The following article by Casey Meraz was originally posted on the Moz Blog June 28th, 2015. I have found Casey to be most knowledgeable and provides great insight to Local Online Marketing issues. He has become one of my favorite authors; his post about Advanced Local SEO Competition Analysis is one of the best on the subject.
One of the first activities in setting up a Local Online Marketing Infrastructure, is to analyze the top competitors. This first step is critical to understand how to design the Marketing Plan to over come the local competition. Follow the processes below and success will be at hand in identifying competitors and their online marketing activities.
Competition in local search is fierce. While it’s typical to do some surface level research on your competitors before entering a market, you can go much further down the SEO rabbit hole. In this article we will look at how you can find more competitors, pull their data, and use it to beat them in the search game.
Since there are plenty of resources out there on best practices, this guide will assume that you have already followed the best practices for your own listing and are looking for the little things that might make a big difference in putting you over your competition. So if you haven’t already read how to perform the Ultimate Local SEO Audit or how to Find and Build Citations then you should probably start there.
Disclaimer: While it’s important to mention that correlation does not mean causation, we can learn a lot by seeing what the competition has done.
Some of the benefits of conducting competitive research are:
- You can really dive into your customers’ market and understand it better.
- You can figure out who your real customers area and better target them.
- You can get an understanding of what your competitors have done that has been successful without re-inventing the wheel.
Once you isolate trends that seem to make a positive difference, you can create a hypothesis and test. This allows you to constantly be testing, finding out what works, and growing those positive elements while eliminating the things that don’t produce results. Instead of making final decisions off of emotion, make your decisions off of the conversion data.
A good competition analysis will give you a strong insight into the market and allow you to test, succeed, or fail fast. The idea behind this process is to really get a strong snapshot of your competition at a glance to isolate factors you may be missing in your company’s online presence.
Disclaimer 2: It’s good to use competitors’ ideas if they work, but don’t make that your only strategy.
Before we get started
Below I will cover a process I commonly use for competition analysis. I have also created this Google Docs spreadsheet for you to follow along with and use for yourself. To make your own copy simply go to File > Make A Copy. (Don’t ask me to add you as an owner please 🙂
Let’s get started
1. Find out who your real competitors are
Whether you work internally or were hired as an outside resource to help with your client’s SEO campaign, you probably have some idea of who the competition is in your space. Some companies may have good offline marketing but poor online marketing. If you’re looking to be the best, it’s a good idea to do your own research and see who you’re up against.
In my experience it’s always good to find and verify 5-10 online competitors in your space from a variety of sources. You can use tools for this or take the manual approach. Keep in mind that you have to screen the data tools give you with your own eye for accuracy.
How do you find your “real” competitors?
We’re going to look at some tools you can use to find competitors here in a second, but keep in mind you want to record everything you find.
Make sure to capture the basic information for each competitor including their company name, location, and website. These tools will be useful at a later time. Record these in the “competitor research” tab of the spreadsheet.
Method 1: Standard Google searches for competitors
This is pointing out the obvious, but if you have a set of keywords you want to rank for, you can look for trends and see who is already ranking where you want to be. Don’t limit this to just one or two keywords, instead get a broader list of the competitors out there.
To do this, simply come up with a list of several keywords you want to rank for and search for them in your geographic area. Make sure your Geographic preference is set correctly so you get accurate data.
- Collect a list of keywords
- Search Google to see which companies are ranking in the local pack
- Record a list of the companies’ names and website URLs in the spreadsheet under the competitor research tab.
To start we’re just going to collect the data and enter it into the spreadsheet. We will revisit this data shortly.
Outside of the basics, I always find it’s good to see who else is out there. Since organic and local rankings are more closely tied together than ever, it’s a good idea to use 3rd party tools to get some insight as to what else your website could be considered related to.
This can help provide hidden opportunities outside of the normal competition you likely look at most frequently.
Method 2: Use SEMRUSH.com
SEMRush is a pretty neat competitive analysis tool. While it is a paid program, they do in fact have a few free visits a day you can check out. It’s limited but it will show you 10 competitors based on keyword ranking data. It’s also useful for recording paid competition as well.
