Keyword research is a must if you want to stand out in the SEO competition. It can also help you come up with more unique angles for your content topics.
While important, there’s no denying that keyword research can be tedious.
Fortunately for you, there is a way to skip all the number crunching and get straight to the good stuff.
I’m talking about doing a competitor keyword analysis.
This post will show you the steps on how to search for keywords on a page your competitor owns.
Table Of Contents
- 1. Understanding Competitor Keyword Research
- 2. Finding the Recommended Keyword Difficulty for Your Website
- 3. Generate a domain overview report
- 4. Filter out your top keywords
- 5. Exporting your data into an Excel document
- 6. Building the “Bin Array” column
- 7. Using the “Frequency” formula to find the ideal keyword difficulty
- 8. How to Find Competitors the Right Way
- 9. What Keywords are my Competitors Using?
- 10. Use a keyword research tool
- 11. Scrape keywords from competitors’ top pages
- 12. Look for keywords with commercial intent
- 13. Expanding your keyword base with secondary keyword analysis
- 14. Find content gaps to unearth even more keyword opportunities
- 15. Bonus: Finding low-hanging fruit keywords
- 16. Conclusion
Understanding Competitor Keyword Research
Veteran bloggers will know that SEO is tricky business.
You need to pay attention to a lot of factors if you want to achieve and maintain high rankings.
For most website owners, formulating an SEO strategy that works is depends heavily on trial and error. This is especially true when it comes to deciding which keywords to target.
That’s where traditional keyword research methods come into play.
What is traditional keyword research?
Knowing how to find low-competition keywords with high traffic is the name of the game.
It begins with a broad term or “seed keyword” and a keyword research tool like Ubersuggest.
By entering the seed keyword into Ubersuggest, you can discover a long list of long-tail keyword variations you can target. Critical metrics like keyword difficulty, average monthly traffic, and Cost Per Click are also provided to help spot profitable terms.
If you plan to perform keyword research from scratch, be sure to look for long-tail keyword variations. Check out the link for the unmissable steps to successful keyword research along with alternatives to Ubersuggest.
A lot of bloggers use traditional keyword research to fuel their content marketing and SEO campaigns.
While effective, the keyword ideas you can uncover are educated guesses at best.
Let’s face it, even if you find keywords with decent traffic and manageable competitiveness, results are still aren’t guaranteed. You can’t be 100% sure that your keywords will yield traffic — let alone conversions — unless you give them a shot.
A competitive keyword research tool solves this problem by essentially unwrapping the strategy of top websites.
What is competitor keyword research?
Unlike traditional keyword research, you don’t have to start from square one with competitor keyword research.
You just model your strategy around proven keywords that your competitors already tested.
Not only is it a huge time-saver, electing to find competitors’ keywords also has the following benefits:
- Discover content gaps — Keywords used by competitors can also point to untapped content ideas that you haven’t capitalized on yet. These are gaps between you and your competitor’s SEO strategies that must be closed if you want to outperform them.
- Find PPC keywords you can bank on — If a top competitor is investing in a keyword for paid traffic, chances are it helps them generate profitable leads. You can then ramp up content creation for these keywords and bid on them as well.
- Save money on link building — Building links to elevate your search engine rankings consumes a huge chunk of a blogger’s time and budget. Competitor keyword research maximizes returns by finding the right keywords to target.
- Remodel your content strategy — Identifying the perfect keyword ideas is just a part of SEO competitor analysis. You can also spy on their content to borrow strategies that can increase search engine rankings.
- Unveil secondary keyword opportunities — Aside from high-traffic, focus keywords, your competitor may also have dozens, if not hundreds, of secondary keywords that bring traffic. Adopting these keywords into your SEO strategy will create more ways for visitors to find your site.
With all that said, you must be eager to do competitor keyword research.
Don’t worry — we’ll get to it soon. There’s just one more thing we need to talk about first.
Finding the Recommended Keyword Difficulty for Your Website
A step-by-step approach is needed in order to make the most out of competitor keyword research.
