How to Do an SEO Competitor Keyword Analysis (in 5 steps)
Ever wondered why your competitors are beating you in the organic SERPs?
You don’t need to wonder. You need to do some competitor keyword analysis.
SEO is more competitive than ever. It can be difficult to stay on top of new keywords, the latest trends and best practices on your own.
You might even find that your website is slowly losing ground to your competitors over time. One solution is to
steal reverse engineer what is working for your competitors.
In this guide, you’ll learn what competitor keyword research is, why you should use it, the process we use at Loganix (+ a free template for running your own analysis).
Sounds good? Let’s go.
What Is Competitor Keyword Analysis?
An SEO competitor keyword analysis is the process of researching what keywords your main competition ranks for. And then working out what they did to achieve those rankings.
This can help you to find missed opportunities and new keywords to target.
In super-simple terms: you want to find keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you (or your clients) ARE NOT.
A good competitive keyword analysis will give you the full picture of how top ranking websites are performing in terms of SEO.
Here’s what you will learn by taking a deep dive into your competitors:
- Learn what works (+ what doesn’t) in your niche/industry
- Find weaknesses in your competitors (then capitalize on them!)
- Find strengths in your competitors (then reverse engineer them!)
- Get an idea of the SEO tasks you NEED to prioritize.
- Get an idea of how difficult outperforming them in the SERPs will be.
Even if your website is ranking highly, it’s still a good idea to keep tabs on what competing sites are doing. It will help you stay competitive and find new opportunities that you may have missed.
Why is it important?
Performing a keyword analysis on your competition helps you stay competitive. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be completely aware of all possible keywords and SEO best practices by yourself.
There will always be new trends, new tools, and new algorithm updates to reset the landscape.
In fact, your competitors can be a goldmine of useful information that you can use as part of your SEO strategy.
Performing an SEO competitor keyword analysis lets you:
- Find keywords that competitors rank for and you don’t
- Find competitor content that ranks well but doesn’t match search intent very well
- Find keywords that competitors are paying for that you can rank for instead
- Find valuable content topics by identifying high-investment content assets
- Finding ideas for improving your own content by viewing competitor keyword overlap
These will all help you reverse-engineer the way to have your own website rank better.
What are the best tools for finding competitor keywords?
There are a quite a few competitor keyword analysis tools that you’ll find very useful.
You can use them to find and analyze your competitors in a few different ways to understand what you can do to beat them.
It doesn’t really matter which you pick. But here are five of the best tools for competitor keyword analysis:
- Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer — find competitors, analyze their SEO data, and more.
- SEMRush’s Competitor Research — analyze domains, traffic, organic rankings, keyword gaps, and backlink gaps.
- Moz’ Keyword Explorer — find new keywords, analyze search results to find competitors, and more.
- SpyFu — find your competitors’ most profitable keywords, and their ad spend for paid and organic search campaigns.
- Buzzsumo’s Competitor Intelligence — allows you to analyze competitor content and how they share it on social media.
How to Find Your SEO Competitors
Your SEO competitors are other websites that you compete with for searches using the same keywords.
For a business, that will likely be other local businesses that sell the same products or services as yours.
But that won’t always be the case.
For example, if your business is a clinic in the healthcare industry, you will also have to compete with health-related websites. That can include WebMD, Mayo Clinic, health-focused blogs, or even news outlets that write stories on health matters.
That can make finding your SEO competitors daunting, but there are tools to help.
One of the best keyword research tools for this is Ahrefs. It has a Competing Domains report that makes the task much easier.
You can also search for the main keywords you think that customers would use to find your business.
It could be the main kind of product or service you sell, or the main topic of information your website provides.
Just enter that into Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool and click on “Also Rank For” to find other keyword ideas to try.
For example, if you run the keyword ‘car detailing’ through, you may want to look into the ‘near me’ modifier.
Next, check their SERP overview tool to see what websites currently rank in the top 5 for that keyword.
You can also just search for that keyword in Google yourself to see the top 5 ranking websites as well.
Here’s an example of the top 5 organic ranking websites for “car detailing”:
In those results you will find four businesses, and Yelp listings. The other businesses are your real competitors.
Yelp is local search network to help people find car detailing businesses. Customers that click on it can still find you, if you have a listing.
Repeat the process for all of the most important keywords to your business.
