How to Use a Competitive Analysis to Enhance Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Saif Abbas

Saif Abbas

One of my favorite ways to do a marketing strategy is to look through the competitor’s good stuff.

A good strategy that delivers results is based on insights, historical data, and experience.

But when you are short on that, and you are lost in the chaos of marketing, the best way is to look at your competitors.

Whatever you are selling, service, or a product, someone else is doing it, and they went through hell to get to where they are right now. Some failed and tried over and over, and some spent fortunes.

You don’t need to go through the same journey; learn from them and continue halfway doing it better, but at least base it on a solid foundation, especially if you’re a startup or new to marketing.

There are many tools out there that you can use, some are free, and some are premium, but I will be using a tool that can do a pretty good job in spying on competitors. SEMrush!

SEMrush is one of the top leading SEO tools out there, besides Ahref and Moz, and in this post, I will show you how to do competitive analysis using SEMrush.

So, what exactly is competitive analysis?

Depends on your questions.

It provides answers, trails of success, proof of concept, and things that give you direction.

Let me show you how we do that for our clients and why.

For example, most of our clients are startups and small businesses with no clue where to start or start but heading the wrong way.

Our job as an agency is to put them on a trajectory that guarantees results.

In most cases, results mean more leads for B2B business or more product selling if it’s B2C.

Before taking a client on board, the first step is to do a web assessment, a comprehensive audit covering every detail.

And it comes with a 6-12 month content plan and a comprehensive strategy based on actionable insights. That strategy is based on their historical data (the assessment’s finding), our experience in the field, and what we learned from the competitors.

Today, we will talk about the competitor’s part.

But…

if you want to learn about how we do web assessments, click here

What can you learn from doing competitive analysis?

Before we dive into action, let’s look at what we can learn from such practice.

  1. Finding the competitors’ page 1 keywords (the keywords that bring most of the traffic to their site)
  2. Finding the competitors’ top blog posts (the content that drives most of the traffic)
  3. Finding the competitors’ best backlinks
  4. Finding the competitors keywords with the highest CPC value
  5. Analyzing competitors ads (copy, creatives)
  6. Analyzing competitors reviews (what their customers are saying about them)

All that can be extracted from using SEMrush, and more tools can extract more data, but you won’t need all of that.

I will be using SEMrush as a lab rat to show a practical example.

Let’s start with the first one

Finding the competitors’ page 1 keyword

Before we do that, let’s talk about the why.

Why do we need that data, and what can we do with it?

Visibility depends on the page 1 ranking because users never go to page 2 or 3 for answers.

When was the last time you looked for something in Google, and you couldn’t find an answer on page 1? Very rare, and if you can’t find anything, you will try different keywords.

Traffic visibility drops by 50% halfway through the first page; by the time you reach page 2 or 3, visibility is very low.

If your keyword’s average ranking is on page 6, your organic traffic will be limited to branded (users who know your brand name), and you will be missing opportunities.

If you look at your competitor’s page 1 keywords, you will know what keywords are driving most of their traffic, and that is what we will do.

Head over to SEMrush, and it’s straightforward.

Go to Domain overview > key in the competitor domain

SEMrush will analyze the site and give an overview of all the metrics.

From there, look for the “top organic keywords” report > view details

and it will take you to the keywords report section

Use the filters and filter out the top 10 positions

Go to advanced filters, and exclude the branded terms (your competitor company name)

SEMrush page 1 report. Filterd by (Exclude keyweords containing “SEMrush” and include keywords with CPC greater than $5.

SEMrush will extract all of their page 1 keywords, and from there, you can filter more (dig in into the intent of the keyword) or export it out in Exel.

In our example, we found 1909 keywords on page 1, generating an ~ of 30.5k monthly traffic, with a traffic cost of $292.3k.

Traffic cost estimates how much that site’s organic traffic is worth. (Assuming you paid for that same traffic with PPC).

The numbers are approximate and not an accurate figure; its estimation is based on the volume and click-through of the keyword rate.

How accurate are those numbers?

Pretty accurate. From my experience working with hundreds of accounts, I would say it’s 70% accurate (consistently below the actual figure).

If it says 2.3k, reality can be close to 3 – 3.5k through analytics.

Accuracy is not necessary here; the goal is to gain insights into what keywords help generate traffic for them, what type of keywords, and why.

Traffic cost is the CPC value of the keywords. A high number means that most of their keywords have a high CPC value; this can hint that the quality of keywords is good or bad.

For example, if the traffic is 10k, but the traffic cost is below 1k, they get a lot of traffic but not quality traffic. It can be top of funnel traffic from keywords that no one is bidding on.

Finding the competitors’ top blog posts

Now let’s dig into the content.

But first, why do we need that info?

SEO is all about optimizing content; if no content, no SEO.

It is called “search engine optimization” for a reason; it means that you’re optimizing your content to increase its visibility through search.

Content can be in any form; it can be a sales copy, a solution/product page, or a blog in the form of articles like this one.

Every company that does SEO correctly will have a solid content plan for at least six months and actively produce content targeting specific keywords.

We will look through SEMrush, hunting for the competitor’s best blog posts in this task.

Select “Pages” instead of “Positions” using the same report. This will switch you over to the top pages report.

From there, you can use filters. For example, if you want to look through their top blog posts, filter by URL containing “/blog.”

You can also filter by intent. There are four intent filters

  1. Informational (the user want to find an answer to a specific question)
  2. Navigational (the user want to find a specific page or site)
  3. Commercial (the user want to investigate a brand or a service)
  4. Transactional (the user want to complete an action)

I prefer to avoid those intent filters because it is less accurate. You can know the intent by examining the keyword from a user perspective, and it’s much more accurate.

