Should I link to my competitors' websites?

How to conduct an SEO competition analysis [including template]

If you're planning a new online business or are simply tired of losing to competitors in organic search, do a competitive SEO analysis.

Your competitors are a gold mine of information that can enrich every aspect of your SEO strategy and skyrocket your website's organic traffic.

Specifically, performing an SEO competitor analysis enables you to:

  • Find out what works and what doesn't in your industry.
  • Find the weaknesses of your competitors and take advantage of them.
  • Find your competitors' strengths and replicate them.
  • Understand which SEO tasks to prioritize.
  • Understand how difficult it can be to outperform competitors in the SERPs.

In this post, I'm going to walk through a simple SEO competitor analysis process for a hypothetical new infographic design tool -Minimagraphic.com.

#makeInfographicsGreatAgain

I've also included a competitive analysis template so you can walk the steps with your website.

First steps

You can do this whole process with just two tools:

  1. Ahrefs (Test Ahrefs for 7 days)
  2. This Google Sheets SEO Template for Analyzing Competitors (IMPORTANT: make a copy!)

It is also worth making a copy of the completed sheet for our hypothetical website, as this can be useful for clarification if any of the following instructions prove unclear. (Hopefully that won't happen!)

You can do that here.

All right? Then let's get started!

1. Identify competitors

Before we take any action, we must first identify our main competitors.

These are the websites that will compete for our desired keywords in organic search.

For our hypothetical infographic design tool, Canva, Piktochart, Infogram, Easelei.ly, and Visme are some competitors that pop straight to mind. However, our organic search competitors may not be the same as our direct competitors.

So first let's take a look at how potential customers search for our service.

I figured it was going to be something like "infographic design tool" but it seems I was wrong. When I search for it in Ahrefs Keywords Explorer it tells me there is no search volume for it.

So let's take a look at the Rank For report and see if we can find a better keyword.

It looks like "infographic maker" is the most popular way people search for such tools.

Now let's look at those SERP overview to see who is currently in the top five.

Not yet an Ahrefs user?

Instead, do a Google search.

Looks like our top five competitors are Piktochart, Venngage, Canva, Visme and Infogram.

Interestingly, Easel.ly didn't make it as they aren't in the top 10.

It is therefore important not to rely on your own assumptions about direct competitors. To say it again. These aren't always competitors when it comes to SEO.

To give a more vivid example of this, imagine you were a butcher in a small town. The shop that keeps you up at night is that other little butcher on the street. However, in terms of SEO, he's not a threat. He doesn't even have a website.

I'm going to add these five competitors to my table.

If you're trying to find competitors for a blog or e-commerce website, researching websites that ranked for a single keyword is not the best way to go.

That's because these are likely to target hundreds or thousands of keywords and topics on many pages.

Hence, it is better to see who is competing with you down the line.

You can do this using the Competing Domains report in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Site Explorer> Specify Domain> Organic Search> Competing Domains

2. Analysis of the competitive landscape

Next we need to get an overview of the competitive landscape.

To do that, we're going to work out a few key statistics and SEO metrics that should give us an idea of ​​how well established the competition is.

Let's use the Ahrefs batch analysis tool to do this for all competitor websites at once.

Batch Analysis> enter competitor domain> Analyze

The batch analysis will give tons of useful statistics for any website, but right now I'm interested in the following:

Let's add them to our table.

To explain these SEO metrics a little more:

Domain Rating (DR): A high DR score indicates that a website has a solid backlink profile. You should judge DR relative to your website, not in absolute terms. For example, if your website is DR30 and your competitor's website is DR50, that's a bit higher. If your website is DR30 and a competitor's website is DR90, it's like comparing a corner shop to Walmart - they are not your competition.

Ahrefs Rank (AR): A low Ahrefs rank is an indicator of a "strong" site. AR tells you the same thing as DR, but with more granularity. For example, if you have two competitors with DR33 websites, you can use AR to see which is the stronger of the two.

Referring domains: A high number of referring domains can also indicate a strong website. Provided these links are not of poor quality. Note: This is also why building DR is useful as it takes into account both the quality and the quantity of links to a website.

