What is Competitor Keyword Analysis? 6 Best Tools for the Job

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Flori Needle
Flori Needle


I’ve been spying on competitors throughout my writing journey. After all, if you don’t read a bit of Tolkien, King (a.k.a. Stephen King), or Shakespeare, you’re missing out on a lot of modern English constructs.

Competitor keyword analysis: 7 best tools to stay ahead

Competitor keyword analysis is similar. Instead of drawing inspiration from other writers, you borrow ideas from your competing brands to see what’s working with your shared audience.

That said, this search engine optimization (SEO) espionage is much more than simply reading competitors’ blogs. Instead, you must scour the search engines to see what competitors are doing, identify gaps in their keyword strategies, and formulate your own successful content strategy.

I’m going to spill the beans on finding relevant search terms from competitors in this blog post, along with some pro tricks from other experts. So, let’s dig in.Download Now: Keyword Research Template [Free Resource]

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I think of it as reverse-engineering the successfulSEO strategies of your competing businesses, looking for gaps or opportunities in them, and shaping your own SEO strategy based on those insights.

In particular, you can use competitor keyword analysis to pinpoint opportunities for a high return on investment (ROI) where you can put in some work and outrank a competitor for a relevant keyword.

But first, how do you find competitors’ keywords?

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    Before doing a complete competitor keyword analysis, I typically test the waters by finding competitors’ keywords to get a general idea of the competitive landscape.

    While there are several free and paid tools to find competitors’ keywords, I recommend using WordStream, which is a free tool but returns almost as accurate results as the paid SEO tools.

    Free keyword tool from WordStream.

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    Alternatively, you can also try other competitor analysis tools to find SEO competitors’ keywords, including the following.

    1. Find keywords using Google Keyword Planner.

    Google Keyword Planner lets you get competitors' target keywords.

    1. Head to Keyword Planner.
    2. Click “Go to Keyword Planner.”
    3. Log in to your Google account if you’re not already.
    4. Choose your Google Ads account from the list, or create a new one by clicking “New Google Ads account.”
    5. In your dashboard, tap the box that says “Discover new keywords.”
    6. Tap the “Start with a website” tab.
    7. Enter your competitor’s domain URL in the text bar. Choose whether you want to use the entire site or only the homepage. I recommend using the entire site at first.
    8. Click “Get results.”

    Pro tip: By default, Google Keyword Planner shows the list of keywords by their relevance to the brand’s name. I recommend applying a filter to only show keywords with monthly searches higher than 250 to narrow down the keyword opportunities.

    2. Find competitors’ keywords using Ahrefs.

    Ahrefs shows the organic keywords Grammarly is targeting.

    Image Source

    1. Head to Ahrefs'sSite Explorer.
    2. Tap “Sign up for Ahrefs.”
    3. Choose a subscription level. To analyze competitor websites, you’ll need access to the “Site Explorer,” which is available in the Lite plan and higher.
    4. Inside the dashboard, tap “Site Explorer.”
    5. Input your competitor’s URL in the text bar.
    6. On the sidebar, under “Organic search,” tap “Organic keywords.”

    3. Find competitors’ keywords using Semrush.

    Semrush lists Moz's organic keywords with their share in its search traffic.

    1. Head to Semrush's Organic Research.
    2. Enter your competitor’s URL in the text bar.
    3. You’ll be prompted to create a free account. Once you input your email and choose a password, click “Create your account.”
    4. You’ll be redirected to a dashboard with all of your competition’s organic performance information.
    5. In the “Top keywords” card, tap “View all keywords.”
    6. Alternatively, tap the “Positions” tab next to Overview.

    Pro tip: While the free plan is limited (you get only 10 queries per day), I find Semrush incredibly insightful for jump-starting your competitor keyword analysis since you get almost all the relevant SEO information about competitors’ keywords, such as search intent, keyword difficulty, and search volume.

    Keyword Research Template

    Build your SEO strategy with this free template.

    • Search Volume
    • CPC
    • Ranking
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      You're all set!

      Click this link to access this resource at any time.

