How To Do a Basic Competitive Analysis Without Spending a Dime
Check out these free tools to see what your competition is doing
Whether you’re just starting out, or have been in the game for a while, completing a competitive analysis is crucial to finding out what’s happening in your niche, which is paramount to your success. The concept of doing a competitive analysis is pretty simple: find out what your competition is doing, and then figure out a way to do it better. However, there are a million ways of going about it, so it’s important to know what to look for, how to organize the information, and how to then implement a strategy.
How to Find Your Competitors
First and foremost, you have to find out who’s doing it right in your locality. What I mean by that,is, find out who is dominating the search results for your specific practice area and location.
- So, to do this, pick an area of law that you practice (e.g., personal injury, bankruptcy, divorce, etc.), then do a Google search for that type of lawyer in your area. For example, if you practice bankruptcy law from your office in Vernon, NJ, do a Google search for “bankruptcy lawyer in Vernon NJ.” Write down a few people who come up ahead of you in the search results.
(Stay away from the ones that say “Ad” as those are paid listings, and stay away from directory listings, such as Lawyers.com or Thumbtack; we are only looking to compare attorney websites.)
- Now, do the same search, but transpose it, and swap out “lawyer” for “attorney.” So, you would search for “Vernon NJ bankruptcy attorney.” Check out those results, and jot down anyone new who pops into the search results ahead of you.
- For your last search, type in “bankruptcy law firm near me.” Again, record any new attorney websites that appear in the search results ahead of you.
Your goal here should be to find five or six different law firms who are doing well. They will now be your benchmark. To stay organized, you can enter all of your data in this handy Excel Sheet.
What to Look For
Now that you’ve found out who you are competing against, you will need to find out why they are ranking higher than you. There are five key aspects of their digital marketing strategy that you should be researching:
- The content on their website
- The content on their ranking web page
- The number/type of links pointing to their website
- Their local presence
- Their social presence
Why are we focused on these? Because it’s been well documented that links and content are two of the main driving forces behind successful websites and correlate with ranking highly in the search engines. We will also dive into the social media realm, because more than 75 percent of people in the United States have at least one type of social profile. You should be using social media as a tool to connect with them and drive traffic to your website!
Content Discovery, Page Ranking & Website Aspects
This is going to be the most important part of your analysis. As stated above, content has consistently been the biggest driver of authority for a website. The more relative, informative, and engaging content you have ("authority"), the better your website will perform, both in terms of rankings and conversion. So, you need to analyze the depth and the quality of the content on your competitors’ websites so you know what you’re up against. This will also give you some insight as to what Google deems “sufficient.” You’ll be looking at how much content your competitors have on their website, the quality of said content, and then also finding out which page of content on their site ranks for your desired keyword, and breaking down that page. After you compile all of this information, it will paint a picture of what you’ll need to do to succeed.
The first step in this process is to find out how much content the other attorneys have on their sites — and there are a few ways of going about discovering this content. You can either find it manually by literally navigating through the website, or you can use a tool that can scrape (“read”) the website and do the work for you. Either way will work just fine, with the latter option being a bit faster and geared toward those a little more tech savvy.
Manual approach: Start by finding the sitemap. In most cases, you can type in “/sitemap” at the end of the website URL and you will find the HTML sitemap (which is just a list of the pages on the site).
If that doesn’t work, go to the bottom of the homepage and look for a link that says “sitemap.”
If they don’t have a sitemap for their website, then go to the homepage and look for a navigation menu. You can find their pages of content there.
Once you’ve pulled up the sitemap, (or found all the pages via site navigation), look at the page titles to determine how many pages of supporting content (“depth”) the firm has for that specific practice area. If they have a main Bankruptcy page, as well as an additional page on Chapter 13 Bankruptcy and another on Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, they would have a total of three pages of content for bankruptcy.
In the scenario below, the firm has six pages of bankruptcy content:
The tech-savvy approach: The best free tool to use for content discovery is Screaming Frog. The purpose of this tool is to crawl a website quickly and pull back information you can analyze. The only information you’ll need to focus on are the pages of content. Here’s how it works:
- Download and install the free tool [Screaming Frog]
- Enter the website you want to scrape and then click Start
- Now, this is going to pull back a ton of information, most of which you won’t need (and won’t make any sense). Don’t stress. Simply just click over to the “Page Titles” tab at the top
- Next, click on the “Address” column header to sort the column’s data alphabetically
- Find all pages relating to the practice area you are researching, and record the data. This example shows six pages of bankruptcy content
- You have now discovered the amount of content this website has for the practice area. Repeat these steps to find their AOP-relevant blog posts and also record that data. In the example below, they have two blog posts that speak to the practice area of bankruptcy
- Replicate for each attorney website you are analyzing and record the data
Tip: Content is a huge part of the SEO equation, so it’s important to have a strategy when creating it. Use these tools to generate ideas for quality content on your site:
- Google Trends is a fantastic tool to help guide you in your content creation. You can look at the interest over time of a specific search term (2004–present). You can also compare multiple search terms against each other to see which one is more popular right now (e.g., divorce lawyer vs. family lawyer vs. family law attorney). You can then further break down the data by states and regions. Use this to decide what keywords and content you should be targeting.