SEMrush, Pages report.

SEMrush top blog posts are a primarily informative, top-of-the-funnel type of content in our example. As a result, that content will bring traffic but a low conversion rate.

To go on level in, click the keywords to see what keywords this page is ranking for and what is the CPC value of those keywords to gain a better understanidng of the page value.

It expected to see such a pattern, because in reality, the bottom of funnel content is a small % of the traffic pie, and it’s associated with the solution pages, not the blog.

A good content strategy targets your top-of-the-funnel audience and leads them through a conversion path with offers, nurture campaigns, and re-targeting ads.

Finding the competitors’ best backlinks

Okay, now we know the best keywords and pages; let’s look at the backlinks.

SEO consists of 4 pillars

  1. Technical
  2. Content
  3. User experience
  4. Backlink

A backlink is one of the prime pillars, and no matter how good your content is or how perfect your site is, your SEO won’t work without backlinks.

So… why do we need to know the competitor’s backlinks?

If you ever attempted to do SEO at some point, you will know that backlinks are one of SEO’s most challenging and tedious tasks.

Running outreach campaigns take hours and hours of research, prospecting, and negotiating.

By looking at your competitor’s backlinks, you can cut that time to half.

From the backlink report, you can know the best links to target, the anchor texts, and how they got that link from the first place.

When we launch outreach campaigns, one of our strategies is to extract all of our competitor’s links and add them to the prospecting list; we segment them and then launch personalized campaigns.

To analyze the backlinks, go to domain overview, click on the backlinks report.

Use the filters to dig out the good ones.

Active, Do-follow, Link per ref. domain 1, type: text

Export that lists out in excel and manually looks through the links with page AS between 20-50. Site from that range is often easier to obtain.

Try to study the anchor text, is it branded or descriptive. The majority of links are branded, empty, and sometimes descriptive.

Backlink Gap Report. SEMrush

Finding the competitors keywords with the highest CPC value

Now it’s time to look through their paid ads.

A good strategy covers all channels, not just SEO and content.

From this task, we want to know two things

  1. What keywords are they bidding on, and why
  2. What copy they use and why

You can filter by CPC value (high to low).

In our example, they’re bidding on 3.6k keywords, with traffic ~ of 98.9k and traffic cost of $816.5k.

From that list, you can know what they are bidding on. So, for example, if a known company does cutting-edge marketing, you will find them bidding on the best keywords.

Export out that list, and add it to your keywords list; analyze them to learn why they are bidding on those keywords.

I’m sure they spend a fortune in A/B testing their keywords targeting.

They bid on one keyword more than the rest, especially if the ads are the same over a long period. Those keywords are money keywords (highest conversion rate)

Paid Search Positions Report. SEMrush

Analyzing competitors ads

SEMrush has a unique advantage over the other tools, primarily because of their paid ads report. You can’t find that in Ahref or Moz.

Go to the advertisement section > domain overview to access the advertisement report. It will show you all the data related to the advertisement.

Scroll down until you find the display ads (bottom of the page) and the sample text ads. Then, click on “view detail” to access the full report.

You can access all their search ads with all the details from the screenshot above. I love how they visualize it all on one screen; you can easily detect a pattern.

You can even see the display ads, audience interest, gender, and creatives.

All that data is there; you can build a strategy that guarantees results if you know how to utilize that data.

Analyzing competitors reviews

Now the last part of this competitive analysis, the reviews!

I like reviews, and I spend a lot of time reading my competitor’s reviews.

Why?

Angry customers can say many things, and they often share a lot of insights when they post reviews.

Some might be biased; some might be too harsh (emotional). But, you will get insights that can be extremely helpful.

There are many ways to extract competitors’ reviews.

If you are in the SaaS, like SEMrush, G2 is the best place.

If you have a business in the B2B space, clutch.co is the best place.

SEMrush review on Clutch.co

Competitors’ customers’ reviews are a gold mine.

Some of the things to look for

  1. are they complaining about a feature? Cost?
  2. is there is a pattern of dislikes (something everyone hate)
  3. Do they like a specific feature or something?
  4. What were they trying to solve? Did they solve that?

G2 asks only two questions, what do you like? What do you dislike?

But…

Clutch asks a lot of questions.

So many questions, covering background, challenge, solution, results, rating.

Not the best case with SaaS, but if it’s a service-based company, and you can extract a few dozens of reviews, you will learn a lot!

Filter out those 4-5 stars sweet reviews; about 50% are fake (watch out for those) and can be easily spotted or verified.

If you carious about this topic, check this blog post: How to create sales copy from a competitor’s customer reviews.

Conclusion

If you’re planning your marketing strategy and feel lost, it’s okay. We all feel lost sometimes.

The internet is filled with useless generic information regarding marketing, and all sound the same.

Don’t waste your time on useless strategies, some gurus who only care about profit.

Question everything about your current strategy, and don’t settle for less.

Look at your competitors; who do you want to beat in the next six months? And who you inspire to be in the next 24 months.

It takes lots of work, and sometimes businesses owners have zero time to spend on such activities; if that is you, let’s help you.

I will give you a free competitive analysis report better than this one, no question asked, totally FREE, and packed with value. Just send me your website URL and some basic info, and we got it from there.

Sound good?

Request a free competitive analysis from here.

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Saif Abbas

Saif Abbas

Saif leads the growth strategy at Incify, a solution-driven digital agency that enables companies to operate with greater impact at a lower cost. He specializes in delivering website traffic, conversions, and revenue growth from organic search and direct response tactics.
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