Majux has worked with enough clients to know that spending $700 per month on law firm SEO may work in small or non-competitive markets. Expecting the same results in more competitive fields, however, is a mistake.

Ultimately, the amount your company needs to budget depends on what your competition is up to.  Now, while we’ve never shied away from calling up our client’s competition to see how they answer their phones, what their hourly rates are, or who they refer their clients to – they still get awfully suspicious when we start asking about the size of their internet marketing staff.

Who would have thought that could give it away?

This article will dive into a few steps you can take to see exactly what your competitors are doing online – SEO and PPC advertising included. This is something we always do for personal injury lawyer SEO clients, criminal defense marketing clients, and other SEO/paid media accounts.

Keep reading to learn more about:

  1. Content strategy research
  2. Backlink analysis
  3. Keyword strategy analysis
  4. PPC advertising research

How To Research Your Competitors Content Strategy

Spending the time to craft relevant and timely content is a large (and much needed!) expense in a SEO campaign.  A company might just focus on their on-site blog, but in the long run you’ll want to be pushing your content off-site in order to make sure your stepping up the standards of any backlinking you might focus on.

This step is one of the quickest – we want to look at two things:

Do They Have a Blog? Is It Updated Often?

This step is easy – type their URL in and see if they maintain a blog or they regularly published articles or pages.  Blogs should make this step easy as they list the last date they were updated in the most recent post.  Take a look at what kind of content they are putting out.  Is it spammy?  Is is full of images and videos?  Use this as a base when determining what kind of content you want to create as well as how often you need to write.

Are They Getting Traffic For Non-Blog Content As Well?

While blog posts will often be less formal, more question-oriented, and potentially newsworthy and timely, pages are the more static, authoritative pages on your website. They won’t exist in your blog URL hierarchy or feed, and they will either be more of a service page or a whitepaper type resource. So if they aren’t in your competitor’s blog, how can you find them?

The easiest way is to type in your competitor’s URL and add /sitemap.xml (example.com/sitemap.xml). This will likely take you to a page like this:

competitve seo analysis

Click on the “pages” sitemap, and you will see each page they have on their website. This can help you decide which pages are worth building.

How To See Which Competitors Blogs and Pages Are Getting Traffic

We use Ahrefs.com, an SEO tool, every day at Majux. It’s easily worth the investment. This strategy requires that tool.

Step 1 – Copy your competitor’s URL and paste it into the Ahrefs explorer bar.

Step 2 – Navigate to the Top Pages report, like so:

competitive marketing research

Step 3 – Scan those pages and identify how you can improve upon them on your own website. You won’t get anywhere if you simply copy your competitor’s strategy – you have to do it better.

Step 4 – Look at the Organic Keywords report, located just above the Top Pages report in the Ahrefs toolbar. Observe your competing law firm’s best-ranking keywords, and see which pages are ranking.

Are They Publishing Content Off-Site?

Finding content published off of their main site might be a little harder.  We mentioned in a previous blog post how great a tool Google Alerts is for lawyers, and you can use a similar trick to locate where your competitors are publishing content.  Set up Google Alerts for your competitor’s URL, and for the names they publish content under – you’ll get an update whenever they push out content.  You’ll also know exactly where they’ll be publishing so you can go ahead and mirror those links they are getting when you start your SEO efforts.

Here’s another strategy for finding your competitor’s offsite content. Let’s say your rival law firm is named “Smith, Smith, and Smith, LLP,” and their web address is smithlawfirm.com. Perform this Google Search:

competitor SEO research

You aren’t looking for content on their website, hence the -smithlawfirm.com operator. You can now find all instances of that brand name on the internet.

Competitor Backlink Analysis for Law Firms

Link building for law firms is a difficult, but critical, part of your marketing strategy. Ahrefs.com, the tool mentioned above, is the most effective tool for competitive backlink analysis, so we’ll continue to reference it here.

Start by typing your competitor’s URL into the tool.  Select the “*.domain./*” option, and click “referring domains.” Both items are circled in this screenshot:

competitor backlink analysis

It’s important that you look at “referring domains,” and not just “backlinks” in the tool. Sometimes, the same website will link to your competitor numerous times – that’s not important. Additional links from a website to another website don’t necessarily matter.

You can then scan through all of the websites that are linking to your competitors’ site, click the results in Ahrefs to see what pages are linking to the website, and save those in a spreadsheet. You are looking for a few things in particular:

  1. How many referring domains does your competitor have? You’ll want to match that number if you wish to compete.
  2. More importantly, how many referring domains have do-follow links to your competitor? You’ll want to go after those first.
  3. How many of those referring domains have a domain authority of 25 (or so – arbitrary) or higher? If a website has a low DA in Ahrefs, it probably isn’t worth pursuing.

