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Competitor Analysis: Keywords and Backlinks

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Competitor Analysis: Keywords and Backlinks

Elena Terenteva updated
Competitor Analysis: Keywords and Backlinks

Having a well-optimized site is great, but it won’t remain that way forever. You have to work continuously to stay on top. But that can seem impossible if you don’t know what your competitors are doing to try to outrank you on SERPs. Trust me: they are keeping an eye on you, so you need to do the same.

How can you analyze your competition?

Identify them. A great place to start is to review who you are competing with for organic and referral traffic. 'Organic competitors' are pretty easy to spot: you can see them in the SERPs by googling your target keywords. Of course, you can’t just google every keyword, especially if you have a lot of them. It can seem even more complicated with referral traffic, because who knows where to look for competitors’ backlinks?

Luckily for you, SEMrush is here to help! Let’s look at how to do competitive analysis using the SEMrush toolkit. The post consists of two major parts:

Competitive Keyword Analysis

Competitive Backlink Analysis

Competitive Keyword Analysis

Even though you know most of your keyword competitors, there is a chance that you could have missed a dark horse and may be surprised when thrown from the high organic positions.

Catch ‘em all!

Before analyzing your competitors you need to know what is competitive analysis and who all your competitors actually are. The SEMrush Keyword Competitors report will compile a full inventory for you: all the unexpected figures and still-not-too-well-known startups are all here.

To indicate how closely a domain competes with another one, we use a parameter called Competition level.

Your site’s Competition Level depends on two things: how many ranked keywords your competitor has, and what percentage of them are your common keywords. For example, if you are a travel blog, Wikipedia won’t be your competitor because in addition to all of the possible places and travel tips you have written about, it also ranks for billions of other keywords. On the contrary, another travel blog will be competing with you.

Pay special attention to those competitors whose sites are competing with yours the most in terms of traffic and total keyword numbers.


After you have made a list of rivals it is time to look closer at them. Here are a few tips that can help you beat your competitors with keywords.

Check How They Are Doing

Let’s start with analyzing a potential weak point for your competitor, their new and lost keywords. Their new keywords may show you a potential new niche. Their lost keywords might show you that they were penalized and lost their positions, so there could be some free space for you and your site.

You can find all this information in the Position changes report. Spikes on the graph let you know about sudden changes in your competitors’ actions. By clicking on a spike and sorting the results e.g. by position, you will learn what keywords have undergone the most changes.


Hijack Their High-Volume Keywords

The next step after you know how your competitors are doing is to look closely at the difference between both of your keywords. For example, you can take a look at the keywords that are unique to your competitor. You may have missed them when writing your content so SEMrush and their competitor analysis tools can help you identify them.

The Keyword Gap report shows you keywords that only your competitor has.


After you have your list, you can apply a few advanced filters. Look for where they are ranking in low positions in the SERPs for relevant keywords and aim to beat those rankings with your content. If they are stuck on the 2nd page you can always aim for the 1st and gain more visibility in the SERPs.


Research Your Most Common Keywords

The third step is to research the keywords that both you and your competitor have in common. You can also find these in the Keywords Gap report.


Now, by applying advanced filters, find the keywords that your competitor ranks higher than you and make a list of those. These are keywords that need your attention right now.


Export Your Keywords

It is important to follow the positions of the keywords you choose. To do that, you can add as many of the picked words to the Export Manager as you want. Later on, upload the exported .csv or .xls document to the Position Tracking tool to track how their positions are changing.


Use Keyword Research to Improve Your Content

In order to learn what types of content prove most successful in organic results and gain a better understanding of your future content strategy, go to the Pages report. It will show you the percentage of traffic that a specific competitors URL gets and the number of keywords on the page.


If you really love keyword research, you can dive deeper into the data to improve your content. Learn shortcuts for conducting keyword research in our article on how to do it using the SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool.

Competitive Backlink Analysis

Studying your competitors’ backlinks helps you gather new ideas for your own link building strategy. Take a careful look at your competitors’ profiles and make a list of domains on which they have already placed their high-quality backlinks.

