The best way to beat your competition?
Do what they do, but better.
See with your own eyes and hear with your own ears.
And I’m about to show you how!
Let’s identify and track your competitors’ use of keywords to replicate their success—and take it to another level.
4 Steps to Track Competitor Keywords and Replicate Their SEO Success
Step #1: Identify Your Competitors
You probably already have an idea of who you need to beat in the SERPs.
Your competitors will typically fall into two main categories:
1. The big dogs in your niche.
They have established websites and very good SEO—they’re likely already ranking for high volume keywords in your niche.
As an example, let’s look at the highly searched keyword “content marketing,” with a search volume of 90,500.
This is what I get when I search for the keyword on Google:
Excepting results from the Top Stories, rich snippets, Forbes and Wikipedia, here I have a list of my biggest competitors—the go-to voices in the content marketing field.
I would add Neil Patel, Content Marketing Institute and Copyblogger to my competitor list. I’ll definitely want to find out what they’re doing and replicate it for myself!
2. Small, newer websites with growth potential.
I can tell you from experience that limiting your competitor analysis to only a few of the biggest ones can lead you to overlook young, smart competitors that are still new to the niche but are growing their web presence at vertigo speed.
These competitors are usually ranking for medium-volume and longtail keywords related to your niche. Also look at keywords based around your USPs and the services you offer.
For example, as a freelance marketing writer, I could look at competitors ranking for keywords like “b2b blog writing” or “b2b blog ideas.”
Competitors with a USP similar or identical to yours are a must-track, whether they’re big or small. These are your direct competitors and their rankings can determine whether you get business or not.
Once you’ve found a few strong competitors on the first pages of the SERPs, I’d suggest that you add them directly to Monitor Backlinks.
You’ll get a bunch of useful competitor data that will come in handy in the next steps, and once your competitors are added to the tool, they’ll be constantly tracked and updated with current data.
All you need to do is navigate to the Competitor Links tab from your main dashboard, and add the main competitors you found:
This makes it easy for you to learn from your competitors how to better optimize your site and better sell your product or service. Ultimately, that’s all that competitor analysis is for!
(If you don’t have a Monitor Backlinks account and want to see everything it has to offer, you can take it for a spin with a free, no-risk 30-day trial!)
Step #2: Find Out Your Competitors’ Keywords (4 Methods)
This step will help you develop a shortlist of relevant competitor keywords to track and analyze, so you can discover how to do better.
Before we jump in, keep in mind that not all competitor keywords you find will make sense for the unique angle and USP of your website. Use your common sense and best judgment to pick out only the relevant ones to focus on.
It’s also a good idea to check the search volume of each relevant keyword before adding it to your list (Keywords Everywhere is a handy browser addon for this).
You want to make sure you’re trying to rank for low to medium-volume keywords as a priority over the more competitive keywords, since they’re easier to rank well for and they generate good quality traffic.
Now, let’s find out what keywords your competitors are targeting and ranking for.
There are four places to find these keyword gems:
1. Find Keywords in Published Content URL Slugs
Whether it’s content from the competitor’s website and blog or their guest posts and promotional content, there’s a place where you can be at least 99% sure you’ll find keywords:
The URL slug.
It makes sense, after all. When you do on-page SEO, the slug is one of the first things you’ll optimize because it’s also one of the first things to appear in search results, after the title of the page.
Here’s an example from the Moz blog:
It’s quite clear from this post that Moz is targeting the keyword “log file analysis,” with 880 monthly searches.
This keyword is relevant to my own goals, because I do use server logs to improve the technical and on-page SEO of my websites. So I would save this keyword as one to target, too—I’m going to produce a unique post based on my own experiences and tricks for analyzing log files.
Now, to analyze an entire blog manually for slug keywords would be overkill, but there’s an easy way to do it using Screaming Frog SEO Spider.
Just enter the domain you want to analyze, and the results under the “Internal” section will give you a list of all the URLs used on the domain.
