How competitive are you?
You may not be competing in the Olympics or the World Series, but if you are in marketing you are in an intense competition for attention among ads (PPC) and free listings (SEO) on the top search engine results pages. So how will searchers find you? How are you doing? Who are you competing with, how well are they doing, and what can you learn from them? I have recently being using SEMrush to track and analyze my competitors and here are six of my top tips on using the tool to uncover competitor secrets.
SEMrush is one of the well established and leading digital marketing SEO tools with almost 500,000 lifetime users. The tool continues to develop as the team explore new ideas and the data is constantly updated. The data covers a wide range of areas including organic search performance, advertising research, AdSense display advertising, Google Shopping Ads (formerly PLAs), backlinks, keyword research tools and rank tracking across mobile and local results, plus technical on-site SEO Audits. There is no shortage of things you can do with SEMrush, including assessing your own SEO performance, doing comparisons with competitors, assessing organic and paid ad performance, reviewing backlinks and issuing branded reports but in this review I wanted to share six of my top tips for using the tool to track your competitors.
1. Identify Your Competitors in Organic Search
SEMrush collects data constantly on over 106M keywords and over 45M sites that appear in the top 2 pages on Google for those keywords. This provides a crowd-sourced view of what is most popular and how the public is searching for it. You can use insights from this data set to review your competitors in organic and paid search.
To find your competitors simply go to the competitors menu option under organic search and type in your url. In this overview example I used Hubspot as the url. SEMrush starts by providing you with a competitor positioning map showing where the site ranks in the competitive landscape based on the number of keywords ranking in the top 20 search results, as well as the volume of search traffic going to the domain. You can see the actual numbers when you rollover the site name on the map.
You may think you already know your competitors in organic search, but you can be surprised. It is important to remember that domains that compete in search may not be business competitors, but they can still steal share of visibility from you. In the case of Hubspot, SEMrush identified up to 54,000 sites that compete with the site in organic search. Helpfully the tool organizes the list by the level of competition based on the number of common (shared) keywords ranking in the top 20 organic search results as follows.
Any site with a high number of common keywords could be a potential competitor. In this case we can see that Social Media Examiner and Hubspot have 2,400 common keywords. Thus the two sites are competitors in SEO even if they are not competitors in the products and services they provide.
The SE Traffic Price column is often interesting. This is the estimate of what it would cost to use paid advertising (AdWords) to generate the same amount of traffic that was attracted organically. The keywords' Cost Per Click (CPC) is used to calculate the value of the terms and positions they are ranking for. Many SEOs justify their efforts by pointing out what it would cost to buy the traffic they attracted for 'free'. In this example, we can see that Wordstream and Moz attract the most organic search engine (SE) Traffic among these competitors, and therefore, have the highest SE Traffic Prices. You can export the data to Excel and re-sort the data such as by Traffic Price and generate a list of, say, the 25 fiercest search competitors to review and track.
2. Analyze Keyword Performance of Your Competitors
By clicking the number of common keywords for any competitor in your list, SEMrush will provide you with a table of all the keywords both you and your competitor are ranking for in the top 20 search results. The table below shows a comparison of Hubspot and Wordstream.
The table shows relative ranking positions for the common keywords, for example Wordstream is ranking much higher for 'keyword tool'. The table also shows you the monthly search volume (Results), the going bid price (CPC) and the competitive density (the number of advertisers with AdWords ads for the keyword). You can sort by any of these metrics to uncover for example low competition keywords where your competitor is ranking higher. These may present opportunities to climb higher in the rankings quite quickly through useful content, optimization and link building strategies. Another strategy is to find high CPC keywords with low competition to infuse into higher-converting pages for better ROI.
3. View Keywords A Competitor Ranks For But You Do Not
By using the chart option you can see the common keywords you rank for but also the unique keywords where your competitor ranks in the top 20 but you do not. In the example below there are 10,000 keywords where WordStream ranks in the top 20 where Hubspot does not.
A competitor's unique, high-performing keywords may be a threat, but you can turn them into opportunities, by clicking the unique part of the venn diagram, reviewing the keywords in detail, and exporting them for your own use. These may not be keywords you are currently targeting but with regular use, you may uncover some useful new keywords and thus blunt the threat of competitors. Startups and those with new products and services may leverage this information into rapid success, saving time and effort by using terms that have already proven popular with searchers, and examining how those phrases are used by the leading brands.
You can track organic positions historically to check competitors, examine prospective clients and help diagnose particular Google Algorithm updates and penalties.
You can search for any domain's url on the homepage dashboard to get a quick, comparative overview, or drop multiple website URLs into Charts tool for a graphic display of the horserace that is SEO.
4. Review Your Competitor's Top Performing Keywords
This is a really useful feature of SEMrush. Just go to the organic search positions and enter your competitor's url. This brings back a report report showing the competitor's top ranking keywords as well as the URL of the page ranking for that particular keyword.
You can sort the keywords by search volume to see the queries made most often in Google (or Bing). A high CPC may represent a valuable but highly-competitive keyword whose traffic it may be advisable attract using SEO rather than Paid Ads. The Traffic % lays out which keywords are driving the highest volume of motivated searchers to your competitors page. A click through to the URL shows which types of content are driving your competitor's organic search traffic. You can open up the webpage by using the blue arrow to review the message, format, quality, and length of the content, as well as on-page SEO elements. You can use these insights on what is working to improve your own content strategy and may even be able to improve your conversion techniques.
5. Review Your Competitor's Paid Ad Strategy
SEMrush has the latest data on paid ads and is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to Ad research. Here I am just focusing on competitor analysis. Simply go to the Advertising research section, select Positions and enter your competitor's url. SEMrush will instantly give you an overview of their paid search campaign including:
The number of keywords bringing visitors to their site through paid search.
The amount of traffic they generate through paid ads.
An estimate of how much your competitor is investing in paid search.
Their key competitors in paid ads.
Below is an overview for Marketo.
The charted analysis over time is useful. In the example above I switched the chart to traffic cost and can see Marketo have recently started to double their paid ad spend.
If you scroll down, the paid search positions table will present a mass of detailed and useful information. This includes the paid keywords bringing users to their site, their ad copy, landing page URLs, CPC, ad rankings, traffic percentage (share of traffic driven to the website by the keyword), competitive density (number of results for the keyword) and trend analysis.
Using this data you can review if your competitor has a dedicated landing page for their paid campaign, whether they are they using benefit-driven headlines with keywords, and how they are structuring ad copy such as keywords, benefits, incentives, and CTAs. Trends over time are easily distinguished in the Trend column, for a quick, intuitive understanding of an advertiser's seasonal budget swings.
6. View The Ads Working For Your Competitors
As a writer, I like domain Ad history on SEMrush which shows you the Ads that competitors are running. We may presume those ads appearing most often are working for the competition, since they keep investing in them. You can then drill down to see the actual Ad copy. Below is an example of Hubspot ads, the keywords number shows how many search terms trigger the ad in paid search. Knowledge of those keywords can help ad managers construct ad groups based on the campaign structure of the most successful competitors.
And There Is More ....
I have only scratched the surface of what you can do with SEMrush here, there is a whole area of backlink analysis I haven't covered where you can review competitor backlinks including referring domains and opportunities. However, I hope my six tips have been helpful and I would love to hear how you use SEMrush to track your competitors. You can find out more about SEMrush on their website, blog and ongoing webinar series.