The first step in a competitive analysis is to identify all of the competitors you are up against online. There are three main types of competitors for any online business. Direct competitors, indirect competitors and competitors you don’t even know about.

When it comes to SEO, any website that is ranking higher in the search results for your target keywords is a competitor. You may know some of your competitors off the top of your head, but it is unlikely that you are already aware of all of your top competitors. In this lesson we will use several different strategies to get a big list of competitors. Once you have this big list of competitors, you will choose the top 5-10 (depending on how deep you want to go), to use in the next lesson where we will go through all of the KPI’s that will allow you to really understand what they are each doing, what is working for them, and how you can outperform them.

Download the Competitive Analysis Workbook, it is an excel file with multiple tabs that will guide us through this lesson and allow us to effectively document the entire Competitive Analysis.

  1. Open the Competitive Analysis Workbook and go to the tab “Competitor Data Sheet”. In column A “Website” list a few of your top competitors. You should know some of your competitors off the top of your head. List the competitors that you feel are doing well in your market.

  2. You will notice that there are a lot of other columns to the right… we will be getting into all of those data points later… our first goal is to identify which competitors are currently the most successful from an SEO perspective. But, before we get into that, we will use a few more strategies to find your biggest competitors.

Take a few moments to brainstorm a list of keywords and phrases that are important to your niche. These are the things that you think your target customers are most likely to enter into a search engine like Google when looking online for the type of information, products or services that you provide. In the course “Keyword Research and On-Page SEO” we will take a deep dive into keyword analysis and this initial work will be very useful in that lesson. However, we don’t really need to go that deep at this stage. Simply open the Competitive Analysis Workbook, and go to the second tab “Keyword Brainstorm”.

  1. In column A “Categories” write down all of the categories of products and services that apply to your business. You are going to do a keyword brainstorm for all of the keyowrds related to each category of products and services. You can also create keyword lists based on the needs of your target audience. Remember, when someone searches for something in Google, the words they are using for those searches are going to be highly related to their needs. So, when you brainstorm those keywords, try to keep this customer perspective in mind. As you enter categories into column A, each of those categories will automatically become a category heading. Column B is a quick reference to help you find the right column for each keyword list..

  2. In each category column, brainstorm a few of the most important terms that describe that topic. Remember to list the search terms that your prospective customers are likely to use when searching for your products or services, along with the correct industry terms.

  3. Next, take each of the big broad category words and expand on it to include a few words and phrases that describe the intention of the person searching for it or the locations that are specifically important. This would include words such as: buy, shop for, find, information, report, images, videos, quote, download, learn about, or whatever words describe the type of action that appropriate based on your business. Remember to include different conjugations and phrases that you feel mean the same thing but use different words or different word order.

  4. Now brainstorm some of the top FAQs about your products and services. More and more people are using voice search through mobile phones and tablets. That means that natural language search is increasing and Google’s most recent major Algorithm change Hummingbird is designed to deliver. Natural language search consists of questions, statements and directions. Brainstorm some questions, short statements or directions for each category.

Now take your big list of keywords and start searching for those terms in Google (you can also use other search engines such as Bing and WebCrawler for diversity). When you search for a term, take a look at what websites that are appearing within the top 5 organic search results. Remember, this is about identifying the top performing sites that exist within your niche online. We are primarily concerned with identifying the top performers that are also direct competitors, but it is important to also take note of indirect competitors (companies that may not be actually selling the same products or services, but that are sitting at the top of the search results where you want your site to be). Add competitors that you discover in organic search results to your competitor list. is a very cool online tool that is critical to the competitive analysis that we will be performing throughout this lesson. is a paid tool that utilizes monthly recurring fee membership model. This is an essential tool for any digital agency. The PRO membership ($69.95) will suffice for our purposes and getting through the creation of this competitive analysis. Go sign up at now and then continue with this lesson.

The first thing we will use to do is to quickly find all of the websites that are relevant to your site and to your top competitors.

  1. Log-In to

  2. In the Competitive Analysis Workbook, take the competitors that you now have listed in the “Competitor Data Sheet” tab and enter each competitors domain without the http://www. (example: Into the search box at the top of the where it says “Enter domain, keyword or url”.

  3. In the “Overview” block, take the “SE Traffic” number and enter it into column H of the Competitor Data Sheet.

  4. Scroll down to the second “Organic keywords” block (the one that lists the actual keyword terms) and take the number from the upper right corner of that block and enter it into column I. This is the total number of keywords that the competitor is ranking for on the first two pages of Google’s organic search results.

  5. In the lower right corner of the same “Organic keywords” block, click “Export” and Export the Organic Search Report. This is a report of all of the keywords the competitors is ranking for on the first two pages of Google’s organic search results. We will take a deeper look at this report later, therefore every time you export a report like this, you should create a new folder, title the folder “Competitor Rankings” (or whatever is appropriate), and move the downloaded reports from your downloads folder into the proper file for later use.

  6. To the right of the “Organic keywords” block is the “Ads keywords’ block. If your competitor is adveritising in AdWords, their campaign will show up here. The first step is to take the number from the upper right corner of this block and add it to column J or the Competitor Data Sheet.

  7. Now Export the Competitors in AdWords Report by clicking “Export” in the bottom right corner of this same block. Create a new folder titled “Competitor Ads” and move the downloaded AdWords reports into that new file for later use.

  8. Next go back to the “Overview” block in the upper left of the SEMrush dashboard. Enter the Ads Traffic number into column K of the Competitor Data Sheet.

