The Idea

Getting Started with Competitive Analyses

This lesson will help you achieve two goals:

  1. Pinpoint where a client’s competition is actively targeting/showing up online and
  2. Figure out what to do once you’ve pinpointed the places competition exists.

By understanding where the competition is and how they are performing in the space, we can develop more comprehensive digital marketing strategies that will help improve a business’s bottom line.

Templates for Competitive Analyses
Make copies of the deliverable templates below to record the results of your competitive analyses.

And to help you with your analysis, each section of the audit guide provides you with:

  • A checklist
  • A brief explanation
  • Step-by-step instructions
  • Important tools
  • Common problems & examples
  • References for further reading

Good luck!

We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.
– Calvin Coolidge

Master Checklist for Competitive Analyses

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Online
  • Identifying Online Competitors
    • Determine your client's priority products/service areas
    • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
  • Monitor Online Competitors
    • Analyze SERP for primary keyword searches
    • Run analysis of top ranking pages
    • Leverage online tools for ongoing monitoring
    • Sign-up/Follow the competition
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Paid Analysis
  • Gather Competitor Data (PPC)
    • Login to Spyfu or similar competitor analysis tool
    • Run overview reports on key competitors
  • Analyzing Competitor Data
    • Review core keywords and competitors' priority terms
    • Perform ad analysis
    • Review competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    • Analyze competitors' & create hierarchy
    • Prioritze and strategize
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Backlink Analysis
  • Find backlinks
    • Use Moz to compare link metrics
    • Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    • Organize data into Excel or Google Sheets
  • Analyze backlinks
    • Sort links by quality (page & domain authority)
    • Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    • Create a list of websites to target
Competitive Analysis Checklist › Content Analysis
  • Review competitor websites
    • Find where their content lives
    • Make a list of content types available
    • Find the quantity of each content type published
    • Determine how frequently each content type is published
    • Evaluate content quality
  • Conduct a competitor backlink analysis
    • Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
  • Use a tool like Social Crawlytics & Buzzumo to analyze content sharing
    • Determine which content & pages are the most shared/most popular
Stop talking. Start walking.
– L. M. Heroux

Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors

The first part of a competitor analysis is identifying who your competitors are. This section of the guide shows you how to use keywords to find out what other web properties your audience is likely to come across when searching for information related to your business.

Template for Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Identifying & Monitoring Online Competitors

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Online
  • Identifying Online Competitors
    • Determine your client's priority products/service areas
    • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
  • Monitor Online Competitors
    • Analyze SERP for primary keyword searches
    • Run analysis of top ranking pages
    • Leverage online tools for ongoing monitoring
    • Sign-up/Follow the competition

Identifying Online Competitors

The Big Idea Behind Identifying Online Competitors

Online competitors are actively decreasing the number of opportunities available to us and our clients. Identifying the competition is the first step in reclaiming these opportunities and driving more business back to our client.

Below, we discuss how to leverage the tools at our disposal to pinpoint the competition that exists in the realms of organic and paid search. With a better understanding of who the competitors are, and how they are marketing online, we can take the next steps – monitoring and strategy development.

Common Problems when Identifying Online Competitors

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Competitive research starts with too narrow a scope

Suggested Tools for Identifying Online Competitors

Step-by-Step Instructions for Identifying Online Competitors

  1. Determine your priority products/service areas
    First determine the main products or services your organization is most interested in marketing; the website and the client’s stated preferences are the best places to turn to for this.

