Gaining Competitive Insights for SEO: A Step-by-Step Guide

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an inherently competitive activity.

For every popular search term, countless websites compete for the top spot in the Google rankings.

And with the top three rankings on Google results pages receiving a whopping 77% of all organic clicks, it’s easy to see why competition is so fierce.

One of the best ways to increase your organic search presence is to regularly search for SEO competitive insights.

By studying what works well for your SEO competitors and identifying their weaknesses, you can refine your own strategy for greater competitive advantage.

In this post, you’ll learn how to analyze your competitors’ SEO strategies to discover new ways to overtake them in search results.

Why competitive insights are important in SEO

We all know the famous saying “know your enemy”.

The idea is that understanding your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses, and tactics can help you find ways to navigate the competitive environment more effectively.

Organic search is no different. By analyzing high-ranking competitors, you can learn a lot about how to achieve your SEO goals.

Because if a competitor is consistently outperforming you, they must be doing something right. And once you figure out what that “something” is, you can apply it to your own SEO strategy.

If you find that a competitor’s approach is inadequate in any way, you can take the opportunity to improve it.

And the best news? All you need to find valuable SEO competitive insights is a little detective work.

How to Gather SEO Competitive Insights in 5 Steps

Now let’s look at the key steps needed to gain insights from your competitors’ search activities.

1. Define the competition

The first step is to identify your SEO competitors.

No doubt you already know who your traditional business competitors are, but keep in mind that they may differ from your actual search competitors. After all, the Internet is a big place.

The easiest way to find out who you’re competing with is to search Google for the type of terms you want to rank for and note the sites that appear regularly.

Let’s say you want to rank the term [men jordans low]. In this case, your SEO competitors would be Nike, Foot Locker, and Farfetch.

    Google search for men's Jordans LowScreenshot from searching for [men jordans low]Google, August 2023

You should also check the competition for location-based searches if your business serves customers in a specific geographic area.

Let’s say you run a boxing gym in Nashville. This is what your local SEO competition looks like.

Google search for Nashville Boxing GymScreenshot from searching for [nashville boxing gym]Google, August 2023

Bonus tip: Instead of looking at individual keywords to see who is ranking, you can also use Ahrefs and navigate there Site Explorer > organic competitors. This shows competing websites that rank in the top 10 organic search results for the same keywords that your target receives the most traffic from.

See the example below:

Ahrefs organic competitorsScreenshot from Ahrefs, August 2023

2. Analyze your keyword strategy

Now that you know who your competitors are, the next step is to get a complete picture of the keywords they are ranking for. This exercise will help you identify new terms to target.

The most efficient way to approach competitor keyword research is to use a dedicated SEO competitor analysis tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs. Note that these tools require a paid subscription (although Semrush offers a 14-day free trial).

To get a comprehensive list of a competitor’s keywords in SEMrush, go to “Organic Research” and enter your competitor’s domain name.

Organic research by SemrushScreenshot from SEMrush, August 2023

In the dashboard you will see a section called Top keywordswhich you can expand by clicking on it Show all keywords.

Here is an example from

Nike top keywordsScreenshot from SEMrush, August 2023

You can then export the keyword list to a spreadsheet and filter out all branded terms (e.g. all terms that contain the branded phrase “Nike”).

This will give you a complete list of all non-branded keywords your competitor is ranking for, including monthly search volumes and a link to each ranking page.

After repeating the process for all of your top competitors, you can compare the data with your own ranking keywords and identify any terms you don’t already rank for.

Look for high-volume terms that only one or two competitors are targeting. It is often easier for these to achieve a ranking.

You should examine each keyword individually and consider whether it is suitable for your business. If it’s a good fit, you should set your sights on it!

3. Evaluate your content strategy

Knowing which keywords you should target is one thing. To know How Targeting them is another matter entirely.

That’s why the next step is to examine competitor content that is performing well for your desired terms so you know what it takes to rank for them.

The first thing you should consider for any keyword is the content type.

Is it presented as a detailed guide? An infographic? A video?

And what about the depth and breadth of the content? Does it cover subtopics or just stick to the core topic?

Remember that Google invests a lot of time and energy to provide users with results that best match their search intent. This is why the top ranking results are a great guide to how you should approach your own content.

Finally, you should examine how successful competitors have optimized their on-page elements for the specific keyword.

There is a chance that the keyword will appear in the URL, page title, H1 header tag, and all body text. Be sure to consider using keyword variations so you can incorporate them into your own content.

4. Conduct a competitor backlink analysis

The importance of backlinks for SEO cannot be overemphasized.

Not only will they send you qualified referral traffic, but they will also show Google that your site is trustworthy and authoritative. The more quality links you get from other websites, the easier it is to rank.

Knowing which websites link to your high-ranking competitors can help you develop a roadmap for your own link building strategy.

There are several tools you can use to perform competitor backlink analysis, including Ahrefs and Moz Link Explorer.

These tools also require a paid subscription to access comprehensive data sets. However, some also give you a free snapshot of the links pointing to your competitors’ websites.

For example, Ahrefs’ free backlink checker provides the top 100 backlinks for each domain, including the referring page, anchor, and destination URL.

Top 100 backlinks for nike.comScreenshot from Ahrefs, August 2023

Once you’ve finished exporting your competitors’ backlink data, it’s time to go through the list and highlight any relevant, niche-relevant domains that appear.

These websites will be your best candidates for link building. Since they’ve already linked to your competitor’s content, they may be willing to link to yours.

For example, if one of your chosen websites links to a broken page or outdated content – ​​and you have a better, more up-to-date resource – you can contact the site owner or publisher and suggest a replacement.

5. Evaluate your competitors’ user experience

The next tip for gaining SEO competitive insights is to evaluate how your high-performing competitors provide a positive user experience to their visitors.

Remember that page experience is a signal used by Google to determine where to rank your website in search results.

The most important UX performance metrics to consider are the so-called “Core Web Vitals,” which include page load speed and the interactivity and visual stability of on-page elements.

Simply put, the faster your website loads and responds to user input, the better the user experience.

You can compare your website’s usability to that of your competitors by entering their domain names into Google’s free PageSpeed ​​Insights tool. Remember, your website should work just as well on mobile devices as it does on desktop devices.

PageSpeed ​​Insights toolScreenshots from PageSpeed ​​Insights, August 2023

The structure and navigability of the website are also essential factors in the usability of a website.

If your website is organized in a confusing way and causes visitors to click multiple times to find the page they want, you need to address the problem as a priority.

On the other hand, if your competitors are outperforming you even though their websites are also poorly structured, there is a good chance that you can gain ground in search results by cleaning up your website.

Final thoughts

Studying your competitors’ organic search strategies can be a shortcut to building a more effective SEO campaign.

Once you understand why other websites excel compared to yours, you can take steps to replicate their success by incorporating similar tactics on your own website.

By following the steps outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to developing a powerful SEO strategy.

Now go out and discover some insights!

More resources:

Featured image: tavan150/Shutterstock