      4. Find competitors’ keywords using Rank Tracker by SEO PowerSuite.Rank Tracker by SEO Powersuite

      1. Head to the Rank Tracker page and sign up to download the software for free.
      2. Launch Rank Tracker, create a project for your website and go to the ‘Ranking keywords’ tool in the ‘Keyword Research’ section.
      3. Enter the URL of your competitor’s website and press ‘Search’. You can choose whether to collect the keywords of the exact URL or the entire domain/subdomains. You can also select the target location, between desktop and mobile, and the type of organic results to analyze.
      4. You can view the found keywords your competitor’s ranking for alongside such data as Google rank, number of searches, keyword difficulty, etc. You’ll need to get the paid version of Rank Tracker to export the keywords into CSV.

      5. Find competitors’ keywords using SE Ranking.

      SE Ranking shows how the keywords of Moz.com have changed in recent months.

      1. Head to SE Ranking's CompetitorAnalysis Tool.
      2. Enter your competitors’ URL in the search bar, pick the location, and click “Analyze.”
      3. To proceed, you’ll need to start a 14-day free trial. Then, you’ll be redirected to the platform dashboard with a performance overview of the analyzed site.
      4. Go to “Organic traffic research” > “Keywords.”

      6. Find competitors’ keywords using SpyFu.

      SpyFu shows the most valuable keywords of Moz.com.

      1. Head to SpyFu.
      2. Enter your competitor’s URL in the text bar.
      3. Navigate to “SEO research” > “SEO keywords” tab.
      4. Click “Export all” to export the list of keywords.

      Pro tip: The free SpyFu plan only lets you view five data points at a time. That said, if you’re on a budget, I still recommend using it since you can use “Sort” to find keywords that provide a competitor with new rankings, a spot on the first page, or a huge number of clicks.

      Now that you have your competitors’ keywords, let me show you how to analyze them and put them into action.

      How to Do Competitor Keyword Analysis

      Sizing up your rivals’ keyword game differs from your typical keyword tango. Unlike the usual keyword research process where you’re zeroed in on your own website, I’ve found that a successful competitor keyword analysis requires you to have eyes on all your rivals.

      1. Use competitive analysis templates.

      Unless you like to travel economy without earplugs, I recommend using a competitive analysis template before you start analyzing keywords. For starters, it helps you stay sane when dealing with multidimensional keyword data points.

      Beyond that, in my experience, a competitive analysis template makes it easy to share your findings with other team members — or even let them expand on your analysis. In other words, it serves as a basic foundation for your competitor keyword analysis.

      I recommend using HubSpot’s free, feature-rich competitive analysistemplates. We have helpful templates that help you create competitor battle cards, run a SWOT analysis, compare features, and track reviews.

      While all of these templates are useful for analyzing the competitive landscape, you’ll find the Content Marketing Analysis Template more practical for this task.

      HubSpot’s Content Marketing Analysis Template is useful for competitor keyword analysis.

      2. Create a list of your top SERP competitors.

      Once you have a competitor analysis template, I recommend filling in your competitors. Knowing who your main competitors are makes it easier for you to create a more targeted and effective SEO strategy.

      Pro tip: Your search engine results page (SERP) competitors — the brands appearing for your target keywords — won’t be the same as your product competitors. Instead of listing competitors from your market analysis, use the SERPs to find your search competitors.

      Alternatively, you can use SpyFu or Semrush to find your SERP competitors — also called organic competitors.

      1. Head to SpyFu.
      2. Input your own URL in the text bar.
      3. Click the “Competitors” tab to see your organic competitors.

      SpyFu reveals HubSpot’s top SEO competitors.

      3. Find your competitors’ keywords.

      Once I’ve scoped out my A-list search rivals, I like to make a list of keywords they’re ranking for — and outranking me for — and determine how difficult it would be for me to outshine them.

      That said, to ensure your keyword analyses of your competitors stay isolated from each other, I recommend adding separate tabs for each competitor in your competitive analysis template.

      Once that’s done, I recommend using the tools I mentioned above to find competitor keywords. While I gravitate toward Ahrefs or Semrush to gather in-depth data, you can still use WordStream, Google Keyword Planner, SE Ranking, or SpyFu if you’re on a budget.

