SEO Competitor Analysis and Using It to Improve Google Rankings (Podcast)

SEO Competitor Analysis

Your competitors’ websites can show you how to improve your own website. In this episode of Legal Marketing Review, we discuss how SEO competitor analysis can help drive your SEO strategy and improve your website.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, and welcome to Legal Marketing Review. Today, my guest is John McDougall, and we are talking about SEO Competitor Analysis and how to use it to improve your Google rankings. Welcome John.

John McDougall: Hey, John.

What Is SEO Competitor Analysis?

John Maher: And so John, what is an SEO Competitor Analysis?

John McDougall: When you are trying to get more visibility from Google, you often are picking keywords. And in order to speed that up, you can look at what keywords, and what pages and content with keywords on them your competitors are using. So, there’s like a little art to that and some software. So that’s the idea of it.

What Does SEO Competitor Analysis Involve?

John Maher: Okay. What are some of the things that SEO Competitor Analysis might include?

John McDougall: So number one, keywords, and there’s a bunch of ways to slice that. So, often I’ll go and put a search into Google, let’s say you’re a personal injury lawyer, and you say nursing home abuse lawyer. And then you see who the best ranking sites are. Not just competitors that you can think of, but who’s ranking really good.

And then put those links into a tool like SEMRush. It is a paid tool, but a great tool. You put the URL into SEMRush, and then it’s going to show you all the hundreds or thousands of keywords that they’re ranking for. And then you can hit export, and put that into Excel. And now you’ve got on your desktop, or in your files, a handy list of all of their keywords. And again, and it might be thousands or tens of thousands. For example, if you put Morgan & Morgan in as a personal injury competitor, you’ll see just massive volumes of keywords.

The other way that you can do it with keywords is keyword gap analysis. So you can, in SEMRush, there’s other tools that do it, but I’ve mostly used SEMRush for this. And it has the keyword gap tool. And you can put in your site and four competitors.

So you put your site, and then Morgan & Morgan, and whatever other competitors you want to use. And then you hit go, and it’s going to give you not only all the keywords for Morgan & Morgan, but for your site, for their site, for all those other competitor sites. And you’ll see this long list of all the combined keywords that all of those sites are ranking for. And then it puts a column for each company and who’s ranking at what position. What I usually get out of that right away is that one or two of the sites are going to be killing it. Really ranking for just huge volumes of keywords.

So, you can either stop right there and just say, I’m going to hone in on that one and go back to the first step that we’d said, just put that one URL in, and export their keywords. You’ll have tons of keywords to start from. But you know, if you just want to really see what’s happening across those four competitors, SEMRush will give you an opportunity finder essentially. And you can filter it by things where they’re ranking, but you are not ranking well.

John Maher: Yes absolutely.

John McDougall: So, quickly give you some ideas there.

How to Use SEO Competitor Analysis to See Which Keywords Your Competitors Rank for, But You Don’t

John Maher: If all your competitors are all ranking for the same keyword, but you’re not ranking for it, then you’re missing out somewhere?

John McDougall: Yeah. That’s what you want to look for. Some common things that are coming up, but you’re missing out on.

What Are Swipe Files?

John Maher: Yeah. Okay. What are swipe files and how do you use those?

John McDougall: So, swipe files are… You can use that term outside of SEO, but in the SEO space, often we’re looking at headlines. So, like the title of blog posts, for example. So we can get ideas of the top blog post titles, because they’re often going to have keywords, and they’re going to be written well, the headlines.

Magazines often have headline writers. That’s all they do at the magazine. Just write headlines, and try variations of them. So, when you’re walking to check out at the supermarket, you’re going to see a magazine and want to buy it, because wow, that’s a good headline. In the digital marketing world, some people just pick the first headline, throw it up there, and they’re good. But that’s not the best way to do it. The best way to do it is really think about it. Headlines make a big difference. Putting keywords in a headline and making an attractive headline, not click bait, so to speak.

I mean, for a law firm site, you’re not trying to trick people or shock them… It’s not funky news either, or whatever. But you still want people to click your result when they search Google. So if you do come up, if you just have a keyword in your headline, it’s not as good as if that headline is also interesting.

So a swipe file lets you gather spreadsheets with lists of the best performing headlines of your competitors. And you can get that from SEMRush, or for that one, AHREFS will also work, A-H-R-E-F-S, and then you can sort the best pages by links and the best pages by social shares. So, those are two important factors. If a lot of websites link to a page or a lot of people share it on Facebook and different social media sites, that means that those pages of your competitors are probably some of the best. And then you export that into Excel. And now you have a whole handy list when you’re going to write your content to give you ideas, to write cool stuff. That’s your own spin on that.

What Is Backlink Analysis?

John Maher: What about a backlink analysis and looking at your competitors’ backlinks?

John McDougall: So, one of the most important things historically with SEO is, well, since the advent of Google with their page rank algorithm in 1997, is not just keywords and how much content you have, but other websites linking to you. And a backlink tool will let you analyze the people that point from their site to yours, and people that point from their site to your competitors.

And if your competitors all have links from National Law Review and Mass Lawyers Weekly, and all these other sites, but you don’t, you want to go get those links. And then, you want to get some links that they don’t have, but you just wouldn’t know where to start. If, I mean, you probably know in general, your top industry sites, but to find good golden nuggets, you use a tool like AHREFS, and look at your backlinks. Or they have a cool thing called the common backlink tool.

So you put in several of your competitors, and then you can see, “Oh look, they all have a link from National Law Review, and they all have a link from Vine Law.” And then, “Okay.” Those are common. We’re going to want to knock those off, and find a way to get links from those.

Risks of Not Using SEO Competitor Analysis

John Maher: What do you think happens in general, if you don’t use SEO Competitor Analysis, and you’re trying to do your SEO?

John McDougall: I think you really are kind of working on an island. You’re like just isolating yourself from reality in a way like people that we see, the junior level SEO people, even writers that have been writing for years for magazines, or people we work with at a pretty high level that are good writers are just not skilled at using the tools we’ve been just talking about.

And they’re just writing interesting headlines, but they’re just not getting that many eyeballs on their articles because they didn’t really think about how people are phrasing things. Or they didn’t take advantage of the unique headlines, and ways that you could phrase things that are made easier by seeing what’s trending and popular on your competitor’s side. So, I think you just run the risk of making your life way harder than it needs to be. So, that’s kind of the point of all this stuff.

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John Maher: All right. Well, that’s really great information, John. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

John McDougall: All right. Good. Talk to you later, John.

John Maher: And check out for more interviews and information on legal marketing. I’m John Maher with John McDougall, and see you next time on Legal Marketing Review.

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