Find Your Backlink Competitors

Just like with keywords, you have to make a list of your competitors before analyzing each of them. The SEMrush backlink Competitors report shows you all of your rival domains, along with their Сompetition level. The higher their percentage of common backlinks, the higher your Сompetition level will be. This report also shows you their total number of backlinks and referring domains.


Obviously, the higher a rival’s competition level is, the more relevant they are for further analysis. But don’t only focus on this number. Another important characteristic is the backlink/domain ratio. It can show you whether your competitor makes an emphasis on building high-quality organic links, or if they resort to gray methods.

Identify High-Quality Referring Domains

In the long run, you have to follow what your competitors are doing in order to get new ideas for your own link-building strategy.

It’s important to not only get as many links as possible but also to make sure their sources are diverse. Choose one from your competitor's list then go to the Referring Domains report and get a list of domains that link to this specific competitor.

By sorting these domains out by trust score, you can make a list of domains you’d most want to contact in order to improve your backlink profile. Just make sure they are relevant to your sphere.


It’s also important to make sure that all these backlinks don’t come from the same domain as you would not want to get penalized by Google.

Analyze Drastic Changes 

To avoid missing any shifts in your competitor’s backlink positions check out the Backlinks report. It will show you all recent changes in their backlink profiles. If you see a “New” spike, check it out. One possibility for the spike is that your competitor got a new partnership, uploaded new content that went viral or just bought a bunch of links.

By checking “Lost” spikes you can find a whole list of domains to contact and place your links on.


Dig Deeper

The Indexed Pages report will show you which URLs on a competing domain are most popular for linking. Studying the URLs with the most backlinks and linking domains can help you understand how to make your content attractive to external sources. For example, has your competitor found a new popular content format? Do they know what type of content is often referred to in their niche? Find out!


Fill In the Gaps

There are always be some domains that have a lot of backlinks to your competitor but not to you. To create a full list, use the Backlink Gap tool. Besides the domain comparison, it provides the comparison by specific URLs in case you need to compare pages with similar content.

The tool allows you to spot the backlink opportunities that you’re missing (the referring domains that your competitors have links from but your domain does not). Select your domain in the drop down above the table and you will then find all the domains that link to your competition, but not your website:


Sort the referring domains by their trust scope (TS) to get a list of trusted sites on which your links could be placed safely: these websites could be your next link building targets!

Learn more about building your backlink profile with SEMrush in this post.


With so many tools in hand, you have no excuse but to start analyzing your competition right now! Your journey will take time, a careful guidance which we are happy to provide you with, and finally your determination to succeed.

Be sure to let us know how you get on in the comments below! Have any tips for competitive analysis? Please feel free to share!

Outdo Your Competition

SEMrush Keyword and Backlink Analysis

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Elena Terenteva, Product Marketing Manager at SEMrush. Elena has eight years public relations and journalism experience, working as a broadcasting journalist, PR/Content manager for IT and finance companies.
Bookworm, poker player, good swimmer.
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Your competitor analysis tool sucks. Sorry, but that is the truth. I have a client that is a real estate agency in an extremely competitive marketplace. You tool suggested my nearest competition was a business 900 kilometres away in another state.
Melanie Nathan
Hi Peter, thanks for letting us know about your issues. Mind sending me the domain info so the dev team can look into the error and find out why that suggestion was given? I apologize for the rogue suggestion the tool gave you. I’m at [email protected] 👍🏻
Melvic Real Estate
Hey Elena. Very useful article. Thanks for sharing.
backlink audit tool did not work well for me. Even after uploading backlinks file from Search console, I was unable to see those links in backlink audit. Those were spammy links.
Elena Terenteva
Bhagyesh Patel
Hi Bhagyesh! Thank you for your comment. Can you please write our support? I'd really appreciate if you could give us a deeper feedback. Thank you!
Elena Terenteva
Semrush may be blocked by robots.txt so it was not showing up.
Hello to the SEMrush Community,
I am a beginner blogger and have written awesome and genuine content on Cloud Computing. I want to ask a question and actually analysing some Backlinking Algorithm of Google.
I also have some basic knowledge of SEO, have performed total on-page of my website.
But I am having problems regarding Link building stuff.

Also the main question I want to ask is, my competitors are having a great domain authority, but they don't have the type of creative and informative content as I have ! Will I be able to beat them by having some high DA links ?

