How To
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How to Do Competitor Keyword Research for SEO in 2022

Soniya Jain
November 20, 2022

Every SEO keyword strategy should be comprehensive.

However, it is easier said than done.

There will always be multiple profitable keywords that you may miss during the basic keyword research process.

That is when your SEO competitors come in handy.

A careful analysis of your competitor's keyword research strategy can reveal several missed keyword gaps that you can incorporate into your content strategy plan and drive further organic growth.

This in-depth guide will teach you everything you need to know to perform a solid competitor keyword research process and discover those missed keyword opportunities.

Let us get started.

What is competitor keyword research?

Competitor keyword research is the process of identifying the keywords that your search competitors are targeting and ranking for, but you don't.

Why perform a competitor keyword analysis?

Keywords are the lifeblood of your search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing efforts. The more valuable keywords you can gather, the better your SEO results.

Here are some compelling reasons to learn about your competitors' keyword strategies.

Fill SEO content gaps

An SEO content gap, also known as keyword gap analysis, covers all the keywords you should target with new content posts or pages but currently are not.

It could be due to a lack of new ideas or not knowing what else to write about next.

This presents a significant opportunity to create new content to improve your search visibility and rankings.

If your business competitors are targeting keywords that you aren't, it could be a sign that they have some unique information to offer and are gaining an edge over you by exploiting those search queries.

You can strategically fill these gaps by investing in creating SEO-optimized blog posts and for the newly discovered terms from SEO competitor analysis.

Generate seed keyword ideas

Sometimes getting started with your keyword research process can be very overwhelming. You are not sure where to start and what to prioritize.

In such a situation, it helps to know what your competition is writing about and start with them to get your content marketing program rolling.

Besides, building a long keyword list requires entering some relevant seed terms as inputs into your keyword research tool of choice.

Analyzing the top-ranking pages of your competitor websites can reveal some valuable seed keywords that you can multiply.

Pro Tip: Learn to use CopyAI's Keyword Generator tool to generate seed keyword ideas in a matter of seconds.

Plan your Google Ads campaigns

Your competition bidding on keywords to show their content at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs) are also good keywords to target in your Google Ads campaigns.

You can be reasonably confident that they have tested those keywords and know what works best for them, so you may want to mimic their approach.

Once you find their PPC keywords using manual techniques or PPC competitor research tools like SpyFu, you can plan your ad groups.

If your competitors are targeting a broad range of terms, you'll want to focus on the ones most relevant to your business and those less competitive.

How does the competition keyword research process work?

Let us now understand the fundamental steps you should take to carry out an effective SEO competitive keyword analysis.

Pick your primary competitors

To begin this process, you need first to identify some competitors that you will analyze in later steps. This presents the question, who should you consider as your competition?

Your competitors are the websites that rank for many of the keywords that you are ranking for and also sell products/ services to serve the same audience as you do.

They are a combination of your business and search result competition.

Now let us learn how to find these competitors.

Method 1: Manually run search queries and monitor SERPs

  • Pick 10-20 core keywords that you want to rank for with different content pages.
  • Now, run a Google search for each of them and note down the websites that feature on the first page of SERP.
  • Identify 3-5 websites that show the most for those keywords. Exclude the ones that are not your business competitors.
  • Finally, you should shortlist 3 websites that compete with you in SERPs and the target market.
  • These are the competitors you would want to focus on for further analysis.

Method 2: Use an SEO competition analysis tool

This method uses SEO software to automate the manual process discussed above.

Using a competitor analysis software like SpyFu, you can just enter your website URL and get a lot of SEO and PPC insights. One such insight is a list of organic search competitors sharing the maximum keyword overlap with your website.

For example, when you enter the URL for the SEO tool Semrush into the software, the competitors' list looks like in the below screenshot. This seems accurate as well.

Organic competitors keyword data from SpyFu tool

One thing to remember when looking at the generated list is that it only considers the keyword overlap. You should still weed out non-business competitor websites just like you would when using method one.

Overall, using a tool makes the process of finding competitors much simpler. You can't start with a free account and upgrade based on your data requirements. The above graph was obtained using the free version of the software, just so you know.

Find competitor keywords

Once you have a list of 2-4 competitors, several techniques can be utilized to find a list of keywords for you to consider.

We cover some of the best methods to discover valuable competitor keywords in a dedicated section later in this guide.

Identify keyword gaps

After your keyword discovery process, you should have a long list of keywords your competitors are targeting and ranking for. 

You can keep this list in a spreadsheet. Now, compare this list to your website's keyword plan and identify the ones not covered in your SEO strategy.

Keyword gaps refer to the common keywords your competitors cover but you do not.

Analyze and prioritize keywords to use

Before creating a content plan to fill every gap, it is essential to pick the suitable gaps to fill.

Keyword analysis and prioritization can help achieve this.

Here are some valuable tips for picking the right competitor keywords to add to your SEO content plan:

  • Check for keyword difficulty. Low-difficulty, long-tail keywords can be covered first.
  • Prioritize keywords that will help you add new topics to an existing topic cluster you have published.
  • Consider the traffic impact of ranking a specific keyword on your marketing objectives.

