Keyword research is near essential for creating a successful blog, and it will always remain incredibly important. Even as Google attempts to wrest control away from the humble keyword, the very nature of language and communication itself ensures that it will always be a core piece of the puzzle. After all, even the basic sentence needs a subject or object, and so too do search queries. Without it, the search engines have no way of knowing what you want to find, and they have no way of knowing what a piece of content is about.
Sometimes, it feels as though there are a nearly infinite number of articles written about keyword research. One sub-topic of the genre, however, is somewhat less covered. It’s what I’m going to teach you today; how to “steal” keyword information from your competitors.
Now, you don’t need to send a mole into the employment of your enemies to try to get this sort of spy information. The very nature of the actions your competitors take will reveal their secrets to you, if you know how to look for them.
Before We Begin
The first thing you need to do, before you can apply a single one of these techniques, is identify the competitors you want to target. Now, these competitors should be reasonable choices. A small SEO website could target Moz, but honestly, they aren’t a good choice. Moz is so dominant in the SEO niche that they can write about whatever they want and still get number one rankings. They don’t have to put much thought into keywords, though I’m sure they do. Any massive site isn’t so much a competitor at all, really. It’s like a goldfish trying to mimic a whale to be successful. The techniques a whale uses aren’t applicable.
What you need to do are find other businesses very similar to your own. If we use a company like Aweber as an example, the companies they might target would be companies like MailChimp, Constant Contact, GetResponse, Vertical Response, and iContact. They’re all comparable businesses providing very similar services, so their marketing techniques have a lot of crossover. They’re aiming for more or less the same customers, which is the key component here. You want people who are targeting your audience, and you want to figure out how they’re doing it so you can do it better.
What you’re doing with competitive keyword research is figuring out what your competitors are doing. This gives you two key pieces of information. It tells you where you have gaps in your own strategy that you can fill in to prevent them from undercutting you, and it helps you find places where they have gaps in their coverage and you can undercut them.
The holy grail is to find a keyword that has a high search volume – meaning a lot of people want to find information about the subject – but low competition, meaning few or none of your competitors have taken advantage of that traffic. If you can get in there with a high quality piece of information, you can dominate that section of the audience. It’s easier to defend your spot than it is to fight against existing competition. Of course, this is a really unusual circumstance to find, so it’s not likely to occur. Still, keep an eye out for it.
Below are listed 15 different ways you can use various tools to find information about what your competitors are doing online. Some are free, others are not. Some are complex, others are not. Play around and find the ones that work best for you.
This tool, provided by Moz, is free for limited use. When you plug in a website you will see a range of different statistics.
The form you really want to see is the “anchor text” tab on the side. This will show you a handful of linking domains and the anchor text used for those links, which can show you what sort of keywords the site is targeting. Unfortunately most of the best data is hidden behind a Moz Pro account, which is going to run you $100 per month for the cheapest plan.
SEMRush is another premium tool with a limited supply of free information. It’s actually a surprisingly massive dashboard with a ton of information about the site you enter. You can click the keyword analytics section on the left side and see geographic distributions, specific keywords, data for mobile and desktop, data across different search regions, and organic and paid keyword information. However, a lot of data is again hidden behind the premium version of the tool, which costs you $70 monthly. It also works best with larger sites. Small blogs and businesses might not have enough data in their index to give you much of value.
Alexa has a bad rap for their site ranking, which isn’t really a valuable metric to monitor. However, in the last half a decade or so, they have been making vast strides as a form of analytics, and their pro-level offering is incredible.
When you put in a site you can scroll down and see their organic search keywords, but you only see their top five, which are likely to be pretty obvious. For more, you have to upgrade to view them, which costs $10 per month. It’s actually worth getting the $50 per month plan for access to all of their competitive intelligence tools, in my opinion.
Like SEMRush, SpyFu is a dashboard with a ton of analytics information. Unlike SEMRush, SpyFu is designed to be a competitive intelligence tool first and foremost, so it doesn’t bother with metrics you don’t particularly care about regarding your competitors. It has a dedicated keyword analysis section called Kombat that even allows you to put in several competitors and see keywords they all share – which are high competition – and which only one of them targets. You can see a couple dozen keywords before you need to log in to their site to see the rest, which costs $50 per month for the cheapest annual plan.
