How Thought Leaders Can Outrank Competitors On Google In One Month

What is a thought leader? It's an informed decision maker. It doesn't matter whether you're talking about a small business, Fortune 500, entrepreneur, or an influencer's personal brand. 

A thought leader can't call himself or herself a thought leader. One gains power within their organization and an industry by being a go-to person or organization for guidance and information.

Thought leadership marketing—like being a thought leader—requires that someone continually deliver results. Past achievements mean next to nothing. It's all about "What have you done for me lately?" Others are reaching out and looking to this person for answers.

This presents quite a challenge for a thought leader. It requires that the person or company constantly develop and execute new ideas. But in thought leadership marketing, one often gets stuck in his or her own bubble, unable to see the forest for the trees, unaware of what's happening outside of his or her own sphere. And worst of all, that thought leader often doesn't know what that outside world expects of him or her and what will help him or her stay ahead of the game—and the competition.

I'm going to teach you how to see through your competitor's eyes. I'll show you what their analytics teams are looking at when they make decisions. I'll show you what your top competitors are doing so right, and you can help your organization do better. Through this, you'll be able to escape your narrow world and get a bigger picture of what's happening in the broader industry. 

You'll then be able to decide what commentary you have to offer to become a thought leader—or remain in that constantly challenged position—in your industry. You'll know exactly what you need to do to get ahead of the competition and lead your company toward a bright future. We'll walk through this together in five data-driven steps.

 We'll begin by infiltrating the competition's data to better understand:

  • Where their traffic is really coming from

  • What words they're ranking for

  • How to select content topics that will rise above the competition

And then, most importantly, we'll examine how to maximize your own ROI by determining how they're generating their own ROI.

What You'll Need

To complete these five steps you'll need access to three online tools:

Each of these offers free trials of which you'll want to take advantage.

You'll also want to create a spreadsheet for each of the figures and information we'll be capturing through our analysis. This will allow you to see everything side by side.

I've actually already done this for you. I'll tell you where to get it at the end of this guide.

As we begin, you'll notice we've skipped doing keyword research. There are many other resources that cover this. In this piece, we'll assume you've already completed your keyword research and have determined which keywords you will target. Each spreadsheet will be for one keyword. You'll need those keywords to complete these five steps.

PART 1: Identifying Your Competitors

You'll begin by choosing one of the keywords that you'd like to analyze. Your competition in the world of SEO will be those who rank on page one or sometimes on page two of the search for this keyword. These are the sites you must overtake to rank higher than your competitors.

Ignore the ads. If you're targeting a competitive keyword, those will always be there. And because they're paid, they're not ranking on page one because of their SEO strategy or exceptional content.

Also, ignore sites like Wikipedia and Amazon. Your website content will be in competition with them for ranking, but because their goals are likely very different, you won't really get the insight you need by analyzing them. 

Find the top ten on page one (and two, if needed) that could be reasonably thought of as competition.

Now, narrow it down to five. You might be wondering, why ten and now five? That's because you won't be choosing the top five ranked websites unless you're among them already.

Instead, you'll want to choose two from places one and two, then choose one down in the middle. Finally, pick the two that come in ninth and tenth on your list.  The reason for this strategy is to allow you to see your strategy in action. Imagine the adrenaline rush you'll feel as you knock the lowest two out first, before working your way to the top.

But even beyond the way it makes you feel, I know you'll agree it helps to have benchmarks at varying levels in ranking to help you know you're on the right track—moving up one step at a time.

Let's walk through an example together. We'll give you a fake company named Happy Tales Pet Supplies. You're targeting the keyword "Automatic Dog Door." 

When you search for this in Google, you pull up a list of several of your potential competitors:

  • petsafe.net

  • petdoors.com

  • hitecpet.com

  • and so on

Amazon also came up in that list, so we'll just ignore them for now. They're more of a selling platform for multiple businesses than a single competitor.

Make note of the top ten, after excluding any that aren't relevant. Then narrow them down to five as described above. 

 

PART 2: Traffic Analysis

Now that you've determined who your competition is, it's time to begin analyzing their traffic. From your list of five competitors, select the top one. To continue with your fictional company, we'll say that your top competitor is petsafe.net.

Micro-Step 1

Pull up your online tool AHrefs and on the Site Explorer page enter the competitor's website.


Micro-Step 2

When you hit search, you'll be taken to a page containing a wealth of information.

  • A domain rating

  • Live-referring domain

Micro-Step 3

Next, we want to see how many new referring domains this competitor is getting in a month. Click on "New" under "Referring Domains." In the drop down that says "7 days," change it to 60. Divide the number that results by two to get an average of new referring domains in a recent 30-day period.