To use the tool, visit www.SEMRush.com and enter your website in the provided search box and hit search. Once the page loads, you simply have to scroll down to the area that says “main competitors”. If you click the “view full report” option you’ll be taken to a page with 10 competition URLs.
Put these URLs into the spreadsheet so we can track them later.
Method 3: Use SPYFU.com
This is a cool tool that will show your top 5 competitors in paid and organic search. Just like SEMRush, it’s a paid tool that’s easy to use. On the home page, you will see a box that loads where you can enter your URL. Once you hit search, a list of 5 websites will populate for free.
Enter these competitors into your spreadsheet for tracking.
Method 4: Use Crunchbase.com
This website is a goldmine of data if you’re trying to learn about a startup. In addition to the basic information we’re looking for, you can also find out things like how much money they’ve raised, staff members, past employee history, and so much more.
Crunchbase also works pretty similarly to the prior tools in the sense that you you just enter your website URL and hit the search button. Once the page loads, you can scroll down the page to the competitors section for some data.
While Crunchbase is cool, it’s not too useful for smaller companies as it doesn’t seem to have too much data outside of the startup world.
Method 5: Check out Compete.com
This tool seems to have limited data for smaller websites but it’s worth a shot. It can also be a little bit more high-level than I prefer, but you should still check it out.
To use the tool visit www.compete.com and enter the URL you want to examine in the box provided then hit search.
Click the “Find more sites like” box to get list of three related sites. Enter these in the provided spreadsheet.
Method 6: Use SimilarWeb.com
SimilarWeb provides a cool tool with a bunch of data to check out websites. After entering your information, you can scroll down to the similar sites section which will show websites it believes to be related.
The good news about SimilarWeb is that it seems to have data no matter how big or small your site is.
2. After you know who they are, mine their data
Now that we have a list of competitors, we can really do a deep dive to see who is ranking and what factors might be contributing to their success. To start, make sure to pick your top competitors from the spreadsheet and then look for and record the information below about each business on the Competitor Analysis tab.
You will want to to pull this information from their Google My Business page.
If you know the company’s name, it’s pretty easy to find them just by searching the brand. You can add the geographic location if it’s a multi-location business.
For example if I was searching for a Wendy’s in Parker, Colorado, I could simply search this: “Wendy’s Parker, CO” and it will pull up the location(s).
Make sure to take and record the following information from their local listings. Get the data from their Google My Business (Google + Page) and record it in the spreadsheet!
- Business name – Copy and paste the whole business name. Sometimes businesses keyword stuff a name or have a geographic modifier. It’s important to account for this.
- Address – The full address of the business location. Although we can’t do anything about its physical location, we will search using this information shortly.
- City, state, zip code – The city, state, and zip listed on the Google My Business listing.
- Phone number – Take the listing’s primary number
- Phone number 2 – Take the listing’s secondary number like an 800 number.
- Landing page URL – The one connected to their Google My Business listing.
PRO TIP: The URL will display as the root domain, but click the link to see if it takes you to an internal landing page. This is essential!
- Number of categories – Does your listing have more or less categories than the listing?
- Categories in Google My Business
You can find the categories by clicking on the main category of the listing. It will pop out a list of all of the categories the business is listed under. If you only see one after doing this, open your browser and go to View Source. If you do Ctrl+F you can search the page for “GCID” without the quotes. This will show you the categories they’re listed under if you look through the HTML.
- Does the profile appear to be 100% complete?
- How many reviews do they have?
- Is their business name visible in Google Street View? Obviously there is not much we can do about this, but it’s interesting especially considering some patents Bill Slawski was recently talking about.
** Record this information on the spreadsheet. A sample is below.
What can we do with this data?
Since you’ve already optimized your own listing for best practices, we want to see if there is any particular trends that seem to be working better in a certain area. We can then create a hypothesis and test it to see if any gains are losses are made. While we can’t isolate factors, we can get some insight as to what’s working the more you change it.
In my experience, examining trends is much easier when the data is side by side. You can easily pick out data that stands out from the rest.
3. Have a close(r) look at their landing pages
You already know the ins and outs of your landing page. Now let’s look at each competitor’s landing page individually. Let’s look at the factors that carry the most weight and see if anything sticks out.
