Competitor Research for SEO (Without Paid Tools)

An essential part of any successful SEO strategy is competitor research. It should be one of the first steps before implementation begins. Competitor research will tell you exactly where to focus and how likely you are to succeed.

The beauty of SEO (and any marketing for that matter) is that you don’t have to be the best in the world at it.

You just have to beat your competition.

If the competition is doing no SEO whatsoever, then you’re pulling ahead just by reading this blog. With a little implementation, you’ll outrank them easily. On the flipside, if a competitor has been implementing SEO for years already, then you have a lot of ground to make up.

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. Carefully considered, ongoing implementation is the key to staying on top.

What is SEO competitor research?

So how does competitor research help us in our search for SEO success? It helps by benchmarking exactly what is required to reach that top spot in the search results.

If you haven’t already, I recommend that first you find your target keywords.

What do you want your website to rank for? Type that keyword or keyphrase into Google and look at the top spot. That website sitting at number one is now your benchmark for success.

Be better than them at SEO and you win.

How do I do competitor research for SEO without using paid tools?

Paid SEO tools are useful but not necessary for basic SEO. With Google and a couple of free SEO tools, you can achieve useful insights into competitor research.

1. Identify your SEO competitors

Once you know what your target keywords are, figure out who currently ranks number one for them. They will be your SEO competition.

Use Google, or even better a free tool like Ubersuggest, to find out who ranks for your target keywords. Ubersuggest is helpful as it allows you to refine by location if you’re targeting a different country.

Make a list of the top three competitor websites for each of your top 10 or 20 target keywords that you don’t already rank number one for. You may find this easiest to track in a spreadsheet. Now let’s refine that list a bit.

2. Consider keyword difficulty

Some keywords are harder than others. Let’s say you’ve just started a new burger joint. You’ve built a website, and now you want to start ranking in Google for certain items on your menu. First on the list is the keyword ‘cheeseburger’.

Sorry…but you are never going to outrank McDonald’s for that keyword.

mcdonalds cheeseburger is top rank in google

You’re going to have to try something a bit easier, like ‘cheeseburger Auckland’ or ‘Joe’s deluxe cheeseburger’.

Go over the list you made in the previous step. Take note of the brands currently ranking. Do you recognise any of these as large worldwide conglomerates of which you have no hope in outranking? If so, you may want to refine the keyword you’re targeting.

Don’t be afraid to add multiple words to a target keyword. These are called ‘long-tail keywords’ and are often easier to rank for. Always check that your target keywords have some kind of search volume behind them. There’s no use targeting a search term that nobody ever types into Google.

Our handy tool Ubersuggest can be used to estimate search volume and also gives keywords a difficulty score out of 100.

competitor research by investigating competition websites

3. Investigate the competing sites

Once you’ve finished your list of target keywords and subsequent target websites, it’s time to investigate. Pore over the websites in your list and note down everything they’re doing that may be helping them with SEO.

Use the on-page SEO checklist to see what website elements affect SEO.

Compare the page that you are trying to rank for each keyword, with the competitor page that is currently ranking. Compare the copy they use to your own, as well as website design, speed, backlinks, and content. Take notes on what you can do to improve your own page.

At the end of this process, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done to improve your target keyword rankings.

Why is competitor research important for SEO?

Competitor research is important as it adds direction to your SEO efforts. It’s evidence that SEO works, and that it’s working for your competition. To beat them you have to do what they’ve already done, and then some more. Start with what you know is already working for a similar website and you’ll see faster results.

SEO without competitor research is like being a pilot without a compass. You might be able to get to your destination by flying around looking for a runway, but it’s going to take a long time. Competitor research however, tells you exactly where you need to land to end up in the top spot.