Here’s the problem: a keyword that works well for a bigger competitor may not work for you at all.
Why? Because different websites have different ranking capabilities.
The higher these metrics are, the higher the keyword difficulty ratings you can take on. It may sound harsh, but that’s just the reality in the competitive SEO industry.
This begs the question: “What is the ideal keyword difficulty range for my website?”
To establish a baseline keyword difficulty for your website, you’ll need a tool like SEMrush. It’s an all-around SEO and marketing analytics platform for professional marketers and serious bloggers;
Don’t own SEMrush yet?
You can start with a 30-day free trial account for SEMrush. That should give you more than enough time to complete the steps below.
Let me walk you through the steps of setting a baseline keyword difficulty for your website.
1. Generate a domain overview report
For the sake of this guide, we’ll use the organic keyword data of SEMrush.
On the ‘Domain Overview’ tab, enter your website’s URL and click the ‘Search’ button.
SEMrush will then present you with a report page filled with pertinent information on your website. This includes your average organic search traffic, backlink count, total number of ads, and more.
What you need to look at, however, is the “Top Organic Keywords” section. From there, just click on ‘View full report.’
2. Filter out your top keywords
The organic research overview page reveals valuable metrics that relate to your website’s SEO performance.
Some of the metrics you’ll find are the number of your organic keywords, projected traffic cost, and average organic traffic.
Pay attention to the location of this report — you’ll need it later when you actually want to check competitor keywords.
The next step is to switch to the ‘Positions’ tab to view your website’s organic search positions. More importantly, it shows the list of keywords your website is currently ranking for.
Above the organic keyword metrics, you’ll find four drop-down menus that control the filter options.
The goal here is simple: find the organic keywords that you rank highly for and look at their difficulty ratings.
We can do this by clicking the ‘Positions’ drop-down menu and selecting a specific range.
Scanning your top five positions should be a great place to start. If you can’t find any results, bump this up to top 10, 20, and so on.
Once the page is refreshed, you should see the keywords that you rank for. Sort the list according to difficulty to find the most competitive keywords out of the bunch.
A glance at your top keywords should give you an idea of the recommended difficulty range you should aim for. In the example above, it looks like SEMrush has no problem competing for keywords with a difficulty rating of around 90.
That looks about right — but then again, competitive SEO has no room for guesswork.
We need to refine this data to get the accurate keyword difficulty ranges you can target in your competitor research.
An easy way to do this is to export the data and generate a frequency chart on Excel. This takes us to the next step.
3. Exporting your data into an Excel document
After you find your most competitive keywords, click ‘Export’ on the top-right corner and select ‘Excel.’
Initially, your Excel report should look something like this:
That’s a lot of numbers.
Before we proceed, let’s trim down our data to show only what’s important — particularly the “Keyword” and “Keyword Difficulty” columns.
In addition to these columns, there are two more columns you need to manually create.
4. Building the “Bin Array” column
Wait — what on Earth is a “Bin Array”?
Basically, it’s a set of numbers or intervals used in the “Frequency” function for Excel. Rest assured that everything will be clear to you by the end of this section.
For now, let’s call the next column “Bin Array.”
Right below this column header, enter 0, 5, and 10 into consecutive cells. Notice that these numbers are a total of five values apart — pertaining to keyword difficulty ranges.
Since SEMrush measures keyword difficulty on a scale of 0 to 100, we still need to expand this number set. Luckily, Excel can automatically do it for you — just select all three cells and drag it to the lower cells.
Here’s how it’s done:
5. Using the “Frequency” formula to find the ideal keyword difficulty
The next column will be called “Frequency,” which will measure the number of keywords in all keyword difficulty ranges.
This time, we’ll need to fire up a formula for our first value.
Highlight the first cell under the “Frequency” column and click the ‘Formulas’ tab. Keep in mind that the interface may be different if you use another spreadsheet software or a different version Excel.
In the ‘More Functions’ sub-menu, expand ‘Statistical’ and click ‘Frequency.’
The frequency function will require two inputs in order to work: “data_array” and “bin_array.”
