Advanced ways to use competitive research in SEO

One of my favorite aspects of SEO is diving into competitive research. It’s illuminating and produces many strategic ideas and content topics. Clients always love seeing insights about how they stack up against their rivals.

There are a few standard, check-box steps SEOs take for competitive research, plus a few less orthodox methods that have proven useful for me and my clients over the years. These include:

  • Product/business reviews
  • SparkToro
  • Reddit
  • Analysis of your competitors’ owned media

First, let’s review what SEOs should be using (with a couple of bonus use cases).

You likely know this list: Ahrefs, BuzzSumo and Semrush.


Ahrefs is a great source of info for: 

  • Search traffic.
  • Paid traffic. 
  • Trends over time.
  • Search engine ranking for keywords.
  • Topics and categories your competitors are writing content for.
  • Top pages.
  • And more.

I also like to use Ahrefs for a couple of more advanced initiatives: 

High-level batch analysis

This a very fast overview of backlinks for any list of URLs you enter. 

This can give you ideas about outreach (or content written strategically to appeal to these outlets) for your backlinks strategy. 

Reverse-engineering a competitor’s FAQs

This lets you see potential important topics to address with your brand’s differentiators in mind

To do this, go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, drop in a competitor domain, and then go to the Organic Keywords report. 

From here, you’ll want to filter out non-question keywords. The result is a good list of questions from actual users in your industry. 


BuzzSumo sends you alerts about where your competitors receive links from their public relations and outreach efforts. 

This is the same idea as the batch analysis, but it’s more real-time and gives you good insights into your competitors’ current priorities.


Semrush is a super-useful tool for competitive research. 

The domain vs. domain tool to see what keywords competitors rank for with associated metrics. You can get insights on competitor keywords, ad copy, organic and paid listings, etc. 

Armed with all of this research, a fun content play I like to suggest to clients is “{client} vs. {competitor}” pieces, particularly once you have some differentiators fleshed out to play up in your content. 

You might not rank above your competitor just by using their brand name. Still, if you’re a challenger taking on bigger brands, it’s a good way to borrow their brand equity.

With this angle, I’ve gotten some great first-page rankings and reached users with buying intent.

Dig deeper: How to analyze your SEO competitors and find opportunities

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Product and business reviews

Product/service or brand reviews for your competitors are a great way to find problems you can address with your content and related metadata, particularly if those weaknesses are relative strengths for your client.

Poor customer service? Consider a blog on why {client} customer service is key to their growth. 

Missing a key feature that users are craving?

Even if it’s not part of your brand’s offering yet, the competitive research you can bring, along with suggestions for your client’s roadmap that they can play up in top-of-funnel content, will be extremely well received by the product team.

Along with Google reviews, Yelp is a great resource for local businesses. Capterra and sites like G2 are super-useful for B2B and SaaS companies.

Dig deeper: How customer reviews can improve your SEO efforts


You can use the rich audience insights from SparkToro to analyze your own brand’s users – what they talk about and where they engage.

But it’s also fair game to use it to identify what your competition’s users are doing. 

You can see that SparkToro’s data leads to a wealth of keyword and content ideas. The related sites and accounts visited provide a nice halo of interests you may be able to address more directly with your brand.


If you’re a challenger brand trying to take market share from a bigger fish, you may find that the brand itself has its own subreddit (as in this NerdWallet example). 

If not, you’ll still likely be able to find competitive insights by searching for your competitor in more general subreddits, e.g., “nerdwallet” in a credit card subreddit.

Perhaps as much as product reviews, Reddit is extremely fertile territory for brand insights and questions you can address with your SEO strategy. 

It might be a bit of a thorny landscape, but posts that have drawn a lot of engagement are good starting points for content ideas that will resonate with your end users.

Dig deeper: 5 must-know Reddit Ads tactics for B2B marketers

Owned media competitor analysis

This is where you can really roll up your sleeves and find growth opportunities. Start with a SERP analysis to do basic “query to landing page” mapping, but don’t stop there. 

  • Evaluate the site’s information architecture and structure. 
  • Analyze blogs, case studies, and other ungated content to find themes. 
  • Sign up for newsletters and analyze them as you get them. 
  • Watch social media profiles to see real-time trends and topics under discussion. 
  • Go through the user journey and/or sign-up process to assess strengths, weaknesses, and competitive positioning. 

All of this research should directly inform projects like a content gap analysis.

This is not just a list of keywords where your competitors are ranking and you need to develop content, but a list of blue-sky opportunities you can address first. 

You may even find that while competitors rank well for highly competitive keywords, there’s room for a land grab through a differentiated approach that aligns with your brand.

Dig deeper: Search competition: Who are you really competing with?

Gather competitive insights, then take action

Presenting the competitive insights to clients and/or management teams in a digestible package is a good start (and may make it all the way up to the executive team for strategic planning purposes). 

Where the rubber really meets the road is when you make strong recommendations for how to use the insights you’ve gathered. 

Aim for takeaways like:

  • “{Competitor} is great at x, so I suggest we target y.”
  • “{Competitor} is less popular with {audience}, which would likely engage with content on {topic}.” 

Ultimately, your client/teammates should be able to use your insights to glean an understanding of the market and align with you on priorities for initiatives to expand their footprint. 

Executed well, those initiatives will put you and your team in a great position when it’s time for performance reviews or contract renewals.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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