Knowing what your competitors are doing, above all if they are doing incredibly well, could help you to design a better strategy and give you that extra edge that you desperately need. Looking at the most popular sites on the Internet, what characterizes them is the number of backlinks, SEO and visibility. As I wrote a blog about an ecommerce site audit, I will use Boohoo as the reference example and ASOS as its direct competitor.
The number of backlinks to a site is the most important ranking factor as every backlinks is a “vote” of popularity. However, not all the links are equal and two main factors are taking into account:
- Site Authority, the higher the authority of the site, the more weight the link will bring to your ranking
- Site Relevance, the sites pointing to your site must be somehow correlated to your site’s niche.
The best SEO tools to analyse backlinks are definitely Ahrefs or Majestics. However, they are not free tools and therefore I will be only showing their free and partial analysis. If you want a complete analysis of these two software, you can find plenty of tutorials and articles on how to use these SEO tools from Neil Patel, Jeff Bullas and MOZ.
First, you’ll find the total number of backlinks and how many domains are linking in. If you type in http://www.yourdomain.com you’ll find the total number of backlinks for the entire site, otherwise if you type http://www.yourdomain.com/pagename you’ll find how many backlinks and domains are linking in to that specific page. This option is particularly useful to determine if there are specific pages that are driving a lot of traffic.
However, this analysis is only about quantity and not about quality. A quality page has these features:
- A lot of backlinks linking to the page itself
- High SERP ranking
- It contains high quality content
- It contains links to other quality pages
We can therefore assume that if the site receives backlinks from quality sites such as Pinterest, Facebook or a site that is a leader in the field of the site’s niche topic, we can easily assume that the back-link comes from a trustworthy source. At the same time a link to our site makes it a high quality link if:
- It is in the right content
- There are other quality links (but not too many)
- The higher on the page, the better
If your website is new and has few backlinks, it might be easy to analyze each link individually, however it can become a waste of precious time if you need to analyze hundreds of links manually. Luckily, there are automatic tools that allow people to find out about website’s authority. The two best ones are Ahrefs or Majestics as previously mentioned. However, I keep everything on zero budget, so I will be using free tools (which for the sake of a blog example is accurate enough).
URL Rating is a score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to that URL, on a scale from 0-100. The site SEO-Review-Tools allows users to get a URL rating analysis for free. Boohoo scores 74 for Page Authority, while ASOS has a page authority of 89.
Domain Rating is a score that represents the overall quality and quantity of links pointing to anywhere on the domain, also on a scale from 0-100. Boohoo scores 68 for Domain Rating, while its main competitor ASOS has a score of 87.
Trust and Citation Flow
Trust Flow predicts how trustworthy a URL is. Its final scored is based on a back link’s nearness to the trusted and aged domains. The links that come from trusted neighborhoods are more dependable when compared to links that come from non trustable neighborhoods.
Citation Flow predicts how influential a URL might be based on the number of sites linked to it. The more links the site has, the higher the CF will be.
In this case, I used the Chrome extension of Majestic Backlink Analyzer. It can be downloaded for free from the Chrome Web Store. It is added to the Chrome toolbar and when visiting a website, it analyses the page CF and TF and other parameters. In my example, Boohoo homepage has a Trust Flow of 31 and a Citation Flow of 50, while ASOS scores respectively 27 and 42.
It is very difficult to calculate a site’s relevance, in particular with an automated tool. However, following on-page SEO guidelines could give you an indication of the site’s relevance. Just run a quick site audit on the competitor’s site. In addition consider:
- On-page content: Reading Time and Word Count of key pages
- Content score: Readability and Sentiment Score
- Mobile Device: Mobile friendliness and optimization
As we cannot access Google Analytics of your competitors, you can try to find out about user satisfaction indirectly. First, if a site ranks high for specific keywords, it is an indication that users that look for those keywords are satisfied or it would not rank so high as user satisfaction is key in Google ranking. Second, look at social shares. Pages with lots of social shares are an indication of user satisfaction. Third, if a site has a blog, positive comments are an indication of a successful page.
Start looking into which keywords you want to rank high for. You can use several tools to find out how tough the competition is for specific, niche-related keywords that you want to rank for. There are several automatic tools you can use to look how your competitors rank for those keywords.
Keywords Alternatives – KW Finder
In my previous article on Boohoo audit, ASOS, its main competitor, ranks high for the keywords “clothing store”. By searching for “clothing store” in KW-Finder, ASOS appears as the first SERP result to rank for these keywords. The chances of ranking high for “clothing store” are pretty low as ASOS receives almost 3000 visits/month based on these keywords and the overall SEO competitiveness for “clothing store” is 61/100, which is estimated as hard. However KW-Finder comes in handy as it offers alternatives to the selected keywords plus a SEO difficulty score next to every alternatives. In this case, clothing store possible alternatives are: “online clothing”, “fashion clothes” or even “clothing stores”.
Organic Keywords Ranking – SEMrush
SEMrush is an automatic tool for knowing the overall performance of a competitor and -in specific- what your competitor actually ranks for. SEMrush “Organic Research” calculates what a chosen site ranks for non-paid results and by clicking on “Organic Positions” it is possible to visualize all the organic keywords a site ranks for and the column “Traffic %” highlights the importance of each organic keyword to the competitor.
Shared Organic Keywords – SpyFu
SpyFu is very similar to SEMrush and as the latter software, it allows to compare your site against competitors. It is also a great tool to identify your main competitors and which percentage of keywords your site ranks for has in common with their main competitors (in SEMrush it’s called “Domain vs. Domain” under their “Tools” section).
Social Share – Buzzsumo
Buzzsumo focuses on social shares; if you enter a competitor site’s address you can find the pages the got the most shares on the 5 main social platforms. Buzzsumo is very useful as social media marketing aid as you can get ideas of:
- The social media power of the competitor’s site
- Reverse-engineered content strategies
- What content works best on each social media platforms
- Details of backlinks and social shares of each piece of content
As described in a previous article, site architecture is an important factor in ranking. It might be that a better site structure of a competitor helps the site to rank higher. Therefore, it would be a good idea to analyze the architecture of the competitor sites. Based on my previous example, I will use Boohoo as my main site and ASOS as its competitor as it ranks higher for some keywords such as “clothing store”. Using Screaming Frog, it turns how that:
- The Boohoo site has a page depth of either 1 (172 URI) or 2 (195 URI) from the homepage and only 19 URI are 3 clicks away from the homepage. Only 1 URI is 4 clicks away. This is great as greater depth means a worse user experience and more spread of link juice.
- The information architecture (IA) of ASOS is similar to Boohoo; page depth of either 1 (55 URI) or 2 (31 URI) from the homepage, while only 4 URI are 3 clicks away from the homepage.
If you Google site:competitorwebsite.com, this search produces as result the number of pages that Google has crawled for that specific site. This is the quickest way to determine the number of pages that Google has indexed for a competitor’s site. This gives an indication of:
- The site of the competitor’s website and as consequence, the business overall size
- Number of pages listed and therefore of the amount of products listed