To input the bin array values we created earlier, click on the “Bins_array” field under the “Formula Builder.” Next, select all the values under the “Bin Array” column.
On the “Data_array” field, we then select the values under the “Keyword Difficulty” column.
If you click ‘Done,’ you’ll notice that the frequency cell will return a value of zero. That’s because we still need to apply the formula with the rest of the bin array values.
To do this, drag the bottom of the cell and expand it all the way next to “100.”
It’s very important that you drag from the center and not the corner to correctly perform the next step.
Once all the cells are selected, click on the formula bar and press ‘Control,’ ‘Shift,’ and ‘Enter’ on your keyboard. This shortcut is the same for both Mac and Windows devices.
The “Frequency” column should now be populated with the number of keywords that fall under a specific difficulty range.
Judging by the numbers, SEMrush’s baseline keyword difficulty is 60-70 since it’s the most frequent range.
I know it’ll take several minutes for you to calculate the “comfort” keyword difficulty for your website. Feel free to review and use the steps above before coming back once you get your baseline keyword difficulty.
How to Find Competitors the Right Way
Now that you’ve calculated the ideal keyword difficulty for your website, all that’s missing is a primary competitor.
Long story short, a primary competitor is another brand that offers the same products or services.
This means they want to draw the attention of the same audience. And in most cases, they’re also after the same target keywords as you.
How to find primary competitors
Do you still have your SEMrush trial account active?
Good — you can use it to identify your primary competitors in an instant.
Going back to your domain overview report, scroll down until you find the “Main Organic Competitors” section.
Your primary competitors in your niche will be served to you on a silver platter.
For example, below is what this section looks like for MailChimp
For a longer list of competitors, go ahead and click ‘View full report.’ This will take you to the “Organic Competitors” page that contains additional information, like competitor shared keywords, traffic, and competitiveness.
Speaking of competitors, remember that there are a handful of SEMrush alternatives that can provide you with similar information. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all solution in SEO, you should check my comparison to find a platform tailored to your needs.
Serpstat, for one, displays your organic search competitors right from the overview page.
What if you don’t have a marketing analytics tool to pull out competitors for you?
If your objective is to simply find competitors, a swift Google search ought to do the trick. Just be sure to actually use one of your target keywords — you should identify primary competitors in no time.
The downside of this method is, you’ll miss out on all useful metrics that analytics tools like SEMrush offer.
On the plus side, using search engines will also help you come across secondary competitors.
How to find secondary competitors
While primary competitors sell the same products and services, secondary competitors don’t have any of that.
Instead, they publish content aimed towards your target audience. This means they also target the same or related keywords.
For instance, “email marketing automation” is one of MailChimp’s organic keywords.
Naturally, you should also find some of their primary competitors in the search engine results. This includes other top-tier email marketing platforms like ActiveCampaign and GetResponse.
But in addition to these, there are also results from websites that don’t provide email marketing services. In fact, Neil Patel’s email marketing automation guide actually ranks higher than MailChimp’s content.
Regardless if a competitor is primary or secondary, one thing is for certain:
You need to identify their target keywords and incorporate them into your strategy.
By now, you should be able to come up with three to five primary and secondary competitors.
List them down into a spreadsheet for now. If you used analytics tools, include metrics such as their traffic and shared keywords so you’ll know who to prioritize.
For your reference, suppose you run a personal finance blog and targets the keyword “how to save money.”
Your primary competitors will be other niche blogs that sell the same services or products. As a personal finance blogger, you could be selling coaching services, an online course, or any other infomercial product.
You probably don’t sell credit cards or banking services — making sites like Regions.com and NerdWallet.com your secondary competitors.
With that in mind, this is what your list of competitors could look like:
I see you’ve reached this part of the article.
Things will get a lot more interesting from this point forward.
To help keep you focused, let’s review the things we’ve accomplished so far:
- Calculated the optimal keyword difficulty range for your website
- Identified your primary and secondary competitors
- Sorted the priority of competitors for research according to their online presence
As you progress through the rest of this guide, I need you to remember two things:
Your baseline keyword difficulty and your list of competitors.
