Keyword Research and Competitive Analysis Tips
Staying competitive in the modern small business landscape is a difficult task, no matter what industry you’re in. And keeping on top of trends, technology, and best practices can seem daunting, especially when it comes to digital marketing tasks like keyword research and competitor analysis.
To help keep things in perspective and demonstrate that any small business can make great strides without a lot of headaches, we’ve put together a panel of SEO, content marketing, PPC, and digital strategy experts and asked them for their tips, advice, and guidance in this area.
Whether your business is just getting started or you are ready to ramp up your efforts, these insights and expertise should give you a solid foundation for competitive keyword research and analysis.
What is Keyword Research?
Simply put, keyword research helps you find out what people are searching for and how to tailor your online content and digital marketing to those terms, phrases, and items.
So why is keyword research so important?
With most people turning to Google instead of turning pages in a phone book these days, understanding what your customers are looking for and how they are looking for it is key to reaching them.
“Keyword research lies at the foundation of our general client strategy, (and) not only for SEO. Messaging is a huge part of every marketing strategy, and understanding what words people use to ask questions, describe their challenges, or search on the internet goes a long way in crafting a relevant and targeted message.” –Vlad Herescu, Founder of Mauve
Keywords are the currency of search engines, and they’re also the key (no pun intended) that unlocks improved position for your business on search engine results pages (SERPs). But with everyone vying for the top spot (including enormous organizations with tremendous resources), small businesses still have a way to compete and improve their status on SERPs.
“It’s easy to get lost in the data. Focusing on numbers like traffic, position, and domain ranking is beneficial in setting SEO goals and KPIs, but it can limit your team’s ability to create amazing content—the kind that drives up CTRs (click-through rates) and makes people stick around. So, aside from the quantitative analysis, you should also have a qualitative analysis. Manually assess what’s ranking and hypothesize why.” –Vito Vishnepolksy, Founder and Director at Martal Group
How do you perform keyword research?
Conducting keyword research is a foundational part of any SEO strategy, but it’s also incredibly valuable across your entire marketing strategy. From driving organic traffic and improving content strategy to identifying beneficial keywords and phrases for your CRM efforts and social campaigns, keyword research holds tremendous value across the competitive landscape.
“I start by analyzing the top-performing websites in my region and industry. I use SEMrush to analyze (competitor’s) websites and identify the keywords they are targeting because it provides me with valuable insights into the search volume, competition level, and keywords my competitors are ranking for. By understanding my competitors’ strategy, I can identify new opportunities to improve my own website’s rankings.” –Domenique Comparetto, Content Marketing Director at Altered State Productions
As with any marketing efforts, getting started requires a plan. And for keyword research, your plan should begin with a willingness to put aside any assumptions about your audience and learn as much as possible about what they are looking for and how they go about it.
“The first step in keyword research is to identify your target audience and understand their needs, preferences, and search behavior. This helps identify the keywords that they are likely to use when searching for your products or services. (Online keyword) tools will help you to find the right keywords to target and provide you with information such as search volume, competition level, and related keywords.” –Paul Bies, President of Mystique Brand Communications Inc.
Because of the relative budget friendliness and low barrier to entry, search engine optimization is a key component of small business marketing efforts. Beginning with competitor keyword analysis and a review of competitors’ websites, business owners and marketers can gain valuable insight into content gaps, pieces of content being created, and keyword ideas as well. But the analysis of competitor keywords and content does not have to be limited to the online space.
“As well as analyzing on-site content, off-site strategies should also be analyzed. How well are competitors using social and other methods to drive traffic? Especially inbound links for directories and other online publications. Even off-line activity should be considered.” –Greg Macdonald, Managing Director at London Web Design Agency
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How Should You Use the Results of Keyword Research?
Keyword research and competitive analysis go hand in hand to help you identify a list of valuable, new keywords, competitor rankings, and areas where you can make inroads with your marketing efforts. Once you have the initial data, though, how should you put it to good use? Beyond developing a list of keywords that will become part of your content creation efforts, the number one place to start is with a plan.
“Take the time at the beginning of every campaign and use the competitor analysis and keyword research to determine the course of your campaign. Failing to do so could result in the misuse of resources on irrelevant or unattainable keywords.” –Jared Tangir, Managing Director at Elevated Audience
So you need a plan for your research, but your research also informs and even creates your next plan: the implementation. And once you have the valuable insights gained from your analysis and SEO tools, there is a great deal to be accomplished with the keyword gaps you’ve identified, newfound long-tail keywords, and much more.
“By identifying gaps and trends within your market, you gain a better sense of how to attract and retain visitors on your web pages, landing pages, social media platforms, or directory listings. What it really boils down to is that making the time to work on competitor analysis and keyword research helps your business resonate with search engines and your target audience.” –Megan Marshall, Customer Success Coordinator & Content Specialist at WEBii
Your competitive keyword research and Google search findings go beyond simply building a list of target keywords for your content creation team. From enhancing your organic search results to lowering your ad campaign’s CPC (cost per click), high-quality research is beneficial to every portion of your sales flow … as long as you are approaching things with a wide-field view of business needs and opportunities.
