With paid advertising getting more and more expensive every single year, investing in long-term growth channels that return compounding results is the best way to set your firm up for success.
The Value of Performing an SEO Competitor Analysis
SEO for attorneys is hyper-competitive. It is also the only channel that delivers compounding growth over time. No other channel can do this like organic traffic from search engines can.
Because of that, the best personal injury firms out there are routinely evaluating their competition to uncover what strategies and tactics they’re using to understand what’s working and, more importantly, what isn’t.
Analyzing the competition enables us to spot and defend against up-and-coming competitors while also exploiting lucrative opportunities that others have found. Even better, when we reverse engineer what’s working for them, we can replicate it and enjoy that same success without sinking nearly as much of your budget to get there as they did.
Benefits of an SEO Competitor Analysis:
- Identify and exploit weaknesses
- Replicate your competitor’s strengths
- Plan and prioritize where to focus your budget for SEO
- Give you a gauge of how competitive certain areas of the business are
The first time we conduct a competitor analysis the goal is to establish a baseline. To see where you stand relative to others so you have something to measure against over time as you begin to make progress.
And that second part is key — progress must be measured over time.
Successful results from SEO for attorneys won’t happen overnight. If it were easy to rank on Google, everyone would do it (and no one would use Google because it would devolve into spam). Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t dominating the rankings and map pack within 180 days of seriously investing in SEO.
Instead, measure how far you’ve come. Get a gauge on how quickly you’re catching up or, if you’re already an established firm, how wide of a margin are you maintaining against those behind you.
Note, this article is about analyzing the competition from an SEO perspective. It does not cover a more broad (and often more diluted) approach that marketing analysis takes.
Direct vs Indirect Competitors
The first thing to do is find out who your competitors on search are. This isn’t as simple as listing out who you think your competitors are, that’s subjective and often incorrect. You’re likely going to list out the firms you don’t like, want to beat, or the ones that are just most well known.
Instead, we have to think about the differences between direct and indirect competitors while also restricting it to the scope of search engines.
Direct competitors are the easiest to recognize. These are the other businesses that offer the same services as you, to the same clients, and within the same market (or operating area).
Practical Example: McDonald’s directly competes with Burger King. They both serve fast food with their primary offering being burgers and fries.
Indirect competitors are those that can serve as a substitution for your services to the same audiences in the same market.
Practical Example: McDonald’s indirectly competes with Taco Bell. They both serve fast food and compete for the same market: people who are hungry and want food quickly.
Now, you may think that you don’t have any substitutions in for your market because the only people who can offer what you provide are other firms that take on personal injury cases.
And that would be true if we were only considering our competition for bottom-of-funnel leads.
When we think about the competitive landscape on Google, the competitor landscape expands very quickly. For example, a personal injury firm would probably want to rank highly whenever someone searched for something like slip and fall at work.
The websites ranking for that term are your competitors. This will include both your direct and indirect competitors.
The website ranking #1 is one of our clients (a personal injury law firm primarily operating in Florida but with offices in 4 other states) but the websites we have to compete with day in and day out are not our direct competitors.
One operates out of Chicago, one out of Massachusetts, and one of them isn’t even a law firm!
In the world of SEO, the goal is to get people to click on your website when they search for something. Any other website that they can click on is a competitor—even if they’re not a law firm.
Finding Your Competitors
To find your competitors, we start by building a list of search terms you want to rank for. It’s best to start with terms that are geographically specific because the cases you want are likely those that come from people in states you’re licensed to practice in.
We’ll brainstorm a list of things people might search for if they needed to hire a personal injury attorney. We also want to find terms that have a healthy amount of search volume as well.
We use Ahrefs to do this. We start by entering our primary location + lawyer and location + attorney into Keywords Explorer.
- clearwater lawyer
- clearwater attorney
We then scan the results to see which terms are relevant to us and have the most search volume per month.
When we ignore terms related to family law, bankruptcy, criminal, and real estate we see the most searched for variations of our primary keywords are things like:
- clearwater personal injury lawyer
- clearwater car accident attorney
- clearwater injury attorney
- clearwater car accident lawyer
- clearwater personal injury attorney
- auto accident attorney clearwater
- clearwater truck accident lawyer
Note: It’s worth checking to see whether or not your target audience searches for lawyer or attorney more often so you can plan your content and messaging strategy accordingly.
