How to do Competitor Research for SEO

In order to improve your likelihood of ranking for specific keywords, you’ll need to understand the competitive landscape of your niche within search engines. In this lesson, we’ll go through an in-depth, step-by-step process for performing competitor research for SEO.

60 minutes

Key points you can
learn in this lesson.

Usage of the Competitive Landscape

Learn how to analyze the competitive landscape for SEO to inform your strategy.

Target Top Ranking Keywords

Identify competitors’ top ranking keywords and find potential keywords to target.  

Prioritize Your Strategy

Understand how you should prioritize tasks to help your strategy be the most effective. 

Our key metrics increased. More importantly, we implemented a lot of new tactics and test scenarios, which will boost our company’s future prospects.
Dave McCue
Digital Marketing Manager at Allstate

Lesson Preview

In this section, we will be reviewing how to do some basic competitor research from an SEO perspective. We will be diving into how to go through your competitor’s keyword rankings, backlink profile, overall site layout, as well as how to create some great next steps to help you better compete against them in the search engine results pages (SERP).

The purpose of this is to help you understand where you stack up against your competition in all the different facets of SEO to better inform any strategies or decisions you want to make on how to be more competitive. 

I will first give context into the process, walk through the tools I am using, and then perform competitor research live. At the end of the lesson, you will have access to all of the templates I was using here.

What is Competitor Research?

Competitor research is the process of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition and identifying where your gaps are in comparison.

In this lesson, we will be diving into WPROMOTE as an example to help us answer the following questions:

  • What are they ranking for? 
  • Where is their traffic coming from? 
  • Where are they getting links from? 
  • What is working for them? 
  • What isn’t?

The point of this process is to identify what your competition is doing well so you can learn from their successes, as well as, find out what isn’t working for them, and understand why. At the end of this, you should be able to create a solid game plan for how you can leverage their strengths to build something that can work for you, and double down on their weaknesses to try and gain an edge on them.

Why Is This Important?

Competitor Research is important for SEO because it gives us data about which tactics are working in the industry you are in, and what you will need to do to stay competitive. 

The insights gained from this analysis should help you understand which tasks you should prioritize to help you build your strategy moving forward. You can also help determine how difficult it will be to outperform them and the amount of resources that it will take to do so.

What You’ll Need:

There are many tools that you can use for competitor research, but here are some free options to give you a basic idea of what your competition is doing:

In this lesson we will be using a couple paid tools to dive into their keyword rankings and backlink profile:

Luckily, SEMRush and Ahrefs both offer a free trial! Ahrefs offers theirs right on their homepage – $7 for a 7-day free trial. SEMRush offers one through Guru – here is a link:

I also like to use this Google Chrome extension called SEO META in 1 CLICK to look on a page’s on-page SEO. It is available for free in Google Chrome’s web store: 

Additionally, you will need the following templates:

  • Module 3 Lesson 4 – Competitor Research Template – Keyword Rankings
  • Module 3 Lesson 4 – Competitor Research Template – Broken Backlinks


For Templates and Tools that are Google Documents, you can either download the template in your preferred file format by clicking on “File” and “Download”. If you are logged in an existing Google Account, you can copy the file by clicking on “File” and “Make a copy”.

The Process:

Getting Started

Understand Your Offering

The first step in this process is getting a basic understanding of how your target audience searches for what you offer.

In our case, we are a search marketing agency, so our audience is probably searching with terms that include “SEO” or “PPC”. They may even be searching for a “digital marketing agency”, but either way, it is good to know how people are searching for what you do, so you can get a better idea of not only the little nuances of how people talk about your offering but what that online landscape looks like. All of this can help you understand the intent of the SERP.

This is something we will be talking about throughout this lesson, but SERP intent refers to what the user is intending to find when searching for specific keywords. A lot of people talk about intent being educational, transactional, or navigational, but more often than not, it is actually a combination of these. You will have a better chance of ranking and showing up if the content you want to rank matches the intent of the keywords you want to rank for.

Identify Your Competitors

The next step is identifying your top competitors, not only your direct business competitors but your online search competitors as well.

If you have a business you should already have a fairly solid idea of who your direct business competitors are, but your search competitors might be completely different.

To find search competitors, I simply enter in some of the keywords I know I want to rank for and see who shows up on page 1. You can also use some of the tools mentioned above to help find those for you as well. 

