Imagine you and another guy got lost while hiking in the forest. And both of you came across a wolf that’s huge, hungry, and ready to pounce?
What do you do?
You tie up your shoelaces and get ready to run, of course!
But here’s the thing: You don’t need to outrun the wolf – you just need to run faster than the other guy.
So why am I telling you this?
All digital marketers know that the key to SEO success is keyword research. But not every online business owner knows how to start their keyword research.
You see, it’s just like escaping a hungry wolf: You don’t need to be the best in SEO to become number 1 on Google – you just need to outrank your competitors to make it to the top.
This is the reason why you need to research your competitors.
By knowing what keywords your competitors are ranking for, how to avoid competing with them, or target the keywords their SEO is weak in, you can emerge on top.
First, let’s touch on what is keyword competition is all about.
What exactly is keyword competition analysis?
In SEO, keyword competition refers to the analysis of how challenging, or competitive it is for you to rank your webpage on search engine results (such as Google) for a specific keyword or phrase.
If the keyword or phrase is common, or popular among search engine users or your niche, that means it is a high competition keyword.
On the other hand, if the keyword or phrase is obscure, then it usually means that it is a low-competition keyword.
In SEO, your goal as a business is to put your website in the top spot on Google search results, using low-competitive, yet highly searched keywords.
This will then bring in a sizable wave of organic traffic towards your business. The more eyeballs your website gets, it generates a snowball effect that will continuously bring more people to you, thus potentially growing your profits.
Unlike PPC advertising, SEO is one of the cheapest ways to draw traffic.
SEO doesn’t require a huge advertising budget. You only need to spend the time to do the proper research analysis and produce the content that is relevant to the keywords you are ranking for.
Also, unlike PPC advertising, you have the chance to outperform big competitors who have enormous advertising budgets using SEO.
That means the SEO keyword analysis is the blueprint to the success to the online front of your business.
So let’s get right to it and look at how you can do your keyword competition analysis.
How to conduct a keyword competition analysis?
Find out who are your competitors
Before you can defeat your enemy, first you have to know thy enemy. The same holds true for SEO.
Sizing up your enemies is the first step in your research. But how do you know if the website is your competition or not?
There are 2 criteria to look at:
Size– How big is your competitor in your niche? Are they big players in your industry, or small-time businesses with little-to-zero online presence?
Nature of competition– Does this website belongs to a direct or indirect competitor?
A direct competitor would be a someone that offers a product or service that can substitute your offering.
An indirect competitor is a different product or service but solves the same problem your offering addresses.
To find out who are the big players in your niche, all you need to do is to run a Google search and see what the websites that show up on top are.
Small and indirect competitors aren’t as easy to find. You will need to use other SEO tools to help you locate them, such as Alexa and Similar Sites.
Create a spreadsheet and place all your competitors big or small into your list. Also, take notes on their size and the nature of their competition.
Once you have a list of competitors, you need to gather the metrics of each of these sites, such as:
Domain Authority– The level of authority the site holds among Google users
Link sources or referring domains– How many domains that are linking back to a competitor site
New referring domains– How many new domains that link back to the competitor site every month
Referring domains are essential to know because it tells you if your competitor is consistently growing their SEO presence, or if they have become stagnant and complacent.
If it’s the latter, then it is only a matter of time you will outrun these guys and overtake their positions on Google.
You can find all these information by going to Ahrefs. This is a premium tool that requires a fee, but you can sign up for a free trial and get your info for free.
Other than the link profile of your competitors, you can do more scouting on the competition by analysing the SEO health of the competitors’ sites.
You’ll want to find out the following information:
These are the ones that you want to pull:
- The average monthly visits they are getting
- The number of page views, bounce rate, time on site that they’re getting
- Country of origin of their traffic
- Where is their traffic coming from (Facebook, Youtube, Amazon, etc.)?
- What are the demographics of their traffic?
To obtain these metrics, go to Follow.net, sign up for an account and run a search of your competitor’s domain.
You will get a series of graphs which tells you pretty accurately breaks down the demographics of the traffic that is going to your competitors.
Once you have collected the traffic info and the link profiles for all your competitors, you should have reliable information on hand to help you in the next step.
Figure out which keywords have the highest ROI
Now you need to start fine-tuning your list, by figuring out which are the keywords that will give you the most significant ROI (returns on investment).
What does that mean? It means keywords that are being under-utilised by your competitors, and they can give you the highest SEO ranking power, with the lowest marketing effort on your end.
Here’s how you can pick out these high ROI keywords from your current keyword list.
First, go to Alexa and sign up for a free trial. Look for the option that reads “keyword research by site.” Key in your competitor’s URL in the search box.
Under the “site keywords” section, you’ll find opportunity (both paid and organic) keywords that you can target to give you the edge over your competitors. Just export this data paste them inside your spreadsheet.
Now you can filter the highest ROI keywords even further. Ideally, you’ll want to cut your list down to size, at around 20% of what you started out with.
Don’t worry if it seems too little, as just a handful of high ROI keywords can have a drastic effect on your overall SEO ranking if you’re doing things the right way.
Plug every keyword and phrase into Google, and look at the top 3 to 5 results that show up.
