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Keyword research for Ecommerce

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 10 Sep, 2014
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A 5 step tutorial on using SEMrush and other tools to improve SEO and PPC keyword targeting for online stores

When growing your online store, every bit of knowledge you can get counts. Any mistake, money spent on wrong keywords perhaps or landing pages not delivering what your customers are looking for can cost you a lot. But sometimes that knowledge lies with your competitors. They are the people who potentially have been running their business longer than you. Or at least have already tried various strategies you want to employ now.

growing online store

By conducting a clever competitive research, you can tap into their experience and discover strategies that are worth considering for further use. A properly conducted competitive research offers great benefits for your online store:

  • It will help you keep pace with the changing market. Markets change over time. Chances are that people you tried to target when you launched your store are no longer your audience. Customers needs for products can change too. Competitor intelligence can help you stay abreast with those changes.
  • It will allow you to make more informed marketing decisions. Sometimes it's hard to gauge what areas of marketing you should focus on. Knowing what works for your competitors however can help you make more informed decisions regarding your promotion and marketing spend.
  • It helps to spot low hanging fruit. Often the simplest solutions are the hardest to find. But perhaps there are obvious and very commercial keywords you didn't think of, or links you can build very quickly to gain SEO advantage. Competitor research often reveals quick wins you can implement in your business right away, often with very little effort but to a great result.
  • It also helps to find your marketing edge. Lastly, a competitive intelligence may help you find a way to overcome your competitors in marketing. Knowing the ins and outs of their promotional strategies can help you compare your own budget and plans. As a result you can find out which areas of marketing you can compete with them and which ones you can't. Also you can spot their weak points and use them to your advantage.

Competitor research

Here are some areas of your competitors activities you should research:

1. Keywords

Keywords are the backbone of almost every marketing activity online. But choosing the right keywords to drive your SEO or PPC campaigns can be challenging. I have already written an extensive post on the typical keyword research mistakes here on Smart Insights so to reiterate:

When researching keywords, the key is to not to focus only on niche, long tail keywords that are easier to rank for. Or spend your energy on generic, hight traffic but very competitive ones but to strike a balance between the two. You need to take into consideration the intent of the audience and action behind a keyword too.

Luckily with competitor research you can overcome many mistakes I mentioned in my post. By researching what keywords work for your competitors, which ones drive them traffic and conversions, you can quickly create a list of keywords to target on your site. There is a number of ways to achieve that, one is to compare your store with your competitors.

Using the SEMRush Tool

SEMRush allows you to run a complete domain vs. domain research in few simple steps:

  • 1. In the Domain vs. domain tool, list your store and up to 4 other competitors. Select if you want to see an organic or Adwords result and hit GO.
  • 2. You will see a list of keywords all sites you specified rank for. More importantly, you can instantly see a number of crucial information there:
    • keywords you don't rank for but your competitors d
    • basic information about the keyword (traffic volume, average CPC, trends


  • 3.You can then export the entire list to Excel, filter and sort to quickly find competitive long tail keywords your competitors rank for but you don't.
  • 4. Repeat the same process for Adwords keywords to find quality keywords your competitors bid on.

The whole process can take less than 5 minutes. It can however help you discover a real low hanging fruit - keywords you lack but should be using in either SEO or PPC for your store.

2. PPC set-up

When it comes to PPC, apart from keywords, you should also check how your competitors structure their Adwords campaigns. SEMRush can estimate their budget and show you their spend fluctuations. This can help you assess how they structure their campaigns and spot any trends worth taking into consideration. Here's how to do it:

  • 1. Type in your competitor domain intheAdwords report. You will be presented with a number of data to analyse:
    • The overall number of keywords they bid on.
    • Traffic they achieve. A monthly estimate of traffic their ads achieve. It can indicate what sort of ROI they might be getting for their spend. To calculate this, take your average conversion rate and convert it to visits (2% of 151 visits = ~3 sales). Multiply it then by your average order value. If it is $50 then the ROI from 151 visits is 3 x $50 = $150. This of course is an estimate but it can give an indication of what your competitor gets for their spend.
    • Estimated monthly spend. Even though this is an estimate based on average cost per click and number of keywords receiving traffic, the metric can indicate what sort of advertising budget your competitor works with.


