8min read

4 Ways Competitor Research Can Actually Help You Rank

by Article by Jenn Villa Jenn Villa | June 7, 2018 at 9:30 AM

We tend to see our competitors as the enemy. It’s true that sometimes there’s tension, but rival relationships don’t always have to be sour. What if, instead of casting shade, you put on your optimistic cap?

How could your competitors encourage growth for your company? What could you learn from their failure? Their success?

Let’s explore four ways competitor research can help you reach your online ranking goals: 

1. Reverse Engineer Your Competitor’s Keywords

Everyone’s competing for the best keywords, but not everyone knows exactly what their competitors are actually ranking for. Discover your competitor’s keywords and use them to optimize your own content.


Check Out Their Meta Keywords

Ahh meta keywords. Although they’re not indexed by search engines, many mistakenly think they are and embed them in their site’s HTML. You might assume this metadata is only seen by fancy machines reading script, but public access to this information is only a few clicks away.

Go to your competitor’s homepage and right click anywhere. Select Inspect from the drop-down and rest your eyes on their website’s code. Click the shortcut Command F on your Mac (or Control F on your Windows) and a search bar will appear. Type the word “keywords.”

And Bingo was his name-o.

Copy these keywords into a spreadsheet and after your full scope of competitor keyword research, see where all the cool kids toss the ball on the SERP playground.

See What They’re Ranking For

Now that you know a little about your competitor’s keyword strategy, let’s see what they’re actually ranking for. This is where the popular SEO tool, SEMrush comes in handy.

Copy your competitor’s URL and paste it into the Domain Overview search bar in SEMrush. The dashboard will show you their Top Organic Keywords. Click to reveal the full report and sort by Position.

What are they ranking for on page one? That’s the keywords in position 1-10. Knowledge is power, and you should be aware of what SERP phrases they’re rocking.Also, be sure you know how to discover what you should be ranking for too, by finding the right Google keywords for your businessConsider making a monthly SEO report to see where you can beat them or leverage keywords you overlooked. 

Optimize Your Content Just a Little Better

Once you know what phrases your competitors are targeting and actually hitting, use the stats as fuel for your own SEO strategy. Maybe you see that they’re teetering at the top of page two for a juicy phrase. Swoop in and optimize your content to rank for opportunities they’re missing.

Still using SEMrush, look at the URLs getting organic hits and analyze what they’re doing right— so you can do it better. What’s their keyword density on that page? Are they using semantic keywords? Are others linking heavily to that page? Here's six SEO tools to optimize like a boss.

Speaking of links, we’re about to explore your next competitor research assignment.

2. Leverage Your Competitor’s Backlinks


When comparing your competitor's apples to your apples, search engines consider links a huge ranking factor. Determine where others in your field are getting links and brainstorm ways you can use that information to your advantage.

Reach Out to Industry Evangelists

Stick your competitor’s URL into SEMrush to see their backlinks. You should be able to see the Source Page their links live on and the anchor text for their top backlinks.

Do some competitor research to see where their traffic is coming from and make friends with their friends. If one site loves what they’re offering, they’ll likely love with you offer too.

Look at the kind of content others in the industry find valuable from your competitor. Then, use that to evaluate your own content strategy.

You could even explore their social media. What posts get the most engagement on their platforms? How does it help your mutual audience? Stick to similar themes, but bleed more value.

Use their Numbers as Goals to Beat

Numbers don’t mean everything, but they sure do give you something to measure. Set SMART goals based on your competitor’s number of backlinks and referring domains.

If they have six links from .gov websites, see if you can get nine in the next three months. Remember, SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely, so set exact numbers and timelines.

For example, a great backlink goal could be “Attain at least 10 new backlinks from Competitor X’s do-follow friends by July 1, 2018."

Sharing the Backlink Love

Your competition doesn’t always have to be your arch nemesis. In fact, we dare say you could even be friends!

If other companies in your niche support your cause, why not combine forces? Don’t be afraid to ask them to link to something mega helpful you wrote. If you find a page on their site really practical for your audience to reference, give them a shout-out in one of your posts.

Make your number one goal pleasing your audience and you’ll find other organizations that have the same mission!

Check out these twelve link building strategies to test one a month for the next year. Here's also some advice on how to get backlinks using email without seeming spammy.

3. Evolve from Your Competitor’s UX/UX, Design & Marketing


You can’t put your finger on exactly why, but your one competitor does have quite a nice looking website. Explore what’s captivating about it by doing a deep-dive of their site.

Note their Calls-to-Action

While trolling your competitor’s pages, look for their shiny call-to-action (CTA) buttons. Do they have CTAs above the fold? What are they asking viewers to do as a “next step?”

Compile a list of your top five competitor’s CTAs, including their location, what the button says and where they’re sending them to. Then, compare to your own website. 

Search engines like websites that encourage visitors to stay and play, so if your rival has people clicking around on multiple pages on their site, the content translates as useful and relevant to searcher’s Google query. Use some competitive strategy to improve your own ranking game.

Creep on their Media and Content Offers

Is your competitor using video heavily on their landing pages to engage their audience? You could have some killer copy on your page, but video marketing often trumps and takes home the viewing trophy. In fact, Wordstream found that one-third of online activity is spent watching video.

Does your competition use infographics to convey a visual representation of what they’re explaining? Does their gated content look tempting enough to give away your credentials to download? Note the stuff that caught your eye and why. Do you have content offers worth downloading? Not only can this get you leads, but it gets people clicking around on your site.

On-page retention and click-through rates are drastically affected by a searcher’s engagement with your material. Your competitors could be ranking higher because of those important dimensions.

See Through the Eyes of a “User”

When it comes to User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) on websites, it’s all about usability. Does the design of your competitor’s interface, or their pages, buttons and other visual elements, nurture people throughout the buyer’s journey?

It’s best to follow the “3-click rule,” remembering all pages on a site should be accessible in only three clicks. Take a look at their navigation bar and sitemap structure. Do they make it easy for users to get around?

How about aesthetics? Is there a consistency in design to build trust as you jump from page to page? Now look at your website. Does your setup work hand-in-hand with how you want users to take action on your website? Create a list of things to optimize that will invite users to engage.

4. Learn from Your Competitor’s Negative Reviews


No one is immune to a bad feedback bug; any healthy, expanding company will feel some growing pains. Reviews say a lot about a business and the way you respond arguably says even more.

Note their Weaknesses

Take a look at the common places your competitors receive customer feedback such as their Yelp, Facebook page, Google reviews, etc. When it comes to negative feedback, what’s their biggest complaint?

If their product or services is breaking, their employees are rude, etc., take it as an opportunity to look to your team to offer higher quality alternatives and solutions.

Observe How they Problem Solve

Every company receives the occasional negative feedback. It’s just the nature of the beast. But what can set a business apart is the way they respond to some dirt throwing.

Take some tips from those who do it flawlessly as you learn what not to do from those who shift blame. Poorly managed negative reviews can get ugly fast, affecting both your brand image and your rankings, so ensure you’re mindful when replying.

Recognize Your Strengths

When it comes to recognizing your strengths, don’t do so by casting shade on your competitor. Making their business look bad seems to always make yours look bad too, so don’t bring public attention to your competitor’s weaknesses.

Simply highlight how you do it better and praise will follow suit. Search engines like to see engagement, so don’t miss the opportunity to respond positively and professionally to customer feedback.

Want to learn more about customer reviews and how to respond? Download our Beginner's Guide to Local SEO or check out our Search Engine Optimization services page.

development services