You’ll then want to write down what you think are commonly used keywords representing each the organization’s highest priority products or services in the Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

  • Investigate how these products/services are being discussed online
    Once you have a a keyword for each of your organization’s main products/services, leverage Google’s Keyword Planner in order to understand the search volume associated for those keywords. When you think you have the highest volume keyword representing your organization’s products/services, then move on.
    Two things to remember:

    1. Your industry and market position are big factors; if your organization is locally-bound and/or newly-founded then it may help to focus on local keywords (e.g. Greeting card stores in Baltimore) or more specific keywords (e.g. “funny greeting card website vs. greeting card website).
    2. The keywords your organization is targeting for organic search engine traffic and via paid traffic may end up being quite different, depending on budget and competition.
  • Take note of commonly listed brands/orgs
    From here, we take different courses of action depending on the channel we are most interested in (e.g. organic vs. paid).To identify competition on organic search, Google search the 6-10 terms related to each product/service area and include the commonly included brand/orgs on organic SERP listings within the Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

    To identify competition on paid search, complete the same types of searches using the priority paid search keywords. Take note of the brands/orgs which typically occupy the top 2-3 ad positions for each of these relevant searches, and include these names on your Competitor Keyword Essentials document.

    For analyzing competitors on email, social, and other channels, simply use those keywords to find email lists to join, social media profiles, etc. and record them as well.

    After conducting these searches, you should be able to confidently say “XYZ is a key competitor because they are often appearing for highly relevant terms very closely related to my product/service.”

Outcome After Identifying Online Competitors

You should have:

  • A firm understanding of your client’s offering
  • A large set of keywords (6-10) related to each core offering
  • A completed Competitor Keyword Essentials document

Monitoring Online Competitors

The Big Idea Behind Monitoring Online Competitors

Now that we have pinpointed the main competitors that are encroaching on our ability to close the deal on all prospects in our client market, we need to begin monitoring these clients in order to glean methods of improving/pivoting our client’s strategy.

Common Problems When Monitoring Online Competitors

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Competitors are observed but not consistently monitored

Suggested Tools For Monitoring Online Competitors

Step-by-Step Instructions for Monitoring Online Competitors

  1. Analyze the SERP
    Using the set of keywords that now exists in your Competitor Keyword Essentials document, conduct regular (read: monthly/quarterly) searches for these terms to understand how the landscape is changing, and which brands/orgs are consistently ranking well for these keywords – these are likely your client’s main sources of competition.For organic search, look at the information included on the search engine results pages (SERPs) — do you see any trends with the page titles, URLs, descriptions, publish dates, SSLs, etc? If so, we may want to implement these seem features for our organization’s site!

    For paid search, look at the ad extensions, headlines, copy, and display URLs of the top 1-3 ads to see what may be missing from our client’s ads, or what our ads may have in common with the top ranking placements.

  2. Run analysis of top ranking pages
    We also want to take a hard look at the actual pages that are ranking for the keywords we care about most. Clicks the links for the top 1-3 pages/ads, and see what content exists on these pages. Take note of:

    • Content that makes each of these top listings unique
    • Content that top listings all share but our client doesn’t have, and
    • Content that the client and the top listings share.
  3. Set Up tools for on-going monitoring
    For organic and paid search, we recommend setting up Google Alerts for the prominent competitors to understand how they are trending in the industry. These alerts will continue to provide you with up-to-date notifications related to particular competitors.Similarly, we recommend using BuzzSumo to help monitor how brands/keywords are being discussed socially.

    For paid search, we should use SpyFu to understand changes in paid competitors, and stack our efforts directly up against those of our competitors. From SpyFu, we can see which keywords our competitors are targeting, the keywords we are all targetings, and the ones no one is targeting.

  4. Follow the competition
    Lastly, we can keep an eye on the competition by signing up for their regular emails and following their social presences (if applicable). This way, we hear messages straight from the competition itself, which can help us adjust the way we communicate our offerings, the way we target users and even our newsletters/approaches to social outreach.
Outcome After Monitoring Online Competitors

You should have:

  • Completed an analysis of the SERP for the keywords in the Competitor Keyword Essentials document
  • Analyzed competitor landing pages
  • Set-up alerts to help constantly monitor key competitors
  • Leveraged SpyFu for deeper insight into PPC opportunities
  • Begun following the competition via newsletter signups/socially
The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started.
– Dawson Trotman
Paid Analysis

Competitor Paid Analysis

Periodically analyzing competitor campaigns is critical for paid search. This section provides an in-depth look at how to gather important advertising data from your competitors, and what to look for when analyzing that data.

