I view competitor analysis as something of a necessary evil. You need to do *some* competitor analysis in order to benchmark yourself versus your competitors and shape your strategy moving forward. But I do think that the pitfalls are plentiful, so don your hard hats and safety goggles - let's do this.
1) It's tempting to kid yourself that you're doing SEO
This is the most common trap. Competitor analysis can be useful, but remember that you're not actively improving your site. It's fine to spend a little time on competitor analysis exercises in order to help you formulate a strategy, but don't kid yourself that this is the best use of your time.
Assuming a site's technical foundations are solid, there's nothing you can do for your site that is more beneficial than building links. That time you spent doing that competitor analysis? It would have been better spent building links.
No one has ever seen their rankings increase as a direct result of spending hours and hours and hours on a piece of competitor analysis.
2) Expending energy in the wrong place
So one of your competitors is buying links - getting angry about it is pretty pointless. As is submitting endless spam reports to Google.
Focus your time and energy on your own site, not your competitor's activity. You can't control what they do, you can only control what happens on your own site.
3) Failing to be SMART
- Which competitors
- Which keywords
- Your scope (e.g. on-page / off-page / content strategy)
- You should be trying to answer a question - e.g. How do I rank for blue widgets?
- How competitive is the keyword?
- Does the SERP correlate with Moz Metrics (or whichever tools you favour)
- Is social coming into play?
- How important is on-page for this keyword?
- What content do you need?
- Is it realistic for you to rank for this term?
- Etc, etc, etc
4) Over-emphasis on link strength
Raw link strength isn't necessarily the most important factor to look at. I also like to check:
- The percentage of branded versus keyword rich anchor text
- Percentage split of links by domain authority
- Followed versus no-followed links
- C Blocks
- Social (ooooh lovely tools)
5) Offering 'insight' rather than providing actions
This shouldn't be an academic exercise. Insight into what your competitor's are up to might be interesting, but good competitor analysis should offer up a list of specific actions.
Knowing your competitor's back link profiles are packed to the gills with nasty looking spam-tastic paid links probably isn't terribly useful if you want to keep your nose clean and not buy links.
Actions might include - improve on-page targeting, create new pages to target these new keywords, build more high DA links with branded anchor text, etc.
Agree / disagree on the pitfalls front? Have any competitor analysis tips you'd care to share? Do let me know via the comments.
Image credit - Hard Hat