S3E7 Sophie Gibson, Competitor Analysis

Keira Davidson (00:21):

Hi, welcome to the TechSEO Podcast. I’m Keira Davidson, your host, and I’m joined today with Sophie from Rise at Seven. Thank you very much for joining me. Don’t suppose you’d be able to give a bit of background information on yourself and your experiences in SEO to this point.

Sophie Gibson (00:41):

Sure. So I’m Soph Gibson. I currently work at Rise at Seven as an SEO strategist. Previously for this, I’ve only really worked agency side. So I tend to work a lot on e-commerce websites. That’s kind of my jam. I love shopping. And I love talking about shopping. I love analyzing websites that talk about shopping.

Keira Davidson (01:04):

What’s your favorite thing to shop for?

Sophie Gibson (01:09):

You know what, anything. I suppose clothes is my favorite thing. So I like looking at ASOS and Next, those kind of retailer websites. Find really interesting, nevermind, it’s kind of, because you’re already interested in kind of the stuff and you know the technical side of how stuff should be implemented and whether they’re getting the best…

Keira Davidson (01:37):

Out of it.

Sophie Gibson (01:38):

… for their book with how the website’s set up and what pages are indexable, et cetera. So I find it really interesting that I now can’t go shopping without analyzing that stuff.

Keira Davidson (01:48):

You’re the exact same as me. I was recently having to look into infinite scrolls and find examples. So at the weekend, when I was just looking at, on different sites for clothes or something, I would then get a bit sidetracked and start looking at how they’ve implemented their infinite scroll, it’s such a sad thing, but I just enjoy it.

Sophie Gibson (02:13):

I know. And you notice stuff straight away. I find, whenever I see a URL that looks like really horrible and long I’m like, “They should have really looked at that.” Be looking. So Animal Crossing teaming up with Build-A-Bear.

Keira Davidson (02:37):

Yes, that’s cool.

Sophie Gibson (02:37):

So they’re going to be releasing some Animal Crossing toys and they had a sign-up page to register your interest and it was such a long and complex URL, which had like platform details in it, it wasn’t set up properly for good SEO from that kind of perspective. And I was just like, “Sharing that on social is going to be very difficult. And how are people going to find this?”

Keira Davidson (03:04):

I can imagine that had some impact, people not being able to easy find it. It’s not like a URL where you easy just type it in especially if it’s like gobbledygook and just random letters.

Sophie Gibson (03:17):

Exactly. And it’s not like the be-all and end-all of a website, but stuff like that you can’t help but notice.

Keira Davidson (03:26):

Yes, exactly. So that brings us onto, so you love shopping, you love retail e-commerce websites. How would you go around, let’s say doing competitor analysis for those kind of sites, is there certain areas that you’d focus on or would you, especially with ASOS, for example, it’s such a large e-comm site would you like chunk it almost?

Sophie Gibson (03:54):

I think usually I start off just clicking around like a user. I find whilst, yes, looking at tools and over information on site, like that is kind of good to do. I find just having a look around yourself and finding how the site is linked to, each section is linked to each other, if there’s any common themes that jump out. Because with e-commerce there’s general things that tend to be an issue.

So looking at stuff like navigation, how stuff’s linked by the collection, so where the new collection pages if they actually are set up correctly, or they’ve got multiple versions of collections, because they’ve got the featured products, and then they’ve got new in, that kind of thing, and how that’s set up. And then you’ve got your additive navigation. So generally on bigger sites, that’s always, there’s usually some kind of problem with whether those kinds of pages are getting indexed or not. Now, I think being aware of what the top issues tend to be, I find that’s usually a good place to start checking those key areas.

Keira Davidson (05:21):

I guess that saves so much time, as well, because you sort of highlight how the user sees it. And then also you get to the point, and you get straight to it, uncovering those potential issues early on instead of potentially going away, getting all this data, and then being like, “Oh God, I need to do this. This is what’s actually caused the problem.”

Sophie Gibson (05:44):

And I think it’s kind of unpicking it from that point of view. So starting small with just choosing those top level stuff, which could be a problem, and then digging deeper to find out how much of that is a problem. I really like that kind of way of working instead of going straight into looking at loads of data. Because it can and feel a bit overwhelming, especially when you’re looking at bigger e-commerce sites. I mean for smaller retail websites that have a limited product range any issues tend to be a lot smaller.

