Why does my competitor rank higher than me in SERPs? How are they achieving this and what am I missing?

Ranking highly in SERPs is vital to the health of your company so you therefore need to continuously analyse the competition.

You’re in luck – this post will give you a head start to finding the answers to these questions via a list of 10 criteria that are crucial to conducting an SEO competitor analysis. It’s the perfect remedy for some industry-specific, fresh, new strategies to boost your organic rankings. These criteria can also be applied in the development of a website to build a strong foundation even before it launches.

Whether you’re in charge of your website’s SEO or a third-party SEO expert does it for you, blindly following basic SEO best practices is not enough. If you fired a gun in the general direction of the target would you expect it to hit the bullseye?

A foolproof strategy always involves in-depth competitor analysis that helps you focus on SEO factors that are crucial for your industry and your site, rather than following generic principles.

Owing to the importance of SEO competitor analysis, WooRank includes the option to make comparative competitor website reviews when you have a subscription. WooRankers, you can use this for the basis of your in-depth competitive analysis (but don’t worry, we’ll give you other options as well).

To keep track of your findings you may want to prepare yourself an excel sheet – put the following 10 criteria on the Y axis, and your site and competitor sites on the X. Then you can jot notes for quick reference later!

Now let’s take a look at these all-important competitive SEO analysis criteria:

1. Usability

Search engines like Google give high regard to sites with a rich user-experience. If your competitors’ sites contain elements of usability that affect their search ranking (either up or down), this can be a good way to benchmark your site and improve upon it. Specifically, consider the following aspects of usability:

  • Page load time
  • Cross browser compatibility
  • Custom 404 pages
  • Broken links
  • Trust elements on the site
  • User-friendly navigation
  • Call-to-action characteristics
  • Typography

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2. Web Page Layout and Site Structure

Since 2014, when Google released its page layout algorithm that affected one percent of search queries, websites must now place high importance on page layout for SEO. For instance, sites with a good SERP position tend to have no (or very few) above-the-fold ads. Highly-ranked websites also tend to use CSS grid systems and responsive designs to enrich the user-experience of the site on mobile.

Site structure is not limited to the visual layout, but important factors also include the URL structure, navigational structure and internal linking structure.

List out these page layout criteria and compare your site with your competitors’ to find out how well you’re doing.

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3. Test the Technology Used to Create the Site

Learn what CMS is used or what web development platform your competitors’ sites are built with. Some website platforms do a good job of optimizing most on-page SEO factors. Other technical elements, such as the hosting server, also have an effect on site SEO to a certain extent. If a website’s hosting server is not reliable the user experience of the site is affected, which will have a direct impact on the overall SERP ranking as well.

WooRank uptime monitoring

Also, when servers have access to the cloud infrastructure site speed is normally increased, which also improves usability and consequently the SERP position of the site.

Check your competitors’ site technologies with a WooRank Advanced Review, as shown in the sample screenshots below:

Technologies Criteria On WooRank Website Review

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4. Keyword Consistency

Check how consistently and frequently keywords are used on your competitors’ websites compared to your own. Are their target keywords present in the main on-page elements, such as title, description, headers and image alt attributes?

A quick WooRank website review will shed some light on this criteria.

Keyword Consistency Criteria On WooRank Website Review

Keywords Consistency Criteria On a WooRank Website Review

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5. Check For an XML Sitemap and Robots.Txt File

Check if your competitors have an XML Sitemap and a robots.txt file on their website. This can be done with a quick WooRank review, as shown in the sample screenshot below, or by going to www.domainname.com/robots.txt and www.domainname.com/sitemap.xml. If you cannot find the sitemap this way you can try looking in the robots.txt file – a well organized site should list their sitemap(s) in their robots.txt file as well.

XML Sitemap and Robots Txt Check On WooRank Website Review

These elements aid in the fast and efficient indexing of a site. Sites can be indexed without them owing to Google’s improved algorithms, however, it is best practice to provide this information to the search bots.