      Pro tip: Unlike regular keyword research for content creation, competitor keyword analysis isn’t a regular process. Even if you’re on a budget, you can analyze competitor keywords via Semrush with its free trial and cancel it once you’re done — before you’re charged.

      Keyword Research Template

      Build your SEO strategy with this free template.

      • Search Volume
      • CPC
      • Ranking
      • Keyword Difficulty
      Learn more

        Download Free

        All fields are required.

        You're all set!

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        4. Identify keyword gaps and content gaps.

        Once I have the competitors’ keywords, the fun part begins: Actually vying for a better spot on those keywords’ SERPs and beating the competition.

        I start by identifying the specific keywords my competitor ranks for that I don’t and which of their pages are ranking for those terms.

        You can go by gut feeling — for instance, you may already know that you don’t rank for X term — or you can use a tool, like I do.

        SpyFu, Ahrefs, Semrush, and SE Ranking all offer this information.

        Find keyword gaps in SpyFu.

        1. Head to SpyFu.
        2. Input your own URL in the text bar.
        3. Go to “SEO research” and click the “Kombat” tab.
        4. SpyFu may have already pre-chosen competitors for you. If you want to add or replace a domain, you can do so in the Kombat tool’s text bar.
        5. Click the “Missing keywords” box in the right-hand corner.

        SpyFu shows the keywords HubSpot is missing compared to Mailchimp and Shopify.

        Find keyword gaps in Ahrefs.

        1. Head to Ahrefs.
        2. Sign in to your Ahrefs account — you’ll need a premium subscription for a content gap analysis since it's a premium-only feature.
        3. On the top navigation bar, tap “Site Explorer.”
        4. Input your own URL in the search bar.
        5. On the sidebar, tap “Content Gap.”
        6. Input your competitors’ URLs.
        7. Click “Show keywords.”

        While Ahrefs’s content gap analysis isn’t available for free, I’ve found it a great tool for quickly revealing gaps between my website and a competitor’s. In particular, Ahrefs also lets you filter for search features, such as featured snippets.

        Bruno Rodriguez, head of organic at Orange Line, especially recommends using Ahrefs “to filter for featured snippets since they can be a great way to boost traffic significantly.

        Ahrefs’s Content Gap shows search volume, keyword difficulty, and cost per click (CPC).

        Image Source

        Find keyword gaps in Semrush.

        1. Head to Semrush.
        2. Sign in to your Semrush account.
        3. On the sidebar, tap “Keyword Gap.”
        4. Input your own URL in the first text bar.
        5. Input your competitor’s URL in the next text bar. You can insert up to four competitors.
        6. Click “Compare.”

        Semrush’s Keyword Gap shows top opportunities and keyword overlap between competitors.

        Pro tip: With the free version of Semrush, you can do a keyword gap analysis between your website and its competitors 10 times per day. While the number of missing keywords Semrush reveals is limited (only five top keyword opportunities), I still think you can make use of it by comparing your website with different subsets of competitors.

        Find keyword gaps in SE Ranking.

        1. Head to SE Ranking.
        2. Sign in to your account — you can rely on SE Ranking’s free trial to start with.
        3. Go to “Competitive research,” enter your own site URL, pick the location, and click “Analyze.”
        4. In the left sidebar, navigate to “Competitor comparison.”
        5. Input your competitors’ URLs and click “Show results.”
        6. Click “Missing” to find keywords your website is missing.

        SE Ranking shows how HubSpot compares with Mailchimp in SERPs.

        5. Understand your and your competitors’ audiences to find opportunities.

        Since organic competitors don’t necessarily have to be your product competitors, I like to study their offerings, strategy, and target audience and compare them with my own website before putting the insights from the content gap to use.

        Typically, I look at the buyer personas of my brand to kick-start this stage since they help me identify keywords that relate to my business and offer me opportunities to outrank my competitors.

        If you don’t have a buyer persona, I recommend making a few for your audience to align your marketing goals throughout your organization. You can start for free with HubSpot’spersonagenerator.

        With buyer personas in the backdrop, you can go through the missing search terms and narrow down the keyword opportunities you can benefit from. That said, going through thousands of keywords can be agonizing. I rely on Excel’s sort tool and filters to make my life easier.