If we take those keywords and feed them back into Ahrefs we can begin checking the search result pages of Google to see who’s ranking.
We like to use the Traffic share by domains report to get a quick overview of what the competitive landscape looks like:
In doing so, we can see that our client is currently leading everyone else with 22% of the market share for our set of keywords with The Injury Lawyers, Roman Gaynor, and, Burnetti coming in 2nd–4th.
If you don’t have access to Ahrefs and want to do this on your own, open up Google and search for each keyword. Record which websites are ranking in the top 10 positions in a spreadsheet (we recommend Google Sheets over Excel since it’s easier to collaborate with others).
Note: When searching from a computer or phone, Google will show you results that are relevant to your location. This isn’t a problem when your keywords have a location modifier but can be tricky if you have an office you want to evaluate in a nearby city. If that’s the case, search for your keywords from Chrome on a desktop device using the Chrome Extension to mimic the search results a person would see if they searched from that location.
If you really want to broaden your search results and capture more traffic, try searching for terms that are location-specific to discover who your competitors are there. This will enable you to understand who you’re competing with at the local, regional, and national levels.
Collecting Competitor Data
The next thing we do is collect as much SEO data about our primary competitors as we possibly can. We want to know what keywords they rank for and in what positions, how many websites have endorsed them (what we call referring domains and backlinks), and an estimate of how much traffic they get each month.
We use Ahrefs Batch Analysis to do this but other SEO tools would work as well. We input the domains (including our own) into the Batch Analysis tool and set the target mode to *.domain/* so we capture as much data related to the domain as possible.
The primary stats we’re interested in here are:
- Domain Rating (DR): You can think of this as a score. The higher the better. It’s measured logarithmically though, so the distance between 10 and 20 is an order of magnitude greater.
- Keywords: This tells us how many keywords the website ranks for.
- Traffic: An estimate of the traffic the website gets monthly from Google.
- Number of Referring Domains: A count of how many unique websites have endorsed the target website (like votes, the more votes the better).
- Number of Backlinks: A count of how many times our target website has been endorsed.
Note: One referring domain could be linking to our target website many times.
Keyword Rankings & Finding Opportunities
Keywords drive traffic from Google to websites. By uncovering what keywords are driving the most traffic to our competitors we can look for opportunities they’ve tapped into that we haven’t.
The first place we like to look is in the Top Pages report for each domain within Ahrefs. By default, the report sorts the list of pages based on which have the most organic traffic.
Traffic is great, value is better. To find out which pages are driving the most value to a competitor’s website, we sort the list by Value.
In doing so, we see that the page ranking for personal injury lawyer st. petersburg fl when from being #3 on the list to #1.
To really leverage the data we collect on our competitor’s keywords we use Ahrefs Content Gap report.
This tool allows us to input competitor domains and returns all the keywords they rank for but that our client’s website does not.
After running the report, we can see that there are 538 keywords where at least one competitor ranks in the top 10 that we don’t. We then export this data into a spreadsheet and begin analyzing which keywords we might actually want to compete for. For example, we may want to rank for something like florida highway patrol accident report but not for bar meaning since it’s unlikely to ever drive our client any meaningful injury leads.
Analyzing Referring Domains & Backlinks
Calculating Link Growth
When websites link to your website it provides a signal to Google that you can be trusted. They’re like votes. Not all votes are counting equal though. When a website with a lot of trust (i.e. has a lot of links itself from other trusted websites) links to yours, it sends Google a positive signal. When a website with a lot of links from untrustworthy sites links to you, Google will typically just ignore it.
The total number of backlinks isn’t the only thing to look at here though. You’ll want to understand the velocity at which your competitors are getting links from other websites.
There are two quick ways to do this in Ahrefs. The first is to input the competitor’s domain into Ahrefs Site Explorer and visit the Overview report.
From there, you’ll see a graph that shows you how many referring domains and backlinks they’ve built each month.
When we need to calculate link velocity ad hoc, we filter the graphs to only show the date for One year and then calculate the difference from today and one year ago.