Study each result carefully. Look at the following things on the webpage for each result:
- How many (and what type of quality) backlinks are pointing to the page? How many of them are leading back to the domain?
- Put yourself in the shoes of a Google user. If I searched for this keyword, how satisfied am I with this result?
- Is the website an established one or a community-driven platform (such as Reddit or Quora?)
- Does this result belong to a free blog platform like Blogger, WordPress or Hubpages?
- How quickly does the page load?
- Is the design of the website clean and modern, or outdated and full of distractions?
- How mobile-friendly or responsive is the website?
With these questions in mind, you need to evaluate if the keywords are worth your time and effort targeting.
Unfortunately, there are no tools to help you derive this answer, but you can look at some of the following criteria:
- How strong is your domain? (How many links point to it, what’s is your domain authority score?)
- Are you able to quickly get backlinks? (Do you have the experience in SEO work? Do you have a network of contacts to get links from?)
- What is the quality of the content that you produce? (Do you have the ability to create high-quality content or the budget to hire someone to do it for you?)
The authority, trust, and relevance of the content you are going to create for a specific keyword have to exceed all other results that you have evaluated.
The stronger your domain is, the easier it is for you to acquire quality backlinks, the easier it is to rank on Google.
And of course, the higher your budget for producing content, the more unlikely someone else is able to match the quality of your content.
There is a tool available called Spyfu that can allow you to see how much your competitors are spending monthly on their keywords. This will let you have a rough idea of how much resources you need to dedicate to compete with them.
Spyfu also has a keyword grouping option, that allows you to place keywords into stacks and will enable you to produce content that focuses on several keywords simultaneously.
That means you can create a single piece of content that covers two or more keywords, saving you the time and budget for new content.
Find the weak links in your competitors’ armour
By now, you should have a comprehensive insight into the competition that you are going again.
But how do you find the areas where you can beat the competition, and what do you do with this knowledge?
You need to look at 2 types of SEO factors – on-page and off-page.
On page SEO factors
This refers to how relevant or how satisfied the search user is about the content of the competitor’s web page.
To determine how much users like the competitor’s use of keywords, you need to look at publicly available info such as the number of shares on social media.
You can usually find the number next to the article under the social media bar (most blogs will proudly display this figure to demonstrate social proof).
You can also check the comments section (if there is one) on the page. If several users are leaving positive comments on the page, then it’s a good sign that the audience is satisfied.
In recent years, Google has been encouraging website owners to prioritise usability, giving websites with mobile-friendly pages and fast loading speed priority in its rankings.
If you see that the top 3 to 5 results are non-responsive web pages that are slow and clunky, it usually means that Google doesn’t really want to rank them, and it doesn’t have a choice because there are no other web pages that have the same relevance as them.
That means if you can produce similar content, but with a faster and more responsive design, you can easily win their top spots.
To analyse a webpage’s loading speed and mobile-friendliness, there are a couple of free tools you can use, such as Pingdom and Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test.
Arguably the most important, and also the easiest criteria to check. All you need to do is to run a search on Google, look at the results and see the content quality is high or not.
Some of the indicators of low-quality content include having no images, little to no keyword use in the body text, zero backlinks, and no supporting data in the content.
Third party websites
The more external referring links a website has, the stronger ranking power it has. This means having third-party sites link your content onto their website.
If the competitor doesn’t have any third party referring links, the easier it is for you to beat him.
Similarly, you need to build your own relationship with third party site owners, so that you can get your content on to their site.
This means you need to start nurturing your network with other site owners, providing them with proof that you are an expert authority in your niche, and that your content is superior to that of your competitors.
There is no easy way to achieve this, other than to expand your network through social media, real-life events, or through word-of-mouth.
So naturally, the more comfortable you are in social outreach, the easier it is for you to establish a robust network.
Off-page SEO factors
One of the many factors that Google takes into account includes the Page Authority (PA) score.
The quick and easy solution to finding the PA of your competitor is to install the Moz SEO extension.
Whenever you run a search for a keyword on Google, it shows the PA and other metrics of the result at the bottom, so you can easily assess the PA at a glance.
Brand Equity and Domain Authority
While Page Authority is much more critical to SEO success than Domain Authority, it is still a metric that you mustn’t ignore.
Brand equity is much harder to determine as there is no true way to measure it.
The general guideline is that if a website brand usually outperforms the majority of other websites regarding presence and authority, that means that it is very likely to be a formidable SEO competitor.
If you think that all these research into your competitors is a time-consuming procedure, you are absolutely right.
But here’s the truth, doing all these research will pay off for your business in the long run because you have a winning edge over everyone else.
Competition is an inevitable part of doing business, whether it is about SEO or not.
So to stand a fighting chance against competitors in your industry, you cannot afford not to know what they are doing for their online marketing efforts that are bringing them success.
Every research takes time, practice and commitment before you can enjoy the rewards.
With this guide, I hope it can help you achieve that goal quicker. As always, if you wish to speak to me about your SEO goals, you can always contact me right here.
About Murray Dare
A digital marketing consultant and entrepreneur,
Murray runs his marketing agency Murraydare.co.uk and several online startups.
Murray has helped startups and businesses achieve online success through a considered approach to marketing.