When you think about, there are only two ways you can exponentially boost your organic traffic.

The first one is to use various keyword research strategies to create new content that could help you rank better for those phrases.

The other - and this is the method I want to talk about in this post - is to figure out what’s working for your competitors and use that insight to drive your next actions.

Now, I admit that such a strategy does seem like a lengthy and complex process. But - good news - it’s not. Competitive keyword research requires little effort to complete, and it delivers incredible results.

Why? Because zeroing in on your competitors' keyword strategies is often the easiest way to gain fast, incredible results. Not to mention that you can do this without having to go through a trial and error ordeal to achieve similar results otherwise.

So, in this post, you’ll learn how to use competitor analysis to uncover keywords and create content that can compete against your competitors’ organic traffic.

Before we dive deep into the strategy, let’s cover some basic information that will help you understand the concept and the process better.


What Is Competitive Keyword Analysis?

In the simplest terms, the competitive keyword analysis is a process of a) understanding who your actual online competitors are, and b) identifying what specific keywords or topics drive their success. Naturally, your goal is to find out new phrases, the ones that help your competitor achieve organic growth but you haven’t identified yet.

That last sentence above also explains the greatest benefit from this strategy - uncovering new opportunities fast and learning from someone else’s experience.


Why Is Competitor Analysis so Critical for SEO Success?

First, the strategy helps uncover tactics that work in the industry, in general. One of the biggest challenges I hear SEOs have when trying to identify new opportunities is their inability to comprehend the entire industry.

But that’s only natural! Unless you work in an extremely small and limited niche, you have to face a wide scope of market potential, one that translates to thousands, if not more, of keywords, phrases, search queries and topics. You can’t encompass it all by yourself, of course. Or at least, it will take a long time to do so.

Analyzing the competitors' keywords simply helps speed up the process.

The research will also uncover new strategies you could use. Your competition, most likely, uses more than a single method to win the search visibility, after all. Reverse engineering their success will tell you all about it and give you ideas you mightn’t discover otherwise.

Finally, a thorough competitive analysis will also help you prioritize SEO efforts. Knowing what has worked for the other companies in your industry will signal what strategies you should be paying attention to as well.


How to Perform a Competitive Keyword Analysis

Here’s what you need to do to analyze the competitive keywords fully.

  1. You must identify your true competitors. Companies you compete for the market share with might not be targeting the same online audiences as you, after all.
  2. Then, you need to discover what keywords you both target already, and in the process, uncover phrases your competitor uses but you don’t. We refer to this step as the content gaps.
  3. Finally, you analyze those original keywords to uncover top opportunities.

It's really quite simple. Details on each step are outlined below. 

Step #1. Identify Your Real Online Competitors

I bet you already have a long list of companies your organization battles with for the market share. These could be your direct competitors, offering similar products to the same target audience. Or actual manufacturers that sell directly of the products you sell or offline competitors. But although these are the companies you compete with regularly, they might not necessarily be your direct competitors according to Google.

Many other organizations might be trying to attract your target audience as well. These could be firms providing complementary services or products to yours, that position their sites for similar keywords. And even be non-commercial websites (i.e. Wikipedia) that attract traffic away from you.

Take a look at this breakdown of online competitors for a particular set of keywords. If you were an enterprise-level store, I’m sure you wouldn’t count Google Image or Etsy or even Polyvore as your competitors.

I agree that you probably wouldn’t try to analyze Google Images’ SEO. However, Etsy and Polyvore, for instance, could provide some insight into new opportunities even though you wouldn't normally battle for the market share from them directly.

The important thing to understand about online competitors is that these domains receive traffic that could be yours.

The good news - They could also provide you with the insight you need to turn the tables around.

So, the first step in any competitive analysis is to discover what companies to focus on to close the content gaps and win traffic from.

As with almost anything in SEO, you could do it in two ways:

  • Manually - Simply search your top keywords and list websites that outrank you for those phrases.
  • Automated - Use a technology platform that can analyze your search landscape for you.

seoClarity provides an automatic competitor detection, providing you with immediate insight into what domains compete with you for the search traffic.

Step #2. Identify the Content Gaps

Once you know whom you’re battling against, start by analyzing those domains strategies. I always recommend starting with the simplest option - identifying keywords your competitors already rank for, yet you don’t. This approach is called closing the content gap. And it’s as simple as comparing two or more domains’ keyword sets to find common and individual phrases for which they rank.

Below is a result of content gap analysis in seoClarity between two domains:

Note the difference! Although both domains share a significant number of keywords, the platform estimated the keywords potential at almost 2 million!

The above report doesn’t suggest that you have to target all those keywords, of course. However, by analyzing the content gap further will help you uncover great opportunities to increase your online visibility.

Step #3. Analyze What Content Gives Those Domains the Competitive Advantage

Identifying keywords that drive your competitor’s traffic is just the first step. Next, you need to find out what makes those pages rank so high for their phrases.

For example, a quick look at this domain shows me that we both rank for the same keyword. However, my competitor outranks me quite significantly.

Looking at their ranking page, however, I can assess:

  • What content they feature on that page,
  • Its structure, and keyword optimization, and many others.

In this particular example, I found that the competitor includes lengthy category description that naturally helps boost the on page optimization.

But why only content?

To rank a page, you need more than just engaging content, of course. Backlinks, domain authority and other elements play a critical role in the process too. However, in this exercise, we’re trying to quickly level the playing field, something that isn’t as easy to do when it comes to increasing the number of linking domains, for example.

Step #4. Finally, Check What Other Factors Make It Rank So High

You know this so well - content isn’t the only factor that contributes to higher rankings. Backlinks, Domain Authority and many other factors affect where a particular page ends up in SERPs.

And so, once you gain the knowledge about your competitors’ best keywords and content strategies, it’s time to level the playing field. Research their best content’s backlink profiles to uncover their content promotion strategies. This approach works particularly well for non-commercial pages like blogs, articles, and any other educational content.

When you analyze the backlink profile, you can assess if your competitor engages in any link building strategies to boost their pages in search. Or if they simply aim to create the best content in the hope that others will reference it in the search results.


Wrapping Up

You can boost your organic traffic in many ways. For example, use data to identify new content opportunities. Or identify and then improve on the strategies that already work for your competitors.  Both approaches work equally well when you tear apart your competitor’s content strategies, it is often the simplest way to gain results fast. Not to mention, without having to go through a lengthy trial and error cycle. And hopefully, after reading this post, you have an idea where to start with conducting competitive analysis for SEO.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in May 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.