How to Use SEMrush for Competitive Keyword Research

It is not possible to understate the importance of keyword research.

If you’re not writing about yourself and your products in the same way that your customers are talking about their problems, you won’t be found in the search results.

A lot of great posts have been written about keyword research; if you’re not familiar with the process, here are a few starting points:

Keyword Research from DistilledU
Keyword Research from SEO Nick
Keyword Research from Moz

This post will focus on understanding what keywords are performing well for your competitors with data from SEMrush rather than using tools like Keyword Tool and the AdWords tool.

Choosing your competitors

For this post, let’s say that we’re trying to identify opportunities for sports clothing site, 2XU. In this situation, you’ll probably want to choose a mix of direct competitors (manufacturers) as well as retailers. This will help maximize the keyword spread that you’re going to analyze.

You’ll typically want to stay away from less authoritative sites, who are usually smaller brands. This is because less authoritative sites, categorically, have a smaller presence in the SERPs, which is what SEMrush measures. They look at the keywords that you’re ranking for, not necessarily the keywords that you’re targeting. With this in mind, it is helpful to review sites who have a large keyword footprint.

For this example, we’ll use the following competitors:

Under Armour
Dick's Sporting Goods
Sports Authority

Collect competitive data

Start the competitive process by going to SEMrush, entering your first competitor, and then viewing the organic positions. This will show us all the competitor’s keywords that SEMrush has found on the first two pages of Google.

To remove branded queries or other irrelvant terms, you can use the filters in SEMrush before you export your data. This is better than filtering in Excel as SEMrush limits the number of results in a report. By filtering in SEMrush, you can maximize the amount of useful data that you export.

Alternatively, if you know that all relevant content and keywords fall within specific URL structures on your competitors’ sites, you can filter to only include URLs that fit those patterns.

Then, when you have your cleaned keyword data in SEMrush, export all of the keyword data for the competitor.

Now repeat this for each competitor, placing all keyword data into a spreadsheet - each data set with its own tab. With all of your competitors’ keyword data in hand, use SEMrush to pull your own keyword ranking data and place it in its own tab in the spreadsheet.

Clean your data

Start your data cleaning process by going through the keywords associated with each competitor and marking which keywords are relevant. Then copy all of these relevant keywords, and the keywords that you rank for, into one list and dedupe this master keyword list.

Group and categorize your data

Now go through your master keyword list and group all relevant keywords together. These just need to be in broad categories to help you create topics.

Once your keywords are in groups, go through and create topics within the groups. If you have a lot of keywords within a group, you might end up with a few different topics for each group. When words seem close enough to potentially be in the same topic, such as “compression shorts” and “compression pants”, Google them. Then compare the search results - if you see both compression shorts and compression pants in both results, then they belong in the same topic.

Build out a competitive keyword table

Now use vlookups to build a table that contains the search volume for each term and the rankings associated with each site. Copy and paste the data as values only to facilitate removing the #N/A’s.

To understand the size of each topic, use sumif to create a topic volume column which will sum all of the keyword volumes associated with a topic.

Analyze for opportunities

The competitor rankings and topical search volume can be used in combination with the knowledge of our product offering to help us understand which keyword phrases we should be pursuing.

To see keywords that we’re currently not targeting, filter our rankings to only show blanks.

We are left with the keywords that we are not ranking for - we may want to consider either retooling our pages or creating new pages to target these. If you want to get a better understanding of the opportunity before you, you can look at the keyword opportunity to see a more realistic projection of the amount of traffic you can capture rather than the raw monthly searches.

If you're looking to dig into keyword research further, check out these resources:

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