Organic Traffic & Keywords: This is pretty obvious - the higher these numbers are, the better the website does on organic search.

Put simply, the more distance there is between you and your competitors' stats, the more catching up there is.

However, these metrics don't tell us everything about the SEO success of our competitors.

In steps # 3, # 4 and # 5 we deepen the link profiles of the competitors.

3. Study Backlink Growth

According to our study of ~ 920 million pages, link popularity is a clear SEO "ranking factor".

So we need to learn more about our competitors' link building efforts.

Let's start by checking the rate at which they are acquiring new referring domains (link sites). That will give us a rough target to base our link building on.

We use the Ahrefs Site Explorer for this.

Site Explorer> Enter Domain> Overview> Referring Domains Graph> Set to "One Year"

For each competitor, we take the number of referring domains they have today minus the same number from a year ago. Then we divide by twelve to get a monthly average.

Here is the calculation for Visme:

(7.603 - 5.599) / 12 = 167 new referring domains per month (average)

Let's also check the growth trend of our other competitors.

In other words, are their link profiles showing consistent or inconsistent growth or decline?

For Venngage the growth was relatively constant, apart from a small increase at the beginning of this year.

This could be, of course, but it could also be the by-product of long-term link building efforts.

Either way, it would be good to study these two articles in more detail to delve deeper into their backlink profile to find out what we can learn ... of course, only once we are done with the basic competitive analysis.

For Piktochart the growth seems to be less consistent.

They experienced a “hockey stick” boom between May and July last year, which may indicate a good performance of a particular piece of content. Or intensifying your link building efforts. It could also indicate a negative SEO attack.

To confirm either, we can review the New Referring Domains report.

Site Explorer> Referring Domains> New> Narrow the date range to the time period

It's likely a negative SEO attack, when most domains look like junk. (Hint: confirm this by looking at the New backlinks report for the same date range.)

It is likely that certain content will work well, when most of the links point to the same webpage. If the spike happened recently, use the report Best for link growth in Site Explorer to see what content attracted the links.

It is likely the intensification of existing link building efforts, if you see a lot of links from a certain type of content - e.g. guest posts, resource pages, etc.

For now, I'll be adding some growth-related statistics for each competitor to my spreadsheet.

4. Find "super fans"

Super fans are those who have already linked to our competitors several times.

These are people who it can make sense for us to develop relationships with because they tend to regularly link to websites they like.

To find these people, we can use the report Referring domains check in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Site Explorer> Referring Domains> add a "dofollow" filter> sort by "left on the target / dofollow"

Let's start by searching the list for industry blogs.

Here's one for Canva which particularly stands out:

If we click the marker we can see that this website is linked multiple times from many blog posts.

One look at the page tells us that this is a single-author blog by a woman named Elaine. She's definitely dealing with someone we want to develop a relationship with and introduce our product to.

Let's find five super fans for each of our competitors and add them to our table.

5. Find broken pages

Ever heard that one person's trash is another person's treasure?

This is also the case on the web.

So now we're going to check our competitor's websites for a certain type of “junk”: broken pages.

To do that, we'll use the report Best to the left in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Site Explorer> insert competitor domain> best by links> add a "404 not found" filter> sort by referring domains column (high to low)

If we can find defective pages on our competitor's websites that have backlinks and are also relevant to our company, then we may be able to use these pages:

  1. Find out what the content of the broken page was;
  2. Post similar content, but better;
  3. Find everyone who links to the broken page (use the Backlinks report in Site Explorer)
  4. Ask to replace the broken link in favor of our content

Find out in our "Link building with broken links" guide how you can implement this strategy.

Since the focus of this guide is on competitor analysis rather than link building, we'll simply add any relevant faulty pages from our five competitors to the table.

The following steps (# 6, # 7, and # 8) focus on organic traffic.

6. Investigation of the traffic distribution by country

Knowing which countries our competitors get the majority of their organic traffic from can help us understand where the opportunities lie in this niche.