Why We Do This: We do this for each competitor to get an idea of how many links we’ll need to build each month to either catch-up or stay ahead as well.
For more competitive markets, we use an advanced method to break down velocity, anchor text ratios, and other complex metrics. This more advanced approach also gives us a way to forecast how much budget will be needed to catch up within a certain number of months.
Uncovering Linkable Assets
Building links is hard and expensive. The fastest and most affordable way to build links is to create content that people actually want to link to. We call these linkable assets.
At this point, we like to look well beyond our local competitors and into the broader market to find out which pages drive the most links to their website. In doing so, we’re able to determine what types of content people will be more likely to link to if we reach out to them or promote it on social or with PR.
For example, if we look at All Law we look for pages relevant to personal injury to see that topics like personal injury lawyer fees, personal injury calculator, and how wrongful death lawsuits work have driven a lot of links to their site.
Repeating this across our competitor’s websites as well as industry publications, we can pick which topics we want to cover on our own website to help drive links.
Assessing Content Velocity
In addition to backlink velocity, we like to examine content velocity: how much content is the competition producing within a given period of time.
To do this we use Screaming Frog to crawl and extract the XPATH for the publish date of the competitor’s website in bulk.
We can then export this data into a spreadsheet, filter it down within the past 12 months, and then plot out how much content they produce each month, quarter, year, etc.
Why We Do This: We do this so we can understand how much content we should be producing to remain competitive as well. This gives us a baseline. In the next step, we’ll examine quality because it doesn’t matter if a competitor is publishing 20 articles per month if they’re all low quality.
Assessing Content Quality
Assessing the quality of a competitor’s content will keep you from spending more money than you need pumping out articles on your blog. In general, it’s best to focus on quality over quantity. Your legal blog isn’t a publication, it’s a library. A library people find when they are looking for answers.
There are a few ways to gauge content quality. At a high level, we can take a look at three core metrics:
- How much value is the article generate for the site?
- How much traffic is the article bring to the site?
- How many keywords is the article rank for?
We use Screaming Frog + the Ahrefs API to answer all three of these questions and then plot them in a spreadsheet.
Here we can see that this competitor produced an average of 6 articles per month (median of 5) and has been more prolific in the last 2 months than at any time over the previous 12.
Looking at the value we can see that the average value of content produced per month is $544 and the average value per page is $105.
Note, these numbers don’t represent actual value. They represent what it would cost to generate the amount of traffic they’re receiving from organic if they had paid for it using Google Ads. The real value of these pages could be hundreds of times higher. Since we cannot know the actual value that each lead brings them, we use this as a proxy to give us a relative point to pivot around.
How We Use This Insight:
We can ignore the values for the previous 3 months since it’s unlikely that enough time has passed for the pages to begin ranking for anything meaningful. What we’re more interested in is what they were doing during the months of March-May of 2021 (since that’s where the most value lies).
Filtering our data down to these months we see that a handful of articles are driving a lot of value to the competitor. Articles about:
- Walmart Slip & Falls
- Statute of Limitations on PI Cases in Florida
- Florida’s Wrongful Death Statute
We’d examine each one of these articles to see what might be different about each that allowed them to rank so well. Is it the quality, the backlinks, or something else?
We would then repeat this for each competitor we’re analyzing and compare it to our own client’s site to see how they measure up and take action accordingly to fill in existing gaps in content, increase (or potentially decrease) the rate at which we’re obtaining backlinks, revamp old content to help it rank better, or even increase the resources we put into our content to improve its design, user experience, and overall quality.
Don’t Let the Blind Lead the Blind
Knowing what your competitors are doing can provide a ton of useful insights that will save you time, effort, and money. However, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that’s all you should do. You should still experiment with ideas you think will work — that’s how you differentiate yourself from everyone else out there.
Analyze what your competition is doing but don’t let it dictate your strategy. Being able to ascertain what’s worth incorporating and what isn’t can save you a lot of time and budget. Our SEO strategists are all experts in personal injury SEO because we only work with PI law firms.
If you want to make sure things are done right by a team of experts — reach out and let us know. We aren’t like most SEO agencies out there who just copy what everyone else is doing. We focus on what matters most: getting you cases from Google.