Template for Competitor Paid Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Competitor Paid Analysis

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Paid Analysis
  • Gather Competitor Data (PPC)
    • Login to Spyfu or similar competitor analysis tool
    • Run overview reports on key competitors
  • Analyzing Competitor Data
    • Review core keywords and competitors' priority terms
    • Perform ad analysis
    • Review competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    • Analyze competitors' & create hierarchy
    • Prioritze and strategize

Gathering Competitor Data

The Big Idea Behind Gathering Competitor Data

Competitor data gives us insight into the strategies our greatest paid search competitors are usings to market to our shared audience. Before we can analyze the data, we have to find methods of collecting and organizing it.

  • PPC Hero Article
  • touches on why competitive research is so important, and provides a short-list of additional tools you can leverage for gathering information about rival PPC players.

Suggested Tools for Gathering Competitor Data

Step-by-Step Instructions for Gathering Competitor Data

  1. Login to Spyfu or Similar Competitor Analysis Tool
    SpyFu is a competitor analysis tool that lends insights into competitive SEO and PPC data. For the purposes of this task, we will focus on the PPC related features of the platform, though peeking into SEO insights can sometimes help improve upon paid search strategies through analysis of organic keyword trends and blindspots.SpyFu’s core PPC features include:

    • Overviews of competitor PPC metrics such as: estimated media spend, keyword portfolio size, and more
    • The ‘Find Competitors’ features which lists competition based on the client’s own domain.
    • ‘Kombat’ which offers comparative data between your client and the two most relevant competitors like: keywords all parties bid on, keywords some parties bid on, and keywords no parties bid on
    • ‘Keyword grouping’ which organizes a domain’s keyword portfolio into recommended ad groups based on relevance
    • ‘PPC Keywords’ which will generate lists of new keywords to target based on the client’s business
    • ‘Ad History’ which shares actual ad data over a 9 month lookback window for individual domains
    • ‘AdWords Advisor’ which provides keyword-level optimization recommendations based on a domain’s paid search history
  2. Run Overview Reports on Key Competitors
    Begin by visiting the ‘Find Competitors’ tab of Spyfu and entering in your client’s domain. SpyFu will generate a short-list of the two most relevant paid search competitors, based on size and keyword targeting. Take note of these competitors on your analysis document, separate from the list of direct-business competitors.Next, visit the ‘overview’ tab and begin referring to the lists of direct-business and search-specific competitors. Include any valuable notes to the analysis document in order to maintain a record of findings.

Outcome after Gathering Competitor Data

You should have:

  • A clear profile of the client’s industry
  • A list of business and search competitors created
  • High level notes related to each competitor

Analyzing Competitor Data

The Big Idea Behind Analyzing Competitor Data

Analysis of competitor data can be important for remaining current with industry offerings, staying competitive on the SERP, and keeping PPC profitable in the long term.

Common Problems when Analzying Competitor Data

The following problems tend to occur

  • Miss out on certain key areas like landing page analysis

Suggested Tools for Analyzing Competitor Data

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Competitor Data

  1. Review Client & Competitor Priority Keywords
    After collecting high level notes related to each competitor, it’s now time to conduct a keyword analysis between our two specific groups: business competitors and paid search competitors.Using the ‘Kombat’ tab, enter in the client’s domain and the domains of the two largest direct and paid search competitors, respectively, based on previous knowledge and overview tab data.

    Review the three key reports provided from SpyFu for each group: 1) keywords all parties are bidding on 2) keywords competitors are bidding on but the client is not 3) keywords the client bids on, but no others.

    By analyzing these categories for these two competitor buckets, you should be able to better understand where the untapped opportunities are, and which areas may not be relevant for our client’s business needs.

    Before moving onto the next step, have a list of priority keywords prepared. These are keywords the client is particularly interested in, or keywords you give priority to give the opportunities discovered through the Kombat reports.

