An Actionable Framework for Evaluating Competitors

Components of the Evaluation:

  1. Website Quality
  2. Search Presence
  3. Social Media Presence

Each of these components can (and will) be broken into more specific pieces. For now, know that we’ll evaluate based on the above.

Website Quality

Website quality is the most important measure of how successful an internet-focused business will be. Websites directly affect both conversions and search presence. Unfortunately, website quality is also the most difficult component to measure. To do so, we will need to turn to something called a heuristic evaluation, which is a fancy term for a UX test. This test cannot be performed automatically and must be performed by a single person, which is a bit of a pain.

We don’t have any real recommendation here. Google “Heuristic Analysis,” pick your favorite, and run through your own website and a competitor’s. This will provide a baseline for how helpful users will find your website to be. The more helpful, the more likely users will take positive actions (those that contribute to your bottom line). The trend goes both ways, however.

We cannot overstate how important it is that your website be accommodating to users. Search and social media presence is nice, but your website is where your users put their money where their mouth is (figuratively and literally).

Search Presence

Search presence is important insofar as people use Google to help them solve their problems. I’ll focus more on organic presence, since paid presence is easier to evaluate. The process for evaluating both is extremely similar, though.

There can be two goals when evaluating search presence, both organic and paid:

  1. Discover competitors (by seeing which businesses appear for keywords that you rank for or would like to rank for)
  2. Evaluate competitors (by assessing where these competitors appear for your most important terms)

Automated tools, such as SEMrush, are excellent at discovering competitors. However, to successfully audit a competitor, SEMrush is only as useful as you are good at determining which keywords are truly important.

How to Determine What Keywords to Look for

If we are going to evaluate competitors based on keyword rankings, we’ll be shooting blind unless we single out the keywords that are the most relevant and important. We are going to go over exactly how to do that.

Step 1: List Unique Services

Think about your business and what services it offers. For every service that is unique, list it. Make a tree of them. We’ll use our own business as an example:

  • Digital marketing
    • SEO
    • PPC management
    • Social media management/marketing
      • Facebook
      • Twitter
      • LinkedIn, etc.
    • Reputation management
  • Web design
    • Web development
    • WordPress web development
    • Website redesigns
  • Web hosting
    • Managed WordPress hosting

These services will provide the base for the keywords we’ll work with.

Step 2: Identify 3 Variations of Each Keyword Type

Behind every phrase is a question. This is true even for search phrases that don’t contain a question, such as a search containing only the word “SEO.” Finding out the question behind each search and understanding what type of page will best satisfy that question is an important part of being a good SEO.

There are three keyword types, and they are presented here in order of least to most important.

  1. Awareness/discovery
    1. Example: “What is SEO?” or “How can I get more people to my website?”
      1. The searcher is simply looking to learn more about what SEO is. They have no grasp of how it benefits their business, let alone what it does.
    2. Consideration
      1. Example: “How does SEO help hairdressers” or “Is marketing good for small business”
        1. The searcher knows what SEO is and is looking for ways specific ways that the industry will benefit them personally. This searcher is closer to making a purchase than the first one.
      2. Decision
        1. Example: “How much do SEO services cost?”
          1. By this point, it’s clear that the searcher intends to make a purchase. The only things left to sort out are (potentially) who they will buy SEO services from and what it will cost them.

These keywords are for each step of the buyer’s journey, if you haven’t already noticed.

Make a few keywords for each service the business has, and follow the guidelines above to determine some keywords for each step of the buyer’s journey. By focusing on keywords later in the buyer’s journey, you’ll be able to focus on keywords/phrases that you actually want to rank for much better. This is better than comparing simple, transactional phrases like “seo” or “SEO Cincinnati”

Organic Search Presence

Discover Competitors

Discovering competitors using search stuff is simple. Just open up an Excel sheet and Google all the phrases you’ve collected. If you see a business appear twice or more for a specific phrase, add them to the list. These are your competitors.

Rank Competitors

What you’ll want to do next (although tedious) is do lots and lots of Google searches to understand where you fall in relation to your competitors for terms you’d like to rank for.

You’ll likely have to do this manually, but we have specialized tools that help with it.

Paid Search Presence

We’re generalizing here, but the gist of it is that you want to rank for paid search for the same keywords you’ll want to rank for in organic. They sort of work together.

PPC can help you verify that you’ve categorized your keywords correctly. In general, the higher a keyword’s average CPC (which SEMrush shows), the closer towards the end of the buyer’s journey it falls. This isn’t an absolute rule, but you’ll find it suits most occasions.

Social Media Presence

Thankfully, this one is easy, since we’ve already determined our competitors.

With the exception of ads, there are exactly two things we care about when it comes to our competitors’ social media presence: the size of their following and their engagement rate. If you ask me, I say that engagement rate is much more important than the number of followers, though you need followers to have engagement. So maybe they’re equally important at first.

Facebook ad performance is also important, but we don’t run ads, so that’s moot. I’ll point out if our competitors are, though, as that’s an edge. Recently, Facebook made it so you could see what ads any business was running, which is really cool and can help us a lot if we move in that direction.

Following Size

This one’s easy. Using SEMrush, you can find out the size of everyone’s social media following. I suggest we focus on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in that order. Ignore everyone else, unless your business is very visual, such as a restaurant. In that case, I’d replace LinkedIn with Instagram. The more followers, the better.

Engagement Rate

The engagement rate, or how often users interact with posts made by a page, is very important. Unfortunately, SEMrush won’t outright tell us this, though it’s simple enough to find out. SEMrush will tell us how many people engaged with a page over a certain period of time, but they won’t tell you that number compared to how many likes a page has. If a page has 50 likes and 40 engagements per week, that’s a lot different than 10,000 likes and 40 engagements. So we’ll use a percentage, which will just be engagements divided by total likes. That will give us a percentage. The first page referenced above has an 80% engagement rate, whereas the second one has a 0.4% engagement rate. Need I say more?

Or, Hire Us!

By taking all of these things and putting them together, not only can you determine who your competitors are, you can determine how they beat you in the various internet marketing disciplines we so love to mess with.

If this seems like a lot to you, that’s because it is. But it’s what we do, so if you need help, we’re here!


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