This is what I got when I analyzed another blog in my niche, NeilPatel.com, with Screaming Frog:
Let’s take a look at these keywords I extracted from the URL slugs:
- “future content marketing”
- “what google ranks high”
- “marketing principles”
- “developers generate traffic”
- “seo failure”
- “more google traffic”
- “how to build links when no one will link to you”
- “a blog isn’t a blog it’s a business”
- “new seo strategy”
- “keyword research formula”
Then, I recommend copying the list and importing the keywords into Keywords Everywhere to evaluate their search volume and find out whether they’re worth tracking and building content upon:
As you can see, not all slug keywords have a search volume.
But here’s the trick:
Some slug keywords are a variation of a topical keyword or keyphrase.
For example, “what google ranks high” is a topical variation of “how google ranks,” which gets 390 searches a month, and “how to rank higher on google,” which gets 720 searches a month.
When you use topical variation keywords in your content, it’s a good idea to scatter them throughout the content piece, in addition to your main keyword(s).
If you find out that your competitor is using topical variations in addition to the main keyword, and you want to build content upon those keywords, you’d do well if you track them all.
2. Find Keywords in Internal Links
When your competitor links internally to content on their own website, they’ll most likely:
- Link naturally using full sentences
- Link editorially using keywords for deep linking SEO
When you’re analyzing a competitor’s internal links for keywords, you want to focus on the second type of internal link—editorial links—to see what keywords your competitor is using for that specific page.
The manual way to do this involves browsing the competitor’s site and picking a few interesting posts to read.
Look at all the internal links and the anchor text used to link to site content. What keywords and keyphrases are being used?
This can be time-consuming, but you can automate the process a bit using the Internal Link Analyzer Tool. Just run the page URL through the tool to get a list of all the internal links used on that page, and their anchor texts:
The downside of this tool is that it counts all internal links on the page, including blog category links, footer links and the navigation menu, so sometimes there can be a lot of data to comb through.
I analyzed Blogging Wizard’s “How To Promote Your Blog: The Complete Beginner’s Guide” to find keywords I might be interested in pursuing for my own blog.
Here are some that I found from the anchor texts, with search volume analysis:
- “Check out our recommended WordPress hosting for bloggers” (variation of “best wordpress hosting for bloggers,” 10 searches per month)
- “Check out these free speed enhancing plugins for WordPress” (variation of “best wordpress speed optimization plugin,” 50 )
- “Check out our recommended SEO plugins for WordPress” (variation of “best seo plugins for wordpress,” 2,900 searches per month)
- “Check out these analytics tools for bloggers” (variation of “blog analytics tools,” 40 searches per month)
- “Check out our keyword research guide” (“keyword research guide,” 170 searches per month)
- “find and fix your broken links” (variation of “find broken links,” 1,000 searches per month, and “fix broken links,” 210 searches per month)
- “headline variations” (topical variation of “ab headline testing,” 20 searches per month)
3. Find Keywords in Backlinks
Where else do your competitors use SEO keywords? In the anchor text of their backlinks, of course!
Whether the backlinks were earned naturally or built from collaborations with other sites (such as guest posts, post swapping, interviews or podcasts), the keywords used to link back to your competitor’s content on these sites matter.
Because it’s here that most of the SEO magic happens (i.e. ranking boost and traffic generation).
So, how do you go about mining competitor keywords from their backlinks?
This is where Monitor Backlinks comes in handy again. If you already added your competitors from the previous step, this’ll be much easier!
From the Competitor Links tab, click on the competitor you want to analyze to see all their current backlinks:
Go through their backlinks, paying special attention to the “Anchor & Backlink” column:
What anchor texts are being used to link back to their content? Note down the most relevant keywords and look up their search volume.
From this example competitor’s backlink anchor text, I found some great keywords to save including “content planning process,” “create 30 content ideas in 30 minutes” and “content seo strategy.”
If you don’t have a Monitor Backlinks account, or you want to check out the backlinks of a smaller competitor without adding them to your competitor dashboard, you can use the Free Backlink Checker.