Record the following information into the spreadsheet and compare side by side with your company vs. the successful ones.
|Page title of landing page|
|City present? – Is the city present in the landing page meta title?|
|State present? – Is the state present in the landing page meta title?|
|Major KW in title? Is there a major keyword in the landing page meta title?|
|Content length on landing page – Possibly minor but worth examining. Copy/paste into MS Word|
|H1 present? – Is the H1 tag present?|
|City in H1? – Does the H1 contain the city name?|
|State in H1? – Does the H1 have the state or abbreviation in the heading?|
|Keyword in H1? – Do they use a keyword in the H1?|
|Local business schema present? – Are they using schema? Find out using the Google structured data testing tool here.|
|Embedded map present? – Are they embedding a Google map?|
|GPS coordinates present? – Are they using GPS coordinates via schema or text?|
4. Off site: See what google thinks is authoritative
Recently, I was having a conversation with a client who was super-excited about the efforts his staff was making. He proudly proclaimed that his office was building 10 new citations a day and added over 500 within the past couple of months!
His excitement freaked me out. As I suspected, when I asked to see his list, I saw a bunch of low quality directory sites that were passing little or no value. One way I could tell they were not really helping (besides the fact that some were NSFW websites), was that the citations or listings were not even indexed in Google.
I think it’s a reasonable assumption that you should test to see what Google knows about your business. Whatever Google delivers about your brand, it’s serving because it has the most relevance or authority in its eyes.
So how can we see what Google sees?
It’s actually pretty simple. Just do a Google Search. One of the ways that I try to evaluate and see whether or not a citation website is authoritative enough is to take the competition’s NAP and Google it. While you’ve probably done this many times before for citation earning, you can prioritize your efforts based off of what’s recurring between top ranked competitor websites.
As you can see in the example below where I did a quick search for a competitor’s dental office (by pasting his NAP in the search bar), I see that Google is associating this particular brand with websites like:
- The company’s main website
- Amazon Local (New)
Pro Tip: Amazon local is relatively new, but you can see that it’s going to carry a citation benefit in local search. If your clients are willing, you should sign up for this.
Don’t want to copy and paste the NAP in a variety of formats? Use Andrew Shotland’s NAP Hunterto get your competitor’s variants. This tool will easily open multiple window tabs in your browser and search for combinations of your competitor’s NAP listings. It makes it easy and it’s kind of fun.
5. Check important citations
With citations, I’m generally in the ballpark of quality over quantity. That being said, if you’re just getting the same citations that everyone else has, that doesn’t really set you apart does it? I like to tell clients that the top citation sources are a must, but it’s good to seek out opportunities and monitor what your competition does so you can keep up and stay ahead of the game.
You need to check the top citations and see where you’re listed vs. your competition. Tools likeWhitespark’s local citation finder make this much easier to get an easy snapshot.
If you’re looking to see which citations you should find and check, use these two resources below:
Just like in the example in the section above, you can find powerful hidden gems and also new website opportunities that arise from time to time.
Just because you did it once doesn’t mean you should leave it alone
A common mistake I see is businesses thinking it’s ok to just turn things off when they get to the top.That’s a bad idea. If you’re serious about online marketing, you know that someone is always out to get you. So in addition to tracking your brand mentions through the Fresh Web Explorer, you also need to be tracking your competition at least once a month! The good news is that you can do this easily with Fresh Web Explorer from Moz.
So what should you setup in Fresh Web Explorer?
- Your competitor’s brand name – Monitor their mentions and see what type of marketing they’re doing!
- Your competitor’s NAP – Easily find new citations they’re going after
- City+Industry+Keywords – Maybe there are some hidden gems outside of your competition you could go after!
Plus track anything else you can think of related to your brand. This will help the on-going efforts get a bit easier.
6. Figure out which citations have dofollow links
Did you know some citation sources have dofollow links which mean they pass link juice to your website? Now while these by themselves likely won’t pass a lot of juice, it adds an incentive for you to be proactive with recording and promoting these listings.
When reviewing my competition’s citations and links I use a simple Chrome plugin called NoFollowwhich simply highlights nofollow links on pages. It makes it super easy to see what’s a follow vs. a nofollow link.
But what’s the benefit of this? Let’s say that I have a link on a city website that’s a follow link and a citation. If it’s an authority page that talks highly about my business, it would make sense for me to link to it from time to time. If you’re getting links from websites other than your own and linking to these high quality citations you will pass link juice to your page. It’s a pretty simple way of increasing the authority of your local landing pages.
