How To Zero In On The Right Competitor Keywords

SEO is competitive by nature. The entire purpose of it is to help businesses rank higher and gain more visibility and traffic through search engine results pages. Whenever there is any sort of ranking system in place, there is naturally competition to secure those ranks.

The competition of SEO, for some, is what makes it such an engaging and fun process. However, for businesses that repeatedly struggle to rank well and always seem to be just barely hang on to the coattails of their rival companies, this competition is anything but fun.

Yet, your competition can be one of your biggest tools and resources for keyword planning and creating effective SEO strategies. This is especially true if your business has entered the world of search optimization late or you have limited resources to invest in this dimension of digital marketing.

In this post, we’ll look at how better keyword planning based on what your competitors are doing can help you uncover opportunities in the SEO “market;” areas where the investment into a keyword is low, competition is high and potential ROI is even bigger.

Why Is Keyword Planning Important?

The reason that many SEO-involved parties fall short is that they aren’t strategic enough with their keyword targeting. In the vast landscape of marketers, business owners and SEO specialists, you’d find a surprising majority of these individuals, across the spectrum, whose idea of keyword targeting is creating a list of relevant words and phrases, either through using a keyword planning tool or by simple pen-and-papering a list.

These strategies do work, but they don’t work well. More specifically, they don’t make for a competitive keyword strategy. Keyword planning isn’t just about creating a list of relevant words. You also have to consider the competitiveness of each keyword and how much effort is required to rank high. In other words, you don’t want to shoot an arrow in the general direction of your target, but directly at its bullseye.

A lot of keyword tools do this to a point, but they only shed light on one dimension of keyword ranks. They express how many pages rank for the same keyword. This is how many spots you have to climb if you want to be the top result, but not how difficult the climb will be. To truly take advantage of great keyword planning you need a tool that gives you a complete view of your potential and current keywords.

These tools should allow you to not only see how many competitors are in your way to rank for specific keywords, but also:

  • Which keywords actually convert
  • Is it possible to outspend competitors in PPC campaigns and still see positive ROI
  • What level of SEO competition actually exists in your niche/industry/space
  • What are users intent when searching keywords

An excellent avenue towards answering these questions and more is to analyze your competition.

What Is Competitor Analysis?

Competitor analysis, in terms of SEO, is looking at and measuring how competitors are approaching search, from which keywords they’re targeting, to how much they are spending on PPC campaigns or even what goals or activities the competition are enhancing with SEO.

The benefits of a competitor analysis are abundant. It can be an invaluable way to gain insight into how to succeed in a new space. You can find potential content leads or reverse engineer strategies for your own purposes. This is especially true for companies with little to invest into their keyword research and initial framework for their strategies. You can essentially piggyback off the time, money and other resources that competitors have already invested.

In short, a competitor analysis is one of the best ways to get a more complete view of the competition surrounding the relevant keywords you hope to target. If you want to maximize the ROI of your search optimization tactics, this is the yellow-brick road.

Why? By analyzing your competition and their SEO efforts, you aren’t just seeing what they are doing well so you can mirror those strategies, you’re also finding where the chinks in the armor are — where their SEO falls short.

These are the areas of opportunity where you can capitalize the most by spending the least.

What Is A Competitor

Before breaking down how to conduct your own competitor analysis, I felt it was important to break down what type of competitors to include in your research. The Internet is a vast place and, depending on the industry/niche, there may be a lot of sites trying to rank for the same keywords.

Size: The size of a company is a fair indication of how much they are capable of investing into SEO and securing keywords. It’s an important factor to consider because you may not have the resources to compete with the largest companies in your niche. You may have to settle for softer, smaller targets.

Direct Competitors: You mostly want to focus on direct competitors, as these are the organizations that are going to be targeting the exact same (or almost the same) type of audience with very similar products and services. When search traffic isn’t winding up on your page, it is going to one of these directly competing businesses. 

Indirect Competitors: These are businesses looking to engage the same type of audience, but with a different product (example, Nike is an indirect competitor of Red Bull; while one is an athletic apparel company and the other is an energy drink, they both are aiming to attract active, athletic individuals).

In general, their keywords are going to be different, so you may want to keep them out of your competitive analysis. However, they can be a really good resource in other ways, like the tone they use in content or what types of social media platforms/posts they prefer. These little insights can be helpful for you to know how to approach the same types of audiences.