  2. Perform Ad Analysis
    Visit the ‘ad history’ tab, and entering the domains of the top 1-2 competitors for each competitor bucket, and running ad reports. Focus primarily on the priority keywords you marked in the last step, and review historic ad data to see if any new ad concepts can be be gleaned from this data.
  3. Review Competitor landing pages (starting with priority terms)
    By this point you should have a firm understanding of which keywords are the most important for your client’s paid search account (either keywords you have success with, or those you are interested in competing for).Run these terms through Google search, and visit the landing pages for the top ranking ads. Review each respective landing page, and compare them to the existing client landing pages for each individual keyword/topic area. Are there any competitor conversion mechanisms that could be useful on the client site.

    Using ghostery, do you notice any interesting widgets or tools running on the competitor sites which could be useful for your client or your marketing team as a whole?

  4. Analyze Competitors and Create Hierarchy
    Having complete analysis of competitor overviews, keywords, ads and landing pages, prepare a hierarchy of paid search competitors. This will help establish priority, and keep any newly developed ideas organized based on where they originated and what purpose they seem to have served.
  5. Prioritize and strategize
    By having the competitors/ideas organized, you can more easily decide which new strategies, tools, or ideas should be put to use first for the benefit of the client and their paid search efforts. The analysis document you have been completing can now be easily referred to for future strategy development.
Outcome after Analyzing Competitor Data

You should have:

  • A clear list of priority keywords your client should focus on
  • A better understand of how competitors or communicating their value to searchers
  • What experiences are being provided on competitor landing pages, and how they differ from the client’s
  • Which competitors are the most influential, or are the best to focus on
Ideas won’t keep; something must be done about them.
– Alfred North Whitehead
Backlink Analysis

Competitor Backlink Analysis

Use this walkthrough to find competitor backlinks and create a list of sites with content relevant to your client’s business. With this information, you can create off-site content and generate links that will increase your search engine rankings and traffic.

Template for Competitor Backlink Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Completing a Backlink Audit

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Backlink Analysis
  • Find backlinks
    • Use Moz to compare link metrics
    • Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    • Organize data into Excel or Google Sheets
  • Analyze backlinks
    • Sort links by quality (page & domain authority)
    • Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    • Create a list of websites to target

The Big Idea Behind Finding Backlinks

External links are one of the many factors Google uses to determine search engine rankings. Links from sites with high domain authority, using relevant alt text, can greatly increase your site’s SERP rankings and generate traffic. Promoting your product or service on multiple sites throughout the web also allows you to reach new audiences and increase brand awareness.

Common Problem When Searching for Backlinks

The following problems tend to occur:

  • It may be tempting to target directories, but you must take care to avoid the untrustworthy ones and avoid pay to play schemes.
  • A page containing a high number of external links will pass less link equity per link.

Examples of High Value & Low Value Backlinks

Links from trusted sites with page and domain authority at 80 and above

Links from spammy, keyword stuffing, and low equity directory sites with page and domain authority lower than 40. I won’t link to a spammy site like that but you’ll know one when you see one.

Suggested Tools for Finding Backlinks

Step-by-Step Instructions for Finding Backlinks

  1. Use Moz to compare link metrics
    Focus your analysis on the sites with the highest domain authority and the most value passing links. In Moz Open Site Explorer, type in url of the the first competitor, then click on “Compare Link Metrics” in the sidebar menu. From there you can add up to four additional urls. Compare the numbers of equity passing links and choose the competitors with the most links and the highest authority. It may be helpful for your final report to take a screenshot of this page.
  2. Use Moz to export inbound links and linking domains
    In Moz, type in the url of a competitor. Filter your results. Under Target select “this root domain” under Link Source select “only external” then for Link Type select “link equity.” Then request a CSV of all inbound links.Click on Linking Domains in the sidebar menu and select “this root domain” under Target. Request a CSV. You can find your exported data under Recent Reports in the top lefthand corner.
  3. Organize Data in Excel or Google Sheets
    Have linked page and linking domains on separate sheets (in the same document). Take a look at this template doc for ideas on how to organize your work.
Outcome after Finding Backlinks


Analyze Backlinks

The Big Idea Behind Analzying Backlinks

Acquiring backlinks is important because links can help search engines determine the content and quality of your site. When an outside page links back to your website, Google crawls that page to determine the topic, and then crawls your site to see if the link is relevant to the content. If your site gets a highly relevant link from a popular and trustworthy website, Google will view your site as an authority on the topic. This can increase your search rankings.

