Keeping an eye on what your competitors are up to is part of any good business strategy – and it’s the same with their keywords. Finding out what keywords a competitor is using (or not using) can help give you an edge in your SEO.
Why research competitor keywords?
Keyword research is a fundamental part of any good SEO strategy. Identifying and using effective keywords can help people find you in search engine results and drive more traffic to your site. Finding out what keywords your competitors are using (competitor keyword research) is a significant part of the process. It can help you to:
- Find out if there are terms you’re not using but maybe should be using
- Stay up-to-date with trends in your industry
- Find words and phrases that are popular in search queries but not used often in content
- Discover new terms you may not have thought of before
- Generate ideas for content
- Learn from your competitors and gain insights into what is and isn’t working for them and how you can adapt and improve upon those strategies
Find out who your competitors are
The first step is to find out who you’re up against (i.e. who your competitors are). To do this, you’ll need to start with an initial list of keywords. For some help with building this list, have a look at our post on how to do basic keyword research.
Input your keywords into Google to see who else is ranking for them (be sure to clear out your cache first though). Have a look at how they are doing:
- Are they ranking higher or lower than you?
- For what types of content?
Add this information to a spreadsheet to help keep track of what you find out.
Now that you know who your competitors are, it’s time to do a bit of digging. There are lots of tools to help you find out what words your competitors are using; here are a few ideas:
Find keywords using a tag cloud
A tag cloud is a visual representation of text data which shows the weighting of words used in a given text. Tags appear as single words, and the bigger they are, the more frequently they occur in the content. The smaller words appear less often, but could be just as important when looking for alternative and less used keywords that you could rank for (more on this later).
Use a keyword research tool
Not just handy for finding keywords related to your topic or industry, they’re great for finding out what your competitors are ranking for too. There are many tools to choose from, each with slightly different features; here are some you could try:
- Google Keyword Planner (to get started, see our article on how to use Google Keyword Planner)
- SpyFu (a tool specifically for competitor keyword research)
Check the HTML pages of a competitor site
This one involves looking at code and is a bit on the techy side so may not be for all. To view keywords on a competitor’s page, you need to look at the page source (right-click anywhere on the page and select ‘view page source’ from the menu). A new window will open with the source code. You can find keywords in the:
- Title tag
- Meta description
- Image title tags
- Image alt tags
Deciding which keywords to go for
So now you have your list of competitor keywords. How do you decide which are the best ones to use in your content? It can be a balancing act between finding keywords that searchers are looking for and using words without too much competition attached to them.
When you look at your keywords, you’ll see some are obvious. For example, you can’t talk about computer repairs without mentioning computer repairs. However, these terms can often be highly competitive. A good strategy, then, is also to find keywords that people are looking for but are also less competitive. One way to assess the popularity of a term is to use Google Keyword Planner, which shows you the average monthly searches and competition level attached to a particular keyword.
Once you have gathered your data, you can assess your list. Are there words that your competitors are using that you’re not? Is there a good reason for that? Are there alternative terms you could use?
Use Google to search for the terms you’ve identified – what comes up? Are there search terms where your competitors aren’t ranking so well? Can you create content around this?
What to do next?
Hopefully, you now have a good list of keywords from your competitor keyword research that you want to use. But what can you do with these words? You can use your list of words and phrases for:
- Your website copy and other site elements, including headings, meta descriptions, URLs and image alt text
- Generating content ideas for your content marketing, including blogs and social media
- Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC)
As you can see, competitor keyword research can help you to identify ways in which you could rank higher in search engine results. However, when sitting down to write your content, remember to use your keywords naturally and not too often. Search engines frown upon keyword stuffing (the act of filling a page with keywords) these days and seek to reward quality content in their algorithms.