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Want 1st Page Results? Reverse Engineer the Competitor Search Results

Seo business concept flow chart print document.

If you’re looking to improve your digital presence, first order is getting to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs). Over 25% of users click on the first-page search results, so prominent placement can be the difference between drawing in and converting leads or getting lost in the results.

Earning top-tier placement is easier said than done, however, especially with Google’s constantly evolving algorithms. If you can gain insights from the competitors that are already in those coveted spots – reverse engineering – you can elevate your SEO.

What Is Reverse Engineering in SEO?

Reverse engineering is a tactical approach to SEO that involves evaluating your competitors and the strategies they use to achieve top rankings in the SERPs. If you can identify the SEO practices they’re using, you can apply these strategies to your own website, content, and goals.

There are plenty of advantages to reverse engineering competitors’ sites, including identifying successful tactics specific to your industry. Instead of relying on assumptions or conjecture, you can take a proven approach to your SEO strategies.

Reverse engineering also helps you identify content gaps and effective keywords for your niche. Google prioritizes content that isn’t readily available elsewhere and solves common user queries, giving you an edge in your market.

Step-by-Step Guide to Reverse Engineering Competitor Results

SEO always involves a little trial and error, but reverse engineering gives you tangible evidence to compare to your own performance and fill in the gaps. Here’s how to start:

Step 1: Identify Your Competitors

Naturally, you can’t evaluate the competition without identifying them first. Look for the competitors in your niche that consistently gain first-page rankings for relevant keywords. When you search these terms on Google, you will quickly see what websites appear on the first-page time and time again. These competitors have won the Google algorithm.

Keep in mind that competitors won’t always be direct competitors like other businesses in your industry. You may find that blogs, informational websites, or other resources rank for your targeted keywords – they’re also your competition for those spots.

Step 2: Analyze Top-Ranking Content

Once you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to dive into their websites and assess the content they provide. Look at their architecture, user experience, the diversity and frequency of their content, and their overall brand personality.

Pay close attention to the content’s length and quality. Is it detailed and supported by ample research? Does it provide information that will be helpful to customers? Note how they include videos, audio, images, and other multimedia to their content to improve engagement, as well as how they structure their content to make it more readable.

Other elements of the website that affect SEO are mobile optimization, page loading speed, and an SSL certificate. You can check all of this on your own as you browse the site.

Step 3: Decipher Keyword Strategies

Next, check for the specific keywords that competitors are ranking for. Leverage tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush to help with your research. When you put a website into these tools, you can access data on their keyword ranking, including the position, monthly search volume, and more.

Though it takes a little work, you will gain invaluable insights into the keywords that should be your highest priority for your own website. Look for not just the common, obvious keywords, but long-tail keywords that offer opportunities for you to gain an edge.

Step 4: Evaluate Backlink Profiles

Backlinks are an essential part of SEO. When you build backlinks the old-fashioned way, some of the other sites’ authority passes onto you from the view of Google’s algorithm. The initial analysis of your competitors’ backlink profiles is a big part of reverse engineering.

Creating a backlink profile shows you the total inbound links a website has, their overall domain authority (quality), and how relevant they are to the content. When a website has diversified and high-quality backlinks, Google views them as trustworthy, boosting their ranking by extension.

However, a profile that contains a lot of irrelevant links or poor-quality links won’t do much to help a site ranking. Instead, it can harm SEO. Pay attention to the volume of backlinks, their quality, and the anchor text they use for a full picture of the impact of their backlink strategy.

Turning Analysis into Actionable Strategy

With your reverse engineering complete, it’s time to put it all into action with your own SEO strategy.

Prioritize Action Items

Your research likely gleaned a lot of valuable information, but SEO is an ongoing process. Prioritize the changes that will give you the biggest return on investment with the data you’ve collected and analyzed and start there. As you assess and adjust your strategy, you can include more of the data you’ve gathered in the future.

Create Better Content

Start by revamping your content to align with your competitors. For example, incorporate the effective keywords you’ve identified to boost visibility, follow their format and readability, and make sure everything is optimized for mobile.

It’s important to develop a targeted keyword strategy that’s aimed at the keywords your competitors are ranking for. Prioritize the ones that have the highest relevance and search volume. Consider long-tail keywords that have lower competition as well.

Building a Targeted Backlink Strategy

Finally, build your backlink profile. It takes time to build links organically, but the upfront effort will pay off in SEO and authority in the future. Here are some strategies to get high-quality backlinks from authoritative sites:

  • Publish “skyscraper” content, which is content that’s better than the similar content that already exists. With your research, you should have identified what your competitors are doing well and how you can improve and address gaps with your own content.
  • Find unlinked brand mentions to capitalize on opportunities that already exist.
  • Pitch and submit guest posts to build a network within your industry.
  • Publish ultimate guides and listicles, which naturally draw links.
  • Conduct your own research and publish it.

Take Cues from Previous Success

Evaluating your competitors’ SEO practices can give you insights to enhance your own site’s rankings based on proven insights. Observing their strategies, applying them to your own, and continuing to monitor and adjust along the way helps you stay ahead of the curve and see improvements in your search engine visibility and web traffic. 

Author Bio Below:

Jason Khoo started freelancing in SEO in college, sold his first agency, and now is the founder of Zupo, an Orange County-based SEO consulting agency helping construct powerful long-term SEO strategies for our clients. Jason also enjoys multiple cups of tea daily, hiding away on weekends, catching up on reading, and rewatching The Simpsons for the 20th time.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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