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6. Backlink and Traffic Analysis

These 10 criteria are in no specific order, but if I were to order them in terms of importance this criteria would certainly be among the top three. There are many places your competitors may be building links from other than those suggested in the 10 link building strategies we discussed in one of our other blog posts on WooRank. You cannot assume that links from the standard sites (business directories, blog commenting, etc.) will give you a higher search ranking, but discovering niche sites from your competitors’ back linking profiles can be fruitful.

How To Do SEO Link Audits

Need help analyzing the quality of your backlinks? Click here for your FREE SEO Guide

A competitor WooRank Advanced Review can show you a list of authoritative links pointing to your website and three of your competitors’ sites, as shown in the sample below:

Backlink Analysis With a WooRank Website Review

If you’d prefer not to use a tool to check the backlinks of a site, you can always use a handy “site” search operator in Google by typing site:www.xyz.com in the search bar. This will show you all the pages linking to yours.

Next, you’ll want to compare the traffic volume, reach and popularity of your competitor websites using the tools mentioned below.

Website Traffic Analysis On WooRank Website Review

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7. Rich Snippets

Rich snippets are search results that include extra data in the snippet that appears in SERPs. This may be a rating, images, videos or other extra content, similar to the example below:

Example of a rich search snippet

Providing rich snippets in search results gives searchers more information about a particular website than a regular, unoptimized snippet. If you search for any given keyword on Google, you will often find that the top 10 results have been optimized with rich snippet elements. There’s a good chance your competitors have already implemented it – have you? Take notes from your competitor sites on the ways in which they have implemented rich snippets (what information they have chosen to provide) – as it has probably improved their search ranking and click-through rates.

The best way to compare your competitors’ rich snippets is with simple Google searches.

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8. Content Analysis

There are many content-based criteria that can be compared between sites; the length of the content, keyword usage, language and grammar, videos and images, headings, navigation, whether there is a blog associated with the websites, how often the blog is updated, social media connections to the content and the presence of promotional offers. Check how many ads are displayed on the websites, and compare the text-to-html ratio of the content as well.

Next take a look at the structure of the content used in the meta titles and meta descriptions throughout the site. Is there unique content on each page (recommended)? How many keywords do they use in them? Do they use brand names or keywords or both?

Take a look at the following criteria from a sample WooRank website review that give you a good idea of the SEO-impact of the content on your site and three of your competitors’ sites:

Title tag comparison:

Meta Title Comparison On WooRank Website Review

Meta description comparison:

Meta Description Comparison On WooRank Website Review

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9. Top Ranking Keywords

When talking about who ranks higher in SERPs, a major consideration should be the keywords that your competitor sites rank for.

Research the following things about your competitors’ sites:

  • Top ranking keywords.
  • SERP position for sets of ranking keywords.
  • Volume of searches for the keywords.
  • Number of short-tail and long-tail keywords.
  • Number of location-specific keywords.
  • Ad positioning on search engines for top-ranking keywords.

Shown below is a sample screenshot of a WooRank's Keyword Tool including competitor rankings:

Keyword Tool tracking competitor rankings

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10. Measure Social Media Reach

This is yet another important factor that gives you deeper insight into why your competitors might rank higher than you in SERPs. Social media signals can contribute significantly to website ranking, especially since the introduction of Google+.

Check which social media sites your competitors are visible on, their level of engagement on these sites, their number of followers/fans and how often they interact with their followers on each platform. Also check the average number of mentions they get over a period of time on social media.

You can see a quick social media influence analysis of your site against your competitors' sites with a WooRank review, as shown in the sample screenshot below:

WooRank Social Media Engagement comparison

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These are the main criteria you should consider for an SEO competitive analysis of your site. Once you have all the comparative study data, determine which factors are missing or could be improved on your site, and start to implement changes based on what might have the most impact. A good competitive SEO analysis lays a strong foundation for building a fantastic and long-lasting website structure.

Let us know if you have any interesting or unexpected findings after completing your competitive SEO analysis. Or, have you benefited in the past from completing a competitive SEO analysis? If so, which criterion was the most critical to improve?