7 Tips for Successful Competitor Keyword Research

Megan Smith
Published: Apr 10, 2023
Last Updated:
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Competitor keyword research is one of the most important, yet underutilized, aspects of search engine optimization (SEO). Any digital marketing service worth its salt makes it a priority when providing clients with keyword research reports. If you want to rank on Google, you need to know what your competitors are targeting — both to steal their traffic and to find untapped potential.

This guide will uncover seven tips for successful competitor keyword research. You’ll learn how to find your competitors' keywords, how to use them to your advantage, and how to improve your keyword rankings.

Understanding Competitive Keyword Analysis

Competitive keyword analysis is the process of discovering the keywords for which your competitors rank highly and the secrets of their success.

It's related to keyword competition analysis, but there is a difference. In keyword competition analysis, the search terms themselves are the focus of keyword research. The primary goal is to find opportunities and better understand the challenges behind ranking for a given term.

Competitive keyword analysis puts the focus on your business rivals. What's their strategy? What terms do they target and how? What are they overlooking?

In both cases, the goal is to move up the ranks of Google searches for the keywords most likely to drive business your way.

Why You Need To Do Competitor Analysis

Competitor analysis, including competitor keyword research, is an essential part of any business's success. It helps organizations replicate their competitors' strategies, recognize opportunities for improvement, and take advantage of weaknesses.

This is especially important in the merciless world of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). After all, 39.4% of Google users click on the top-ranking keyword. Second and third places attract 18.4% and 10.1% respectively. These aren't victories you want to cede to the competition.

Does all of that clicking around the world lead to business in the community? Yes — 74% of shoppers search online before visiting local stores or making an online purchase.

7 Tips for Conducting Competitor Keyword Research

Regular competitor keyword research is an important step in proper SEO strategy. It can provide valuable insight into what your competitors are targeting and how successful they have been in their efforts.

1. Create a List of Your Top SERP Competitors

Creating an organized list of your search engine results page (SERP) competitors is an important part of SEO management. Start with a careful analysis of your own keywords and your corresponding rankings positions. How should a new customer be able to find you online? What keywords would they be searching?

Identify those websites that appear near to or above you. Note that keyword competitors and general business competitors aren't one and the same. Someone who isn't a rival might outrank you, and fellow businesses might neglect their SEO — but don't count on it.

Make a detailed list for each of your most important terms, and highlight websites that appear on multiple lists. Integrate them into a master list. You can even rank competitors in order of their prominence or importance as direct rivals.

Competitor Keyword Research in Practice: Local Hair Salons

Let’s say that you had a hair salon in the city of Saint Paul, Minnesota. A good place to start would be a simple Google search: “best hair salons in Saint Paul.” Check to see where you fall on the SERP and who shows up ahead of you.

You also might search “haircut in Saint Paul” and the names of other services that you provide.

A SERP shows the local results for a search for hair salons in st paul minnesota

2. Use Competitor Research Tools To Find Keywords

Competitor research tools are how you make up for not being psychic. It would be pretty darn impressive if you could peek inside the collective psyche of your industry or community, magically listing all the search terms that ultimately direct them to your competitors.

Fortunately, you don't have to do that. Instead, you can use SEO tools to check competitor keywords. What brings them traffic? There are many solid competitor research tools you can explore. That said, one of the best is Semrush, and it’s only made more attractive by the fact that you can access a limited version for free.

Local Hair Salons: Competitor Keyword Research in Practice

You can use a tool such as Semrush to inspect every element of your competitors' online presence, including their website traffic analytics, marketing tactics, and SEO objectives. It's how to find competitor keywords and determine how difficult it would be to outrank them for those terms.

The top competitor for our fictional hair salon is Accolades Salon. Running it through Semrush, we can discover the full list of keywords for which they rank. The spreadsheet shows us how much traffic each term generates. In addition to versions of their brand name, there’s a long list of salon and Minnesota-related words.

An image shows the results of a SEMRush competitive comparison of hair salons

Semrush also tells you how difficult it would be to rank for each of these. It assigns each keyword a difficulty score, color-coding them from more accessible terms in green to bigger challenges in red. As you can see, “hair salon St. Paul” is potentially within reach.

3. Try Competitive Analysis Templates

Competitive analysis templates provide a framework for you to analyze your competition and strategize accordingly. Then, you can make informed decisions about your own business, forecast future developments, and stay agile as you continuously monitor the marketplace.

Use these templates to generate broad overviews of your rivals or focus them more tightly on areas such as their SEO strategy.

One popular framework is a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for:

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats

A proper SWOT analysis requires you to research market conditions as well as competitor data. Gather information related to the areas of the market in which you compete (or want to compete).

In addition to organic traffic, pay attention to the search ads that generate traffic for them. There may be a relatively inexpensive keyword on which you can bid. While organic traffic is a better long-term strategy, you can use ads to temporarily jump the queue.

