Competitive SEO Intelligence: How to Benchmark Rankings Success vs. Your Competition

By Ryan Woolley*, Vice President of Client Services, Response Mine Interactive

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you knew how many keywords your competitors rank for, what those exact keywords are, and how your website stacks up against those competitors? It would be even better if you could get some insight into how they are doing it. And what if it didn’t take an SEO guru to get to these answers? What if you could do it right now, spend less than a morning doing it, and spend less money on it than you’ll spend on dinner out this weekend?

If you’re not an SEO guru and want or need these answers, then this article is for you. If you are responsible at any level for the performance of your digital marketing program than I encourage you to take the time to explore the tools and tips referenced here.

One of the first questions I am asked when discussing search engine optimization with a business is “how do I stack up to my competitors?” For those of us who are truly passionate about our business, the questions around competitive landscape are some of the most burning questions that we have. Most don’t realize how easy it is to answer this question as it pertains to organic search.

Let’s begin by defining what “competition” is within organic search. Don’t assume that your organic competition is the same as what you would usually rattle off when someone asks you who your top competitors are. Search engine optimization and the ways in which Google ranks websites has created a much more level playing field than people realize. You don’t have to be the biggest brand, have the largest footprint, or have the largest marketing budget to dominate the natural rankings.

Identify Organic Competitors
Do some investigation when identifying your organic competition. There are two quick ways to do this:

  1. Go straight to the search engine results page (SERP) on Google. Take your top 10 traffic-driving keywords and your top 10 converting keywords, and record the sites that rank ahead of you. A picture will begin to emerge quickly, and you may be surprised by what you find.
  1. Save some time by using www.SEMRush.com. Type your top keywords into the search box. You’ll get the same output as you would by going to the SERP, but you can export the information directly in Excel, which can be very handy. There’s a small fee to utilize some of the exporting features and deeper data dives on this site but the information you can access makes it well worth it.

Benchmark Yourself vs. Competitors
Now it’s time to see how you measure up. We are going to stick with www.SEMRush.com here as well since it gives us some powerful insight that is easy to access.

See what you and your competitors rank for by simply entering your domain into the main search box. Under “Organic keywords” you will be presented with keywords you rank for within the top 20 positions. Click the “Full Report” link and you can export this information into Excel. Do the same for your competitor’s websites and you will have a robust picture of the quantity and exact keywords that you and they rank for.

Compare first page rankings versus your competitors to benchmark yourself. The majority of organic traffic is coming off of the first page of rankings. Also take a look at positions 11 through 15 (which would be at the top of page 2 in the rankings). These are great potential traffic drivers for you. With a little organic focus, these can be moved to page one quickly.

There are some great trending graphs as well. You’ll see a thumbnail of the trending graph off to the left side. Click it to compare your rankings versus the competition over time. Here’s an example:

 

Gain Insight Into How Your Competitors Are Winning
It’s important to note that there are many factors that impact how a website ranks for a given keyword, and this will not be the end-all factor as to why one site is outranking another. However, looking at the number and types of inbound links that a website has pointing to it will help uncover some of the how and why. It will certainly give you enough information to understand if you are running at a deficit, or if you are crushing your competitors.

Like with SEMRush, this is pretty straightforward. Start off by going to www.OpenSiteExplorer.org and click on “Compare Pages.” Add your site URL, and your competitors. Have a look at “External Followed Links.” This is the number of web pages that are linking to you. Also look at “Total Linking Root Domains,” which is the number of unique sites that are linking to you.

Google sees links pointing to your site as a vote of confidence. It values quality, relevance and authority – it’s not just a pure numbers game as to the total number of links. And if you want to understand the relevancy and quality, just click the “Inbound Links” tab to see which sites are linking to you and your competitors. Or click the “Anchor Text” tab to see what words other websites use when they link to you, as they impact your ability to rank for these terms.

Spending just a little time with this information will help give you an understanding of what is happening with off-site aspects that impact you and your competition’s rankings.

So, if you have the itch that your organic program is not up to snuff but are having a difficult time arming yourself with empirical evidence to prove it, you now have some quick and easy tools in your arsenal. While at the end of the day you may need to call in the professionals to conduct a much deeper dive into all of this, you can at least get the ball rolling by being an advocate for improving your organic rankings. Remember, life’s too short for crappy rankings.

*Ryan Woolley is vice president of client services for RMI, an award-winning digital agency that helps companies acquire more customers using lead generation programs. For more than a decade, RMI has generated billions of dollars in revenue for world-renowned brands in the b2b, healthcare, travel, and home services channels using its strategic customer acquisition approaches.

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