Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a competitive industry. We are all after the same thing, that first position on Google for the keywords that are relevant for our business. There’s a rankings “war” going on and sometimes the best one wins and other times it’s the one with the dirtiest tricks. If you are a small business that has just joined the battle, conducting a competitor keyword research can be a good strategy to help you make sense of the weapons your competitors are using.
1. Run a keyword research for your website
Start by identifying your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to keyword rankings, before looking at your competitors. You need to make sure that your website serves the needs of the target audience throughout the conversion funnel. Marking the keywords to each phase of the customer journey will help you identify gaps in content and offer the most relevant information depending on the user’s intent.
The most used customer journey split is Awareness, Consideration and Conversion, but this will approach will depend on the type of business you have, whether you offer services or products. The keywords used by customers in the awareness stage are called informational keywords, in the consideration stage they are called navigational keywords, and in the conversion stage they are called commercial and transactional keywords.
The last step here is to understand the competitiveness of the keywords you identify for each stage: what’s their search volume, your ranking position, are they currently bringing any traffic to your site? You can use tools like SEMrush and Google Search Console for that and UberSuggest for extra keyword suggestions.
2. Identify your competitors
Next, it’s important to know who your competitors are. We are referring only to search competitors in this instance, those domains that share the most similar keyword rankings as you, that can sometimes be different to generic/offline competitors. The easiest way is to search on Google for the top keywords you identified in step number one and see who’s ranking in the first 20 positions.
Before looking at the keywords these competitors are ranking for, you need to understand how strong the competitors are. Check out the power of their domain by using metrics like:
- Trust Flow or Domain Authority (here’s an article we wrote on the difference between TF and DA)
- Their backlinks and referring domains to understand where your competitors are getting their links from and at what pace (we use Majestic for this)
- How much traffic they are getting and from what sources (you can get this information from SemRush or SimilarWeb)
Based on all of this information and the budgets and human resources you have available to invest in this, you need to decide if you want to go for the big guys or the middle range competitors.
3. Analyse and compare competitors rankings
Now that you have a list of your top five competitors, the next step would be to discover which keywords your competitors are ranking for that you don’t. Discovering these gaps will give you some examples of keywords that could potentially be valuable for your business.
As there’s a tool for everything nowadays, instead of doing all of the work manually, you can use Keyword Gap Tool by SemRush or Ahrefs’s Batch Analysis Tool. This step will result in a long list of keywords that you need to filter down by metrics like search volume, competition, keyword difficulty (this metric allows users to estimate how difficult it would be to seize a competitors’ position in organic search with a particular keyword).
4. Decide on the keywords you want to focus on
This might be the most difficult part as you need to look at the filtered list of keywords you discovered and filter it down even further until you have decided on the final keywords you will focus on. When deciding, you need to ask yourself if your website is strong enough to rank for a particular keyword and if you have the resources and skills to start building backlinks and content on that topic.
Next, group the keywords by category and user journey. Adopting a strategy that focuses on keyword clusters instead of individual keywords (also called “single keyword SEO”) can get you an increase in organic traffic and allows you to create a content strategy that covers your topic completely. Moz wrote an excellent guide on keyword clustering in case you are looking for more information on this topic.
5. Start ranking for the chosen keywords
The purpose of doing all of the work mentioned in the previous four steps is, in the end, to start ranking for the new keywords that you identified in the competitor keyword analysis. The most important action you need to take on-site is to create new and relevant content for your keyword clusters and then build backlinks to it. Or update and improve any existing content that could target the topics you are after.
Create a framework for content creation, starting from the keyword gaps you identified, their cluster, the customer journey stage and the content type needed to be created: it could be a blog post, a cornerstone piece, a guide, a landing page, etc. Think about the questions your customers might have about your product or service based on their buyer journey and make sure your content is better than what is written by your competitors.
It might sound like a lot of work administering a competitor keyword research, but the information you will gather about your competitors’ rankings will give you a better understanding of their SEO strategies. At the same time, it can pinpoint any weaknesses you might have and also give you ideas into how you can tackle them in order to become a better fighter in the rankings war.