7. Links, links, links
Since the Pigeon update almost a year ago, links started to make a bigger impact in local search. You have to be earning links and you have to earn high quality links to your website and especially your Google My Business Landing page.
If the factors show you’re on the same playing field as your competition except in domain authority or page authority, you know your primary focus needs to be links.
Now here is where the research gets interesting. Remember the data sources we pulled earlier like compete, spyfu.com, etc? We are now going to get a bigger picture on the link profile because we did this extra work. Not only are we just going to look at the links that our competition in the pack has, we’ve started to branch out of that for more ideas which will potentially pay off big in the long run.
What to do now
Now we want to take every domain we looked at when we started and run Open Site Explorer on each and every domain. Once we have these lists of links, we can then sort them out and go after the high quality ones that you don’t already have.
Typically, when I’m doing this research I will export everything into Excel or Google Docs, combine them into one spreadsheet and then sort from highest authority to least authority. This way you can prioritize your road map and focus on the bigger fish.
Keep in mind that citations usually have links and some links have citations. If they have a lot of authority you should make sure you add both.
8. But what about user behavior?
If you feel like you’ve gone above and beyond your competition and yet you’re not seeing the gains you want, there is more you have to look at. Sometimes as an SEO it’s easy to get in a paradigm of just the technical or link side of things. But what about user behavior?
It’s no secret and even some recent tests are showing promising data. If your users visit your site and then click back to the search results it indicates that they didn’t find what they were looking for. Through our own experiments we have seen listings in the SERPs jump a few positions in hours just based off of user behavior.
So what does this mean for you?
You need to make sure your pages are answering the users queries as they land on your page, preferably above the fold. For example, if I’m looking for a haircut place and I land on your page, I might be wanting to know the hours, pricing, or directions to your store. Making information prevalent is essential.
Make sure that if you’re going to make these changes you test them. Come up with a hypothesis, test the results, and come to conclusion or another test based off of the data. If you want to know more about your users, I say that you need to find as much about them as human possible. Some services you can use for that are:
1. Inspectlet – Record user sessions and watch how they navigate your website. This awesome tool literally allows you to watch recorded user sessions. Check out their site.
2. LinkedIn Tracking Script – Although I admit it’s a bit creepy, did you know that you can see the actual visitors to your website if they’re logged into LinkedIn while browsing your website? You sure can. To do this complete the following steps:
1. Sign up for a LinkedIn Premium Account
2. Enter this code into the body of your website pages:
<img src="https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?authToken=zRgB&authType=name&id=XXXXX" />
3. Replace the XXXXX with your account number of your profile. You can get this by logging into your profile page and getting the number present after viewid?=
4. Wait for the visitors to start showing up under “who’s viewed your profile”
3. Google Analytics – Watch user behavior and gain insights as so what they were doing on your website.
Speaking of user behavior, is your listing the only one without reviews? Does it have fewer or less favorable reviews? All of these are negative signals for user experience. Do you competitors have more positive reviews? If so you need to work getting more.
While this post was mainly geared towards local SEO as in Google My Business rankings, you have to consider that there are a lot of localized search queries that do not generate pack results. In these cases they’re just standard organic listings.
If you’ve been deterred to add these by Google picking its own meta descriptions or by their lack of ranking benefit, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Seriously. Customers will make a decision on which listing to click on based on this information. If you’re not thinking about optimizing these for user intent on the corresponding page then you’re just being lazy. Spend the time, increase CTR, and increase your rankings if you’re serving great content.
The key to success here is realizing that this is a marathon and not a sprint. If you examine the competition in the top areas mentioned above and create a plan to overcome, you will win long term. This of course also assumes you’re not doing anything shady and staying above board.
While there were many more things I could add to this article, I believe that if you put your focus on what’s mentioned here you’ll have the greatest success. Since I didn’t talk too much about geo-tagged media in this article, I also included some other items to check in the spreadsheet under the competitor analysis tab.
Remember to actively monitor what those around you are doing and develop a pro-active plan to be successful for your clients.
What’s the most creative thing you have seen a competitor do successfully local search? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.