When analyzing backlinks it helps to know your ultimate goal. Are you looking to post unique content on other websites? Or are you looking for someone to review your product/services? Keeping an end goal in mind make it easier to determine which sites to target.

Suggested Tools for Analyzing Backlinks

  • Excel or Google Sheets – you can use this as your format.

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Backlinks

  1. Sort links by quality (domain authority)
    We only want to target sites with high authority and link equity, so sort your links by domain authority. Page authority may vary within sites, but domain authority tells us how search engines view the domain as a whole.
  2. Determine what type of sites and content are linking back to your competitors
    Look at the linking domains. What types of sites are linking back to your competitors? Are they social media sites, news sites, blogs, etc? How many links are these sites providing? Make note of this so you can include it in your final report.

Look through the sites to see if you notice any that stand out as ideal opportunities for off site posting, reviews, etc. When you have found all that you recognize (or what seems to be a good opportunity from the url) search through your inbound links to find how and why they linked to your competitor. You can typically learn why from reading the page titles, but for some you may have to visit the page to get a better understanding.

After you have gone through the recognizable links, continue searching through the rest of the page titles to find potential opportunities. Be sure to focus on the pages with higher domain authority

  • Create a list of websites to target
    Create a new tab in your file and create a list of pages or domains that are good opportunities. Try to find at least 10.


Outcome after Finding Backlinks


  • Write a brief summary of your findings. What types of sites link to your competitors the most? How many links to do they have? Which of those sites are the easiest to target? What is the strategy moving forward? It may help to have a screenshot of the link comparison report in Moz. Here is an example.
  • Create a new tab with a list of linking opportunities and contact information. Here is a template.
The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps – we must step up the stairs.
– Vance Havner
Content Analysis

Competitor Content Analysis

Use this section to learn how to review competitor content and determine how you can modify your content strategy to incorporate their strengths.

Template for Competitor Content Analysis
Make a copy of the deliverable template below to record your analysis.

Checklist for Completing a Competitor Content Analysis

Competitive Analysis Checklist › Content Analysis
  • Review competitor websites
    • Find where their content lives
    • Make a list of content types available
    • Find the quantity of each content type published
    • Determine how frequently each content type is published
    • Evaluate content quality
  • Conduct a competitor backlink analysis
    • Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
  • Use a tool like Social Crawlytics & Buzzumo to analyze content sharing
    • Determine which content & pages are the most shared/most popular

The Big Idea Behind Reviewing a Competitor’s Website

Doing a content analysis helps you create engaging content that surpasses what your competitors produce. By reviewing their content, you can determine how much content they produce, how frequently they produce, the kinds of content they create, and the quality of it. Using this information, you can create a publishing schedule that can rival your competitors.

Common Problems When Reviewing a Competitor’s Website

The following problems tend to occur:

  • Content analyses tend to be time consuming; it may be difficult to review sites with large numbers of pages.
  • Sites with unnested or improperly nested pages may be more difficult to analyze.

Suggested Tools for Reviewing Competitor Sites

Step-by-Step Instructions for Reviewing Competitor Sites

  1. Determine the number of guest posts or news articles written by the competitor
    Visit the site’s navigation. Where is the content housed? Click through each link to see if submenus lead to hidden content resources.
  2. Make a list of content types available
    Search through the site and make note of what content types are available. Are there case studies, data sheets, news articles, press releases, blog articles, testimonials, informative videos, infographics, etc?
  3. Find the quantity of each content type published
    Crawl the site using Screaming Frog. If page urls are nested/organized in a clear way, you should be able to quickly sort through the links when you export the data into an excel file. For example, you can search through all URLs with /blog/ to find all blog articles.
  4. Determine how frequently each type is published
    Look through the blog to determine how frequently they publish content. Do they publish, weekly, biweekly, etc?
  5. Evaluate content quality
    Read 3-4 pieces of content. Ask yourself: how accurate is their content? Is the tone formal or informal? Is their content long or short? Who is writing their content? Do they have multiple contributors? Are the writers well-known? Is their content gated? Do they follow standard SEO practices (keyword rich text, headlines, etc)?
Outcome After Reviewing a Competitor’s Site


  • You should have a Google or Excel sheet with the information you have found. You can use this template.