Local Hair Salons: Keyword SWOT

Pair the information you gain from the tool you used to research competitor keywords with a deep dive into your rivals' content strategy. Analyze their website, digging into their pages and posts. Let’s start tracing some of the keywords for which Accolades ranks. Where do they take us on the webpage? What’s the exact content that appears?

An image shows the homepage for accolades salon and spa

In addition to identifying keywords that they miss, deconstruct the content that appears when you search for terms they win. How strong is this content? How much rich media does it use? How detailed is it? Is it well-written and current with industry practices? How old is it?

What are they doing right? And what can you do better? In the case of Accolades, the salon excels at short, well-indexed content with one strong visual. We might be able to steal their keywords with longer, more detailed blog posts or video tutorials.

4. Understand Your Business Competitors' Audience

Engage with your competitor's brand to get a handle on their target audience. Look at their website, social media, reviews, news stories, etc. You can then create detailed buyer personas — including demographic data, interests, and values — based on this knowledge.

A few questions to consider:

  • Who is the implied audience for their content? How old are they? Where do they live? How much do they earn a year? What do they value?
  • Who leaves them reviews? Are there any distinctions you can make between the people who leave raves and those who don't?
  • On which social platforms are their fans active?
  • How has their audience targeting changed or evolved over time?

The better you understand this audience, the more success you'll have wooing them to your brand. Will they best respond to more cutting-edge services? Lower prices? Or the social proof of an active brand community?

5. Identify Keyword Gaps and Content Gaps

Content gap analysis is a vital part of SEO. These are relevant topics that are missing from your current website yet are likely interesting to your target audience. Often, these are terms for which your competitor ranks but you do not. Think of them as holes in your current site that need to be filled with relevant content. It's a great place to start your SEO strategy.

Keyword gap analysis dives deeper into your competitor keyword research. Find organic keywords with a high search volume in which your competitors aren't strong. Seize these untapped opportunities to improve your overall SERP performance, gaining ground on your direct competitors.

Keyword gap analysis also requires you to investigate competitor strengths. Assuming that they aren't the only website targeting that keyword, why does Google identify them as the authority? Why is their content ranked more highly than yours?

Potential factors include:

  • Domain authority
  • Page authority
  • Content quality
  • Backlink profile
  • Topical relevance
  • Content freshness

Even if you discover that a certain keyword may be out of reach for the foreseeable future, you've built yourself a map to eventually capture it.

6. Compile a List of Keywords and Search Terms

After you research competitors' keywords, start using them to build a list. This is another area where a keyword research tool can help.

Identify all relevant topics and the most popular, up-to-date phrases used to describe them. What would your customers type into a search engine when looking for the types of products or services you provide?

Use Google Trends to identify relevant, trending topics in your target demographic. These will be the freshest keywords, but try to highlight topics that show sustained growth rather than a brief spike.

7. Pair Your Research With an SEO Strategy

Once you've completed — at least, for now — your competitor keyword research, the next step is to develop a plan for employing those keywords. It's time to develop and promote your content.

Make SEO Blog Posts

Writing blog posts is a great way to engage potential customers and establish yourself as an authority in your industry. In order to reap the SEO gains you want, make use of SEO best practices.

A few reminders:

  1. Integrate keywords strategically. Place target keywords in your title, headings, and subheadings, Incorporate them into the body of your blog post too, but space them out naturally.
  2. Add a meta description. Using the keyword, write a short blurb to introduce your article. This will appear under the title in SERPs.
  3. Link to reputable external sites. Citing authoritative sources makes your piece more attractive to both search engines and readers.
  4. Include internal links. By linking to other pieces of content on your website, you help search engines index it appropriately. You also may drum up some referral traffic as readers want to read more of your work.
  5. Supplement text with rich media. Add images or even videos to your blog post.

Create a short SEO checklist for yourself that you can check before publishing.

Build and Improve Your Backlink Profile

Building a strong backlink profile for your website is a key step in strengthening your overall domain authority. Create consistent, valuable content to which relevant websites will want to link. You can also reach out to websites with offers of mutual link exchanges or guest postings.

Is your backlink profile strong? Consider the following elements:

  • Website domain authority
  • Link freshness
  • Link relevance
  • Keyword anchor text and context

Remember to prioritize quality over quantity. Low-authority, spammy links can actually hurt your search engine performance.

Develop a Content Strategy

Single blog posts and backlinks won't cut it — no matter how strong they are. A well-crafted content strategy unifies your message, drives traffic, and builds consumer trust in your brand. A clear direction also helps you keep yourself on track with on-theme content that respects any time or budget constraints.

As you publish social and blog content, monitor each piece's performance. You should constantly tweak your content strategy in light of audience feedback and SERP performance.

Make Content Creation Easier With Compose.ly

Competitor keyword research takes time and practice. So does content strategy and creation. Remember that you can always hire experienced professionals to handle these chores for you.

Compose.ly makes it easier than ever to find high-quality SEO-friendly content that reaches your target audience. Our writers and SEO experts can produce everything from one-off blog posts to full, executed content strategies. They'll craft compelling copy that charms search engines and customers alike.

Hone your competitive edge and check out our premium content services today.


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