 

What You Learn

As you endeavor to overtake this website, you now know approximately what domain rating you will need and how many unique domains you need pointing toward your site. This helps you set your priorities and get a better picture of just what you need to do to knock this competitor out of position #1.
 

Micro-Step 4

Next, go to SimilarWeb Pro. Enter the competitor's website and this page will appear.

Now, things get fun. SimilarWeb Pro makes you feel like you just hacked into the competition's Google Analytics account. You can begin gaining insight into the audience of this website by looking at some key indicators you're likely already very familiar with, like:

  • Total number of visits

  • Time spent on page

  • Pages per session

  • Bounce rate

What You Learn

You get a general idea about how the traffic to this website is interacting with their content. You can then compare this to your own time spent on pages to see how you measure up. Are you falling short in one of these areas compared to the competition? You now know where to place your focus to leave them in the dust.

Micro-Step 5

But where does this traffic come from? Let's take a closer look by clicking on marketing mix in the left sidebar. From this, we'll be able to see what percentage of their traffic comes from:

 

  • Search: Organic

  • Social: Social media

  • Referral: from links to the site

  • PPC: Paid Search

  • Display Traffic

  • Email Traffic

What You Learn

Where is this competitor putting its efforts? Are they heavy on email campaigns, social media, paid, or partnerships with referring websites? 

Micro-Step 6

In the sidebar, select geography to view the top five countries visiting this pet supplies website.

 

What You Learn

On which markets are they focusing their efforts? In which markets are they finding the most success?  If they're focused on Australia as their secondary market, perhaps you can gain ground by targeting Germany or South Korea.
 

Micro-Step 7

This pet-supply company may have links from thousands of websites. But you want to know who their top referrers are. You can learn this by going back to the sidebar where you'll see referrals under traffic sources. Click it and make note of the top five referrals to this website.

 

What You Learn

Now, you have data that demonstrates what works in your industry based upon which domains are driving the most traffic to this competitor. Could you be using the same domains to drive traffic to your site? Perhaps you've been focused on the wrong referring domains.

 

PART 3: Organic Traffic Analysis

While all steps in this process are important, organic traffic analysis is by far the most important because understanding organic traffic gives you the insight you must have to choose the right keywords for your short and long-term strategies.

Micro-Step 1

Go to AHref's Site Explorer and enter your website address to view your own site. The page defaults to "fresh index." But we'll want "live index," so select that option on the page.

 

Micro-Step 2

Now, you'll begin collecting some information from this page to make note of in your spreadsheet. You'll need to capture three numbers from this page that will be shown across the top of the page.

 

  1. DR: Domain Authority is the overall ranking for your website's domain as a whole. 

  2. UR: This represents the strength of the pages into which your inbound links flow, typically your blog.

  3. Backlinks: Remember to use the fresh backlinks number under the backlinks heading.

  4. Referring Domains: This is the number of unique domains linking to your site. Again, use the "live" number.

Micro-Step 3

Next, we need to measure the strength of your backlink profile. You can view this information in the lower-right corner of the page. The strength of your backlink profile is dependent on the strength of the URL from which those links originate.

In this section, on the left, you'll see number ranges (90–100, 80–90, 0–10, etc.). In the right column are the number of backlinks you have in each range.

 

Micro-Step 4

You'll now need to get a weighted average to obtain a single number you can work with—and by which you can establish your backlink objectives. 

The backlinks that are in the 90–100 range are more valuable to you than links in 70–80, etc. If you use our spreadsheet tool, you'll see we've incorporated a calculator to achieve this weighted average, or you can do it manually. The important thing is to do it the same way for both you and your competitors so you're comparing apples to apples.

 

What You Learn

Now you better understand the strength of your website and the strength of your backlink portfolio, which is an incredibly important part of your ability to rank. 

Micro-Step 5

Next, select "organic keywords" from the menu on AHrefs overview page. Under the page heading, you'll see a "position" dropdown. Enter "50" into this box, so you're only seeing keywords for which your site is ranking between position 1 and position 50 (on page 5).  

Why do you do cut it off at 50? Because while SEO is a long-term strategy, it's important that we set both short- and long-term goals. In the short term, like in 6 months, your efforts will allow you to move your rank on these words from page 5 to page 1. Moving from page 10 to 1 will take more time. 

Export this file to a spreadsheet. 

Micro-Step 6

View the spreadsheet. 

