How to Identify Competitors’ Keywords for SEO

A person looking at a computer screen with a magnifying glass, analyzing the keywords of different websites.

When doing keyword research for search engine optimization (SEO), it’s important not only to look at your own site’s current keywords but also to analyze what keywords your competitors are optimizing for. Understanding what terms and phrases your competitors rank for can give you insight into new opportunities and help you build a more comprehensive keyword strategy.

There are a few key ways to uncover competitors’ keywords:

Analyze Their Rankings in Search Engines

One of the simplest ways is to directly look at where your competitors rank in search engines like Google for relevant queries. For example, if you run a search for “online shoe store,” which sites appear in the top positions? Make a list of your top competitors and systematically go through related keyword variations to see where they rank.

Pay attention to which keywords and pages tend to perform best for them. This can demonstrate opportunities where you may be able to outrank them by better optimizing your own site.

Examine Their Paid Ad Campaigns

Most competitors will likely be running pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns through platforms like Google Ads. Look closely at the ads that show up for your industry’s key search terms – especially text ads at the top and shopping ads. This will provide insight into the specific keywords competitors have determined are worth bidding on in paid search.

You may even consider running your own short-term PPC campaign to reveal competitor keywords and ad copy.

Check Out Their Organic Landing Pages

When you find competitor sites ranking well organically for certain terms, take a look at the specific pages that are ranking. For example, if a competitor ranks #2 for “black running shoes,” what page is that result linking to on their site?

Analyzing those landing pages can help reveal the keywords and topics they have focused their optimization efforts on.

Leverage Keyword Research Tools

There are SEO tools like SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz that provide keyword data on competitors’ sites. You can enter a competitor’s domain to see estimates of their top organic keywords, paid keywords, and keyword gaps compared to your own site.

These tools rely largely on aggregation of the above tactics, so utilize them to scale up your research. Just keep in mind their limitations and don’t use competitor brand names directly.

Mine Their Content

Carefully go through your competitors’ blogs, product pages, and other content. Use tools like SEMrush or Moz’s Link Explorer to find what pages tend to get linked to frequently from external sites.

These often contain relevant keywords your competitors have included for SEO that earned links. You may be able to create content around similar keywords that beat the competition.

Identify Gaps vs. Your Own Keywords

Once you have gathered intel from the above tactics, compare it back to your own keyword research and rankings. Are there relevant terms your competitors rank for that your own site doesn’t? Identify these gaps to uncover areas of opportunity to target.

Just be wary of going after every single keyword a competitor ranks for, as some may not make strategic sense for your business. Focus on terms that are a good match for your brand and offerings.

Think Beyond Just Rankings

While rankings provide helpful clues, remember that competitors may be employing keyword strategies that go beyond top rankings. For example, they may be optimizing for long-tail, geo-targeted, or commercial intent keywords that still drive revenue.

So dig deeper than just surface-level rankings to get the full picture of competitors’ approach.

With some savvy competitive analysis, you can better understand the keyword “territory” in your industry. Use these insights as you craft content and optimize pages to inform your targeting and gain an SEO edge. But always keep the focus on your business goals and ideal customers.