Fighting the Keyword Battle: An Introduction to Competitive Keyword Analysis

Kye Mou
July 23, 2012

Competitive keyword analysis should play in integral part in your paid and organic search optimization strategy. As paid search activity continues to grow, so will the number of businesses you compete against within the search landscape. Understanding who your competitors are and the keywords they’re optimizing for is critical to staying relevant, competitive and profitable in your pursuit to acquire more revenue. In this post, I’ll be walking through several quick and easy tips for conducting competitive keyword analysis and how to apply your findings to your own optimization strategies.

Meet Your “Neighbors”

If you don’t know who your competitors are, there are a couple simple tools you can use to find out who they are. The easiest way is to search on the keywords that best describe your product or service offering. Both the organic and paid search results will give you an initial list of the visible competitors in your space. You might be surprised as to who shows up.

Another popular tool is SpyFu. In addition to providing a detailed list of your top paid and organic competitors, this search keyword tool also provides the top paid and organic keywords, the daily budget, the average position as well as the paid and organic click volume of your competitors. Simply enter a domain or keyword and start spying away.

SpyFu UI

Go Behind Enemy Lines

Now that you have a list of competitors, it’s time to start learning more about them and the keywords they use to define your space. The best place to start is their website. Go to the homepage, right click and “View page source”. Search for “<title>”, “meta name=“description”” and “meta name=“keywords””. The content in these lines of source code will give you the best idea as to what keywords your competitors are optimizing for. In addition to the homepage, view the source code for each of your competitor’s product or category pages and begin compiling a list of potential keyword opportunities.

Expand Your Territory

Though there are plenty of free keyword expansion tools available, we’re going to focus our attention on the Google Keyword Tool. This easy-to-use tool is great for determining potential traffic and competition for new keyword ideas. Take your compiled list of keyword opportunities (via SpyFu and page source) and paste them in manageable quantities into the Google Keyword Tool. Click here for a walkthrough on how to use the Google Keyword Tool.

Google Keyword Tool UI

Consider the Competition, Monthly Search volumes and Approximate CPC (when logged into your AdWords account) metrics when exploring new keywords. Low-volume, low-competition keywords will likely come with lower CPCs, but may not result in many clicks or conversions. High-volume, high-competition keywords will likely achieve the opposite. The ideal would be high-volume, low-competition. Though you probably won’t discover the holy grail of keywords, you might discover a new set of keywords that perform well at a lower cost-per-click compared to the rest of your keyword list.

Explore Your Margins

Remember when I mentioned that you might be surprised as to who shows up in your search for the keywords that best describe your product or service offering? That’s because many of these businesses compete with you at the margins of your business. That is, they only compete against a subset of your overall product or service offering. For example, if you’re a sports equipment retailer, these competitors might only sell snowboarding apparel or basketball shoes exclusively. Since they are specialized in what they offer, these competitors can be a good source for unique, inexpensive and long tail keyword opportunities. Leverage their SpyFu and page source keywords to the extent that your product or service inventory allows.

Look In the Mirror

Apply your keyword findings to your own website. Keep in mind that your customers don’t always use the same keywords as you when searching for your products or services. If you discover a new keyword that performs exceptionally well during your competitive analysis, make it a part of your SEO strategy. Justify your decision to optimize for these new keywords based on click and conversion data and build them into your website to improve your landing page relevancy and organic search ranking.

As always, when adding new keywords to your paid search program, remember to optimize. Researching negative keywords, setting appropriate keyword bids and generating relevant ad creative are just a few tasks to keep in mind.

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