There are many things we may want to do to competitors, and they’re not a positive. Mostly, we want to beat them. Sometimes, we just want to catch up to them. At times, we may want to curse them. But guess what? There’s at least one time you’ll want to thank them, and it’s to do with your SEO.

Competitors can be the most valuable resource you can find for your search engine optimisation campaign. Here’s how you can use that resource.

1. Start in the SERPs

When first looking into SEO for a site, the best place to start is usually in the search engine results pages. A quick look at your proposed keywords will give you a lot of insight into a lot of things for your site. For a start, it will give you a glimpse of where you currently sit in the rankings. Monitoring the search results for a few weeks before you begin your campaign will give you a firmer idea of what is happening – or not happening – with your own rankings.

Beyond information about your own site, the SERPs will tell you a lot about your competitors, and not just who they are, either. When you dip into the SERPs, take a look at:

  • Titles. How do your competitors phrase their titles? How do they use capitals, bold or italics? What obvious keywords do they include?
  • URLs. How eye-catching are the keywords in their page addresses?
  • Social signals. Are your competitors making use of author tags or other social signals?
  • Descriptions. How are these being phrased, and what is the keyword saturation and placement?
  • Noticeables. Before you look at any of the above, it’s a good idea to perform a little test for yourself. Every time you glance at the results for your keywords, take note of what first catches your eye. These will often be the same things that catch the eye of your target users.

Keep track of all of this information in a spreadsheet, and you’ve got the first part of your resource book for SEO. Best of all, it’s completely free, and there’s little better than that.

2. Move into deeper waters

Once you’ve made use of the easiest tool at your disposal, it’s time to go in a little deeper and start analysing your competitors’ sites in some depth. Having a professional SEO on board at this stage can be handy, or you can choose to do it on your own. The things to look at include:

  • Competitor link profiles. Analysing these not only helps you to see why your competitors are succeeding with the search engines, but can also give you leads for your own link building.
  • Design and layout. The way pages are laid out has a big effect on the way in which the search engines access information, and how easily. Successful competitors are likely to have spent quite some time experimenting to find the most workable layout. It’s not wise to copy them exactly, but studying the pages of a number of successful competitors can give you a template to work from.
  • Site architecture. Again, successful competitors are likely to have worked hard on their site architecture. Analysis can help you with your conversion rate as well as your SEO.

When you are analysing competitors as part of your website optimisation, don’t forget to look for faults. A competitor who ignores the possibilities of social media or search marketing has left themselves open for attack. Analyse, assess, and then use all your competitor’s tricks to your site’s advantage.

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