“It’s crucial to understand the different stages of the sales funnel and how your keywords fit into each one. At the top, attract visitors with broad, informational keywords that generate awareness. In the middle, shift your focus to educating and nurturing those visitors. At the bottom of the funnel, you want to be converting those leads into customers with keywords that indicate commercial intent.” –Alexander Hollingsworth, SEO Marketing Associate at Oyova
What Should a Competitive Analysis Include?
Competitive analysis (also known as competitor analysis) can go far beyond simply identifying specific keywords that you are missing out on, or organic keywords that you can add to your marketing materials. Competitive analysis can be as broad and exhaustive as you and your team want it to be.
The key is to gain valuable knowledge about where you stand in the marketplace, where your competition has the edge, and how you can counteract their efforts and increase your market share through any and all means available.
“Competitor analysis is a strategic process of identifying and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors to inform your business decisions. It should include your competitor’s name, products/services, competitor marketing strategies, competitor strengths and weaknesses, strategies and tactics, and opportunities and threats.” –Tanya Gupta, Digital Marketing Specialist at SG Analytics
Tips for Performing a Competitive Analysis
If you’re ready to get started on your own competitive analysis, our panel of experts and partners here at UpCity has advice to help you kick things off. One piece of advice that came up time and again was to keep an open mind to learning new things about your business and your customers.
“My best tip for conducting a competitor analysis is to approach it with a curious and investigative mindset. Instead of just looking at surface-level metrics like keyword rankings or social media followers, try to dig deeper and uncover the underlying strategies and tactics that your competitors are using to succeed.” –Nick Fernandez, Founder of Upsway Marketing
Reviews, feedback, and comments on your competitors’ pages can be a remarkable source of valuable information. This kind of competitive research can give you insights into what other businesses are doing right, what they may be missing out on, and where you can communicate your company’s unique abilities, products, and values.
“By examining what customers are saying about your competitors’ products, services, and overall customer experience, you can gain valuable insights into their strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas (for) improvement. This can help you identify opportunities to differentiate your offerings and address unmet customer needs, ultimately providing a competitive advantage.” –Megan Killion, Chief Consultant at MKC Agency
As with all of your marketing efforts, competitor analysis isn’t something you undertake just for kicks. However you go about doing your research, ensure that you are beginning with thoughtful questions that you are hoping to answer and insights you want to gain.
“Make sure that you gather actionable insights. Set clear goals, use a structured approach, go beyond surface-level analysis, and use a variety of data sources as part of your research program. Then use the information collected to focus on your strengths and leverage those against what you find to be the weaknesses and opportunities presented by your competitors.” –Salil Gandhi, Founder of SBO Buzz
Benefits of Competitive Analysis and Keyword Research
With the amount of information you can gain from taking these steps for your business, it will come as no surprise that there are countless benefits to be gained from competitive analysis and keyword research. One of our experts’ favorite benefits was the opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of your business’ current place in the market; where are you winning, where is there room for improvement, and overall, where do you currently stand?
“One of my favorite parts about brand analyses is developing a brand marketplace matrix. With a general idea of every brand’s positioning, grab a whiteboard and use a matrix (x and y axis) to chart the competition and yourself. This exercise will literally help you see where you lie in the marketplace. The biggest benefit of a competitive analysis is the map you develop of the route you need to take, and the keyword analysis gives you the headlights for the next step you need to take.” –Kaleb Dean, President & Chief Design Officer at Studio Ostendo, Co.
Learning was the most valuable part of these processes for the majority of our panelists. There is no such thing as too much knowledge, especially in a space that requires content development and continual adjustment. Information about your competition is one of the most powerful resources available.
“Researching what your top competitors are doing is extremely helpful, but don’t disregard the competitors who are not performing well. You’ll learn just as much by discovering what NOT to do. Ever since I started doing competitor analysis and keyword research, I was able to triple my monthly organic visitors and quadruple my business revenue from SEO.” –Director ZANE, Director and Owner of ZANE Productions, LLC
While we’ve used the word “strategy” quite a few times in this article, the strategic value of keyword research and competitor analysis can’t be overstated.
“In order to develop an effective marketing strategy, conducting a competitive analysis is crucial. This evaluation helps to identify the distinctive features of your product or service, which can then be highlighted to appeal to your target market. By determining what sets you apart from your competitors, you can accentuate those attributes that make your offering unique. It also helps identify areas where you are weak and work internally to improve or find best alternatives.” –Carlos Valladares, Marketing Consultant at CIS Agency
Exploring More SEO and Competitor Keyword Analysis Options
While our panel of experts offered a great deal of information in this article, you can imagine how much more insight and advice they have to provide for small businesses in every industry. And these panelists are just a few of the remarkable partners available within the UpCity network.
From competitor keyword research to bolstering your company’s domain authority and more, connect with industry-leading talent in SEO and digital marketing right here at UpCity.
This article was originally published on May 12, 2022 and has been updated to reflect current market conditions.