If you don’t know these 3 things about the sites you compete most closely with in organic search, you’ve got homework.
In this article we’ll break down:
a) The most valuable data points to know about your close search competitors
b) How to find those data points
c) What to do with them to actually increase your organic traffic and revenue
I’ll be using Ahrefs for this analysis, but you can also use SEMrush and other great SEO tools.
If you don’t use Ahrefs, you can find someone on Fiverr.com to run these searches for you and send you the reports, usually for $5.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good way to do this analysis for free. If you do, feel free to let us know in the comments!
Who Actually ARE Your Competitors?
I think it’s worthwhile to run this analysis on two different types of competitors.
- Sites that currently rank around me for valuable keywords.
- Sites that are in my market but way ahead of me in terms of development, age, traffic, and revenue.
It’s like having your eye on a short term competitor and a long term competitor. From each, you’ll pick up a different kind of idea, and end up with a clearer picture of what’s important for you to take action on now, versus in the future.
Point #1: Their Highest Organic Traffic Pages
For any site that competes with you, it’s valuable to know what’s actually getting them traffic.
Looking at their highest traffic pages you can see which specific topics in their market are actually delivering traffic (as opposed to merely having search volume) and you can see how they’ve approached that topic in order to outperform other sites in the SERPS.
Usually, you’ll notice a relationship between the highest traffic pages of a site. They might for example, coalesce around a broad topic, adding depth to the site’s coverage of that segment of a market.
Looking at a site’s highest organic traffic pages can also hint at what Google considers that site to be most authoritative and relevant for. A site may have covered a large number of topics, but Google may not trust a site equally for all of those topics. An example of this can be seen below.
To see a site’s highest organic traffic pages, simply insert the domain name into Ahrefs Site Explorer tool, and click on Organic Search >> Top Pages from the left sidebar.
From here, you can peruse the ordered list, clicking to explore many points of further interest.
At this point you can ask yourself the following questions:
Does my site have content on these topics already? If not, is it worth publishing content on those topics?
Or at least beginning keyword research around those topics to see if there is any low hanging fruit?
If so, in what ways is this site’s content better than mine?
Does it have a higher word count? Does it cover angles that you don’t cover? Does it have more images? More outgoing links? More incoming links?
What’s this site most authoritative and relevant for according to Google?
In this example, WellnessMama is a site that publishes content on various topics from health, to parenting, to fitness. But judging by the top pages by organic search, you could infer that what Google most trusts this site for is homemade goods that are mostly food and beauty related.
If you know the competitor site well, this can also hint at what Google does not consider them authoritative on. That place where they are not authoritative might be a place where you can be authoritative.
Is there something here that I could be more authoritative and relevant for?
This can inspire new blog post ideas, tell you which existing posts you could improve and deepen, or suggest new prospects for outreach and promotion.
Point #2: Their Most Linked Pages
While a competitors’ highest traffic pages can point to things you should be thinking about content-wise, their most linked pages can tell you things you should be thinking about promotion wise.
When you run this search you’ll see what’s been most successful for them in terms of building links. It will tell you what on their site attracted most links, and by diving down into the links themselves, both who this content of theirs actually appealed to, and for what reason.
If you’re struggling for ideas for building new links, this list can contain opportunities that are hidden in plain sight.
Enter their domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool, and go to Pages >> Best by links
Next, you’ll get a list of the site’s URLs, ordered by their incoming links. You can now peruse through these for anything of interest.
Lastly, to find out who’s actually doing all the linking, simply click on the number for Referring domains next to any URL, and you’ll get a list of linking sites, ordered by Domain Rating.
From there you can open up any of the linking URLs by clicking on them.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you examine this data.
Are there any themes to the pages that have gotten lots of links?
They might coalesce around a certain topic. Or they might share a certain style or type. Look at these posts from the top 10 in the example above:
If you’re in this market and not sure what style of post is most likely to get you links, this data could be a strong indicator.
Do I have any content on these most highly linked topics?
If not, this might be a reason to create some.
If so, it might be a reason to further your outreach to attract links to those pages of your site. Helpfully if you are doing that, you have the beginnings of a prospect list by simply exporting the list of linking URLs right from Ahrefs.
You can click the number in the Do Follow column next to any page high in links, and you can export the list from the Backlinks page like this:
Point #3: Their Best Backlinks
Even though you will have started to see your competitors’ backlinks in the previous step, it can be really valuable to get a site-wide overview of their best links of all.
With this, you can audit your own link building strategy based on what you see. You can compare your best links to your competitors’ and find gaps in your approach that you can remedy.
Enter their domain name into Ahrefs Site Explorer Tool and go to the big link that says Backlinks on the left sidebar.
Leave the options for Group Similar selected, and make sure the list is sorted by Domain Rating. Lastly, select the option to show only “Live” links, which will eliminate lost links from the list.
For this data point, there’s only one question to ask:
Can I get any of these links or these kinds of links for my site?
And to help you answer that question, here are a few of the many possibilities to look out for:
- When one of your competitor’s authors have been mentioned. (You’ll see it in the anchor text of the link, on the right of the screen)
Maybe they’ve published a guest post on that site, or been the source for a story. Record that site, and plan to contact them with a similar request.
- Other places they’re writing/contributing
You might see that the people running your competitor’s site are also contributing to other popular platforms in your market. If this is true you’ll often see lots of links from the same high-quality site (For example, medium.com) where your competitor has published a number of articles.
It may not look exactly like a guest post either, in that it could be a related keyword rather than the author’s name or URL that shows up as anchor text.
If your competitor is getting something out of contributing regularly to that platform, there may be something in it for you too.
- Educational Links
If you click Link Type you’ll see a dropdown where you can select Educational and get a list of the links your competitor has from .edu or other educational sites.
You can do the same thing to check governmental sites too.
It’s not always easy to pick up the links your competitor has from these sites – sometimes they can be the result of a personal relationship or just a lot of hard work – but it sure pays to at least know what the links are.
Maybe there’s a related opportunity available on a similar site?
Of course, there’s a lot you can learn by paging through the analytics of your competitors. These 3 points are only what we consider the most important things to know. If you’ve never looked at this for at least two of your competitors, one near and one far, it’s worth prioritizing.
To end with a word of caution: You can accidentally spend more time than you intended digging through these details. There’s a weird kind of voyeurism that can take over and eat up an hour or more of your day without you benefitting in any clear way.
It can be helpful to start with an objective in mind, eg “I’d like to get new ideas for content I can publish”, or “I’d like to get new ideas for link building strategies I can deploy”.
If you’re doing that and focusing on having clear action steps written down at the end of the search, you’ll get maximum value from this exercise.