Analyzing your website’s competitors is a critical component of making your website the best it can be and ranking higher in Google. This podcast with John McDougall of McDougall Interactive will show you how to do competitive analysis and what tools you can use to leapfrog your competitors.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. This is “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts.
Today, my guest is John McDougall, the president of McDougall Interactive. Our topic today is how to do competitive analysis and leapfrog your competitors. Welcome, John.
John McDougall: Welcome.
What Is Competitive Analysis?
John Maher: John, tell me a little bit about competitive analysis. What is that?
John McDougall: When you’re doing Internet marketing, it’s really important to look at your competitors to see what they’re doing, so you can reverse engineer some of the things they put a lot of hard work into to make your life easier.
One of the things that we recommend is to do this on a regular basis and to go even beyond just looking at SEO competitive analysis. You can look at the quality of the content, social media analysis, and if they’re doing paid search.
There are a lot of different facets you can look at. What are their calls to action? Like, do they have good usability? There are various levels you can take competitive analysis to.
Even going further, you could have an intern or something like that call the company that you’re competing with and just get a vibe on their sales process. Some people go so far as to get their contracts, which may be a step far.
You can look at what they’re doing to close deals. That’s a whole other layer, their pricing. Certainly, a lot of ways to do. But today, we’re largely taking about how to look at their traffic in Google and social media presence.
John Maher: Are you looking at things like how big their site is or how many pages they have? Whether they have a blog? How many blog posts they have? How often they blog? Things like that?
How to Do Competitive Analysis
John McDougall: Some of the tools for competitive analysis are, number one, a real simple one, from HubSpot, [called] website.grader.com.
It’ll show you some of the essentials. Are you blogging well, do you do good with mobile? Website,grader.com, it’s a good little quick check. It’s pretty basic.
But one thing that we’re looking at always is how many pages does a site have indexed in Google? At least, of course, when we’re doing SEO.
If you go to Google and type in “S‑I‑T‑E‑:” then, don’t put a space and no “www” at first, just put site:yourdomainname.com. That would just be no spaces, just all one long string of characters. Hit go in Google. It’s going to search Google for just pages indexed on your site.
That’s called an operator. “Site:” is an operator. It’s going to let you dig in to how many pages you or your competitor has indexed in Google.
John Maher: Basically, what that does is it narrows down that search to just the results that are on that particular domain name.
You could include a keyword in that. You could do “site:” and then the domain name and then a space and a keyword after that. It will give all of the pages only on that one website that relate to that keyword.
But when you do it without the keyword, it just shows you all of the pages that are on that site. It will say something like showing 1 to 10 results of 385 pages. You’ll know 385 is the number of pages that Google knows about on that site.
John McDougall: In our last podcast we just did, we were talking about Market Muse, a tool to look at competitive gap analysis of how many pages you have on your site, versus a competitor for a given keyword.
What you just said is a great way to check that little down and dirty free thing where you might say, “I’m a law firm, or let’s say, a bank. We want to rank for mortgages.” You do, “site:bank123451.com mortgages.”
If you see Google indexing for your competitors way more pages than you have on the topic of mortgages, you can click through the results and look and see what kind of content they’re creating. Then, create some of your own content. “Site:” in general is a way to look at the size of your competition.
We joke a lot that size matters in SEO, size with the amount of pages, and the amount of back links. “Site:” is good quick check. Look at you. Look at several competitors.
Don’t just use the competitors that you think are important. Make sure to search Google if you’re a mortgage company, doing mortgages in Boston. If there a couple of people that you didn’t think were your competitors but they’re coming up, you want to know that.
John Maher: They’re your competitors. They might be the person across the street.
John McDougall: They’re your competitors, because they’re in your way. They are in your way to ranking number one in Google. If they’re in your way, they’re a form of competitor even, if they’re a different type of company.
Like LendingTree.com, you don’t think of them as they’re not the same type of company as we are. We’re a local lending type of company. They’re national. They’re bigger and all that. But hey, they’re there.
Why are they there? They have all these pages. They have all this content. Sometimes, it’s great to look at those big, big competitors. It’s just a fact. Google ranked them for a reason. But then, you have to look at your actual local competitors and size them up. It’s a balancing act.
You have to say the big companies are doing this. We know they’re either directories or LendingTree.com, Geico for insurance or whatever. They’re going to be a bit of a different animal. But it’s still reality. If you want to get to the top of Google, they’re there for a reason.
Then your local competitors are ranking at, say, two, three, four, five, seven. Why are they there? Often, it’s going to have to do with how many pages indexed and how many back links they have. How many social shares potentially is also a correlation.
I would say not only use “site:” because that’s a quick down and dirty way to do it, but use something like Screaming Frog. Nothing to do with frog legs or lunch, but it’s a tool to look at the amount of pages on your site. It will crawl your site.
