SMX East 2014 Preview: Competitive Research for SEO

In a few weeks, I’ll be heading down to NYC for SMX East where I’ll be speaking on the panel “Competitive Research for SEO.” The details of the panel are as follows:

Date/Time: Tuesday September 30th, 10:45am

Summary: Your competitors have top rankings in search results for some of your prime keywords. So how did they do it? Savvy SEOs know how to analyze and understand the strategies of the competition, and then use that knowledge to rev up their own efforts to achieve even greater visibility and reach. During this panel, our experts will discuss the tools and tactics they use to mine valuable competitive insights, and use that knowledge to maximize their own SEO strategies.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Competitive research is an interesting part of SEO. While you don’t want to copy everything your competitors are doing, it’s certainly beneficial to know what they are doing. More so, if they are successful, we want to know how they are doing it.

While I don’t want to give the entire presentation away, I do want to provide some tips on where to begin your competitive research and what to look for. Here are four places to start:

Source Code 

The source code of a site can be an absolute wealth of information. It can show you if your competitor is engaging in SEO, PPC, retargeting, testing, etc., and help give you a more complete picture of their online marketing efforts. It may also give you some ideas on things that you can try on your own site.

Not familiar with source code? Simply right click on any page and select “View Source.” What you’ll get is something like this:

SEO Source Code

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This is the source code for the KoMarketing blog and in this part of the code I see the site has an SEO plugin enabled. While a plugin doesn’t necessarily mean a company is engaged in an all out SEO program, it does tell me that they are doing some SEO.

In another piece of code, taken from a different site, I can see that the company is running a Google remarketing campaign:

Remarketing Source Code

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Other tags to look for include:

While identifying the various tags within the source code will not give you a ton of competitive insight immediately, it will direct you where to look next and perhaps spark an idea or two for your own company. 

Back Links 

Understanding the back link profile of a competitor can provide another look into their overall marketing efforts. For example, if a company has a ton of links from press release sites, you know they are distributing press releases and potentially working with a PR company. If they have a large number of directory links, they likely engaged in SEO at some point in the past.

To identify the back links of competitors, we suggest the following tools:

Open Site Explorer

OSE Inbound Links

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Open Site Explorer is owned by Moz and will give you a pretty good look into a site’s link profile. We can see who’s linking, where the link is coming from, where it’s pointing, the type of link (Image or text), and much more. There’s also an export function that allows you to export the data into a csv.

Majestic 

Majestic SEO Backlinks

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Majestic is another tool that will provide a look at a site’s link data and their free version is pretty good. You can get a breakdown of anchor text, top pages, link history, and of course identify who is currently linking to a site.

The key with both of these tools isn’t necessarily to get the same links to your site (although yes, we do like to try and do that when applicable), but instead to form a picture of how a site is getting those links.

Marketing is tough and no one likes to just throw things at the wall and see what sticks. By seeing how your competitors are driving links or obtaining press, you can start to form your own plan. And yes…maybe steal a link or two along the way. 

Content

One of the toughest things for a site is identifying what type of content they should be creating. Search “Do I Need a Blog?” and you’ll get a pretty good idea of just how confusing it can be.

A competitive analysis can show you what type of content others in your industry are creating and what type of content is actually engaging the audience.

I like to start by looking at the full picture and running a Screaming Frog report. This program will crawl the entire site and provide you back a list of URLs, title tags, headings, and more. Folder structure can help you identify what type of content the site has (ex: /videos /blog /resources /whitepapers).

We can also use our link analysis above to show us what the top pages being linked to are. For example, one of the top pages linked to on KoMarketing is our keyword generator tool:

OSE Top Pages

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Once we have a good understanding of what content is being linked to, shared, and ranking, it can help inform our own content marketing decisions.

Social Media 

“How much time should we spend in social media?” It’s a question we hear a lot, especially in the B2B space. There is no one answer to that question but even if you aren’t using social media, you can get information about your competitors through it.

For example, a company Twitter feed can tell you if they are launching new products, writing blog posts, releasing a whitepaper, engaging with customers, and more. We can see the type of content they sharing and more importantly, the type of content their audience is re-sharing.

LinkedIn is also a good place for competitive intelligence. We can determine if a company is hiring, what marketing positions they currently have in house, company updates, and more (Derek wrote a great post about using LinkedIn for business development that includes some advanced search queries to can help you identify people in a specific company).

Interested in some deeper data? 

Tools like BuzzSumo can provide some additional data on competitor content. Simply put in a URL and find the top content, how many shares it got, what type of content it is, and more importantly, who shared it.

BuzzSumo Shares

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Headed to SMX East? 

Well, that’s all I’m going to give away for now but if you are headed to SMX East, come check out the panel. There are some super smart folks on there and it should be pretty great. Look forward to seeing you there!

Connect with me ahead of time on Twitter or Google+.

“I worked with KoMarketing during my time at Pongo in a variety of roles. At first, they were doing the work for us, but in the end, they trained my growing team on Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Their education of the importance of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) led to us launching a job search blog, over 30 learning center articles, and a social media campaign. I would not hesitate to recommend the KoMarketing team for any size project you may have.”

— Jodi Coverly, Marketing Manager, Pongo LLC

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