- Google Search’s Autocomplete. Right from your address bar, you can do a Google search in the Chrome browser. Try it. Start typing something in, and Google will autocomplete with highly searched phrases that match the beginning of your query.
After creating your content, use these tools to make sure your content is unique:
- Siteliner — checks against the content already on your site
- CopyScape — checks against content already available on the web
If everyone who ranks ahead of you has six or more pages of content on a certain practice area, and you only have one, that should be a red flag. Clearly, you need more content on your website to support that practice area. Your goal should be to have more, or at least the same number, of content pages. If they have six pages, you should have at least six. Be careful though, as “thin” content is not something that Google will reward, so make sure your content is focused on a topic and either solves a problem or answers a question.
After you’ve done the analysis, there might also be a scenario in which there is no concrete answer to the “content question.” Some competitors may have only one page, others may have ten pages, while the rest, including yourself, are somewhere in between. Or maybe each of the five competitors you are looking at have the exact same number of pages for the practice area. Do you need to do anything? The answer is yes! Read through their content to see what they are talking about. Then read yours. Whose content answers more questions? Whose content is more engaging? Whose content is easier to read? Whose content covered the topic better? At the end of the day, the answer to those questions needs to be "yours". Don’t be satisfied. Differentiate yourself from the rest. Make sure your content is better.
The next step will be to find the actual page that is ranking on Google for each of your competitors from your keyword search, and then analyze that page. So, go back to where you did your Google search and open up the pages that rank ahead of you.
- How many words are on that page?
- How many times is the keyword mentioned on that page?
- Do you feel the content is “engaging”?
- Is there a strong call to action?
Write down those answers in the sheet for each competitor. This will let you know right away if you have enough content on your page, and if it’s focused enough.
One of the best ways Google can determine if whether your website is reputable or not is by looking at the number of other websites that are linking to it. At a very high level, this makes sense because if you have a "good website," people should be linking to it. So back in the day, this used to be a simple numbers game for Google. The more links you had, the better your website performed. However, once spammers figured this out, they took advantage of this tactic and built hundreds, if not thousands, of links to their websites to help them rank better, whether or not the links came from quality sites. The good news is that after a few years and algorithm updates later, Google got smart and can now determine what a “quality” link is. Google looks at the number of links, the types of links, and the quality of links that point to your website, and is now rewarding those that follow best white-hat practices. The more “good links” that a website has, the better. So, finding out how many links you have compared to your competitors will be important, because you may be behind the eight-ball without even knowing it! But remember, as with content, quantity doesn’t outweigh quality.
This is great, but how do I find these links?
So, when checking to see what links you currently have, what links your competitors have, and what links you eventually might want, you should be looking only for the cream of the crop. Look for link opportunities that:
- will drive traffic to your website
- are reputable in your industry
- are niche-based
- are hyper-local
- can increase brand awareness
Unfortunately, most tools that the SEO community uses to analyze backlinks are based on a paid subscription model, so even though there are a few good ones, they won’t be helpful here. However, there is one free tool out there that is pretty good: Moz’s Open Site Explorer. It offers some basic metrics on your site while also checking your backlinks. The advanced tool will let you compare your competitors’ websites side by side. Take a look:
- Go to Moz’s Open Site Explorer.
- Start by entering your URL, then click “search.”
- On the left-hand side of the page, click “Compare Link Metrics.”
- Add up to four competitor websites to compare stats side by side.
- Once you have run the analysis, you will want to look at the “Total Links” and “Total Linking Root Domains” metrics that Moz provides. Record that data in your spreadsheet.
Tip: This will now give you an idea of how many other websites link to your site as well as your competitors’ sites. The only downside is that you are getting overall numbers - it doesn’t actually show you which websites are linking to you and your competitors (only available in the paid version).
So what are you supposed to do with these metrics?
Use them as a benchmark. See who is ranking ahead of you. If the four guys who are outranking you on Google have many more links than you do, you’ll need to find some link opportunities and get your law firm listed. Start by checking some of the industry’s top legal sites, such as Lawyers.com and Martindale.com. You’ll also want to be listed on local directories such as Google, Bing and Yelp. After that, make sure you are found on your local Chamber of Commerce and State Bar Association websites. Those will be your main focus.
It’s also important to find those niche and hyper-local directories. For example, “businessfinder.nj.com” is a business directory for New Jersey businesses. If you are a lawyer in NJ, you probably want your law firm listed there. There are many link opportunities for each state and/or region; it’s just a matter of finding them. So, do a few searches online for your firm name as well as your competitors’ firms. See what directories and websites come up in Google. Go to those websites and try to claim or add your business listing. Make sure the information is up to date and the profile links back to your website. Another way to find some high-quality link opportunities is to run your law firm through a few local aggregators to see how your information is displayed across the web. We’ll discuss that in the next section.
