Want to find out competitors’ keywords? Here’s how to find what keywords competitors use on their sites – and protect your own!
There are three ways to find out what keywords competitors your are trying to rank for or buy with PPC ads. Click any link to skip to that technique.
Technique 3: Buy The Data From A Panel Measurement Service
Competitor Site Analysis
Step 1: Look at their sitemaps. This is a page, usually created for search engines, where every valuable page on a site is linked to using the keywords the page is targeting. In technical terms, the anchor text of those links is keyword rich.
Step 2: You can either:
- Copy-paste the code on that page into a file. Then use CTRL+F to find all the links starting with the first one and then copy paste those into an excel file. That excel file will then show you your competitors’ main SEO keywords.
- Or you could get a web spider, and have it crawl the page then extract the links for you. Again, this will show you competitors’ main SEO keywords.
This technique has limits, though. It doesn’t:
- Show the relative value of keywords. Linda Bustos of Elastic Path Ecommerce asked me, “Should I target body wash or shower gel? Your technique doesn’t answer that.”
- Show the absolute value of a keyword. Does it convert, at all? Imagine an ambiguous keyword. Eg “bass” – Is that bass fish or bass guitars?
- Tell you what competitors’ message is, in their PPC or SEO listing. Are they promoting a deal or upmarket? Special feature or ease of use?
Solution (in principle): Find out how many competitors and how long competitors have been buying a keyword. If many of them have been advertising on it for a while, it’s effective.
Spyfu can do tell you that…
Spyfu has 2 tools that answer the limits of the analysis we ran of our competitors’ website.
1 – Spyfu Domain History tells you what keywords a competitor bought over the past year, and for how long. By seeing the keywords they’ve bought for the longest time, you can see what keywords are most valuable.
2 –Ad History shows you all the competitors who have been bidding on a keyword in PPC auctions for the past year, and for how long they’ve been bidding.
Ad History shows you their ad text, too. By seeing the patterns in competitors ads, especially over time, you can see how to pitch the people searching.
I also like Spyfu for other reasons. Spyfu helps find keyword patterns or categories I hadn’t discovered during my own keyword research. It seems years are often used with car model names, when people want to get car insurance.
Spyfu also tells you the competitors’ ad ranking in the search results. The higher the ad’s position, the more that traffic is important to them. A good indicator of value…
Spyfu value-maximization tip Look at trends in position over time. If you see a competitor gradually raising their ad’s position, chances are that the keyword is proving better than expected. And if they’re dropping, it’s probably a poor keyword!
Compete Inc offers you similar keyword data. Their collection methodology is more reliable, though because it includes data from a “panel” – a group of 2 million people. Their actual use of the search engines is tracked! (The downside is that it’s a lot more expensive than Spyfu, starting at $199/month.)
With Compete you can see the actual keywords that are referring traffic to given websites, and which websites are getting the greatest CTR from the SERPs.
So you can “Build better search campaigns by understanding the competition,” as Compete says, which I think is a fair positioning statement since their data is looking at traffic stats as opposed to what another SEO/SEM is trying to do (my technique and Spyfu).
How do you protect your own keywords then?
While I’m no expert in SiteMaps, it’s my understanding that you can submit an XML sitemap without having a separate html sitemap on your website. If that’s the case, I would avoid making the sitemap if getting your keywords ripped off is a concern.
If you must have an html SiteMap on your site to submit one to the SEs, then this is where breaking usability convention is allowed. Hide it 5 clicks/folders deep and link to it with misleading anchor text like “ugly fat bearded ladies.” And give each folder users need to navigate to get there 5 other folders, each of them titled something really helpful, like 1,2,3,4,5…
So to get to the site map, the person would have to know the “combination” to your “folder lock” e.g. 4-2-5-4-1. You get bonus points for doing this all in Ajax – which doesn’t load a new page each time you click a link – so that they can’t use the URL to locate themselves unless they finally reach the site map.
While any decent SEO can find some of your keywords, you can at least make it a lot more difficult and laborious if they try to take shortcuts by swiping your keywords. Besides, there’s no guarantee they’ll find all the keywords you’re targeting, on their own. If you can keep them out of at least some of your markets/keywords, you’re preserving profit margins there.
Note: by observing the navigation elements of a site, competitors can find out some of your keywords anyways. Nevertheless, it’ll be very time-consuming and the competition may not be thorough enough to find all your keywords. If it’s being done by scrapers, you can try and detect them and cloak for the scrapers to not find what they needed.
Another way to protect your own keywords is to keep in mind how Spyfu and Compete work. They give information about particular domains. So if you split your PPC campaigns amongst multiple domains, your competitors would have to know all your domain names to get all your keywords. This can minimize the risk of losing all your keywords to a competitor in one swoop. Of course, that might be offset if one draws much higher CTR, but it’s a delicate balance…