Analyze Content Sharing

The Big Idea Behind Analyzing Content Sharing

Social media shares is a measure of how popular content is. To get a deeper understanding of how people interact with your competitor’s content online, analyze the number of social shares by social media platform. With this information you can determine how to modify or create your social media strategy.

Suggested Tools for Reviewing Competitor Sites

Step-by-Step Instructions for Analyzing Content Sharing

  1. Determine which content & pages are the most shares
    Using a free tool like Social Crawlytics, you can enter in a competitors website and get a report on the number of shares per page, number of shares by content type, and more. Social Crawlytics requires a twitter account to use but is free. Simply signup and enter in the website address to get your report. Because it is a free service, only only a certain number of pages can be crawled per week.
Outcome after Analyzing Content Sharing


Do not despise the bottom rungs in the ascent to greatness.
– Publilius Syrus

Why a Keyword Universe is Important

A keyword universe lets you consolidate the findings of your keyword research and share those results with anyone else who may need it.

Keyword research is used by your content strategists to inform their creation and optimization strategies. It’s used by paid media managers to target their campaigns. It’s used by your SEO team to understand where on-site and off-site opportunities may be. It’s used by UX specialists to better understand page priority and user preferences.

In short, keyword research helps everyone on your team. And rather than having each discipline conduct their own research, everyone can reference the keyword universe — a living, breathing document that grows alongside the subject’s research.

What You’ll Walk Away With

At the end of this lesson, you’ll know how to:

  • Locate and research keyword data for your market
  • Identify the best keywords to use in your marketing campaigns
  • Compile your research into an actionable keyword universe
Keyword Universe Template
Make a copy of the sample keyword research deliverable linked below.

Defining a Good Keyword

A keyword is a word or phrase commonly used to locate content on the web.

Keywords come in all types and sizes, depending on:

  • Where the keyword is used (e.g. Google Search vs. Amazon vs. Wikipedia)
  • What the keyword is used for (e.g. finding something vs. buying something vs. learning something)

Short-tail keywords—keyword phrases of three words or less—tend to be used for informational searches with little buying intent, e.g. “red widgets.” However, for websites primarily in the information business (e.g. Wikipedia), they’re highly desirable targets.

Most businesses are primarily hoping to attract transactional — not informational — search traffic from users in later stages of the buyer journey and who are searching with long-tail, multi-word phrases, e.g. “best red widget sellers near me.” That’s not to say informational keywords can’t be leveraged to improve a transactional experience, but that’s typically a longer, more difficult optimization process.

Identifying the best keyword for you or your client comes down to:

  • Knowing which keywords are relevant for your website, ads, etc,
  • Knowing how many people are using those keywords to search, and
  • Knowing how much effort you’d have to exert to successfully use those keywords on your website, ads, etc.
Getting Started

How to Approach Keyword Research

A keyword universe is an actionable research deliverable that can be used for content strategy, PPC strategy, audience insights, and more.

By following the strategy listed below, you’ll always ensure that the research performed can actually be applied to your campaigns. The strategy below covers:

Once you understand the basics, you can then jump down into the tutorial for actually creating the keyword universe doc.

Align Your Assets with Audience Intent

The key to valuable keyword research is attracting the right audience. For example, if your site only sells men’s athletic shoes then you don’t want to target visitors looking for women’s boots.