For this we use the Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Site Explorer> Add Competitor Domain> Overview> "Organic Search" tab

Let's add the five most important countries with their traffic values ​​to our table.

I will then do the same for our other competitors.

Here's what we ended up with:

Looks like the majority of traffic potential in the United States is in this niche, as this is where our competitors get an average of ~ 31% of their traffic.

There are also some options in other English speaking countries like the UK and Canada.

Now we know that we should focus on creating content for people in these countries as this is where we see the bulk of the search need.

That does not surprise me.

However, the fact that there is potential for traffic in Latin America and Asia puzzled me.….

maybe it would make sense to translate our hypothetical landing pages into Spanish, Indian and possibly Indonesian?

We could even start a multilingual blog to maximize traffic from these countries.

We did that here at Ahref’s - we have a Spanish blog and a Chinese blog.

Many of our landing pages are also available in multiple languages.

Just looking at organic traffic values ​​can be misleading as they are not always representative of the company value of the traffic are.

So get Visme for example, roughly the same amount of search volume from the UK and Mexico.

But if we look at the traffic value for Mexico vs. Great Britain ...

... we see that UK traffic is worth 700% + more!

So it probably makes more sense for us to prioritize the UK traffic growth.

Learn more about how we calculate the traffic value. 

7. Spy on competitors' organic keywords.

Next, let's find out what keywords are currently driving organic traffic to our competitors' pages?

We can do that with the report Organic keywords do for each domain.

Site Explorer> Insert Competitor Domain> Organic Search> Organic Keywords

Above we see that visme.co currently ranks in the US for 133,667 keywords.

By default the report shows Organic keywords Keyword rankings for the country that generates the most search traffic. That's fine with us, but if you want to see keyword data for another country, press "more" and choose from one of the 150+ countries in our database.

Now let's look for some crisp keywords that might be worth targeting.

There are a few that pop up immediately, such as "infographic maker", "infographic creator", etc. But there are also many irrelevant results.

So let's first exclude all branded keywords with the "exclude" function.

I will also filter on keywords that our competitor ranks in the top 10 so that we only see the most relevant keywords.

For now, I'll keep things simple and jot down the top five relevant, non-branded keywords that are sending the most traffic to our competitors. And their search volume.

This is what it looks like:

Some of these keywords would go well with our homepage. Others would make better blog posts (e.g., “What is an infographic?”).

Some of the keywords that I have noted have high Keyword Difficulty (KD) scores, which means they are difficult to rank without building many links.

For example, “infographic maker” has a KD value of 73 ...

... and requires backlinks from an estimated ~ 235 domains to rank in the top 10.

Reading recommendation: Learn more about how we calculate keyword difficulty..

I'm not too concerned about this right now because I'm looking more for “Ultimate Goal” keywords.

If you follow the instructions and would rather find keywords for which you have a short to medium-term chance of ranking, you are welcome to search for keywords with a low KD value.

8. Spy on the “Featured Snippets” of your competitors

There is one more important thing to look out for when analyzing your competitors' organic traffic:

SERP feature for which your competitors are ranking.

Featured snippets alone are shown for ~ 12% of search queries, as our study shows ...

... and they get ~ 9% of the clicks of the search results on the first page:

So let's keep things simple and focus exclusively on these.

First, I want to know which of the Featured Snippets our competitors have. I will use the Ahrefs Site Explorer for this.

Site Explorer> Enter Competitor Domain> Organic Search> Organic Keywords> SERP Properties Filter> Featured Snippet> Linking to Target Only

Piktochart currently owns 87 snippets in the US and is getting a significant amount of traffic as a result.

Visme owns 216.

I will include these numbers in my table for each competitor.

In general, if our competitors are ranking for many of the Featured Snippets, there might be a way for us to do the same.

This can even be very simple traffic, since the page ranked in number 1 does not always have the snippet.

59.2% of the featured snippets come from pages that rank in positions 2–5.

In other words, even if the SERP is competitive, there is still a chance of owning the snippet. Provided we make it into the top 5.

