Competitive Analysis: How to Do It Right

So, you have launched your business. Unless you’ve invented that self-drying jacket Marty McFly wore, you’re probably facing enough competition. But what have you expected in a world where even such giants like Pepsi and Coke still fight over each customer.

Today it seems that competition is even more intense than it was before the Internet Era. To win a battle, it is not enough to know who your competitors are and what their products characteristics are. Marketers and business owners should focus on many activities that help them identifying their competitors and developing a strategy to steal some keywords, traffic, and customers from them.

Here is a simple but effective step-by-step guide on how to perform a competitive analysis and get benefits from your competitors online.

Types of competitors

There are different types of competitors you may spot on your way to the top. Some are in the same business niche as you, some may seem not. But you should be aware of all of them to win your place in the sun. The competitors you should be aware of are:

  • Direct competitors. Those are companies that run their businesses in the same niche as you. They offer customers a similar range of products just with slight differences. Think of McDonald’s and Burger King as of an example.
  • Indirect competitors. Those are the companies that run a primary business in a different niche but also have a range of supporting products or services that may compete with yours. Like McCafe from McDonald’s that competes for many cafes at ones.
  • Perceived competitors. This group is pretty difficult to identify since they are not that obvious. They usually sell products in a different niche, but in some cases, customers may see them as a better alternative to your offers. Thus, organic foods suppliers may be seen as competitors to fast food chains.

To get the most of your competitors online, you should identify them properly and check out their sources of traffic and backlinks.

How to Do Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis helps you to get untapped ideas for your marketing activities and place you a step ahead of your rivals. We can do it in four simple steps.

1. Get the list of your main competitors

Do you know who your top competitors are exactly? Chances are you already know two or three companies that compete with you directly, offering similar products in the same niche as yours. But you may be surprised to learn who your website’s competitors in terms of rankings are.

You can find out who your competitors are by merely identifying your top keywords. Check out your Google Search Console to find out what are the keywords that bring you the most regarding traffic. Then google those keywords to see what companies rank for those keywords in Google Top10.

You can also use advanced keyword research services to identify your rivals. Many of those tools allow you to check out the SERP for a given keyword. E.g., if you sell running shoes, you may just google “running shoes” or check out this keyword in your favorite toolset (like I did in Ahrefs) to reveal the Top10 results for it:

Running Shoes Competitors

You will see the websites that you compete in SERPs for your target keyword. Just remember: you don’t need to pull out every single keyword from your competitors. Only the best ones (those that help them occupy the Top10 rows) and the most relevant to your business. You can evaluate the best keywords by looking at their metrics.

Competitive Analysis Keyword Overview

Thus, search volume shows you the number of monthly searches users perform with this keyword. The traffic numbers help you to select the keywords that draw the most of traffic to your competitor’s pages (and thus you can get a large piece of that pie). You should also check out how difficult this keyword is to get you in Top10. That means that the popular keywords usually require you to get more backlinks to your content than long-tail ones.

2. Analyze top pages and content

The content quality is one of the most important features that help websites rank high. So make it top priority when doing your competitive analysis. Google also treats content quality and relevance as one of its ranking factors. Google Panda was created to check out and punish the sites with the so-called “thin content.” Thus, it’s the most important thing you should find out about your competitors.

If you know the keywords that take your competitors to the top, you can also google the content that ranks high in SERP for those keywords. These may be buyer guides, case studies, FAQs, videos, podcasts and more useful content.

The characteristics of high-quality content from your competitors may include:

  • The number of backlinks;
  • The number of shares and tweets;
  • Active comments section;
  • Updates of the most popular and useful articles etc.;

Thus, you can ‘steal’ their topics ideas that get the most of backlinks, comments, and shares. But it doesn’t mean you can write the same articles and hope to get the same amount of benefits to your website. As Rand Fishkin claimed in one of Moz Whiteboard Fridays, you should craft 10x better content that all your competitors to outperform them in searches.

3. Check out the backlinks

The number and quality of the backlinks your competitors acquire regularly should become one of your top priorities. Backlinking stays one of the significant SEO factors that impact your website ratings. Quality backlinks help to increase the website domain authority, driving traffic and taking it to the Top10 in SERP.

Backlink Factors vs On-page Factors

Thus, you should analyze the amount and sources of links your competitors get, as a part of your competitive analysis. And it should become your top priority for a long period, because your competitors won’t rest on oars, too. In simple words, if you see that your competitors each month acquire 50 backlinks on average, that means you should build way more to outrun them.

You can check the competitor’s website backlinks acquisition curve to see if they are actively building links or if they are growing naturally. E.g., we can see from the referring domains graph for Smashing Magazine that it got a big spike from 23 of July, which can mean they were actively building links to their website.

Referring Domains SmashingMagasine

Analyzing the content that was published before that period, you can get ideas of what similar topics you can post on your website and find sources for getting backlinks to it. And one of your aims should be growing the backlink profile faster than your competitors.

4. Analyze the traffic sources

With competitive analysis, you must aim not only at sitting the higher positions in rankings. This activity is closely connected with the driving traffic activities. You must be aware of the channels your website gets the post of the traffic. You can find out it simply taking a look at your Google Analytics dashboard.

GA usually shows the traffic acquisition channels as:

  • Organic traffic sources (those from search engines);
  • Paid (when users click links from Google Ads);
  • Referral (when people click on your backlinks on others’ websites);
  • Direct (when people type your domain name or URL directly into the field when they click bookmarks etc.);
  • Social (clicks on links from social media posts and statuses);
  • Email (when they click the links in emails);
  • Other (various unidentified sources).

Of course, we don’t have access to our competitor’s GA dashboard and cannot draw the info from it. So we need to use advanced tools that may show us this info. E.g., Similar Web toolbar allows you to pull those traffic sources and see what the competitor’s most rewarding channel of traffic is.


After you identified all the bottlenecks your website has comparing to competitor’s, it’s time to build a solid strategy for acquiring traffic, links, and clients. Create a file where you gather the info on each point mentioned above. Check out your weakest areas and figure out how you can improve them. Use the below competitive analysis checklist as a starting point:

  • Make a list of your Top 5 competitors;
  • Steal their best keywords, identify the most relevant ones for you;
  • Create the 10x better content than that of your competitors and include those keywords;
  • Build a great number of backlinks to your content from similar domains;
  • Identify the strongest sources of traffic to the competitors’ websites and see if you can improve your online presence from these sources.

Even if it seems that there is nothing to improve – just try to look twice. There is always room for getting a bit more from your rivals and boosting your performance.

Helen Stark
Helen is a content marketer at Ahrefs. She explores new things every day to impress her readers with catchy stories. Apart from all that marketing stuff, Helen loves listening to rock music, reading and traveling. A lot! Follow Helen on Twitter.
Helen Stark

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