comments, although it shouldn’t be hard as content that have lots of social shares and links probably have lots of comments as well.

With the knowledge of what your competitors are creating content-wise to gain much traction on social media and earn links from other sites, you can apply their ideas to your own content strategy. Only this time, you need to come up with something better, more comprehensive, or an alternative take on the topic to convince your target audience to view and share your content.

Competition is only getting fiercer online, but there are more tools and techniques available to help you level the playing field. It’s up to you take advantage of these resources, as your competitors will have no problem doing what must be done to stay ahead. All’s fair in love and war, and every player in any industry understands that it’s a war for the consumers’ attention.