Lidia feels that the key to SEO success lies in truly understanding who your competitors are and determining their strengths and weaknesses.
Lidia Infante says:Look at what your competitors are doing, benchmark them, and find the quickest way to outrank them.
How do you define who your competitors are?
You can identify your competitors from different areas of the business. Look at your competitors in sales, speak to customer service and marketing, and compile a list. Then, look at who your search competitors are. There are two ways to go about that. You can work from the bottom up: look at all your keywords, what sites are ranking on those keywords, and which competitors appear most often. Alternatively, you can work from the top down: take the list you've compiled from conversations within your business and go for a tool like SISTRIX, or Semrush, or Ahrefs. Make sure that those competitors are relevant. Find the ones that appear both on your compiled qualitative list, that comes from within the business, and also within the tool.
Are your competitors' businesses that do similar things, or ones that are ranking for the keyword phrases you're targeting?
You're looking at the sweet spot between the two. Which competitors are more likely to show up in search and steal your customers? Those are the ones that you want to outrank.
When benchmarking, how do you analyse and keep track of where your competitors are ranking?
There are two different approaches, again it's bottom-up or top-down. My favourite approach is the top-down approach. In that case, you start by looking at how many keywords they are ranking for and what their estimated traffic is. Out of that estimated traffic, look at what traffic is branded and non-branded, and what is editorial. Non-branded, non-editorial traffic would be product-focused, and editorial traffic is typical How To informational stuff that would lead to a blog.
How do you differentiate between editorial and transactional content?
Look at the destination of that traffic; look at the landing page. If one competitor has an estimated traffic of 100 that's branded, 200 that's not branded, and 3000 that's editorial, you know that this competitor has a solid editorial strategy that you might want to look at. If you only look at traffic numbers, this competitor's brand might look bigger than it actually is. Don't just analyse the traffic on the bigger numbers, dive a little bit deeper into what kind of traffic you're looking at.
How do you decide if you have an opportunity to surpass a competitor's rankings?
With this benchmarking, you're looking at the three main sides of SEO: authority, content, and tech. What you're trying to do here is determine whether you need to work on your brand and authority, your content, or your tech SEO. There are a few ways to choose the area that's most feasible to outrank your competitors in. Maybe you are weak in that area, maybe your competitors are weak, or maybe you are average and want to take it one step further. It's going to be a strategic decision that should inform a wider strategy. Once you've identified the aspect that's going to be your focus, benchmark further. Investigate in more depth what your competitors are doing in those areas, and how you're planning on surpassing them.
How do you determine if a website has high authority?
Look at links and backlinks. I don't usually condone this metric, but Domain Authority is a good way of benchmarking how authority is flowing to that site. Domain Authority is a bit of a one-size-fits-all that doesn't fit every case, because it doesn't account for whether the content of the links is relevant to the page. You also want to be looking at brand search volume and the amount of branded traffic in the links that you're seeing.
Is benchmarking the volume and relevance of content a manual task or can it be automated?
It can absolutely be automated and there are different metrics that you can automate. An easy option is to put the list of competitors into the Batch Analysis tool on Ahrefs, and it will give you keywords, index pages, estimated traffic, etc. Then, go to each of the competitors and play with 'Include/Exclude' to get the estimated traffic and the number of keywords for branded traffic, non-branded traffic and editorial. If you want to get the exact number of URLs that these competitors are ranking for on the editorial side of things, you could use a formula and Import XML into Google Sheets to scrape it from the search results. That's usually not needed because it's faster to just copy-paste the numbers.
How do you measure and benchmark for tech?
It's very difficult. I've been trialling different metrics and methods. I'm working on this with a wider team because I want to reach a universal conclusion, and a metric that we can use. Lately, I've been using Core Web Vitals for it, and Lighthouse scores, but I'm not particularly happy with those. It's a good starting point because it will tell you which of your competitors have been taking the tech side of things more seriously. However, it won't tell the entire picture of their technical health, especially if you're looking at eCommerce or massive sites. There's much more to be talked about, like architecture and how they're overcoming specific challenges. I've been trialling adding health scores from auditing tools and doing some more manual work as well. It's complicated to measure.
How often should this benchmarking be done?
I would do it on a monthly basis for clients that are looking to get results fast. Firstly, start with an overview of the entire search market for the client. Depending on how involved they are on search, you can do top-down or bottom-up. Once you've identified the area of growth, dive a little bit deeper into that specific area to create a goal and a benchmark. For example, if the average number of branded searches for a specific market is 1000 a month, and you know that you're at 500, maybe the goal is 1500. Then, you know you need to work with a PR agency to improve the brand. You should be looking at this on a monthly basis to see how you're progressing towards the goal and towards the benchmark. You will need to modify that benchmark as your competitors move. If your benchmark is an average number, and the average changes, your goal needs to change. It needs to be updated. When you're planning your goal, you need to consider how you think the average is going to move and move your goal accordingly. If branded searches are decreasing, maybe you only need to get to 1000. If branded searches are increasing by 10% every month, you need to take that into account as well.
Is it difficult to measure the bottom line for these efforts?
When it comes to measuring the real success of SEO, I always bring it back to revenue. Everything can be tracked to revenue, even if you have different models for doing that. If you are a SaaS company, you might look at leads, then which of those are qualified leads, then how many of those turn into customers, and then the lifetime value of those customers. You can track it back down to the value of a lead and get the estimated revenue growth from the growth of your SEO efforts. In the end, there's always a way to bring it back to revenue in the world of SEO. That's what matters to businesses.
What's one thing that SEOs should stop doing to spend more time benchmarking their competitors?
Stop immediately panicking about rank drops and rank changes. Don't track them daily. Track them globally around the topic more than on specific keywords - unless there's something that's absolutely vital for you. Don't work reactively because you might be looking at a Google test of the SERPs, or something that your competitor has done, that doesn't necessarily fall in your hands. Take a deep breath and look at your rankings with a little bit more perspective. Look at them over time, whether the drop is consistent, how volatile the SERPs are in your industry, and what level of drop you are comfortable with.
You can find Lidia Infante over at Lidia-Infante.com.
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