Armed with your competitor’s backlink data, you can now try and build links from those websites to your own.

Your Competitor’s Keyword Strategy

Examining your competitor’s website can also lend you some nice insights into their strategy. We typically check out a few areas of their site code in order to see what keywords they want to optimize for and then check out their actual organic results for that term to see if they’ve had any success

There are 2 tags you really want to hone in on are meta keywords, descriptions and title tags.  These require a bit of code-hunting, but are quite easy to locate.

What Keywords Are Your Competitors Targeting?

Meta Descriptions, Title Tags, and Meta Keywords for a fairly popular legal website

Meta Descriptions, Title Tags, and Meta Keywords for a fairly popular legal website

  1. Visit the URL of your competitor’s homepage in your Internet browser of choice.
  2. Right click on your competitors website and select “View Source” – this will pop up an additional tab that should display the source code of your competitors site.  The image to the right displays what a typical screen might look like and what these codes should look like.
  3. It’s from these codes you can determine what keywords, a site owner might be focusing their SEO campaign on, as well as how seriously they are taking their on-site SEO.  If these are optimized across their entire site, chances are they spent some time optimizing their on-site campaign.

Should Your Competitor’s Keyword Strategy Matter?

Ultimately, no. If you are a personal injury firm, you will obviously want to rank on Google for car accident cases. So you will take phrases like “Minneapolis car accident lawyer,” “Minneapolis car crash attorney,” etc. and plug them into Google’s keyword planner tool. Then, once you’ve found out which permutation has the most search volume, you will use that permutation in your website title.

Competitor Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising Analysis

Are your competitors running pay-per-click (PPC) search ads or display ads through Google? If so, what ad copy are they using, and how much money are they spending? This information can help guide your own law firm PPC strategy.

Researching Your Competitor’s Search (or Text) Ads

We will once again use Ahrefs.com for this strategy. There are other tools out there (like SpyFu), but SpyFu in particular is one-dimensional and somewhat obsolete, and Ahrefs.com does an adequate job.

Start by pasting your competitor’s URL into the Ahrefs discovery bar and navigating to the Paid Search tool:

paid search research for competitors

You can now see what keywords your competitors are bidding on (if any), what ad copy they are using, and what landing pages they send visitors to.

You have to take this data with a grain of salt for the following reasons, among others:

  1. Ahrefs may not return any data, and that might mean that your competitors simply aren’t spending enough money online for the tool to notice. It doesn’t mean that your competitors aren’t spending any money at all.
  2. Just because another law firm writes ads one way doesn’t mean you should copy them blindly. Their campaigns might be performing poorly for all you know.
  3. Ahrefs will attempt to give you budget estimates, but that might be wrong. The average cost per click (CPC) for search ads varies wildly from day to day and month to month.

Competitive analysis is helpful, but you will ultimately need to work with a professional to make intelligent decisions on your own. Use Google’s keyword planner to see how much money clicks may cost, forecast conversion rates to set a monthly budget, and monitor the campaigns daily after launch so you can adjust your bids accordingly.

Competitor Display Advertising Research

Researching your competitor’s display advertising efforts can actually be much more helpful than search ad research. You be able to peek at their ad design, what publishers are showing their ads, and what landing pages they use.
To figure this out, you’ll need a different tool: SemRush.com. Go to the dashboard, enter the website in question into the discovery bar, and select “display advertising” in the Advertising tab:
SEMRush Display Advertising Research
Now you can see what their ads look like, where those ads are showing, and which landing page they are using.
Again, this data is not perfect or complete. If you want to advertise on the display network, give us a call and we can talk about how we build targeted audiences, weed out low quality placements, and get you actual clients.

Conclusion: How Focused Is Your Competitor On SEO Or PPC?

We could easily spend hours delving into your competition. Many interesting strategies come to light when we pull a website under our magnifying glass. We’ve found extensive blog networks, paid and reciprocal link building schemes, and even some law firms taking steps to “hide” additional content they have been publishing in order to help get their sites ranked amongst a wider range of keywords.   Some of these strategies might have been implemented during a simpler time, when such practices were the gold standard for SEO, but nevertheless they all point to the existence of an SEO campaign.

On a more positive note, we also glean helpful ideas from competitor analysis. Backlink opportunities we may not have been aware of, content angles that could drive leads for our clients, and more.

In sum, the goals are competitor SEO and PPC analysis are two fold:

  1. Find strategies we can mimic and improve upon
  2. Decide how much SEO or PPC work is necessary to get you ranking on Google

If you want to learn more about how we can increase the number of signed cases you get through the web, get in touch.