The Spy Who Loved Key(words)

Your online marketing success is so much more than the sum of your own SEO efforts. Your search engine ranking is dependent upon your SEO work and that of your competitors. The further they climb, the harder it is for you to achieve that prime top position.

Have you ever wondered what keyword optimization strategies your competitors are using? What keywords are they focusing on and aggressively pursuing in their campaigns? How can you use that information to your advantage?

A License to Spy?

It is possible to take your curiosity one step further and actually “spy” on your competitors. In fact, we highly recommend it as part of your SEO strategy and establishing your own keyword list! After learning which keywords are working (or not working) for your competitors, you can make a more informed decision about your own keywords and how you can better focus on optimizing your website.

Here are the 4 steps to spying on your competitor:

Step 1: Find Your Competitors

At this point, you should already know all the different players in your industry. But if you haven’t taken time to research who your top competitors are, Google is your friend. Type the name of your product or services in a Google search. The top 10 results are the big competitors. If you type in a long-tail keyword, such as city + product (“Nashville skincare”), you will get a better idea of your local competitors. Select one (or more) high-ranking competitor in the search results and move onto the next step.

Step 2: Choose Your Gadget

Now it’s time to see what your competition’s targeted keyword list looks like. There are a few different free tools on the web to help you do this, but we prefer After you navigate to the site, enter the competitor’s web address at the top. You will receive a list of the 1 word and long-tail (2 or more words) keywords on that website. Copy and paste that list into a new TextEdit (for Mac) or Notepad (for PC) document.

Step 3: Kill the Unrelated Words

Some of the keywords may not directly relate to your business. Carefully go through your list and delete the words that are not relevant.

Step 4: Analyze with Google Planner

The Google Keyword Planner tool will help you analyze your keyword list. It’s free and extremely user-friendly:

  • Log into Google Adwords, or create an account if you haven’t already
  • Click “Tools and Analysis” on the main menu
  • Select “Keyword Planner”
  • Keyword Planner gives you 3 options. Select the one that says “Enter or upload keywords to get estimates”
  • Paste your keyword list into the box and click “Get estimates”

Your goal is to find long-tail keywords that are specific to your niche market and will be easy to rank for. Pay especially close attention to the Average Monthly Searches and Competition statistics. The Average Monthly Searches will show you which keywords are the most popular and relevant to your customers. The Competition will tell you how many competitors are already ranking for that keyword. You don’t want to waste time on a keyword that’s already outrageously competitive and overly used in your industry – it could take you years before you saw any progress in your search engine results. Instead, try to find a long-tail keyword that will be more specific to your particular set of services, less competitive, and still popular among your customers.

The Word is Not Enough

Obtaining the keywords you’re going to focus on is only the beginning! Understanding how to use those words is your next step. After you have established your keywords, head on over to our “8 Ways to Kill Your Website Ranking” post to learn how to leverage your findings with quality, valuable content.

Have you ever spied on the competition? Does it always pay off? Let us know in the comments below!