[ad removed by moderator]

Looking forward for suggestions.
Best wishes,
Piyush Dadhich.
Elena Terenteva
Piyush Dadhich
Hi Piyush! I think it definitely sounds like a plan, but SEO is not just about doing right just one thing - it's all about writing good content, keeping an eye on website health and structure, speed and UX, etc. Join our #semrushchat on Twitter - every Wednesday a lot of SEO specialists are hanging out there. You'll be able to ask your question to real SEo gurus. Cheers
Melanie Nathan
Amazing post, Elena! Remember the good old days when all you had to do was pilfer your competitor's keyword meta tag lol? There are now SO many facets to conducting competition research it's sometimes mind-boggling. Looking forward to your next post (hopefully) about what to DO with all the juicy info uncovered ;)
Elena Terenteva
Melanie Nathan
Hi, Melanie! Sure, sounds like an idea for the next post.
Saravanan Subramani
Awesome post on Keyword and Backlink Competitor Analysis, Elena Terenteva!

I’ve been following Elena’s tips, and I’m very happy with the result. The posts are very long, which is great for beginners. I wish you could provide summaries of these posts.

Your detailed guideline will help me to get the keywords more easily now. Thanks for the in-depth guide for Keyword and Backlink Competitor Analysis. Always appreciate the amount of hard work and research you put into your posts.
Elena Terenteva
Saravanan Subramani
Thank you so much, Saravanan! This is the greatest reward - to know that our content (and tool) is useful. My best
Jordan Glogau
The article got me thinking about other functionality the would be helpful:

SEMRush provides a lot of competitors but many of them aren't relevant. What happen is the competitive bubble charts tend to bring up these major players, but they aren't really in the niche I am pursuing. They smaller competitors I pick by hand don't show in the bubble charts. How do I limit or suppress the ones I don't want to as part of the competitive set?

Along the same line major retailers like Amazon, Newegg, etc. are in their own class. How could SEMRush categorize or suppress these players when dealing with ecommerce issues/competitors?
Daria Manshina
Jordan Glogau
Hi Jordan,
Thanks for another great question! At the moment, in our Domain Analytics we consider both, number of common keywords for the domains, and the whole scope of keywords that the chosen domains are ranking for. Thus, all the giants in the industry that are not directly competing with smaller businesses should be excluded from the list.
Also, in our Backlink Analytics you can find rivals that compete with you for the same referring domains. We are using the same logic here: we consider common backlinks and the whole backlink profile. So you can find your most relevant rivals here.
By the way, you came up with the question just in time, since we are testing a new algorithm for our Domain Analytics. So it would be awesome if you could send us your domain. Then we can check your case.
Another tip for you here if you want to make a list of your competitors for the particular scope of keywords in specific location. You can get the most accurate results in our Competitors Discovery report in Position Tracking tool (you can blacklist all big brands here and just work with your actual rivals).
Daniel John
When it comes to content building, One is expected to write a high-quality content, Why do we always have to start linking to high traffic site and secondly.
Linking a word to a site, Does it rank you or the person you are referring to?
Daria Manshina
Daniel John
Thanks for the comment, Daniel!
If linking to high quality domains positively affects your rankings is a very good question indeed. We would love to know the answer ourselves. Google started using RankBrain algorithm for measuring pagerank, and nobody actually knows how it works. But from what we can see on the web and hear from our users, “follow” links affect both pages.
Daniel John
Daria Manshina
No problem. I myself also wish to know
Jordan Glogau
Very thoughtful, but a lot of the csv exporting that is done to other SEMRush functions shouldn't have to be exported at all. They should be passed to reports like Position Tracking and there should be a column that notes where the keywords came from and including notation about dates and reason. A combination of time saving and an audit trail.
Daria Manshina
Jordan Glogau
Thanks a lot, Jordan!
Have you tried our Export Manager? We have a special tool that allows you to store all the good keyword ideas from Domain Analytics. You can find the “Add to Export Manager” button on the top left of the table. Very soon we’ll add an option to send these words directly to the Position tracking, so yes, thank you for the valid point!
As for your idea of marking specific places in the instrument where you found the words, it is actually worth considering. We’ll send it over to the Product Owners team.

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