With those in hand, you’re now ready to analyze competitors’ keywords.
What Keywords are My Competitors Using?
As you use the tactics outlined below, you should come across dozens — possibly hundreds — of keyword ideas.
If you have a keyword or marketing research platform, you can consolidate keywords by creating a group and exporting them.
The best keyword research tools should have the features you need for this. SEMrush, for example, let’s you build keyword lists with the “Keyword Analyzer” tool.
This makes it easy for you to track and export your keywords into an accessible document.
Bloggers who don’t own a tool like SEMrush, on the other hand, can track keywords manually.
It doesn’t have to be complicated — just create a spreadsheet that lists down your target keywords along with useful metrics.
Of course, the tool you use for keyword research dictates the amount of data you can collect. But at the very least, your tracker should have each keyword’s monthly search volume and keyword difficulty.
Lastly, I’ll be using different tools for the remainder of this post.
I’m doing this to broaden your perspective and maybe help you find the perfect tool for your specific preferences.
The truth is, popular keyword research and analytics tools will most likely have similar features. Only the implementation and user interface are different.
With that out of the way, here are five steps that will let you spy on competitors’ keywords:
1. Use a keyword research tool
For starters, a keyword research tool like KWFinder by Mangools should divulge the information you need.
The current version of the tool currently has two modes: “Search by Keyword” and “Search by Domain.”
To see your competitors’ keywords, go to the ‘Search by Domain’ tab and enter your competitor’s website address.
After clicking ‘Find keywords,’ it shouldn’t take long for KWFinder to bring up results.
For example, entering the domain “MyMoneyCoach.ca” will generate the following keywords:
The top of the list is probably filled with branded keywords. But there should also be a couple of organic, long-tail keywords that you can also target for your website.
Don’t forget to check the ‘Paid Keywords’ tab — there should be more keyword ideas there.
Which keywords from the bunch should you add to your tracker?
You should factor in two things: the keyword’s search volumeand your baseline keyword difficulty.
The more traffic a keyword generates, the better. Just see to it that their keyword difficulty ratings stay within the ideal difficulty range we calculated earlier.
2. Scrape keywords from competitors’ top pages
Using your competitors’ domain address for keyword research will surely help you identify a couple of focus keywords.
There’s just one problem: “What if their homepage doesn’t rank for any keyword that drives traffic?”
That’s why you also need to look at the keywords they target on their top pages.
I bet that their top-performing content is armed with several high-traffic keywords.
To look for your competitor’s top pages, you need a tool with the same firepower as SEMrush.
Serpstat should be a good candidate. Simply generate a domain overview report and scroll down to the “Pages with the highest visibility” section.
Plugging in MakingSenseofCents.com will reveal the following high-traffic pages:
With the list of your competitors’ top content, you can now access their most valuable keywords. Just click on one of the links to generate the page overview report.
The “Organic keywords” section should be right above the fold.
Clicking ‘Show all’ will take you to the keyword positions page. This is where you’ll identify the organic keywords that bring traffic to your competitor’s content.
You can also create a filter to narrow down the list of organic keywords.
3. Look for keywords with commercial intent
For blogs that have a virtual store, it’s crucial that you optimize for keywords with buyer intent.
These are keywords that contain commercial or action-oriented terms, like “buy” or “order.”
In which case, keyword analysis must be done on your competitor’s online store subdomain or page directory.
It’s pretty much the same as analyzing your competitor’s top content. Only this time, you’ll use a URL with the specific store-related subfolder or subdomain in your domain analysis.
Picture that you run a pet blog and Pet Life is your competitor.
Exploring their domain will eventually lead you to their shop section, which runs on the subdomain “shop.petlife.com.”
If you also want a store for your pet blog, you should take a peek at their commercial keywords. This is especially true if you’re planning to offer similar products.
You can instantly reveal the keywords you need by plugging in the store’s subdomain on SEMrush or anything similar.
For those who haven’t the budget for a keyword research tool, try using Ubersuggest. It should also reveal the organic keywords of any domain you enter, including shop subdomains.