You may find one or two new SEO competitors for each different keyword. You may be surprised to find that other local businesses you thought as your main competitors just don’t rank at all online.
They might not even have websites at all 😲
When you have your list, you can take the time to really dig into analyzing each competitor website.
You can look at analyzing them for the following:
- Keyword difficulty for those that they rank highest
- New keywords you didn’t think to rank for as opportunities
- Website content and on-page optimization efforts
- Backlink profiles
- Website structure and user experience
- Use of social media to promote their content
- Potential ad spend for main keywords
This will all help you find out who your real competitors online are. Websites that have strong profiles in these areas are the competitors you know will be the most difficult to compete against.
If you are approaching this from a position of :I want to see the keywords my competitors rank for, but I don’t: then running through a gap analysis is for you:
Performing a Competitor Keyword Gap Analysis in 5 steps
As part of a competitive analysis, one of the things we do at Loganix is look for gaps as keyword opportunities.
A keyword gap analysis is a form of keyword research. It is the process of identifying valuable keywords that your organic competitors rank highly for, BUT you do not.
Why do we even do this?
To quickly see how a client’s organic rankings stack up against their competitors. By looking for specific search terms that competitors outrank you on, you can generate a list of specific keywords to work towards.
A few important points to consider:
- The keywords should be valuable (i.e. high volume, related to your business, or likely to convert)
- The keywords should be ones you could rank for, or could rank for better
- Comparing two or more competitors often gives you a richer analysis
Generally, we take the top 1000 keywords a site ranks for + 5 competitors to show keyword gaps.
Sidenote: Keyword value
Keyword value can be interpreted any number of ways, but popular indicators include:
- Google CPC value (traditional)
- Searcher intent (are they researching, or intending to buy)
- Keyword search volume
Once we have a list of targets and have run through our process, here’s what a completed gap analysis looks like:
Here’s how we do it:
Step 1) Gather competitor URLs to analyse
The first thing you are going to need is some competitor URLs to compare.
You should have a pretty good idea of who your SEO competitors, but if not, just head over to Ahrefs:<br>
You can use whatever method or tool you want to identify competitors websites.
All you need to keep in mind is to make sure you are picking relevant competitors to analyse (so you get a list of relevant keywords).
Step 2) Develop a list of keywords to exclude
To make your data more accurate and useful, you may want to remove certain keywords from showing:
- Sometimes clients may request certain keywords not to be in their report.
- Maybe they want to exclude specific pages from the organic keyword report.
- Or maybe you want to not show any brand terms that may skew results.
We exclude brand keywords by default.
Because it can skew results – and generally you don’t want to waste time and resources trying to rank for competitor brand terms.
Here’s how you can filter out specific pages and brand keywords using Ahrefs:
Exclude specific pages from the organic keyword export
To exclude these pages you’ll need to apply a filter in Ahrefs before exporting.
On the organic keywords report, top left you’ll see an exclude box, add the URL paths you want to exclude (in this example /blog, /design).
Then in the drop down select URLs and hit apply:
Now you’ll be able to export the top keywords excluding those pages. Double check your export has none of the pages in once you’ve downloaded it. And remember to remove it for the next reports you run.
Excluding brand keywords
To filter out branded keywords, go to Ahrefs click on the Exclude filter:
Now paste in the branded keywords you want to filter out. If you are wanting to prevent multiple branded keywords from showing in the report, seperate each term with a comma.
Add in the keywords to the target box to the right, tick keywords and click apply:
Step 3) Get competitor keyword data
Now you should have a list of competitor URLs and any terms you want to filter out.
First, head over to Ahrefs. Go to the organic keywords report for your client’s domain.
Then Export the top 1000 organic rankings:
(Or if you’ve got the credits and want a bigger analysis, select Full export.)
You’ll now need to repeat this process for the competitor’s domain you want to analyse against your clients site. Then repeat the process for all competitors.
Don’t forget to apply any filters before exporting.
Step 4) Wrangle your spreadsheet data together
Now you should have a few spreadsheets full of your clients (or your own) rankings + your competitors keyword data from Ahrefs.
It should look something like this:
Currently these are all standalone spreadsheets. Now, there’s not much competitive intelligence to draw from a collection of sheets… yet.
To analyze them and find keyword gaps, you need to pull them together into one sheet.
Open up Google Sheets and import each export into its own tab.
