Competitive Analysis: I Don’t Have to Outrun the Lion, I Just Have to Outrun You

In my opinion one of the biggest mistakes SEO’s make is chasing the Google Algorithm. They focus mostly in part on trying to figure out the next big thing that Google will value, and lose sight of not only the user, but the competitive landscape as well; both of which is what SEO’s should focus their attention towards.

Two guys are in the jungle when they see a lion running towards them. Frantically, one of the men starts putting on his running shoes.

Surprised, the other man says ” What are you thinking, you can’t outrun a lion!”

“I don’t have to outrun the lion,” said the man, ” I just have to outrun you.”

Focusing on the competitive landscape is what SEO’s should be basing their recommendations and executions on, and not what someone says is “important” for Google.

We as SEO’s can give general guidelines for best practices and doing SEO with white hat tactics (which give the best chance of a site’s SEO program driving traffic and conversions), but coupled with those tactics it is important to know what the competitive set is doing. Rand had a great Whiteboard Friday titled “I’m Being Outranked by a Spammer”. (video below)

The most common forms of spam and the thing that I see people complain about all the time, the thing I get emails about, I get tweets about, we get Q&A about is, “Hey, Rand, I am being outranked by these spammers. Can you send this over to the Google webspam team? Can you tell the Bing webspam team? Who should I email over there? I filed my webspam reports. -@randfish

In the above video Rand talks about what do do if you have done a competitive analysis and found that the sites who rank above you in the search results have got there by doing black hat or gray hat SEO. He talks about ways in which you can take their low quality SEO tactics and turn them into white hat, high value tactics to pull ahead of them in the rankings.

What SEO’s should remember is that Google probably does not value the same things for each type of site. For example, ecommerce sites might play by a different set of value rules than content websites. Google might say that social metrics and domain authority is a better indication of value and rankings than total number of links or anchor text for ecommerce sites.

Types of Competitive Audits

Once you have your keyword list you are ready to start a competitive analysis for the defined set of keywords. We use the SEOmoz toolset for part of our analysis, as it gives some great link data.


There are many resources about doing a content audit.

These types of audits will help uncover things such as:

  • Content value
  • Types of content
  • Keyword analysis
  • Keyword diversity
  • Top content based on links, shares, and other SEO metrics

Competitive Link Audit
Competitive link audits will help determine what tactics the competitive is using to help them rank. It will uncover how they are acquiring their links, and give you the opportunity to take what they have done and do it better.

Competitive link audits will uncover:

  • How they are building links
  • Anchor text being used
  • A list of the top sites and pages on those sites that your competition is getting a link from
  • Domain and page metrics
  • Gives you the ability to reverse engineer your competitions link graph
  • Gives you a prioritized list (based on value) of which sites to reach out to first
  • Helps you understand “why” a site is relevant for a specific keyword

Competitive Social Audit
With the search engines investing in understanding the social sphere and what it all means in terms of “value”, doing a competitive audit of a sites social interactions is becoming more important as well.

Doing a competitive social audit can uncover things such as:

  • Content that is being shared the most
  • Type of content you should create
  • Community size and reach
  • Ideas for articles that can be written (and done better) than what the competition has done

Doing these three audits will help you understand the competitive landscaping for keywords that you want to rank for. It will give you specific tactics that you can use to your advantage to match what the sites above you are doing well, and also take some of the low value tactics they have undertaken for their SEO and do them in a white hat, high value way.

Understanding the competitive landscape will actually give you insight into what Google is valuing for the business vertical you are in (to an extent), and gives you the insights into what it will take to rank for your keyword set.