In my experience, competitors research in SEO is super important. In recent time, looking at your competitors is my main, working SEO strategy.

In this blog, we will go through main areas of competitors research and discover how it can help to grow your site in a much faster way.

Content

1. How to identify competitors?

2. Keywords competitors research

3. How to steal viral blog topics?

4. Content research

5. Steal competitors backlinks

 

Let’s start from some basics.

There are three most important areas in SEO, a.k.a. “Three SEO whales” 😀:

  • keyword research,
  • content
  • backlinks.

If you remove one of them, the “SEO Earth” will crash.

 

3 SEO whales

For example, if your site has a strong domain and great content, but the content is not adjusted to specific keywords – SEO won’t work. Or if you did advanced keyword research and created related content, but your domain is not strong enough – it won’t work again. And so on.

How does it relate to competitors research?

You can look up for the best keywords, content, and backlinks from your competitors!

Note, competitors research doesn’t equal to stealing or copypasting. If you just steal content from similar sites – it will never work. This blog is about using proven data and some insights on what works and what doesn’t for your competitors.

But, first, let’s go over how to identify your top competitors.

1. How to identify your competitors?

If you are a long time in your niche or business, probably you will know the main names. If you just started, it can be a bit harder.

I always just go to Ahrefs, “Organic Search” tab and on the right sidebar, you can see sites, which rank for similar keywords as my blog.

how to find seo competitors

Of course, you do a Google search for related keywords and find competitive sites.

seo competitors research

Also, you can check out “Lists” of top blogs in your niche.

You need to distinguish companies and publishers. For example, if I would own Buffer (social media scheduling software) – my competitors would be Hootsuite, dlvr.it, Falcon.io, revive.social, etc. So, I can check out their content for high-intent keywords, the best “bottom of the funnel” content, etc.

But, also there are a bunch of publishers about social media – other blogs, magazines – e.g. Social Media today, Social Media Explorer, Small business trends, etc. They can also provide you awesome content and keywords ideas! But, maybe these ideas will be more “top of the funnel” ones.

2. Keywords competitors research

This is what works for me! Doing SEO keywords research, based on competitors – is my go-to strategy right now.

How to do it?

Enter URLs of your competitor in Ahrefs. Go to “Top Pages”.

Here you will see all top performing URLs, which are ranked by organic search, and top ranking keyword. So, you are getting two things: keywords for which to create content and topic ideas.

Basically, I just take these topics (change them a bit) and try to create better content on my blog.

You should also look at top organic keywords, for which competitors site ranks (brand keywords can be excluded).

Competitors organic keywords

If you have a more mature site, with at least 1000 organic ranking keywords, try another cool Ahrefs feature – Content Gap!

It is my main keyword research strategy for bigger sites.

Basically, it will show you all content for which your competitor ranks and your site doesn’t.

Content Gap Ahrefs

So, in the example below, there are all keywords for which Backlinko ranks and Ahrefs blog doesn’t. This can be a perfect content strategy for Ahrefs.

I also discovered that SEO keywords you find via your competitors are one of the best ones. Especially, compared with keywords you find from seed keywords in any keyword tool.

Why? Because these keywords are often

  • super niche
  • long-tail
  • proven to bring real traffic.

While more general keywords from seed keywords research can be super hard to rank for, they are not proven (can be a lot of searches, but a low number of clicks), they are not niche. In overall, you need to have a really powerful domain to rank for “top 10 related keywords to SEO”.

3. Steal viral blog topics

Social media can also be a huge source of traffic. To be frank, it doesn’t work as well for me as organic though.

With Ahrefs or Buzzsumo you can easily find out top shared content from your competitors. E.g. what was viral on Facebook or Linkedin or Pinterest and so on. Just use these topics and they have a high chance to go viral again!

Go to Ahrefs, Top Content. You will see top content by a number of referring domains, twitter, facebook or pinterest shares and also combined “Social Power”.

Here is an example for Backlinko.

This can be a good topic finding tactic for new blogs – when you don’t have a strong domain yet. So, create a few of these blogs and try to get some shares on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. This can be your first serious traffic!

4. Look at competitors content

First of all, stealing content is bad and it just doesn’t rank at all. If you steal content in big numbers, your site will be penalized in Google.

But, if you use competitors content for ideas, paraphrase it, while of course mentioning the source and leaving backlinks – it works like a charm.

In my experience, paraphrasing two-three well-performing articles from the first page of Google works much better for getting organic traffic than creating an article completely on your own. Again, you should look at competitors articles just as idea sources and not blatantly copy them.

Why it is like that? With all Google algorithm updates, only original content doesn’t work anymore. After Rankbrain update it is more important if your article gives a definite answer to a search query. And that is super hard to figure out. Sometimes the answer is in content (long form or short?), sometimes visuals, or embed video or podcast on a page or quite often a combination of all. Which combination can provide the highest session time and lowest bounce rate?

Your competitors’ top ranking posts give you the answer! Their content structure is already proven by Google.

So, don’t copy your competitors’ content, but for sure use it as a reference or idea to what performs and what doesn’t. This will save you a lot of time.

Check out this gorgeous E-commerce guide from Backlinko. It performs really well in Google search, so for sure, it can be a source of inspiration for my E-commerce SEO guide.

5. Stealing backlinks from competitors

Backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors in SEO. And you can get great backlink ideas from your competitors. Reverse engineering your competitors’ backlinks can be a goldmine of fantastic opportunities.

The easiest thing to do is go to Ahrefs profile of your competitor and browse through referring domains.

Referring domains Ahrefs

Try to group them e.g.:

  • guest posts
  • directories
  • links from customers
  • press releases
  • review sites
  • niche bloggers
  • lists
  • social media sites
  • etc.

There are your perfect backlink targets!

Here is a quick backlink analysis of Backlinko.

Backlinko backlinks analysis

You can see links from major publishers, software sites and blogs, WordPress theme sites, WordPress plugins, Wiki, hosting providers, other blogs, comments, etc.

Next step is to figure out how to get links to your site from these sources. And for different link types, there should be different strategies – outreach for guest posts, broken links, comment posting, press releases, submitting to directories, RSS feeds and so on.

Ahrefs also has another fantastic feature – link intersect. You can compare, which sites link to your competitors but not to you.

Link intersect Ahrefs

Here are some sites which link to Neilpatel.com, but not to backlinko.com. So, these can be some good targets for Brian from Backlinko.

Neil Patel vs Backlinko

Another great opportunity is to find out on which sites/blogs your competitors do guest posting. The thing is, a lot of sites don’t have “write for us” page. Therefore it’s impossible to find them via Google search.

You can also try searching in Google: “submitted by Competitor” or “written by Competitor”, etc.

To sum it up

Competitors research is one of the most effective techniques in SEO. Why spend hundreds of hours designing and testing your SEO strategy, when you can have proven data and results?

For me, competitors research is a goldmine of opportunities, in keywords, backlinks or content ideas. If you are not using it, you are losing out!

Back to you

What did I miss? Leave suggestions in comments below.