Go to File > Import > Upload and add the csv keyword export.
It would be a good idea here to label each of your tabs so you can keep track.
Once you have uploaded all the data into a single sheet (+ added each site to its own tab), it is time to move onto the good stuff.
Step 5) Finding the gaps!
Using the data exported from Ahrefs, we want to find the keywords your competitors are ranking for, but you (or your clients) are not.
This is our secret sauce.
We have a custom sheet setup, a documented process and a solid in-house team for crunching the numbers and finding keyword gaps.
If you want to take a more DIY approach, you can use conditional formatting like this:
=AND(COUNTIF($B$2:$B, $D$2:$D) <= 0, NOT(ISBLANK(D2)))
Just drop in some columns with your keywords vs your competitors and apply the formatting.
This custom formula will compare keywords in COLUMN B (your clients keywords) with keywords in COLUMN D (your competing domains’s keywords) and highlight the keywords gaps.
In practice, it looks something like this:
It’s really simple to use, just import an Ahrefs organic keyword export into each of the tabs, then the Keyword Gaps tab will populate.
You can make a copy of this simple keyword gap spreadsheet here.
The cells highlighted in green are the keyword gaps (keywords your clients are ranking for but which you are not).
Did you know that you can filter columns by colour (to only show your gaps)? Check it out:
Now you can VLOOKUP useful data like ranking page URL and start putting together an action plan.
Or you could get us to do a keyword gap analysis for you 😉
Analysing your gap data
Once you’ve got your data in one place and your gaps highlighted, you can now see how your organic rankings stack up against your competitors.
What can you do with this data?
You can use this to inform your SEO strategy and:
- Rank for keywords your competitors are targeting (and getting organic traffic for)
- Generate new article ideas for content marketing
- Understand your target audience/niche’s Google search trends
In the finished Keyword Gap that we run through at Loganix, the completed analysis shows gaps across your site + competitors including; what position a keyword is ranking in across all URLs, the ranking URL and associated keyword data:
Here’s an overview of how to read this data:
For each URL, there is a column that shows if the site is ranking for the keyword, the position and ranking URL:
So you’ve got your gaps, now what?
4 Ways to explore your keyword gap data
You can explore the data inside our Keyword Gap Analysis in a couple ways.
Below we have listed some ways you can filter this analysis document for a more granular look at your gap data to find:
- Quick win pages
- Location keywords
- PRODUCT/SERVICE keywords you are not ranking for
- High traffic keywords you ARE NOT ranking for
Let’s look at these in more detail:
1) Find quick win pages
We define quick win pages as those pages that are ranking in positions 5 – 20 in Google.
As these are ranking between the bottom of page 1 and top/middle page 2, these are keywords/pages that need a little SEO love to move up the rankings (and get a boost in search traffic).
2) Find location keywords
You may want to drill down into the location-based keywords you need to improve.
Just filter the keyword column by the location you want to look at. This will show all the keyword gap data containing the location you have chosen.
3) Find PRODUCT/SERVICE keywords you are not ranking for
Filter the keyword column by product or service keywords that are key to your business & filter the position to show ‘Not ranked’.
This will show you commercial terms your competitors are ranking for… but you are not.
You may be leaving rankings (and potential revenue) on the table here, so investigate and see if you need to launch a new page targeting that term and do some link building to get the page ranking.
4) Find high traffic keywords you ARE NOT ranking for
A high volume keyword will be dependent on the industry/niche you are in.
Whatever a high search volume is, filter the volume column by that + the position column by not ranked to find high volume keywords you could target.
Remember: a keyword gap analysis is not just for Christmas.
Keyword rankings change and competitors may step up their game (or the opposite).
Running a keyword gap analysis once or twice a year can be a good way to stay on top of the SEO competitive landscape.
In case you need a reminder, here’s an overview of the keyword gap analysis process:
- Find your SEO competitors
- Understand what keywords are valuable to you
- Gather your competitor URLs + keyword data
- Organise and process
- Explore you data (look for quick wins + high traffic keywords to target)
- Prioritise and execute
Performing a competitor keyword analysis can be a great way to stay competitive with SEO.
It will help you find opportunities for keywords you may have missed and gain a better understanding of your niche as a whole.
Just remember: keyword gaps are made to be filled. So take your findings, and start actioning some SEO changes.