Create and execute your SEO optimized content plan

After completing all the above steps, you should have a clear list of keywords to target and put into production.

Having a content calendar will help manage this activity efficiently.

Track search performance and keyword rankings

Finally, you should track your content's keyword rankings and other search performance metrics like impressions using Google Search Console and clicks in Google Analytics. This will help you optimize the results and make the most of your investment in competitive keyword research.

Repeat the process periodically

You should perform competitor keyword research at regular intervals to capture new keywords that you may have missed in the previous cycle or emerged after your last analysis.

This will create a continuous SEO improvement lifecycle informed by your competitor's strategy and help you achieve organic search excellence.

5 methods to finding competitor keywords

Below, we deep dive into the most powerful techniques you can use to find competitor keywords. Let us look into each of them one by one.

Start with Google Keyword Planner

Using Google Keyword Planner to find competitors website ranking keywords

Google Keyword Planner is a completely free tool to use by the Google Ads team and can help reveal many of your competitor's ranking keywords.

Here are the steps to find competitor keywords using this powerful tool:

  • Create a free Google Ads account if you don't have one
  • Visit the Google Keyword Planner tool
  • Select "Discover new keywords"
  • Select "Start with a website"
  • You will see two options to do your research - "Use the entire site” and "Use only this page"
  • You can start with "Use the entire site" by entering the homepage URL of your identified competitors
  • Then get more specific by selecting "the "Use only this page" option and entering specific landing page URLs
  • Configure location, language, and data range settings to fine-tune your results
  • Repeat the process with every competitor and add keywords to a temporary campaign
  • Download the keyword list once you are done

Note: Google Keyword Planner doesn't precisely show keywords your competitors are ranking for. It is a mix of some ranking keywords and suggestions. Overall, it still gives you a good starting point for your analysis.

Use Semrush, Ahrefs, or similar tool’s ranking keywords feature

List of ranking keywords for a website in Semrush

Robust SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, and SERanking have a dedicated feature to find the ranking keywords of any website URL. 

They also provide metrics like keyword ranking, difficulty, monthly search volume, and more.

These tools usually consider keywords with SERP positions in the Top 100 as the ranking keywords. You can apply additional filters like lower keyword difficulty or higher search volumes to refine this data further.

For example, using Semrush, we could find out in a matter of seconds that Coschedule's homepage ranks for more than 57 thousand keywords in the United States. It also reveals some of those keywords in the free plan.

Unfortunately, with Ahrefs you will need a paid package to access their Keywords Explorer tool that will show you all the keywords a specific site or URL is ranking for.

Suppose you already use an SEO tool like Semrush for optimization and content strategy goals. In that case, it becomes a no-brainer to use their ranking keywords feature for competition analysis.

Use Ahrefs content gap or Semrush keyword gap features

While the above method will allow you to see keywords ranking for any website or a specific competitor’s URL, it doesn’t give you a bigger picture in keyword competitive analysis across multiple sites.

You can analyze up to 10 competitors with Ahrefs or 4 competitor domains with Semrush. You can filter search volume, keyword difficulty (KD), cost-per-click (CPC), word count, and include or exclude keywords. Another filtering option is to check on or off that one website must be ranking within the top 10 search results for the keyword to show.

As you can see in this example, we compared 10 industry leaders and competitor domains, then filtered for the word ‘how’ to find some new blog post ideas. 

Ahrefs content gap competitor keyword analysis
Image file: 

You’ll get pages and pages of keyword data by filtering different keywords, search volumes, and keyword difficulties. Alternatively, remove all filters and get a huge competitive keyword database to export, analyze, and prioritize into your content marketing calendar.

Use SpyFu for competitor Google Ads keywords

Finding Google Ads keywords of a website using SpyFu

While SpyFu can be used to find organic ranking keywords of your competitor websites like Semrush, PPC, and ecommerce keyword research is where it shines.

You can enter your competitor's domain and find all the keywords for which they run ads on Google.

This is valuable keyword data, as terms used in PPC are a strong indicator of what your competition considers significant enough to spend money on.

You can easily export the list of these terms to a Google sheet and plan for PPC ads and SEO content.

Scrape keywords by looking into a website's HTML source

While the above techniques will provide you with a comprehensive target keyword list, you can still juice out some extra keywords by looking into any website's page content.

This can be done by reading through the content, paying attention to key terms, or inspecting the page's HTML source.

Let your competitors refine your SEO strategy

Having competition is a good thing.

It validates the demand for your offering and pushes you to work harder toward improving your business.

You realize that competition can boost your website's SEO strategy with keyword competition analysis.

It is ok to have some relevant keyword gaps in your SEO content plan; what is not ok is not doing something about it.

The key is to observe and analyze your competitors' keyword strategies and learn from them.

This guide teaches us that performing a robust competitor keyword research activity can help us fill those content gaps in a data-driven manner.

We learned some powerful yet easy-to-apply techniques to find some excellent keywords being used by your competition but missed by you.

You should target those keywords and take your organic search visibility to the next level.

Investing in compelling website copy is crucial, turning your increased organic visits into conversions.

Our ai writer tools can supercharge your copy, content creation, social media, and any writing you need help with in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise. Many of our tools are free

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