33 Ways to Measure Your Online Competition

Brand new websites with huge ambitions often go after the big fish keyword when, in reality, they are sitting in a rusty, row boat with a wooden stick for a fishing pole.

Sure it’s possible to reach your goal with your elementary resources, nonexistent tools and skewed understanding of how to catch that big fish, but it isn’t likely. If you want to go after keywords that will provide a big return, do your research and invest in the right tools and resources. When you are contemplating pursuing that trophy keyword, you might want to take an in-depth look at your competitors to determine if you really measure up.

For this example, I used 3 simple tools: OpenSiteExplorer.org, SEO for Firefox and the essential Ctrl+F key. Then, I chose one of the most competitive online industries I could think of, online education. You see, when you search for “online education” or “online degrees,” there is a plethora of companies out there doing SEO for these keywords, which makes everything extremely difficult to rank. In this example, we’ll use the keyword “online degrees.”

Key Factors When Comparing Your Website to a Competitor

For the top 10 competitors that rank for this money-making term, I gathered their:

  • PageRank
  • Domain Age
  • Page Authority
  • Domain Authority
  • Linking Root Domains
  • Total Number of Links
  • Number of Indexed Pages
  • Best of the Web Listing
  • Yahoo Directory Listing
  • 10 Most Used Anchor Text
  • Number of Root Domains and Individual Pages Linking with “Online Degrees”

I then analyzed their on-site content and looked to see if they included the keyword in the:

  • Title Tag
  • Meta Description
  • Body of Text
  • Navigation
  • Domain Name

Finding Averages and Percentages from Gathered Data

To compete for the keyword “online degrees,” you need to have a similar website, backlink profile and other data to be included in those top 10 positions. To do this, I found the averages and percentages from all that data I collected above. Below is what I found:

  • The average website PageRank is 6.
  • The average domain age is from 2001.
  • The average page authority is 73.
  • The average domain authority is 68.
  • The average amount of linking root domains is 1595.
  • The average amount of total backlinks is 29642.
  • The average amount of Best of the Web links is 2.
  • The average amount of Yahoo Directory links is 14.
  • 70% of the websites had a “natural looking” backlink profile. ***
  • 60% of the websites had “Online Degrees” as one of the top 10 most used anchor texts.
  • The average amount of root domains linking to a website with “Online Degrees” is 64.
  • The average amount of pages linking to a website with “Online Degrees” is 290.
  • 90% of the websites had the keyword within their title tag.
  • 90% of the websites had the keyword within their meta description.
  • The average number of occurrences of the keyword within the text was 7 times.
  • 40% of the websites had the keyword as a link within their navigation.
  • 30% of the websites had the keyword within their actual domain name.

***I determined a natural backlink profile by looking at their top 10 most used anchor texts, and taking the following into consideration: branding anchor texts, URL anchor texts and long tail anchor texts.

Exceptions and Keeping Everything Relative

When sorting through all this data, there were some websites that stood out. Some focused on particular methods of SEO while others completely ignored other areas. In fact, despite best marketing services, some didn’t even have the keyword on their homepage. One didn’t even have it within the most crucial area, the title tag. There are so many exceptions with SEO, but to get a good understanding of what you’re going up against, you need to find the averages of these important SEO areas and set your sights on having your website compete with those averages.

When creating goals for your SEO efforts, whether it be to have a certain number of domain links, a certain number of anchor text links, or to have an increased page authority within a certain amount of time, you need to make sure it’s relative to your industry.

Don’t Quite Compete? Take Baby Steps & Use the Right Tools

If you don’t have the time, money, knowledge or momentum to catch that trophy keyword, consider other keywords that are more realistic. Look at keywords in your niche where the ranked pages aren’t quite as imposing.

Like I said before, you can’t expect to catch a big fish keyword with a wooden fishing pole and without line and bait. You need the right resources to go after serious keywords. If it’s obvious that your competition has an SEO team, whether in-house or an outsourced digital marketing agency, you might want to do the same. If the keyword(s) you want to rank for is going to be a game changer for your business, consider investing some serious money.

Remember, You Still Need to Perform Keyword Research

If you have a handful of keywords that you’ve sorted through and deem the most valuable, keyword research is that final step to make sure your efforts aren’t going to waste. Once you’ve put yourself up against the websites that already rank, you can then determine whether you think you can get there, too.