You can put that into Excel. When Google says, “20,000 pages indexed for this site,” you can then download that through Screaming Frog into an Excel doc and see 8,000 of those are just tags or some of them are PDFs and things like that.
John Maher: Would you use that on competitors, as well then? You would use Screaming Frog on your site, look at your own content. But then, are you doing it on all of your competitor sites, as well, and looking at the content that they have?
John McDougall: Yeah, then, I would put that into Excel. Put your site with the Screaming Frog crawl on one tab.
Then, in other tabs, have the amount of pages indexed with the URLs on consecutive tabs so you can flip back and forth and go through and see how many pages are on each site. You can also do that with the amount of links and different things like that.
Using Competitive Analysis to Leapfrog Competitors
John Maher: How do I use that competitive analysis then to leapfrog my competitors?
John McDougall: You want to figure out what they’re doing well and then capitalize on that. In some ways, copy from them.
I think [like with] Paul from the Beatles, great artists steal essentially. When the Beatles were becoming the Beatles, they did a lot of cover music. They covered popular songs. They learned a lot from that.
Then when they went to write music, they were not starting from scratch. They had these little jigsaw puzzle pieces that they could put together and make up their own songs. It’s a little bit like that.
You want to leverage. Look at the fact that these sites are ranking for keywords that we want to target. These are pages that they have. Then, you can mimic that a bit.
Then, if you really want to outrank them, you want to add something unique. Look at what they’re doing. Copy it a little bit in the sense that you have to mimic that, but then, add something different and be more unique.
That’s just the amount of pages. Then, you have to think about the amount of back links. We use many tools, but one is Ahrefs, A‑H‑R‑E‑F‑S.com. Ahrefs.com is my favorite link tool.
It has a really nice database of when you put in your domain into it, it’ll tell you how many people link to you. Then, you can put your competitor in, how many people link to your competitor.
Again, you can go back into Excel and export these amount of links and put them into tabs in Excel. Then, you’ll have the complete database of your competitor’s back links.
Then, you can sort through those. If you sort highest quality at the top, you can find that your competitors have a common link from “The New York Times” or from “Water Magazine,” “Recycle Magazine,” or some niche industry place.
If everyone has that link and you don’t, then, you want to mimic that a little bit and look for ideas of how to get links that your competitors might have.
You obviously want to go beyond that and get links they don’t have, but you can start with the common back links in your industry and go and get some of those to make your life easier.
There’s a company called LinkResearchTools that we use. They have a common link tool. You can put 50 domains in, 50 competitors, and it will show you the most common links between you and your competitors. You can do that manually in Excel and using Ahrefs, but LinkResearchTools, their common link tool will make that a lot easier. That’s just link building.
Then, SEMrush is a great tool for competitive keyword research. You can put in your site, look at the organic positions on the left, there’s a tab for navigation, for organic. You can look at the positions and how many keywords are driving traffic.
Then you can, again, export that into Excel and put all of the keywords that are driving traffic to your competitor’s site in different tabs in Excel. Now, you have a huge keyword database.
Sometimes, what we’ll do is we’ll take all of those keywords from all of the competitors, they’ll all be on different tabs in Excel. In the very first tab, we’ll put the complete list. Then, we’ll have one of our junior people go through and remove all the duplicates. Now, we might have 100,000 keywords from 10 different competitors. Competitive keyword research is great.
SEMrush also has competitive page search analysis that shows what people are buying for keywords. SpyFu is a similar tool to that. For social media, one of my favorite tools is BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo will show you how many people are socially sharing your content and/or the content of your competitors.
If you throw into BuzzSumo a keyword, like I did this one day for thought leadership or thought leaders, because of our focus on helping people bring out their experts and their salespeople and the top people on their staff and helping them blog and things like that. We like to highlight thought leaders.
BuzzSumo is a way that I just put in the word thought leader. All of a sudden, I see all of the cool content relating to thought leaders. Then, I can go see the sites that developed that content. They obviously got a lot of social shares. Then, reverse engineer what they’re doing with social media.
Lastly, I’ll just say how, again, you want to compile that research and think like a seventh grader, basically. You don’t want to always just be trying to reinvent the wheel.
If you tell the seventh grader, “This is your homework. You’ve got to do this, these steps. Go do it,” they just say, “OK, got to go do it.” Hopefully. Maybe seventh grade’s a bad year to pick, but if you take a younger person that’s following the instructions and doing what they need to do, they’re going to make a lot of progress.
Sometimes as we get older, we see this competitive analysis, and we think, “I’ll get around to that someday.” Sometimes, it’s as simple as just actually mimicking and starting there and using the keyword research and the social analysis and all that to get a leg up and to get your site going in the right direction.
John Maher: That’s really great information, John. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
John McDougall: Absolutely.
John Maher: For more information about digital marketing, visit McDougallInteractive.com. Make sure you’re subscribed to this podcast on iTunes. Thanks for listening. I’m John Maher. See you next time on “Digital Marketing Madness.”