A link builder’s perspective on competitor analysis.
Before the digital age, a company might have only needed to compete with a select few local competitors. There was a time when a business only cared about a small percentage of the competition and a lot of times, this was limited to a single shop down the road who had purchased a radio or billboard advertisement. Alas, a lot of this mentality has found its way into the current age of SEO, and into the world of link building. Approaching an SEO or link building campaign with such a narrow view of the market is never going to lead to success.
So of course you know who your competitors are, right? That’s why you spend hours of your time on competitor analysis, after all. But what if everything you’ve been analyzing about your competition is wrong? What if your research has led you to believe you’re competing for links with the wrong websites?
I couldn’t possibly begin to count the number of times I have had a client mention a company as their main competitor who, after further analysis, couldn’t be further from being the most immediate threat. Yes, Amazon is absolutely crushing you in the SERPs, but chances are you’ve got dozens of other websites to analyze first.
Identifying and studying your true competition takes a lot more time and energy than making a few quick Google searches for your primary keywords, so let’s explore a few of the types of link-competitors a website is likely to have.
Identifying the competition
These are companies that are your most direct competition, selling products extremely similar to yours and will likely be the first to come to mind when you think of your competitors. You can probably even name a few off the top of your head. These are usually the easiest to identify, analyze and learn from, so this is a great place to start. Simply run a few searches for your main keywords and you’ll have a list of dozens of these competitors.
Chances are, you probably already know a lot of what you will find when exploring these competitors. It’s also likely that they’re doing the same to you as well. When analyzing these websites, I like to take a look at the first 20 or 30 websites ranking for a given keyword.
Immediately, I take a look at their on-site optimization and compare it to that of the website I will be building links for. Doing so will give you an idea of any related keywords these websites are targeting (which you should then explore for even more competition to analyze – whether or not you plan to target those keywords as well). After that, I’ll take a look through their backlinks to identify any quick linking opportunities.
These “immediate” competitors are websites that I analyze first, and I check back on them often, but once I have the information I’m after I like to move on to less obvious competition. These are absolutely websites that should be the first step in your competitor analysis. They are the most important competitors to keep an eye on, but if your strategy is based solely on trying to one-up these sites, you might end up running in circles. It’s best to diversify your link building efforts.
Identify the websites you compete with for long-tail and unique keywords related to solutions that your brand helps to solve. These competitors don’t even have to be websites that sell anything similar to you, but they are websites that answer similar questions for your would-be customers.
This is where having a strong content marketing strategy becomes so important. What kind of content are these websites creating and can you create better content? What websites are linking to this content and what websites is this content linking out to (more possible competitors)?
If you have the means to create superior content that will serve the same search queries, these types of competitors can also be great places to get links. For example, I once had a client who sold niche movies for a relatively competitive group of hobbyists. I was able to find a handful of websites featuring articles with titles such as “The Best _____ Movies” where I was able to get links to my client’s website.
On top of that, we also created a landing page on this client’s website that served the same type of queries. The end result of this was our client ranking for “Best ____ Movies” AND they had links pointing to their website in four or five of the other pages ranking for the exact same terms. That’s what we call a win-win-win-win-win-win!
These are competitors that are very often overlooked or ignored, because they aren’t the first to come to mind when one begins to think about “competition.” That’s because for most marketing intents and purposes, they aren’t competition at all. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that they are competing for some of the same dollars that you are, and more importantly they often reveal link opportunities that your immediate competition has not found.
For example, if you’re a restaurant owner you might not think about the movie theater 2 miles across town as competition, but when date-night rolls around you better believe that they stand a real chance at winning your customers’ money.
Likewise, if you own a website which sells dog beds, you have a near infinite amount of “relative” competition ranging from websites that sell dog toys, dog food, food bowls, puppy calendars – the list goes on. Heck, if you do own a website that sells dog beds, you should probably be exploring websites that sell cat, bird, fish, turtle, and countless other pet accessories for potential linking opportunities. You’ll be surprised at what you find.
Sure, this “competition” is never going to compete with your website for the same search terms, but that’s exactly why it is so valuable. This is a great strategy to find linking opportunities that the immediate competition is not even considering. The beauty of this type of competition is that they not only open up a ton of link building potential, but they also offer potential incredibly valuable business partnerships.
Your own customers
This is another aspect that your immediate competition is not considering. Your own potential customers can be some of your biggest competitors.
If there is a DIY version of products that your website sells, then there is a 101% chance you are losing money, links, and traffic because of it. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There is a particularly crafty (and thrifty) group of customers who will almost always opt for a DIY solution whenever possible. This opens a lot of content and, by extension, link opportunities.
For example, if you own a website which offers graphic design certification, consider offering free tutorials. If you own a website which sells survival supply kits, blog about how your customers can build their own survival kits out of household items. If people are searching for free or DIY options to a solution your company solves, it is likely that they may not intend to spend money with you.
But offering content to solve their problems without spending money at your site is a great way to build brand authority and customer trust – something they might remember when they are planning to make a purchase. The content you create also has a great chance to rank for valuable search terms, and has a great chance to lead to links from related websites who have visitors likely to make a purchase.
Where to find them
This is pretty straight forward: run a quick search for a few of your primary keywords and you will find your immediate competitors. Do the same for your long-tail keywords once you have defined more specific content opportunities.
Even if your marketing strategy is entirely organic, scoping out your competitors’ advertisements can be a great source of gaining valuable information. Oftentimes, new companies and companies who don’t rank well are the ones buying advertisements, so this can be a great way to find some of the “out-of-site, out-of-mind” little guys that your bigger competitors are ignoring.
Start exploring the places where your company is already listed. Chances are if you have a listing on a website, so do a few of your competitors. This can be a great starting point for diving into competitor analysis and a great place to find competitors who may be doing well in areas of organic search where your company has yet to identify as valuable.
Chances are, your company probably already has profiles on a few social media platforms, and you may even know a few of your competitors who do as well, but searching social media for competitors can help you identify companies you have yet to find using other methods.
One of the most complicated parts of link building is identifying the right competition to analyze. Trying to play catch up with the wrong competition can not only lead to wasted time, but send you down a path in an entirely different direction than the one you should be headed.