Establish Your Lens

Now that you know how your target audience finds you and have a better idea of who you are competing against, you will need to determine WHY you want to look at your competitor’s data. 

There are so many different tools out there, and different things you can look at, it can be very overwhelming to go through if you don’t have a gameplan. The biggest question you need to ask yourself is, What is it I hope to gain from this information?

Is this competitor giving you trouble for a specific product line? Do you want to know how well their content is doing? Do you want to know how they are so successful from their link building campaigns?

Having an idea of what you want to look for makes it a lot easier to go through this information and create a strategy. For our purposes today, we will be doing a general audit of WPROMOTE to give you a high-level look at the different types of things you can dive into.

So, let’s jump in and start with some good ol’ fashioned competitor keyword research!

Keyword Rankings

So, in this section we will be going through what keywords our competitors are ranking for to see if we can get a better idea of the types of search terms they rank for, and which ones are driving the most organic traffic, to help us get any ideas for potential keywords we want to target or go after. The first thing we want to do is log in to SEMRush.

  1. Navigate to SEMRush and Sign in
    2. You can create a free account using the link the “What You’ll Need” section of this lesson.
    • In your favorite browser, search for SEMRush and open up their home page. Once you have that up, in the top right corner, click on “Sign In” and log in with your account information.


2. Plug Your Competitor’s Domain Into Their Search Bar

    • Once you are logged in, enter your competitor’s domain into their search bar at the top of the page, and click the little orange “search” button. You should note that when you use this search bar, you can pull up data for an entire domain, a specific URL, or even an entire subdomain or subfolder. In this case, we will be looking at WPROMOTE’s entire domain.
    • Now, there is going to be a lot of information on this domain overview page, but we’re going to be focusing on their keyword rankings specifically, so scroll down to the Top Organic Keywords section and click on the “View Full Report” button.

3. Go to Top Organic Keyword Rankings Report

  • Clicking on this CTA will take you to the Organic Positions Report. This report allows you to see all of the keywords that a domain has pages ranking for in Google’s top 100 results. For every keyword a domain ranks for, you can see the corresponding landing page and a handful of metrics about the nature of that keyword. Running this report on a competitor’s domain is a great first step in gathering competitive intelligence. Before we go any further, let’s dive into what we are actually seeing on the page here.
  • Understanding the Different Tabs (Overview, Positions, Position Changes, Competitors, Pages, Subdomains):
    • Overview Report – The Overview report gives a brief summary of the estimated traffic, keywords, top position changes, SERP features, top pages, top subdomains, main organic competitors and competitive position map – all based on the keywords where the queried domain has an organic position in Google’s top 100 results.
    • Position Changes – The Position Changes report shows the most recent changes in a competitor’s keyword portfolio. It can be broken down into four reports: New, Lost, Improved, or Declined keywords. Each report will have a bar graph display showing the trend and a table with details on the keywords gained, lost, improved and declined a domain’s position.
    • Competitors – The Organic Research Competitors report is great for identifying the main websites that a domain is competing with for organic search engine traffic.
    • Pages – With the Pages report in Organic Research, you can take a look at every URL from a domain that is currently ranking in the top 100 of the results of the database you’re analyzing. Data you see in the table are monthly metrics based on the date (month) and database (region) selected at the top of the interface. The report features a table listing all the URLs on a domain with their corresponding traffic, traffic percentage, the number of keywords that the page is ranking for, advertising keywords pointing to the URL and info column with the number of backlinks.
    • Subdomains – The Organic Research Subdomains report allows you to see the organic traffic, traffic %, and keywords that contribute to a subdomain. If your competitor has multiple subdomains on their website, this is a great way to see which are the most effective in a search. By default, the subdomains with the most estimated traffic will be listed at the top, but you can also sort to find the subdomains with the highest estimated traffic percentage and number of keywords.
    • In any of these reports you can change your keyword rankings depending on what country you want to search from (which is useful if you are doing any international keyword research), whether or not you want to look at desktop versus mobile rankings (this can be helpful to look at for clients that get more mobile traffic), or even by the date which uses SEMRush’s historical data (we use this a lot for clients that went through a redesign and wanted to see what they ranked for before and after a new site launch).

    • Understanding Keyword Ranking Metrics:
      • The Positions Report is where we will spend the majority of our time, and one of the first things we are going to look at is the number of keywords that this competitor is ranking for. 

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