If you really aren’t sure who your competitors are, big or small, there’s two ways to find out. You can use a tool like SimilarSites (there’s a free Google Chrome extension), which allows you to enter a URL (your own) and then see similar sites. Alternatively, you can also just plug in your top, relevant keywords and see what pages come up. It’s a little more barbaric, but you’ll immediately be able to identify your large-size competitors. They’ll be the top paid results for many of your target keywords.

How To Conduct A Competitive Analysis

Once you’ve got a pool of competitors to analyze, you can begin taking steps towards conducting your competitive analysis. It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet to keep all of the information you gather organized.

The first step is to gather SEO data on each competitor. Specifically, you want to look at the site’s authority, how many total links they have and the percentage of those links that have recently been acquired. This allows you to not only see how authoritative their site is, but how quickly they are building links — how aggressive their SEO efforts are currently.

The more thorough you are with your competitive analysis, the more potential there is to yield valuable and actionable insights, so also record other metrics like:

  • Bounce rate
  • Dwell time
  • Average number of visits
  • Traffic demographics
  • Times of visits
  • Sources of traffic
  • Top link sources

The final dimension to add to your competitor analysis is the keywords themselves.

Choosing The Right Competitor Keyword

Now that you have a wealth of information on your competitors and all of their SEO efforts, it’s (finally) time to start looking at which keywords are the right target. This is where things get tricky because there are no tools or flashing “here’s where your competitors are weakest, come eat!” signs.

Your first step is to take your list of competitor keywords and shrink it down to about a tenth of its original size. Ultimately, you’re after low-competition, high-relevancy and high-reward keyword targets. So, remove any keywords that are noticeably hyper-competitive. As mentioned earlier, you can determine the competitiveness of each potential target with any keyword research/planning tool.

Next, eliminate any remaining keywords that just aren’t relevant to your specific business. These may be brand- or model-specific keywords. For example, if you’re performing SEO for a mattress retailer that doesn’t carry Serta mattresses, than any keyword associated with that brand you can scrap from your list. There may also be keywords that you just don’t care to rank for.

This is going to eliminate the bulk of your list, but there’s still some shaving left to do because you’re now looking at a mix of low-to-mid competition keywords. Remember, the goal is to shrink that list down to as small a sample as you can make it. This is going to depend a lot on whether you’re going after organic or paid efforts.

Organic: Organic keywords are particularly hard to measure, in terms of level of competition. As I said earlier, there are no magic tools that can automatically tell you what the best keywords are. The best method to truly measure the competition is to actually search the terms yourself and look at each individual page ranking towards the top.

In particular, you want to look at what type of page it is, how many backlinks there are, where those links are going and so on. Then, compare this to your own capabilities. Can you produce better content? Acquire more backlinks? How easily? In other words, how much effort and resources would it take you to pass the search results that you have just researched.

Paid: Luckily, analyzing paid keywords is a lot less involved. What you’re looking for here is your competitor’s CPC and monthly spend. Once you know how much the competition is spending, then you can determine if you can afford to outbid them.

However, you also want to be sure that the keywords you’re going to pay for will actually have the ability to convert. The majority of search users, about 80%, will skip the paid results at the top of the page. So, you want to be very strategic with your paid keywords.

The Next Step

By now, your list of possible competitor keywords has been narrowed to the choices with the lowest competition and biggest potential for gain. Your next step is to start creating content, links and other SEO materials to start optimizing pages with your newfound keywords.

Conducting a competitive analysis may seem like an arduous process and, compared to other aspects of digital marketing, it is. While there are tools to facilitate some parts of the process, there’s a lot of time-consuming work that’s required around the use of these software and services.

You may question whether the work necessary is worth a few new keywords. This is the nature of SEO. It is competitive. If you want to rank well, you have to be willing to put in a little extra work to find the best insights and the fastest ways around the competition on your way to the top of the search results.

About Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is a Corporate Speaker for SEMrush, an EPIC all-in-one tool designed to make life simpler for digital marketers. Ashley is passionate about helping businesses and individuals gain longterm ROI through teaching content marketing and social media tactics. With over 6 years in the digital marketing industry, Ashley brings first hand experience and case studies to inspire marketers around the world to better their strategies using the SEMrush platform and unique marketing tactics. She regularly speaks at workshops and conferences like Pubcon, RetailGlobal, SMS, and more. Ashley is also a contributing writer to industry blogs such as Search Engine Journal and AuthorityLabs.

Filed under: Strategy