  9. Next take the Ads Traffic price from the “Overview” block and add it to column L of the Competitor Data Sheet.

  10. Scroll down to the “Competitors in organic search” block on the SEMrush dashboard and click “Export”.

  11. When you open the Competitors in organic search Report it will show you a long list of competitors along with several data points for each. Those data points are:
    • Domain: The URL of the competitor
    • Competitor Relevance Score: A score that is based on how relevant thinks that each competitor is, to the site that was searched in Step 2.
    • Common Organic Keyword Rankings: The number of Organic Keywords that the competitor and the site from Step 2 have in common within the top 20 positions in Google
    • SERPs.
    • Organic Keywords: The total number of keywords each competitor has ranking in the top 20 positions in Google SERPs.
    • Organic Traffic: An estimate of the traffic the competitor received from Google Organic SERPs in the most recent month.
    • Organic Cost: This is a dumb and meaningless metric.
    • AdWords Keywords: The number of keywords that each competitor is using in their AdWords campaign.
  12. Look through this list and add the top competitors to your Competitor List. Then go through steps 1-9 for each of those newly added competitors.

Understanding the number of unique visitors to a website is critical to getting a thorough view of each competitor’s current level of success as well as for forecasting your potential traffic and ROI through effective online marketing. Remember, it is likely that you have lots of competitors and when doing competitive analysis you should start by analyzing the strategies of your most successful competitors. Therefore, in this step we will identify the number of Unique Visitors per month that each competitor is attracting to their website. We will then choose the top 5-10 competitors to take through the rest of the competitive analysis.

The best tool for getting this data is If you do not have an account with you can still get the estimated unique visitors per month data for the top 1,000,000 website online. However, a member account is required to see data for many smaller sites. Also, members of gain access to a lot of other great data points such as total number of visits per month and pageviews, historical trends, visitor demographics and other great data points. You can get a 24hr free trial when you sign up, so if you are doing your competitive analysis quickly, you can sign up and then cancel a few hours later without being charged. However, this is a really valuable tool and is worth keeping as part of your data tool set. The Advanced level membership plan is recommended.

  1. Go to:

  2. Click “Start your free trial” and sign up.

  3. Once signed up, type a competitors URL into the box labeled “See traffic for any domain…” You will see a number of quick tutorial videos pop up when you are first getting started. They are a great way to get familiar with the system.

  4. One-by-one go through the Competitor List and use to find the following information and enter it into the corresponding columns in the Competitor Data Sheet.
    • Unique Visitors/mo into column B
    • Visits into column C
    • Don’t touch column D, it contains a formula that will automatically calculate the Visits per unique.
    • Pageviews into column E

Once you have gathered the above info for each of your competitors, go ahead and cancel your free trial to Compete. Remember it is just a 24 hr trial and honestly, these few data points are great, but we will be using other tools for all the other data and those tools are much less expensive.

Alternative Free Tool

Another tool that attempts to provide similar data to Compete is SimilarWeb. The great thing about is that the information is FREE. However, typically the unique visitor data estimate from Similar Web is much less accurate that the data provided by Compete. It can still serve as an interesting comparative analysis tool, but you should just know that the unique visitor estimates at have been found to be up to nearly 10X the actual visits being reported through Google Analytics data for the same site.

Throughout The SEO Effect we will let you know which tools you really have to have and which ones really aren’t worth it. Unlike some of the other tools that we will be looking at in this course, for most users, after getting these few competitor data points, Compete just isn’t worth the monthly fee… However, for enterprise level businesses, Compete can be a valuable addition to the data mix.

With just the few bits of data that you have gathered about your list of competitors so far, you can see how successful each competitor is in ranking highly for keywords in Google, how much traffic your competitors are getting from Google, how many total unique visitors, total visits and page views each of your competitors are getting each month. Time for you to narrow down your list of competitors to 5-10 companies that you want to take through a deeper dive. Typically, it is best to focus on direct competitors at first, and then indirect competitors once your site is established as a market leader.

Direct / Indirect:

When it comes to search engines, any other website that is ranking above your own site for your target keywords is a competitor. However, it is still important to distinguish between the two types of competition

  1. Direct Competitors are companies that sell the same exact products and services that you do, to the same target market. But for our purposes, they are only competitors if they are capturing some online market share.

  2. Indirect Competitors come in two forms:
    • Companies that sell different products or services that fulfill the same basic need for your target market. For instance: Hotels vs. Bed & Breakfasts. If these competitors are outranking you for important keywords, understanding how and why will help you compete.
    • Companies that do not actually offer the products and services you do, but rather offer information about the types of products and services that you sell and may effect the purchasing decision of prospective customers, including sending those people to your competitors. This includes industry organizations, directories, social networks, governmental sites, blogs, news sites, forums, etc…

How to find them: You will discover new competitors at many different stages and utilizing many different strategies and tools throughout this course. Still, the eyeball test is the best way to determine if they are direct or indirect competitors.

What to do about them: If they are direct competitors we must outperform them. If they are indirect competitors we should look for opportunities to benefit from the traffic they generate. That may be through advertising, contributing content, link building or other strategic relationships.

Now that we know who

Who Your Competitors Are...

Next In the next lesson we will start using some amazing tools to identify the online strategies that your competitors are using to drive traffic to their websites and quantify how much success they are having. By downloading these competitor reports we will be able to draw a clear path to replicating the success of any competitors that have paved the way in your market. In competitive racing this is called “drafting”. In online marketing this is called smart research.

So, let’s start gathering important data by