The drawback is, Ubersuggest’s results are nowhere near as comprehensive than that of a premium SEO platform like SEMrush. But it should be a reasonable option for blogs that are yet to generate steady income.
4. Expanding your keyword base with secondary keyword analysis
Now that I’ve already brought up Ubersuggest, let me talk about one thing it’s amazing for:
Secondary keyword analysis.
Entering their domain to Ubersuggest leads to the following keyword ideas:
Out of all these keyword ideas, let’s assume “pancakes Japan” got your attention. Maybe you want to write a blog post related to pancakes and would like to diversify its target keyword set.
All you have to do is enter your competitor’s keyword into Ubersuggest to reveal secondary keyword opportunities. And on the “Keyword Ideas” page, just switch to the ‘Related’ tab.
Looking for secondary keywords related to that phrase will send more relevancy signals to search engines. As such, you’ll have more chances of outranking your competitor as well as raking in traffic with those surplus keywords.
Just don’t forget the keyword difficulty rating of each secondary keyword. Whatever you do, keep them below or close to the recommended keyword difficulty for your website.
5. Find content gaps to unearth even more keyword opportunities
Take note that, for this step, we’ll need a feature that’s only available on SEMrush.
From the main dashboard, expand the ‘Gap Analysis’ sub-menu and click ‘Keyword Gap.’
The keyword gap tool is where you can compare multiple domains side by side. SEMrush will then pluck out keyword opportunities based on the intersection type and filters you’ve set.
In short, a keyword gap analysis to find competitor keywords that you haven’t targeted yet. The first step is to enter your competitor’s website as the first domain and then add your site second.
Imagine for a second that you own Pet Life and The Pet Blog Lady is your competitor.
What you have to do is enter both URLs into the “Keyword Gap” page.
Because we want to find keywords that your competitors have but you don’t, their domain should be entered first.
See the two circles between the domains that look like a Venn diagram? That’s where you can set the intersection type you want to use for the comparison.
To unveil keyword opportunities from your competitor’s domain, select ‘Unique to the first domain’s keywords.’
Now that our keyword gap comparison is ready to launch, click the green ‘Go’ button on the right.
SEMrush should fetch a list of keywords that the first domain ranks for but are totally ignored by the second. In other words, these are the “keyword gaps” in your strategies that must be filled.
I recommend using filters to get only your competitor’s top, relevant keywords.
Let’s say you want to find competitor keywords that get the most traffic. By clicking ‘Advanced filters,’you can create a filter that sieves out keywords with at least 100 searches a month.
Just copy the configuration below by selecting the right options in each drop-down menu.
To further refine your keywords list, add as many filters as needed.
For example, it’s an absolute must that you filter out keywords within your baseline keyword difficulty. In which case, you need a filter with a configuration that looks like this:
That’s it — you can play around with more filter combinations to find the keywords you need. The two crucial things to remember are your baseline keyword difficulty and keyword tracker.
Bonus: Finding low-hanging fruit keywords
In keyword research, a “low-hanging fruit” means a keyword that could result in quick wins.
A great example would be a keyword that you already rank for on page two. Optimizing for that keyword should be easier since you’re only several positions away from Google’s first page.
SEMrush’s keyword gap tool will help you find these low-hanging fruit keyword opportunities. Just follow the previous steps to perform a keyword gap analysis.
The only difference is, you’ll need to use the ‘Common keywords’ intersection type.
As you may have guessed, this type of analysis will scoop up keywords that both you and your competitor rank for.
All that’s to do is create filters that get your competitor’s organic keywords on page one and yours on page two.
These are the keyword filter configurations you need to use:
The result should be a list of keywords that the first domain ranks for on page one. But as for your site, it only ranks on page two.
There you have it — low-hanging fruit keyword opportunities that could get you to the top of SERPs.
How’s your keyword tracker looking now?
Are you happy with the number of new keyword ideas you found with the strategy?
Sure you do!
If not, don’t hesitate to share your feedback and suggestions in the comments below. I’ll be waiting.