Bibliography: How to Find and Steal Featured Snippets (To Get More Search Traffic)

In the next few steps (# 9, # 10, and # 11) we will dive deeper into the content of the competitors.

9. Find "content gaps"

Content gaps are keywords that your competitors have ranked for, but you don't.

Needless to say, you probably want to fill a void like this.

To find content gaps, we can use the Ahrefs Content Gap tool. use.

Site Explorer> Enter your domain> Content gap

You can see that this pre-populates the field “But the following target does not rank for” with our domain.

Now we have to fill the other fields with competitors.

I then set it to “Show keywords that all of the below targets rank for “, activate the checkbox“ at least one of the targets should rank in the top 10 ”and carry out the search.

You can see above that the result is some very relevant keywords.

Since we don't have unlimited resources, it's impossible to target all of these keywords.

Let's use the filters to focus on low / medium difficulty, high volume opportunities.

The low level of difficulty means they are easier to “rank”, while the solid search volume means that the ranking will give our search traffic a nice boost.

However, some of these keywords look like the ones we found in the previous step.

So I'm just going to add the top five new keywords to my table.

10. Find the most popular content from competitors

Keyword research is still a critical part of SEO, but these days, Google's understanding of the intent behind search queries is arguably better than ever.

Because of this, a page can easily rank for hundreds or even thousands of long-tail keywords.

By finding our competitors' top pages, we can find out which of their items:

  1. rank for a lot of keywords.
  2. attract a lot of search traffic.

Then we can write about these topics and get some sweet long-tail traffic.

We can do this with the report Top sites Use Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Note that we're interested in finding blog posts, so whenever possible we need to search the blog's URL / Subdomain folder as opposed to the entire domain.

Site Explorer> enter competitor domain> “Prefix” mode> Top Pages

Not sure where your competitor's blog is located?

Check the report Top folder in Site Explorer and look for the blog path.

If you can't find anything there, check the report instead Top subdomains to. Some websites host their blog on a subdomain.

In any case, make sure that the traffic percentage for the sub-folder / sub-folder is in the double-digit range. If not, then it is likely that the blog posts are not embedded in this URL structure.

In this case, stick to a domain search.

Well, one thing to keep in mind about this report is that websites on the pages with the greatest organic traffic often have many referring domains. This is hardly surprising, because backlinks are a strong ranking factor.

So let's search this report for each participant and look at the RD column.

What we're looking for are pages with a lot of traffic but not too many referring domains as these will likely be a lot easier to contest.

I'll add five relevant pages to my table that match the requirement; plus their traffic.

11. Find the most linked content from competitors.

Links mean referrals, “buzz” and often as a result, more organic search traffic.

So we know we need to build links, but where do we start?

We find out what works for our competitors.

The report Best to the left in Ahrefs Site Explorer shows the most frequently linked content from competitors. If it worked for them, then something similar will likely work for us too.

Site Explorer> Enter Competitor Blog Subfolder / Subdomain> Organic Search> Best By Links

From here, I'll add the URLs of each competitor's top five pages URLs to my table, the number of referring domains on each page, and the "type" of content.

Now we can see at a glance what types of content work best for each competitor and in general.

For example, 60% of the most frequently linked page articles are from Venngage Lists (listicles). For Visme it is similar.

Hence, if we want to build links, it is probably worth focusing our efforts on creating this type of content.

On the other hand, gaps can also offer opportunities.

Canva for example has a lot of links to text-heavy content. Such content could be simplified as an infographic and potentially attract even more links.

We could also use something called a “skyscraper” technique to build links:

  1. Create similar, but even better, content.
  2. Show it to everyone who has links to the now "worse" content of our competitors.
  3. Ask them to swap the link in favor of your high quality content.

If you're wondering how we can find out who's linking to our competitors' content, all we have to do is click on the number under the 'RD' column and we'll see all the websites that link to that page.

In other words, our competitor kindly created a prospect list for us. 😉

In the two steps (# 12 and # 13) we will dive deeper into the competitor's PPC advertising.

12. Find competitors' PPC keywords