With this tool, you can check out the top 300 backlinks of any competitor for free, along with their anchor texts:
In the example above, I analyzed Blogging Wizard to retrieve as many backlinks as possible.
And in fact, there are a few juicy anchor text keyphrases right there among the first results:
- “membership plugins”
- “how to approach link building in [insert year here]”
- “how to increase your leads and email subscribers”
The list goes on, but you get the picture.
4. Mine Website Analytics Platforms for Keywords
You can also use tools like Google related searches or Alexa to find keywords that competitors are targeting.
For example, when you analyze a website with Alexa, the tool returns a number of keywords that bring guaranteed search traffic to the site.
Here’s what I get when I type in NeilPatel.com:
These would all be good keywords for me to track as well!
Step #3: Track Your Competitors’ Keywords with Monitor Backlinks
And so, now we come to the keyword tracking task.
This is actually the easiest part, because you have Monitor Backlinks to do it all for you!
First, you’ll need to make sure your main competitors are added to Monitor Backlinks for tracking (if you haven’t already done so from step #1).
This will allow you to see their keyword rankings in line with your own—a very helpful feature for competitor comparison.
Then, go to the Rank Tracker tab in the navigation menu, and add all the keywords you extracted from your competitors in the previous step:
You can add multiple keywords at once by pressing Enter after each keyword:
When you’ve typed them all in, click “Add Keywords” and they will appear at the top of your keyword list as you scroll down the page:
It’ll take Monitor Backlinks a couple of hours to gather the initial keyword and ranking data.
Soon, you’ll see the current ranking positions of you and your competitors for each keyword:
And that’s tracking done!
Monitor Backlinks will do all the work for you, and even send you regular email updates so you don’t have to keep checking back.
From here, your job is to create content based on the keywords your competitors are targeting, monitor your position in the SERPs compared with your competitors’ positions, and lay out a strategy to improve your content when they outrank you.
Let’s put that into practice.
Take a look at how this example site is faring on Google compared to its competitor CoSchedule for the keyword “wordpress post scheduler:”
Ranking #40 versus #49. Not bad!
As you can see, this ranking comparison feature is a blessing—it saves plenty of time that’s better spent on content marketing.
Our example site jumped a huge 80 positions to reach #40, but you can see that CoSchedule has been steadily increasing its position for the same keyword too, and it’s not too far behind.
You can use this information to act upon your content as soon as you notice a SERP improvement for your competitor, find out what they’ve done to deserve the reward, and make your content even more valuable to quickly climb the ranks.
But don’t take only my word for it!
Chelsey Heil and her team at Creatives by Chelsey love to use Monitor Backlinks for keyword tracking once they’ve written content and started ranking for it.
She even prefers it to Serpstat (another SEO tool her team uses), because it doesn’t only track keyword positions. It’s “a far more in-depth platform that gives you highly useful data for the more experienced SEO.”
As soon as you see that a competitor is quickly climbing up the ranks, you can do something to improve your content and wow your audience.
Which brings us to the final step!
Step #4: Replicate Your Competitors’ Keyword Success with Unique Content
You’ve analyzed your competitors’ websites 360 degrees to uncover all the keywords they’re trying to rank for.
You’re now tracking those keywords, and you know what your competitors are doing to rank for them.
It’s the right time to act!
Write better content per keyword.
Jonathan Jeffery from Nordimark put it best when he said to “figure out what competitors are publishing around these keywords—and then do it better, longer, and promote it better.”
Indeed, the whole purpose of this keyword tracking job is to come up with unique content that’s better than your competitors in order to replicate their success in the SERPs.
To add your own voice to the niche.
Sure, the keywords may be the same, but your content should be uniquely yours and perfect for your audience.
Here’s how to go about this:
1. Replicate Competitor Content (Do What Works for Them)
Basically, look at what formats they use and what helps them win.
That’s your proof of what has been successful with your audience, so it’d make sense to take the same approach with your own content.
For my website BizCharacterBlogging.com, I’m tracking Jon Morrow’s SmartBlogger.com as one of my main competitors.
