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SEO Strategy

How to Do Competitive Keyword Research: 5 Step Process for Beginners

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to do competitive keyword research
David Oragui
Chief Growth Officer | Founder & CEO at Grow Hack Scale
How to Do Competitive Keyword Research: 5 Step Process for Beginners
March 23, 2023
March 14, 2019

There’s many ways to do keyword research. But we’re going to focus on just one—competitive keyword research.

Why? Two reasons.

Firstly, there’s hundreds of thesis-sized articles, much more in-depth than this one - teaching you how to perform keyword research.

But who has time to read all that?

And sure, you can join our SEO masterclass sessions, watch our webinar replays and sign up to our exclusive SEO training community (all coming soon).

But I imagine you’re just looking for an effective way to generate a steady stream of keyword ideas in the shortest time possible.

In that case, you’ve come to the right place.

Introducing: Competitor Keyword Research

Why focus on your competitors?

Because, they’ve already done all the hard work for you.

But what is competitive keyword research analysis and how can it help you?

CKRA is the process of researching your competitor’s most valuable keywords at page level, to identify which keywords you should be targeting.

By focusing on your competitors, you can arm yourself with a stream of keywords and content ideas guaranteed to generate residual traffic.

This keyword research method is what we use internally for all our clients and our own projects.

It’s how we scaled Sked Social’s traffic from 4,000 visits a month to over 130,000 visits a month in six months. And it’s how we’re doing it for our SEO blog too.

Here’s a short overview of the process:

  1. Make a list of your primary and secondary competitors
  2. Plug their URLs into Ahref’s Site Explorer
  3. Identify the best keyword each page is targeting
  4. Create a master keywords list document
  5. Organise keywords by hubs, spokes and sections
  6. Target the least difficult terms and work your way up

And here’s the software you’ll need to make this happen:

Let’s get started!

How to Do Competitive Keyword Research in 30 Minutes or Less

1. Make a List of Your Top Competitors

Who you choose as your competitors will determine the success of your keyword research strategy.

Choose a competitor that’s too small, and you may not see any valuable insights.

On the other hand, choosing a competitor that serves a huge market you don’t trade in, will make it much harder to find relevant keywords that will generate targeted traffic.

For this keyword research tutorial, we’ll be using Ahrefs’ suite of SEO tools.

Other all-in-one SEO tools like SEMRush and SERanking should be capable of doing this too.

2. Run Your Competitors’ URL in Ahref’s Site Explorer

Run a competitor’s URL through Ahref’s Site Explorer.

Ahrefs Site Explorer - How to Do Competitive Keyword Research

Next, navigate to the “top pages” report, on the left-hand side of the dashboard.

Ahrefs Top Pages Report - How to Do Keyword Research
Backlinko Top Performing Content - How to Do Competitive Keyword Research

Here, you’ll be presented with a list of your target website’s top performing pages. These are, in short, the pages which generate the most traffic for your competitors.

Here’s a couple of important metrics to take note of:

  1. Total Traffic: This is the estimated total traffic this website gets from organic traffic every month. It’s calculated by checking each page’s search engine ranking position across all keywords. It is most often underrepresented, and the real number is 3-4x this.
  2. Page Traffic: Like the above, it’s the estimated traffic a given page generates from search engines each month
  3. Top Keyword: This is the keyword/search query which generates the most traffic to a website or page.

Note: The top keyword is NOT necessarily the best keyword you should target. It’s simply the keyword that generates the most traffic for a particular page.

Finally, activate the dropdown menu and open the “organic keywords” report for each page, in a new tab.

Organic Keywords Report at Page Level - How to Do Keyword Research

Now you have a list of all the keywords, a given page ranks for.

All Organic Keywords for a page - How to Do Competitive Keyword Research

3. Identify the Best Keyword You’d Like to Rank For

Here’s the fun part.

Your goal is to select the best keyword you’d like to rank for.

What determines whether a keyword is “best” for your business, is for you to decide.

That said, I tend to ask myself the following questions:

  • Is my target market interested in learning more about this?
  • Does this keyword have commercial value?
  • Are my competitors actively trying to target it?
  • Can we match the user intent behind this search?

If you can answer yes to at least 3 of those questions, it’s probably a good keyword worth targeting.

Here’s a working example.