Having a poor local presence will be detrimental to your SEO campaign. If Google can’t understand where you are located, what services you offer, and what your website URL is, then how could it possibly rank you? That’s why a good local footprint is so important. Your local presence is measured by how consistent your business information (name, address, phone #, website) appears across the web:
- Are you listed on the top local sites?
- Is your information up to date?
- Are your business details consistent from site to site?
By finding out how your website is performing locally, as well as those of your competitors, you’ll have a pretty clear picture of where you can improve. Here are a few tools that you can use to check on your local “score” as well as your competitors’.
- Go To Moz Local.
- Enter your business name and zip code, and click “Check My Business Listing.”
- Click on your business listing to see your score.
- Record your current score, and then check your competitors.
- If you scroll down past your score, you will see a series of tabs. This is where you can see how well your business is represented online: it will show you inconsistent, duplicate and missing data. You will want to go out and find these listings on the individual sites, and try to update them if possible.
You can also use Yext’s Business Scan to see your local score:
- Go to Yext.com, enter your business information, and click “Scan Now.”
- Yext will check your information across the web and spit out an error rate for you. It will also list where your business information is listed incorrectly. This is another great way to see how consistent your information is across the web. Again, use this as a benchmark to see where you are and where your competitors are.
Aside from just having your information correct across the web, you should also be concerned with how well you “appear” to local users. Do you seem reputable? Are people satisfied with your service? What have people said about your firm recently?
That is the power of reviews and why reviews are so important for your business. If all else is equal, what do you think will be the differentiating factor when someone is trying to decide between you and the attorney down the street? REVIEWS!! You need to find all of your reviews and then compare them to all of your competitors’ reviews to see how you stack up. There is no automated way to do this, so roll up your sleeves to manually check reviews on the following sites:
Tip: It's also best practice to respond to all reviews, good and bad. You need to show appreciation for those who have taken the time to speak highly of you as well as respond to those who’ve posted negative reviews. This is a whole separate topic, which we covered in a webinar and two other blog posts:
Social signals don’t have any direct influence on SEO and rankings (yet), but being active on social media can help drive traffic to your website and help build your brand. So, it’s super-important for you to get social, and do it right, which means don’t “set it and forget it.” Connect with your fans on a weekly, or even daily, basis by sharing business updates, industry news, and other great stories going on in your vertical. It’s important to provide them with quality content so they continue to engage with you, and it’s also essential to know what your competitors are doing so you can do it better. If they are posting once a week, you need to post twice a week. If they post three or four times a week, then maybe you need to post every day. You need to create a reason for people to follow you instead of the others. And you can do that by making sure the content you are providing is relevant and engaging.
Unfortunately, there’s no free automated tool that can compare your account with your competitor’s accounts across all of the social networks at once. This again will require some manual labor, but it’s pretty easy. You want to research three basic items:
- total account likes/followers
- post frequency
- engagement per post*.
Once you have those numbers, you will know what you need to do to conquer the social realm.
*To calculate “engagement per post,” take a look at your competitor's last 10 posts and add up the total “engagements.” If their last 10 posts accumulated 114 likes, 10 comments, and 2 shares, then they had 126 engagements on those 10 posts, which would amount to 12.6 engagements per post. Next, look at their engagement rate, which is simply their engagement per post (which you just figured out) divided by their total page “likes.” So if their page has 600 likes, their engagement rate would be 2.1 percent. This number tells you what percentage of people who follow their account engage with their posts (on average).
Tip#1: Not sure how to get started with social media? Check out Social Starter, a program developed to scour the internet for relevant articles in your practice area, and, with your help, publish those articles to your social profiles. It’s a great way to get the conversation started.
Tip #2: Facebook has a great tool built into the business page, under the Insights tab, called “Pages To Watch.” This is where you can do a side-by-side comparison of your Facebook page and your competitors’ Facebook pages. This is a great way to keep up to date of everyone's activity on a weekly basis and moving forward. Note: you must have at least 100 page followers for this option to be available.
After collecting all of your data, find the biggest area in which you can improve and start with that. Keep in mind that you can’t do it all in one day, and that it will also take time for search engines to recognize changes, so be patient.
You can’t go at it blindly. For marketing strategy success, focus on these two points:
- What successful attorneys in your space are doing
- What works in your niche
Take the information you learn from these two items and apply it to your site, but do it better!
I would also suggest looking at your competitors' sites to find design aspects you like, and then work with your webmaster to add them on your site. Your focus here should be on client conversion. Whether it’s a bold banner image, a sidebar ratings widget, or a floating contact us form, if you think it will help convert a consumer, it might be worth adding. Don’t just copy what others are doing —see what they are doing and do it better!