Keira Davidson (06:24):

Big sizes can be very messy.

Sophie Gibson (06:27):

It can get very messy, very quickly. So being able to pull out key things and then finding out from that how big of a problem each area is, what the top common issues are and how much of the site has that issue. I think that’s really good way of sectioning it out because it can be really daunting, I think, approaching big retail websites.

Because, I mean, I’ve come from working for a very small retail business and viewing site audits on very small websites up to bigger ones. And the process is the same, but it does feel a lot scarier, especially if you’re dealing with clients yourself, because there’s so much more at stake. There’s more people involved. As companies get, you not just got a point of contact who owns the business you’re actually speaking to people who then have to report stuff to higher management. And then you’ve got to tie in, make sure that all of your recommendations actually get implemented if you’ve found some key areas and you can say how much of a problem each area is, then you’ve got to be able to then communicate it, but in different ways to different people, depending on who-

Keira Davidson (07:57):

That’s something I’ve been learning recently.

Sophie Gibson (08:01):

It’s really, again, it can be daunting, especially when you’re kind of new to working on larger sites. Definitely want to think about… And there’s always more to learn.

Keira Davidson (08:17):

Exactly. No, definitely. It’s like, especially when you get onto a larger site, you initially you’re only just scratching the surface and you might find there’s like initial problem. And then when you start truly looking into it, you reveal this massive iceberg sometimes. And then when trying to convey the importance to your point of contact can be difficult, especially for them to relay it to the right people. It’s really important and tricky, I personally find, to speak to them in the language that they ultimately understand.

Sophie Gibson (08:57):

Definitely. So I know there’s a lot of talk of, to be able to appeal to those highest stakeholders and people up in the business is trying to tie technical fixes to some kind of revenue. And it’s a very hard thing to do because it doesn’t help that most of the stuff that we’re able to measure, we can’t even say that Google Analytics is a 100% accurate. With GDPR, we can’t track absolutely everyone. There’s some information there, you’re tying stuff from case studies, from other people’s information because you can’t necessarily say that implementing action X will equal revenue increase Y. That’s just impossible to do. We can only really estimate.

But I think as long as you’re able to keep pulling out figures, being able to, at least, give an indication of a general ballpark of where the money is, I think, it’s much easier to then explain to stakeholders. “We want to prioritize this, faceted navigation bits, because it’s costing you at the moment.” Like a certain amount in loss sales, or it could be worth an extra X amount.

Keira Davidson (10:33):

Exactly. I think definitely having data or estimated data can help persuade implementations and ultimately people buy in.

Sophie Gibson (10:49):

Definitely. So I think that’s the more complex side of working on e-commerce sites. And when you’re looking at, as well, competitor sites, being able to estimate either what they’re doing, I think, that can be obviously a bit harder because you’ve not got the internal data there. So you’ve got to estimate based on publicly accessible data. So when I did my Brighton SEO talk, it was about all the different free tools that you can use to get data insights on competitor sites. And there’s a few different places that you can look. There’s a lot of case studies that can give you figures.

And there’s, I think, it’s Similarweb that has general traffic estimates for other websites in your industry. So it can give you stuff on e-commerce and other kind of business areas. So that’s always a good place to look if you’re wanting to get some general ideas of what competitors are up to, what their organic traffic looks like, whether they’re reliant on PPC, or how much of a percentage of their traffic goes to that. But of course, I’m sure there’s people that work at those things that would tell you the Similar information is completely wrong. But being able to at least have some kind of indication of figures and even just showing the process of that being worked out, I think, is really beneficial to clients.

Keira Davidson (12:40):

I’d agree on that. I think, no matter what we say, ultimately it’s got to be taken with a pinch of salt because we can’t guarantee anything. We don’t truly know, ultimately, what their competitor’s ultimately doing. And I think it’s a really good guide to at least provide the client.

Sophie Gibson (13:02):

For sure. So I’m thinking about other tools as well. So I think when we’re looking at a lot of data on competitor, most tools generally have information on whether it’s keyword intersect to see what share of different keywords your competitors have with you. You know, that information’s kind of really good from a top level, because you can… A piece of work I’ve done recently is looking at whether this different areas of products that the site that I’m working on has, and whether they’re actually missing out on traffic or whether it’s stuff that they don’t sell. So being able to find what products other sites getting lots of traction for that we are not. So I think it’s always a good way to just confirm that the right products are being focused on.