Although what I do (character blogging) is a sub-niche of blogging—and thus this is not a direct competitor—it makes sense to have Smart Blogger here because:
- It makes great use of keywords in URL slugs (easy grabs!)
- It covers all the blogging topics you could think of, ranging from beginner to expert level
- It covers all types of keywords, from low to high search volume
- The posts are in how-to, list, guide and tutorial formats, all with great read rates
For example, this post on affiliate marketing for beginners makes a great piece to analyze for keywords and content quality to replicate on my BizCharacterBlogging site.
The question I have to answer on my own site is: “How can bloggers monetize their character blogs with affiliate marketing?”
Content replication is about asking the right questions—and giving users the right answers.
Chelsey Heil also uses a content replication strategy to do better than her competitors.
Her strategy involves looking at the top five pages currently ranking for the keyword they want to rank for and at the format that their competitors are using (e.g. video, list post, how-to, etc.).
“If they’re all list posts, it’s a safe bet that’s what Google wants and we’ll stick with that format.
Then we evaluate the angle they’re covering the topic from, consider the searchers’ intent when they land on the post (what problem are they trying to solve?), and see how we could improve upon the post.
This could be as simple as making the post more actionable or it may involve custom graphics and videos. Either way, make it better than the top posts on Google.
Once it’s published, promote your content on every channel. Build links to the post, and do everything you can to get it ranking.”
2. Challenge Competitor Content (Do Better)
Jonathan Jeffery doesn’t like that “replication” word a lot—and maybe he’s right.
“Replication isn’t the right term. I’d say that challenging is a better term—as you want to avoid replicating their strategy, and going for something much better all together.
Figure out what their content is, and then picture the audience and think ‘What could be 5x more valuable than this?’—and produce it.
Often, this means investing in great design, a lot of actionable tips and reaching out for case studies—but it’s worth it. If your content is better for the human, eventually Google will correct itself.”
What Jeffery suggests is that your content should be much more authoritative—outstanding—in your visitors’ eyes than that of your competitor and that yes, it takes money and resources to do so.
But, the results are guaranteed.
Give more to your users than anyone out there is already doing.
Time for a great case study now, right?
Yeah, it is.
Syed Irfan Ajmal, growth marketing manager at Ridester, shared a success story with me:
“We found the top five content pieces of a competitor which had the most unique RDs (referring domains). Among these was a survey about ridesharing drivers which has had tons of backlinks, and was ranked for great keywords as well.
We found what we could do to come up with a better survey. And we did it.
For instance, unlike the competitor’s survey (and many other similar studies), our survey doesn’t include just the ‘reported earnings’ of Uber/Lyft drivers, but also required them to share with us screenshots of their actual earnings available on their ridesharing.
While this survey of ours was published only around a month ago, we have already got backlinks from around 86 websites including the likes of the Daily Mail, the New York Times and Breitbart.”
Ajmal told me Ridester has yet to outrank their competitor, but given the massive coverage they received organically, for the most part, chances are high that a big advancement in ranking positions is soon to come.
Then Ajmal introduces an interesting content creation idea to complement the work done on the survey:
“One more thing we did was to create and include two mapographics and one infographic which used the findings of the survey to provide nice visual representations of the data.
We have also included ’embed codes’ of these visual assets so that any other website can use them, and when they do so, we will be able to earn new backlinks as the embed code includes our link.”
That definitely ups Ridester’s game.
Not only are they offering great data-based content to their users, but they’re also enhancing it with easy-to-publish visual addons that’ll make the content itself fit all needs.
A plus in the user’s eyes—and in search—on all counts!
Final Words on Tracking Competitor Keywords
Uncovering your competitors’ most hidden keyword success secrets may not be an easy task.
But it’s not out of reach if you divide your work into easily digestible tasks and you follow a plan.
Eventually, you’ll find promising competitor keywords that you can track and analyze to improve your content and boost your traffic, rankings and conversions.
As you can see from this post, it’s all doable!
All it takes is a bit of patience, a planned process, and an efficient tool like Monitor Backlinks to keep track of the whole pack.