  • 2. In the report, you can also see a list of keywords they bid on with actual ad positions they achieve. This metric can indicate which keywords they focus their attention on (the higher the search position, the more focus on the keyword).
  • 3. Clicking on Ad History tab reveals changes in ad rankings for specific keywords.  With this report you can spot trends in your competitors bidding and structure of their campaigns. You can spot potential seasonality or keywords that are highly converting.

ppc  ad history

  • 4. Lastly, the Ad Copy tab reveals various ad copies your competitor uses to promote their store. By using filters you can quickly assess what sort of benefits they include in the copy to convince searchers to click on their ads.

ppc ad copy

3. Content

Your competitors content is as important aspect to research as their advertising. Content is the most powerful promotional tool today. Many online stores implement even the most sophisticated content marketing strategies into their marketing mix.

Researching your competitor's content strategies

Therefore, research your competitors content strategies as well. Pay attention to the following:

1. Types of content they create Browse through their site and their blog to see what content types they create. Are they mainly blog posts or do they also post videos, info graphics and other visual content types?

2. Structure of their content How they engage their audience through content? Are they including quizzes and competitions on their blog? What calls to action do they use in their blog posts? The key is to find out how they link to products, category pages and general store from their promotional content.

3. Topics they cover Lastly, research what topics they cover. Chances are you will be able to spot one or two that you haven't thought of but which are highly interested to your target audience.

4. SEO Strategies

Keywords are not the only SEO strategy your competitors employ. They also optimise their store to increase search visibility and build back links to gain better rankings. Here are the main areas you should focus on when researching their SEO strategies:

  • Backlinks

Using Ahrefs you can conduct a thorough research on their back links profile. Type in your competitors URL to get an in-depth report about links pointing back to their site. From it you can see:

  1. The number of back links they have
  2. Referring domains
  3. New links they created recently. This allows you to analyse their current back linking strategies.


  • Digging deeper into the report, you can extract the data about each individual link.

backlinks extract data

  • Click on each link to see the site it is on and assess how easy it would be to recreate it.

But be careful, not all links are worth doing so. Some might even be harmful to your site.

assess backlinks

  • On page optimisation

Apart from backlinks, you should also check how your competitors optimise their pages. If you don't want to spend too much time on this, at least check the following:

1.  How they use keywords on the home page. Trolling Motors for instance uses the keyword very boldly in their tagline: The #1 source for Trolling Motors.

trolling motors onpage seo

2.  How they structure their meta data. Title tag and Meta description are both very important Google ranking factors. How you structure them, how you include keywords in them may have a significant difference on your sites rankings. For instance, Seattle Flowers include too much information on their product pages meta descriptions for instance: Which clearly affects how the page shows up in search results.

trolling motors onpage seo metatags

The Flower Lady on the other hand optimises their meta tags very well, with title tag using both product and site name. The meta description includes the product name along with benefits of ordering from them, making the tag optimised not only for search but to convince searchers to click as well.

Onpage SEO Flower Lady

5. Landing Pages

A landing page gives your store a chance to make a great first impression on a customer. By aligning the page with a topic your customer is interested in, you make it highly relevant for them. But, for that to happen, you need to know what pages to create and what is the best content to include on them. Luckily, that's yet another bit of information your competitors can help you with.

To extract their landing pages, use web crawler like Screaming Frog. Simply type your competitor URL and let the software export to you a list of all pages on this domain. You can sort your results or perform a search for words like 'landing' which might indicate a landing page.

Trolling Motors for instance creates 'Collections' pages apart targeting specific audiences.

landing page Trolling Motors

When researching your competitors landing pages, focus on the following:

  1. Keywords they are optimised for,
  2. What content they include and,
  3. How they structure of their sales message. In other words, how they use those pages to increase conversions. Do they include a call to action to click to the store or list products related to the topic directly on the page?

Conclusion Growing an online store seems almost impossible without gaining at least some sort of competitor intelligence. Finding out what strategies work for your competitors can propel your stores promotion and help avoid making costly marketing mistakes.


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