        But with artificial intelligence (AI), you can make it even simpler. Sam Ficek, a strategic SEO consultant who’s worked for Uber and Canva, shares that “for larger lists of keywords, I export the lists and use ChatGPT to classify them into categories for further analysis.

        Keyword Research Template

        Build your SEO strategy with this free template.

        • Search Volume
        • CPC
        • Ranking
        • Keyword Difficulty
        Learn more

          Download Free

          All fields are required.

          You're all set!

          Click this link to access this resource at any time.

          6. Create audience-centric and SEO-optimized content to fill content gaps.

          Once I have the keyword opportunities uncovered, I start brainstorming ideas for new content to outrank my competition.

          Example content includes:

          I typically organize this by including a separate sheet in my competitive analysis template for missing opportunities. With each entry of a keyword opportunity, I add a tag for search intent, possible content, and any other information that’ll be helpful for other SEO researchers when working on individual topics.

          Plus, to ensure all the keyword opportunities are put to use, I leverage these special tools to integrate the results from competitor research analysis in my content workflow:

          7. Track your competition’s performance.

          The bulk of the competitor keyword analysis is done. Still, I prefer to keep a hawk-eye on competitors’ monthly search volume, new keywords, and backlinks to ensure I don’t get blindsided by whatever the competition is cooking.

          All in all, these strategies will help you stay focused and ensure you outperform your competitors in business development and lead generation.

          These tools work by crawling competitors’ websites, parsing their webpages, and gathering data from the SERPs. Additionally, they use advanced algorithms to extract and analyze keywords driving organic traffic to competitors’ websites.

          Since crawling and parsing millions of websites requires a massive amount of resources, I recommend using a paid competitor keyword analysis tool if it’s within your budget since their datasets are often more extensive, helping you get more accurate data points.

          1. Google

          For anyone doing competitor keyword analysis, I recommend starting with Google Search. It’s free. It’s powerful. It’s direct from the source. While it gives granular results compared to typical competitor keyword analysis tools, it gives you real-time data — not rough estimations.

          Plus, Google has a suite of additional SEO tools I love for competitor keyword analysis:

          • Google Alerts. Google Alerts is a simple, free tool to keep tabs on your competitors. You can use it to monitor competitors’ keywords, track their backlink efforts, and receive alerts on their activity.
          • Google Keyword Planner. As Google’s own keyword research utility, Keyword Planner uses its vast database of search queries to provide unprecedented insights straight from the horse's mouth.
          • Google Trends. Google Trends is another useful utility that provides insights into search interests over time. I typically use it to see if the new keywords my competitor started ranking for signal a significant content opportunity I might be missing.

          Pro tip:Katie Stone, SEO lead at Leadhub, recommends pairing Google Trends with the Glimpse Chrome extension to see extended data on each keyword trend.

          Google Alerts lets you receive messages whenever a competitor is mentioned in new content.

          What I like: I recommend the powerful Google trio — Keyword Planner, Trends, and Alerts — to anyone who’s looking for keyword strategies straight from Google’s data banks. Planner reveals my competitors’ strategies. Trends let me visualize which keyword battlegrounds are heating up or cooling off. And finally, Alerts provides me with an early warning of what my competitors are up to.

          2. Semrush

          While Google’s suite of tools offers a lot of in-depth insights, I’ve found that navigating all that granular data can be mind-numbing. So, if you’re looking for insights into your competitors without putting in massive amounts of work, you can’t go wrong with Semrush.

          To start, Semrush lets you identify your top organic competitors. Besides that, you can use its “Keyword Gap” to check out the keywords missing from your SEO strategy. Finally, you can monitor the changes in SERPs in “Position Changes” to get real-time ranking opportunities.

          What I like: Semrush is one of the big three SEO tools — the other two being Ahrefs and Moz — so it offers almost everything I need. In particular, “Keyword Gap” offers quick filters (shared, missing, weak, strong, untapped, and unique) to let you see relevant keywords for your competitive landscape.

          Semrush enables you to filter Keyword Gap results with multiple quick filters.