Take a look at the column labeled "difficulty." This column tells you how difficult it will be to take that keyword to the #1 position, with 1 being incredibly difficult and 100 being very easy. You'll likely fall somewhere in between. Get the median average difficulty for this column. 

What You Learn

Which words are you already ranking for? Knowing this, you can then direct your efforts toward getting the right words from this list onto page one without losing ground on words where you already have the advantage. The median difficulty tells you how hard it would be to rank high for a quality piece of long-form content, with 1 being the hardest and 100 being relatively easy.

Micro-Step 7

Now that you have your median keyword difficulty, sort the same spreadsheet in two new tiers:

  1. By difficulty

  2. By volume

You are looking for keywords that meet the following criteria:

  1. They have a difficulty under your website's median difficulty. If your median was under 5, you'll need to choose difficulties under 5.

  2. The words have at least 500 volume, unless they're long-tail niche words that perfectly match what you do.

  3. They are long-tail words where possible. If you put too much into short-tail keywords, it's too easy for a competitor to come in and "steal" your ranking.

  4. They are keywords that relate to what you do well.

It's also very helpful to choose words with a CPC (cost per click) listed. 

What You Learn

Through this analysis, you learn which keywords are within your reach in the next six months or so and which of those words within your reach are worth reaching for. A word is only worth targeting if that word will help you get the right return on your investment. In our spreadsheet, we have a tool that will allow you to estimate the ROI for each word. 

 

PART 4: Content Analysis

In order to overtake this competitor, we need to have a clear understanding of what they're doing that we're not, in regards to providing helpful, interesting, and shareable content. We'll use BuzzSumo and AHrefs to complete this analysis.

Micro-Step 1

In AHrefs, where you've already pulled up your competitor, click on "top pages" in the sidebar to find out what the most popular pages are on this competitor's website.

Micro-Step 2

Then select "best by links" in the sidebar to find out which pages have the most incoming links.

Micro-Step 3

Select "best by shares" in the sidebar. Sort by SP to get the median rather than focusing too much on the site's outliers.

What You Learn

From this information, you now know what pages are getting the most attention. You'll need pages comparable to these to surpass this competitor.

Micro-Step 4

Go to BuzzSumo and enter the competitor's web address. Sort by each major social media platform to see which of their pages get the most shares on each platform. Make note of their top piece of content on each platform.

You'll be taking a closer look at this content to determine:

  • How they're doing their metas, which will appear in search results

  • The titles they use

  • The length of their content

  • How they're engaging the audience

  • How they're keeping visitors on the page and convincing them to click through

  • How they use keywords and latent semantic indexing in their favor

  • Anything else that you can learn from their content

What You Learn

Your goal is to learn what makes this content so shareable. What are they doing that is so far above their competitors? What has earned them a coveted top spot in search engine rankings?

You'll take this information back to your content-creation team. They'll use it to create content that applies what you've learned from this content—but does it even better. You'll give this competitor a run for their money because now you know the secret behind their success.

 

PART 5: PPC Analysis

Finally, let's take a look at their paid advertising. How are they getting the most out of their PPC budget?

Micro-Step 1

Return to AHrefs, where you've already pulled up this competitor. You'll click on "ads" in the sidebar under paid search.

Micro-Step 2

Download this into a spreadsheet and save. Open it and view the information. 

On this sheet, you'll see some very important information including:

  • Which ads received the most clicks

  • Ad titles

  • Ad Descriptions

  • CPC (Cost they paid per click) 

  • How many clicks the ad

  • Keywords they used in their campaigns

What You Learn

By knowing which of your competitor's ads received the most clicks for the lowest cost per click, you can now identify best practices that will help you compete with this site. Those managing their own PPC campaigns now have a strong reference point when they design their ads.

You know which keywords they're targeting along with their bid so you can—if you choose—outbid this competitor to "steal" those clicks as you begin to erode their ranking as your own ascends.

Bringing It All Together in Thought Leadership Marketing

In thought leadership marketing, you're expected to have your finger on the pulse of your industry. You need to have insights no one else has and ideas no one else thinks of because they're stuck in their own little worlds.

Through these five data-driven steps, you understand the industry, the competition, and what you must do to rise above.

Through the insight gained in this competitive analysis, you know things like:

  • How your domain authority stacks up to your greatest competition

  • How many backlinks you actually need to be competitive and which ones actually make the difference

  • How difficult it is to rank for the keyword you're targeting

  • Where their traffic comes from and how that traffic interacts with their site

  • How they're running their PPC campaigns

  • And more...

From this information, you can develop strategies that surpass the competition. You have everything you need to be a thought leader in your industry.

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