Keira Davidson (14:08):

I think that’s a really good idea actually. I’ve never thought about it from that side of things. Because it could help, ultimately, guide this or help guide the clients with potentially diversifying their product range or considering investing more in a certain area. I think that’s a really good idea actually.

Sophie Gibson (14:33):

It was really interesting because it was useful for them as a business as well as the, not just the SEO strategy. So I think uncovering that kind of information’s always really good in the context of looking at competitors and how you can use that information to help your own decision making.

Keira Davidson (14:59):

Can probably help confirm them as a business, the direction that they want to move in.

Sophie Gibson (15:06):

And I think it’s really good way to see what websites area of uniqueness as well. Because you can say we dominate a certain area because we’re the only people that have that stuff. So again, you could be like, maybe we need to use that idea as, push that as our USP, our unique thing, this is what we do better than anyone else. I think there’s all sorts of information you can get from that kind of, just looking at what keywords people are ranking for on different sites.

Keira Davidson (15:46):

Definitely. Like my mind’s going crazy. I’m thinking, you could get a whole branding strategy concept from this. You could get new product lines. And then also opportunities for on-page SEO growth and stuff like that. So many different routes that could be taken from just looking at the products.

Sophie Gibson (16:07):

So I really like data for that kind of analysis. Because I think sometimes, as well, when looking at the third party tools with keyword information on, sometimes we can get, maybe, a little bit stuck in the keywords as well. So I think it’s really worth remembering to visit the site sometimes, type in a keyword yourself. I know sometimes our location might have an impact on what comes up. I think it’s really good to see, from your own eyes, what kind of content is being served up when you type a phrase in and seeing how your competitors position themselves in the TRPs and just what’s on there.

Keira Davidson (16:56):

The intent for a keyword can be so mixed. It could have like product pages, category pages, but then it could have like list posts, comparison pieces, it could be such a mixed bag. So I think definitely checking, just putting the keyword into Google can give so much information, as well, to make sure you’re going after the right thing. Because it’s great looking at volume and everything, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

Sophie Gibson (17:23):

For sure. Because I always find, as well, sometimes there is other meanings to words that you wouldn’t necessarily think of if you’re either not in the industry or you are in the industry, and you wouldn’t think of how other people use a term. I’m trying to think of an example, but it’s really hard to think of one specifically.

Keira Davidson (17:47):

I have one off the top of my head. I’ve got a butcher’s client, well, they’re basically an online butchers. And we found that they have a load of jargon heavy terms that they use for the cuts of meat. For example, like a tomahawk steak is quite commonly known, so that’s what the user search is. But for a more, let’s say rare cut, I’m trying to think of what, I could try to think of one, but let’s say, for example, minute steak, that might not be something that you or I would typically use. But it’s what they know. But it doesn’t mean that it’s going to bring the right people to the site.

Sophie Gibson (18:30):

Exactly. I think really focusing on what language people use and just making sure that your expectations are reflected in the search results. Because sometimes you can think you’d know exactly whether a term would be, have a lot of products on it or that’s the term that people use, but sometimes you can get shocked about what alternate meanings of what other stuff.

Keira Davidson (19:09):

You can get some interesting insights. I think that’s why I really like keyword research because you get the chance to learn about the topic for almost like a day, and you learn some bizarre things and random facts. And then almost a week later you’ve forgotten it.

Sophie Gibson (19:27):

I find that when you’re writing content, as well, for kind of niche sites that you do start learning very random stuff, which you don’t think, I don’t even think would help me in a pub quiz. I think, maybe, random stuff like, for example, I could tell you all about the different types of decorative aggregates that you could get for a garden, which is like pebbles and stuff.

Keira Davidson (19:51):

At least you know, though, if you ever have to decorate your garden or redesign it, you have different ideas and you know what to look for.

Sophie Gibson (20:01):

Exactly. So I think definitely check your assumption on that kind of thing. Because as well, sometimes a competitor can be using different terms and getting more of a benefit from it than you might be. Because I think sometimes, maybe, clients can’t see past their own knowledge a little bit. They wouldn’t expect, this is what we call the item, so why would we not use this word?

Keira Davidson (20:37):


Sophie Gibson (20:40):

So if you’re talking about PVC something or other, just trying to think of clothing, people say pleather, like you wouldn’t say PVC leather, maybe. So just making sure that the actual words do match up with what you want to see. I think looking at the different keywords you and your competitors are ranking for can show that up sometimes.

