This guest post was written by Michael Ansaldo, a veteran journalist and content marketer with 20 years experience covering technology and business.
Feel like search engines are giving your company the cold shoulder?
The problem might not be your website — it might be your competitors’ sites. Using SEO tools to analyze sites that outrank yours is an overlooked but essential way to identify weaknesses in your own SEO strategy.
“By examining competitor websites, you can identify products that should be carried, as well as category pages and blog posts that should be created,” says Brett Bastello, SEO manager with Inseev Interactive, a full-service digital marketing company in San Diego. “This will not only bring new traffic to your website, but also steal traffic from your competitors.”
To help you reroute your competitors’ traffic to your own site, we invited some industry pros to dish on their favorite SEO tools.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
“Really, in SEO it comes down to two main things that move the needle,” says John Lincoln, CEO of Ignite Visibility and digital marketing professor at the University of California, San Diego. “Those are external links and content.”
To see what your competitors are doing in these areas to woo search engines, he recommends analyzing their sites with Screaming Frog SEO Spider. This desktop tool performs a technical audit of a site’s structure, collecting URLs, page titles, meta descriptions and other SEO elements.
This should reveal how well competitors’ sites are designed, what pages they’ve made, how much content they have and other SEO secrets. Export the data to Excel so you can slice and dice it and use it to optimize your own site.
Keywords are the backbone of SEO, so knowing which ones your competitors are using is critical. You can get a detailed breakdown by running their sites through SEMrush. “[It] gives you the best ranking data I have seen for the price,” Lincoln says.
SEMrush produces a complete list of keywords across multiple search engines, which you can export to Excel. It also gives you an idea of how much traffic they’re pulling from organic and paid searches, AdWords campaigns, and backlinks.
This data will help you understand which search terms are working and which aren’t — knowledge that you can incorporate into your own strategy.
The next step is to determine which websites are linking to your competitors, so you can improve your own backlinking strategy.
“Link-building adds authority to your website,” Bastello says. “Without authority, Google can’t confidently display your website within the [search engine results pages].”
Both Lincoln and Bastello like Majestic SEO. This link analyzer not only reveals and compares your competitors’ backlinks, but also rates their authoritativeness with a tool called “Topical Trust Flow.”
“With Google placing an ever-increasing emphasis on semantic relationships, it’s important that your website is associated with other websites relevant within your industry,” Bastello says. “In the early days of SEO, a link was a link was a link. However, in 2016, a link from a website closely associated with your website is weighted much more heavily than a link from an unrelated website.”
If you see that your competitors have backlinks from popular sites and you don’t, reach out to the webmasters and ask if they’ll link to your site as well.
Optimize your SEO tools
Tackling these tools can be intimidating at first, but don’t feel like you have to go it alone. Each has extensive FAQs and active user communities. Take advantage of them.
“Each tool has a plethora of functionality,” Bastello says, “and when truly understood, it can separate the SEO novice from the professional.”