When you’re conducting keyword research, you need to ask yourself several questions:

  • Is the keyword relevant to your site?
    • Example: “magic cards” might be somewhat related to the greeting cards about magic that you sell, but the vast majority would likely be looking for Magic: The Gathering trading cards.
  • Would the person searching for this term be interested in buying your product or service?
    • Example: “free birthday cards” may be an easy keyword to target, but if few to no visitors arriving on your site via that keyword convert, then the traffic is useless or even counterproductive.
  • Do you have content to support the keyword?
    • Example: “funny birthday cards” might be a good keyword but if you don’t have anything on your site, your ads, or anywhere else referencing that genre of cards, the visitor’s expectations will be frustrated and they’ll leave your site.

Matching the most common intent of a keyword to your audience’s intent ensures your site, ads, and layout provide the best experience possible, making sure both visitors and algorithms are happy.

Check Keyword Volume

A keyword with perfect intent is of little value if no one actually uses it when they search. That’s why you always need to measure volume — i.e. how many times a keyword is typically used by your audience — and compare it to other keywords.

Usually, the best way to approximate search volume is by using Google’s Keyword Planner. Google is far and away the most popular search engine so its data on keyword volume is more complete than that from other sources.

Determining whether or not a keyword has adequate volume depends on the type of keyword you’re targeting.

Adequate search volume could be as high as 10,000 searches per month for “greeting cards” or as low as 10 for something less frequently sought. So, if you’re targeting something very specific, like business valuations for the oil and mining industry, simply registering some monthly search volume can validate your keyword choice.

For another example, consider “greeting cards” vs. “Lord of the Rings greeting cards.” Both would be great for a greeting card shop that carried Lord of the Rings-themed cards. However, depending on your budget, the objective of your marketing strategy, and other considerations, the lower-volume and less competition for “Lord of the Rings greeting cards” may make that a much better keyword choice.

Test Keyword Competition

Determining how many others you’ll be competing with when using a keyword is another important consideration for keyword research.

Your keyword competition research will a) uncover popular topics competitors aren’t talking about and b) show you when the market is too saturated with content revolving around a keyword idea.

The easiest way to approximate keyword competition is via an “intitle” advanced search query. This is a search that looks for the number of web pages using that specific keyword in their page title. You can try this advanced search by typing intitle:”keyword goes here” into an incognito Google Search.

Google will likely tell you that your search returned thousands of results. This number is highly exaggerated. To find a more accurate number, go to the last page of the search. This can be done by clicking on the 10th page of Google’s results and finding the section of the URL containing “start=90.” Change the number to 990 to reach the last page of Google’s search results, and then click on the actual final page listed at the bottom. The number of results displayed when on that last page will be your intitle competition, e.g. 27 results with “game of thrones birthday card” in the page title.

Game of Thrones card intitle competition


Intitle Game of Thrones Final Page

Final intitle competition number for Game of Thrones birthday cards

Balancing Volume & Competition

In a perfect world, every keyword you want to show up for around the web would have a ton of volume and no competition.

Unfortunately, the world is flawed and you can’t always get what you want. So, you’re going to have to balance the need for selecting higher volume keywords with the practicality of less competitive keywords. This is going to take some trial and error — i.e. seeing if your keyword strategy is attracting enough visitors and then assessing whether those visitors are actually converting into customers.


Try This Marketing Exercise

Complete the exercise below before moving on. You’ll gain critical hands-on experience that will help you become the marketer you were meant to be. Plus, it makes completing the quiz at the end of the lesson even easier.

Exercise: Keyword Universe Request

Your keyword research should be referenced and re-referenced time and time again by writers, ad specialists, and more. So, by compiling your findings into an easy-to-share document, you’ll ensure that there are less research redundancies and a bigger cross-channel impact for your campaigns.

Exercise: Instructions & Template
Follow the instructions on the document linked below.

Tutorial for Creating a Keyword Universe

Now that you know what makes a good keyword, let’s go through the process of creating a keyword universe.

1. Choose Seed Words

Think about your product or service. Ask yourself, “What phrases would  someone use to describe this? What terms would I use to find a similar site?” Using these questions, create a list of about 10-15 keywords that can be input into a keyword tool, acting as seeds for further keyword suggestions.