Keep your eye on the big picture. Just because the ranked websites have a page rank of 6 or a massive amount of links, doesn’t mean you can’t outrank them. But, if the ranked sites all consistently trump you in just about every area that Google looks at to determine keyword position, you might not want to pursue that keyword quite yet.

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  1. Josh says

    Kevin, some great thoughts here. Too often I talk with the same unrealistic people without an understanding of what it takes or a realistic approach to it. In these sorts of competitive industries it really needs to start with a well crafted online marketing strategy that begins with a well built website. Then with time and consistent effort, it is not unrealistic to rank….just gotta build the right boat and get the right poles on the boat. Great post.

  2. Tony Worrell says

    Kevin, great article. Now, break it down into one sentence that I can use to explain it to a small business owner.

    For example, a real estate investor (new startup) wanted me to make his new site rank for “Real estate”. In 3 months. On page #1!

    After explaining why he really need not rank for that broad term, he became adamant that he did. I ended the conversation saying that even though there were plenty of companies that would take his cash, we weren’t one of them.

    • Glenn Ferrell says

      Good for you Tony ! Most small business owners seem fairly savvy about “scale” and the need to find tightly targeted niches on which to focus. It sounds like your prospect needs to do a little market research and find himself (or herself) a realistic niche on which to focus before plunging into an SEO campaign.

      Maybe we should always start these conversations with questions about the business plan and the marketing plan. If those are is in early stages (or non-existent), suggest doing “Keyword and Competitive Analysis” only, to help bring some real-world research to the marketing plan. That should save him wasted effort as well as provide a foundation for later SEO efforts. Sometimes it makes sense to present our offerings “ala carte”.

    • Kevin Phelps says

      You could go into why it’s too difficult. Why some of that massive traffic just won’t always be relevant to his business and that there are other keywords out there that are not only more realistic, but that would drive much more specific, targeted traffic. Tough situation, some people just don’t understand but I’m sure if he catches the right person, they’d be glad to lead him along for 4-5 months just to take his cash. All because he couldn’t listen to the experts!

      • Tony Worrell says

        Thanks Kevin. I sent him off a month ago after he told me how much he wanted to spend to achieve those results. Some people will never respect our field I guess. Hmmmm!!!

  3. Heather Karennel says

    Hi Kevin,
    Great article, it’s not often that SEO’s look at the big picture and understand what it’s really going to take to compete for a given keyword. Looking at the averages is a really good way to go about it and I agree with the data that you take a look at as well! As Josh says above it gives you the opportunity to be much more realistic about what resource it’s really going to take to get there.

  4. Mark Simon says

    Great analysis & article. You actually only measured the competition 17 ways; 16 of them are duplicates so the title is misleading 😉

  5. Todd says

    Good stuff…good free tools. It’s amazing that after you finally understand all this and implement it, you will have to remain on top of it regularly. I think that is key since rankings for words, as well as Google Search criteria weights change. This is the most expensive part of all…finding the right words, and keeping them relevant.

  6. Adam says

    it very helpful for every SEO Experts to analyze exact keyword competition by following above factors. most of the seo experts focus their views over title, descroption keywords and its repetition in the content of website etc

    this blog provides the an idea to think beyond title and description.

  7. Igor Mateski says

    In your experience, what is the value of Alexa ranking in competitiveness of a website?
    Over the past 3 weeks I built a car customization website for a client, based on WordPress, with most of the on-site SEO settings in place. The texts revolved around 1-3 keyphrases that we’re targeting, and the location of the car customization workshop is almost in every title, and sprinkled in meta-s and content. Images also contain keywords.
    When I started, the site had no Alexa rank. In about a week, it got a 27.xxx Million, namely, Alexa discovered it. Over the following two weeks, it has jumped first 3-4.M every day, and over the last days it’s jumping about 100k positions. Today it’s on 3.7M position.
    I havent done any link building, aside of sporadic tweets, likes and shares, but nothing extensive.
    Over the weekend I build another website, that too started with no Alexa rank, and 4 days later, its now on 16M rank.
    What’s your comment on the Alexa jumping so high so quickly, and what’s the real value of alexa ranking?
    Thanks in advance.

  8. Stephanie Moreno says

    Hello!! I must say that the author has been very influential with this particular topic. In todays business we must be updated with our competetors. And this article perhaps gives the best 33 ways to measure the online competition which help to manipulate our future strategies.


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