This is the first truly dedicated tool focused on keywords to the exclusion of other metrics.
You can see the daily ad budget, click numbers, ad positions, and estimated costs for the ads a site runs. You can see their ads, their PPC keywords, their organic keywords, and their top competitors. For advanced data and data tracking, you need to register for a Research account, which is $90 per month.
This site is a tool primarily designed to help monitor the keyword positions of your competitors and yourself in comparison to one another. Helpful charts tell you when you or they have risen or fallen. It has a good selection of keywords to scroll through for these rankings, though it’s not necessarily great at finding keywords you and your competitors have both missed. The cheapest plan is a mere $7 per month, and they have a free trial, so you can’t go wrong checking it out.
This tool is primarily designed to monitor, well, backlinks to a site. This is great for competitive research, because it tells you where they’re getting links, and can open up opportunities for you to get links from the same sources. However, since this post is focused on keywords, I have to mention that side aspect of the tool. It doesn’t show you keywords specifically, and it doesn’t show you paid keywords at all, but it does show you link anchor text, which will often include some decent keyword information. The tool has a free trial, but will cost you $50 per month or thereabouts after the thirty days are up.
8. Social Mention
This tool doesn’t allow you to directly search for the presence of a single domain, but rather a keyword. The brand name can be a keyword, of course, but you aren’t going to get strictly the keywords they target with their site.
Instead, you’re going to get the keywords most commonly associated with their brand name across the web as a whole, using social media as a vector for the information. Social media in this case also includes Reddit, so it’s a very broad database of potential information and sentiment analysis. It’s also free to use, unless you need high level access to their API.
While not directly a keyword research tool, this tool searches the online advertising world for the presence of a domain you choose, to show you the ads they’re running. One key component of ads is the keyword they target, so you will get quite a bit of information out of it. You can also see what networks they use, the design of their ads, and their estimated budget based on the keywords and frequencies seen in the Moat database. You can get some good information for free, which is good, because their pro version is very expensive.
A play on the word espionage, this is another ad-focused competitive analysis tool. Plug in a competitor URL and it will give you keywords, organic rankings, search volume, and cost per click of those keywords. You will need to pay for an account to get more than the basic info, but it’s only $30 per month if you want the basic plan. You only get 50 searches per day and limitations on other things like data exports, though.
11. What Runs Where
This is a competitive ad tool that gives you a ton of information about ads across the top 40 ad networks online today.
You can track keywords or brands, on standard or mobile web, and even get some alerts when new ads are created. It’s excellent for real time awareness, but it has one major drawback; it’s expensive. A single basic set of analytics and tracking for just desktop web is $250 per month, and it only goes up from there.
A few years ago I might have told you that Ahrefs is a tool for link analysis, but these days they offer so much more. They have anchor text analysis, they have SEO ranking position analysis for keywords, both organic and paid, they have content ranking, social sharing, and trending analysis, and they even have a search spider that checks for meta keywords in content. The basic version is $100 per month, which is expensive, but the tool has so many uses I can’t avoid recommending it.
Majestic and Moz are the two leading PageRank replacement metrics, and for that reason alone I recommend that everyone have a Majestic account at some point. As far as keyword research is concerned, you only get limited data from this tool, in terms of link anchor text and some analysis into the topics the site covers. You can get some very limited information for free, but the basic plan will run you $50 per month.
This tool is designed for competitive keyword analysis and as such gives you an absolute wealth of information.
You can monitor keywords, affiliates, and even trademarks, across several different search engines. The kicker is the expense, which starts at $300 per month and goes up. Ideally it’s the only tool you need at that point, but it’s hard to recommend when you can get the same information using 2-3 cheaper tools from this list, and even some free sources of information.
15. Term Explorer
This tool is very much like Google’s old keyword exploration tools, before they started hiding a lot of that information. You can see search volume, CPC, competition, and a lot of other metrics at the click of a button. The basic plan is $34 per month, so it’s even reasonable to use, though the volume is limited at that level to “only” a thousand keywords.