If you’re having trouble coming up with some intital keyword “seeds”, then visit websites similar to your own and see what words and phrases are commonly used.

Google’s Keyword Planner can even extract relevant keywords from websites. Put the URL of a relevant web page, e.g. Wikipedia page for search engine optimization,” into the landing page field when searching for new ideas and it will show you what keywords it believes are relevant.

Similarly can use a keyword cloud tool to extract some of the keywords most commonly used by these relevant web pages.

2. Get Keyword Suggestions

Plug your seed keywords into keyword suggestion tools like Übersuggest or Soovle. These tools will provide you with more seed keywords to analyze. Übersuggest adds words or phrases to your search to create long-tail keywords. Soovle suggests keywords that are relevant to the search terms you provide.  It is an invaluable tool for keyword research.

3. Check Search Volume

Use Google Keyword planner to collect information on search volume. You can ignore the software’s competition metric as it is solely for AdWords campaigns and is not relevant for generic keyword research ideas. It can give you an idea of what keywords are most likely to have high in-title competition, but it does not provide any concrete data.

Google Keyword Planner also allows you to group keywords into ad groups. Typically ad groups are used for Adwords campaigns, but they can be useful for organizing your keywords into separate categories.

For example, when creating a keyword universe for digital marketing training, it may be useful to create separate groups for keywords relating to lesson topics, job roles of potential learners, etc. Having a list of keywords related to a specific subject can be helpful when it is time to present and use your research.

To export keywords into a handy Excel file, create an ad group, select “Add to Plan” to add keywords to that group, and click the download button to download your Excel file.

Download keywords

4. Organize Your Keyword Research

The Excel file downloaded from Google Keyword Planner will have a lot of additional information that is unnecessary for your keyword research.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Keep the columns containing ad groups, keywords, and monthly searches. The rest can be deleted. Next, add columns for intitle competition and volume-competition ratio. Divide the competition by the search volume to get the proper ratio. Use the formula “=d2/c2”.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Drag the corner of the box down to the last row of keywords to find the ratio for all of your words. Be sure the column is formatted to show values as percentages.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

You can continue to organize your keywords by separating the ad groups into different sheets in Excel or by making rows sortable. Ultimately, formatting decisions are up to you. If we did not organize our keywords by ad groups, we could still sort our list by intitle competition. This would ensure that keywords with a low intitle competition were at the top, making it easier to see which words are ideal.

Keywords can also be organized by phrase. This allows you to see the core keyword and all of its long-tail variations in one block. This is useful for comparing phrase variations to make sure you are using the best keyword possible. Organizing by phrase can easily be done by sorting the keyword columns alphabetically.

5. Add Intitle Competition

As previously mentioned, quickly approximating a keyword’s level of competition is via an “intitle” search; you can perform a similar search by typing “intitle:’keyword goes here’” into an incognito Google Search. From there, you locate the last page of results and then record how many other websites cover the same keyword.

If your keyword list is in the hundreds, finding the intitle competition can seem like a daunting task. A free tool called Market Samurai can quickly find the in-title competition and search volume (and even suggest new keywords), but it is glitchy and can be inaccurate.

There are also paid tools such as Moz’s keyword tool you can use to assess keyword competition and skip the heavy lifting. But if you can’t afford a paid tool, we encourage you to research manually for the most accurate results.

6. Balance Volume & Competition

Using the ratio in your keyword universe, you can start getting an idea about which keywords are good and which ones are bad — i.e. good keywords will have high volume and low compeitition, so their ratio % will be lower.

The numbers constituting a “good” volume and “good” competition will vary by:

  • How they’re used (e.g. SEO, PPC, etc.)
  • Your industry (i.e. other digital savvyness)
  • Your position in the market (e.g. established brand vs. startup)
  • And plenty of other factors (e.g. other activities supporting the overall effort).

What’s left for you is to try to and use those keywords in your campaigns then adjust your definition of good accordingly.