One of our goals this year is to build a marketing partner program that matches businesses with marketing providers.

Whilst researching and, we discovered that keywords such as “how to get seo clients” and “questions to ask an SEO company” are driving sizeable amounts of traffic to these websites every month.

Is My Target Market Interested In Learning More About This?

Yes! SEO providers are always on the lookout for clever ways to get more clients.

Businesses also need to be prepared with a list of questions to ask SEO providers so they understand the full scope of what they’re getting involved in.

Do These Keywords Have Commercial Value?

Yes. By writing about these topics, we could qualify prospects who come through search and collect their information.

Then, we could match them based on interest and charge a fee.

Are My Competitor’s Actively Trying to Claim Top Spot?

Yes. Both Ahrefs and Quicksprout rank really well for these keywords.

Can We Match the User-Intent Behind Each Keyword?

Yes. As a marketing provider ourselves, we have direct experience acquiring SEO clients for ourselves.

As you can see, these two keywords pass our litmus test with flying colours, so we’ve added them to our list and targeted them.

Repeat These Steps for Your Competitor’s Remaining Top Pages

Once your keywords pass the litmus test, add them to your master keywords list document.

Then repeat the process. 

Continue going through your competitor’s pages one-by-one, until you have at least 50 keywords worth targeting.

Create content pages for these keywords, then find 50 more keywords. Rinse & repeat.

Next, you’ll need to organise them.

4. Organise Your Keyword Ideas into Hubs and Spokes

The success of your SEO strategy is dependent on many factors. But there’s two areas I see businesses struggling with time and time again.

  1. Inability to unearth profitable keywords
  2. Keeping keyword lists organised

Having a disorganised list of keywords invites confusion and human error beyond recognition. There’s no clear strategy, giving you an idea of where to begin and focus your energies.

Let’s solve that, by sorting your keywords into hubs and spokes.

If you’re familiar with how search engines work and their preference for ranking pages based on topical relevance, this’ll be a synch for you.

Think of hubs like pillar pages. These are pages which act as the main pillar for all content related to it.

Spokes, are the individual pages that are tightly related to a more broader topic (hub/pillar).

Honestly, HubSpot probably explain it better.

By organising your keywords in this way, you’ll get a birds-eye view of what you need to work on, so you can own a topic, not just a set of individual keywords.

The goal of SEO, is ultimately to show search engines how relevant all your pages are for a given topic. 

And by internally linking your spokes, to your pillar pages, your “relevancy score” increases, resulting in higher rankings.

Here’s an example of how we’ve sorted our keyword list.

Keyword List Grouping - How to Do Keyword Research

As you can see, we’re trying to rank for the topic: SEO Tools.

It has 12,000 searches a month, with a difficulty of 79. This is our hub/pillar topic. 

All the surrounding keyword ideas are different types of SEO tools.

These articles or landing pages will then internally link to our SEO tools hub page, creating a strong relationship with each other.

Organising your keywords into themes and internally linking them to each other, leads to higher rankings and traffic.

It also keeps you focused, reducing time spent in your spreadsheet, so you can create more content.

5. Strategically Target The “Easy” Keywords First

Now that you’ve organised your keyword list into themes, it’s time to go after them.

But wait!

Not all keywords are made equally.

For some keywords, you could make it to page 1 in SERP within a few short weeks. But for many, more difficult terms, you could be waiting months or years to see results.

Keyword rankings - How to Do Keyword Research

However, not all hope is lost. To quicken the process, you have two options:

  • Invest in a balls-to-the-wall link building program
  • Target the least difficult keywords first

Link building can be very expensive and time-consuming. So I’d opt for option 2.

Remember the keyword difficulty metric you saw whilst performing keyword research?

This is important for determining how difficult it is to rank in the top 10 for a given query.

Keyword Difficulty - How to Do Keyword Research

In order to rank well, you should target the phrases with the least difficulty and work your way up.

And there you have it.

Now You Know How to Find Competitors Keywords

Look. This article has barely scratched the surface on how to do keyword research - and it’ll never be complete.

But now you’re equipped with the tools and strategies to perform competitive keyword research for yourself in just a few hours work.

For more keyword research related resources, check out our SEO webinars, blog and certification programs (coming soon).

If you’re looking for an SEO provider to do keyword research for your business, try our matching service.

Who knows, you might get matched with us. ;)

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