The search engines are crowded. Everyone is vying for a position on the all-important first page (and within that, the all-important first spot). It’s impossible to battle everyone – and fortunately, you don’t have to. You only need to outrank those sites jockeying for a position in your niche. These aren’t always easy to identify; many times, you might be getting outranked by sites that you wouldn’t typically consider competition.

So, how do you figure out who to target? And once you target them, what can you do to outrank them? If you’re unsure, we’ve got you covered.

1. Identify Top Rankers for your Top Keywords

Chances are, you have a handful of SEO keywords (likely somewhere between 20 and 50) that you deem central to your brand. These are the ones that speak to the core of your business and drive the most traffic and revenue. If you don’t know what these keywords are, take some time to identify them. Once you do, all it takes is a bit of data collection, and you’ll have a good feel for who is stealing your market share in this landscape. We advise using a data collection tool to manage this process or creating a spreadsheet to track your progress. Take note of the keyword in question, your current rank, and who ranks ahead of you (particularly in the top 5 to 10 spots). This leads us to step 2…

2. Identify On-Page SEO Competitive Advantages

Once you know who is outranking your site for your top terms, it’s time to figure out why. This involves an audit of both on-page and off-page SEO elements. We recommend beginning with on-page. You should closely examine the way your competition handles:

  • Page Titles
  • Page Descriptions
  • Header Tags (H1s, H2s, H3s…)
  • Site Taxonomy, such as category and product names
  • Site Content, such as category and product descriptions
  • Informative and Brand Content, such as blogs or content pieces not primarily focused on generating a transaction

Are they using those keywords more frequently than you? Are they placing these keywords in more prominent positions (i.e. page titles, navigation links or H1s)? These quick audits will likely give you the most insight and be the best indicators of on-page advantages your competition has over your site.

If you don’t see any major disparities between your site and those outranking you on the page, it’s time to do a little off-page investigating.

3. Identify Off-Page SEO Competitive Advantages

There are a host of free tools available to help you measure the off-page metrics that determine search rankings. One tool we recommend using to gather this data is the MozBar in conjunction with Searchlight. On each page you navigate to, you can receive metrics for:

  • Domain Authority
  • Page Authority
  • Number of Inbound Links
  • Facebook Activity
  • Google + Activity
  • Twitter Activity

By comparing these metrics to the same metrics on your site, you can get a feel for how your site’s reputation stacks up against your competition. If you’ve found that your content and keyword placement on-site is better, but you’re still being outranked, this is likely due to your competition having more links and social activity. This will result in higher authority (strength) on both the domain and page levels. Content is great, but unless it’s being shared and linked to, it’ll only take you so far.

4. Take Action

After analyzing both the on-page and off-page SEO elements of your own site in comparison to your competition, you should have a clearer picture of where the main problems lie. Perhaps you’ll find you need to attack elements both on and off the page to improve your search performance. There’s always going to be something you can do when it comes to SEO – the important thing is that you do something instead of nothing. Start small and keep moving forward. If you’re persistent, you’re bound to eventually see the gap in market share between you and your competition shrink.

Competition fuels more than commerce. It fuels society as a whole. Everywhere you look – from athletics to academics, law and even retail – competition drives individuals and organizations to improve. In order to be truly effective, you need to hone this competitive drive. You need to be pointed and deliberate in your approach. You don’t need to beat everyone, just those inhibiting your own success. Use these tips to venture out and do just that, or contact us if you’d like to pick our brains about the best approach for your unique business.