          3. Ahrefs

          I think discussing Semrush without Ahrefs is like arguing for Coca-Cola without considering Pepsi. Like Semrush, Ahrefs offers all the competitor insights you need to shape your keyword strategy.

          You have a “Competing Domains” to identify SERP competitors, a “Content Gap” to see where you’re lacking, and a “Rank Tracker” for tracking competitors in SERPs. In other words, it checks off all the things you might need to start a competitive keyword analysis.

          Ahrefs’s content gap lets you compare several websites.

          Image Source

          In fact, Ahrefs is a favorite tool among other SEO experts, as well. For instance, here’s what Rodriguez shares:

          It’s a great tool for quickly revealing the gaps between your content and competitor ranking. This can be a great opportunity to identify high-value terms to target and potentially steal traffic.

          What I like: Like Semrush, Ahrefs offers all the relevant SEO research you need from an SEO tool. Plus, I’ve found Ahrefs to be the most accurate in its estimations since it has the most real-time data due to its highly active web crawler.

          4. Moz

          While Moz isn’t as good as it used to be compared to Ahrefs and Semrush, it’s still a robust competitor keyword analysis tool. In particular, I love its “Rivalry” metric, which considers domain authority, shared keyword volume, and keyword similarity to list top competitors — instead of just relying on shared keyword volume.

          Besides that, I like Moz’s “Keywords to Improve” tool for getting quick insights about possible keyword opportunities.

          Moz shows the top keywords HubSpot can improve to gain traffic lift.

          What I like: While there’s a lot to like about Moz’s offerings, I especially love the “Traffic Lift” metric in “Keyword to Improve.” It instantly gives me content ideas to focus on to get the biggest results from my competitor keyword analysis.

          5. SE Ranking

          If you’re on a budget, you can use SE Ranking instead of Ahrefs or Semrush. Like those tools, SE Ranking also offers a breadth of competitor data for you to explore. You can find missing keywords, filter competitive keywords with search features, and track daily rank position changes.

          Organic keywords of a competitor on SE Ranking.

          What I like: While I like SE Ranking for its affordable cost, it also has a few unique features I love. For instance, SE Rankings’s “Share of Voice” helps narrow the list of best-performing websites in a specific niche so I can draw inspiration from them.

          6. SpyFu

          Like SE Ranking, SpyFu is a budget alternative to Ahrefs and Semrush. You can rely on it to identify missing keywords, pinpoint competitors’ top pages, and track the competition’s ranking history for different keywords.

          That said, you can still find use for SpyFu even if you’re already using Ahrefs or Semrush thanks to its in-depth data on competitors’ pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.

          SpyFu reveals the top-performing PPC keywords for a brand.

          What I like: I typically rely on SpyFu for its PPC insights. I can use it to identify competitors’ best-performing PPC keywords, check out the corresponding ad copies, and explore the history of copy adjustments they made over the years.

          7. WordStream

          I started this discussion with WordStream, and I want to end with it, as well. Unlike other competitor analysis tools, WordStream is a completely free tool for finding your competition’s keywords. In fact, you don’t even have to share any data to get a list of keywords.

          And it’s not just me. Many other SEO experts also hold WordStream in high regard. For instance, here’s what Tom Jauncey, head of Nautilus Marketing, has to say about WordStream:

          I can simply vouch for the ‘WordStream.’ It is the most user-friendly free tool that provides access to the list of competitors. And you do not even need to create an account for that! Above all, it also offers mostly accurate search volumes, making it better than other free tools available on the market.

          WordStream reveals accurate search volume of different keywords.

          What I like: Unlike a lot of free competitor keyword research tools, WordStream returns relatively accurate insights. Plus, since it’s so easy to use, I often turn to it whenever I need a quick overview of a competitor’s keywords.

          Use Competitor Keyword Analysis to Guide Your Content Decisions

          In my experience, a successful competitor keyword analysis helps you stay more focused during the content creation process. You can pinpoint what your audience wants, which competitors are optimizing for similar content, and what you can do to outrank their ranking articles.

          As a result, after finishing your competitor keyword analysis, you'll be able to create a robust digital marketing strategy to dominate the SERPs.

          Editor's note: This post was originally published in March 2020 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.New call-to-action

          Topics: Web Analytics

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