Keira Davidson (21:15):

And it’s quite important to be doing that. Especially like it can probably highlight, well obviously it will highlight keywords that you are not targeting, but by giving them a quick search you can quickly determine whether it’s something you should go after or shouldn’t.

Sophie Gibson (21:32):

Definitely. So I think being able to weigh up that as well is quite an important skill when it comes to doing competitor audits. Because you do have to weigh up whether going for an additional term that your competitors do use, perhaps, whether it’s worth that or not. Or whether you look at a different product, is there actually space for you to make an impact or is someone else very far in and it would take a lot of effort to go for that kind of keyword. So being able to dissect that a bit more, and pull in some numbers, and at least, showing how you stack up against the competition. Because it’s all well and good looking at them separately as an entity in itself, but really it’s about whether there’s room for you to take on that area.

So I think when you’re looking at different aspects, being able to perhaps rate each section to say, product X, Y, Zed, how does that stack up in competitors? Because we also may sometimes forget that it’s different in, for each different product area. So just in [inaudible 00:22:58]. If you’re selling, I don’t know, gym equipment that you might have completely different competitors compared to your trainers, for example. So I think being able to actually, accurately, convey to someone who their competitors are online versus who they think their competitors are is also really good conversation to have with a client at the beginning. Because it’s not always what the client thinks their competitors are. Because generally they’ll be like, “Oh, our top competitors are X, Y, and Zed.” Well, when you bring in a search engine to it and look at the different areas of the site as well, you could have 100s of different competitors depending on what you’re looking at and who you’re looking at.

Keira Davidson (23:48):

Exactly. You could have a, especially for a large site, it could be broken down by category almost, but each one has different competitors because the category itself could be like a mini microsite anyway.

Sophie Gibson (24:04):

Definitely. So I think it’s always worth noting that sometimes yes, you might just have three competitors that you always look at, but be mindful that if you have got a lot of different categories that the different competitors might differ between those areas. Because it was really funny, I had a conversation with a client and they were saying, “Well, this one site, we don’t think they’re much of a competitor to us. We do similar things, but we not.” Well, actually when we looked at all of the keyword intersects, they’re actually a lot bigger of a competitor online than they are kind of as an entity in general.

Keira Davidson (24:53):


Sophie Gibson (24:54):

So being able to uncover the kind of, I don’t want to say hidden competitors, but the ones that they should really need to kind of keep an eye on when it comes to their online visibility. It’s really useful information to tell them and to be able to change their minds on who they view as competitors.

Keira Davidson (25:21):

That is such good point. Because someone might have, an independent, might have a shop presence, but the majority of their purchases or orders all come from online, and it might be that they need that dot presence to be able to get certain contracts, but they don’t really care about making the money there.

Sophie Gibson (25:46):

Exactly. So then you pull into that, I suppose, when you are dealing with e-commerce clients, “Do have a retail presence?” Then you’re getting into the, how does in-store and the online channels kind of intersect and mix. And I think that’s really interesting because being able to increase… I suppose, now a lot of people are using click and collect more perhaps than they’ve previously would’ve done before. So being able to make sure you can make those different channels still be a seamless experience. But then I feel like you’re kind of getting into user experience and the customer experience as a whole. But I find, I think that’s, what’s so interesting about kind of e-commerce work, in general, is that kind of wider conversation it can spark about how we do things and whether or not a site is able to do that.

Keira Davidson (26:55):

We started off talking about product pages and analyzing them and then this, so many takeaways that can be made from that for a business, which then starts that conversation of just wider business conversations. And then it just keeps going. I think that’s where it gets really fun. There’s endless things to learn and so many rabbit holes to go down.

Sophie Gibson (27:23):

I think when it comes to technical SEO, at least, I think finding rabbit holes is the funnest part and being able to completely immerse yourself into all the different parts. It does take you on a bit of a wild ride, I think.

Keira Davidson (27:42):

You come across some random stuff.

Sophie Gibson (27:47):


Keira Davidson (27:49):

It’s been great for you joining me today. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you. Thank you very much for being a guest on the TechSEO Podcast.

Sophie Gibson (27:59):

No, it’s been great. Thanks for having me. It’s been great to, basically, talk shop for a bit.

Keira Davidson (28:06):

Exactly. Thank you very much.

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