Phillip Brooks

How to Use a SWOT Analysis in your SEO Keyword Research

Phillip Brooks
How to Use a SWOT Analysis in your SEO Keyword Research

If you've ever taken a business class, you're probably familiar with the SWOT analysis.

HBO's Emmy-Nominated Silicon Valley recently aired an episode in which a SWOT analysis is used by two of the main characters to (almost) come to a decision – with hilarious, but cringe-worthy results. (Warning: Link contains spoilers and some NSFW language.)

What Is a SWOT Analysis?

Simply put, the SWOT Analysis is a decision-making tool used to evaluate a venture in which you input all the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats you can think of into a matrix, which (in theory) makes it easier for you to identify all of the negative and positive factors that could affect the project's outcome, planning and strategy.

Keep in mind that a SWOT analysis is only helpful with goals that are attainable. It's not a replacement for a brainstorming session. A SWOT analysis deals solely in verifiable facts that can lead to a realistic goal.

Here is a sample template for a SWOT Matrix:

SWOT Matrix

SWOT analyses are often helpful solely for the visual impact that they can have.

For example, if the Threat and Weakness quadrants wind up with a number of entries far in excess of the sections for Strength and Opportunity, that could be a strong indicator of challenges that need further discussion before moving forward with your decision.

Conversely, if your matrix is overwhelmed by entries in the Strength and Opportunity fields, you could be looking at a winner.

As you can see from the above diagram, the SWOT also helps you categorize challenges into both External and Internal Origins as well as which data is labeled either Harmful or Helpful to the outcome.

Mindtools.com has the following to say about the origins: "Strengths and weaknesses are often internal to your organization, while opportunities and threats generally relate to external factors."

So, What the Heck Does That Have To Do with Keyword Research?

Here's the thing: Keywords can also fall into those categories.

I'm going to show you how you can perform a competitive analysis using SEMrush to sort keywords into a SWOT Matrix, from which you can prioritize your SEO plans.

In my limited spare time I volunteer as a lacrosse coach for a local high school program, so I'm always looking for deals on marked-down equipment. I'm on LacrosseMonkey.com a lot. They have great sales on closeout items. I'm going to use them as my example.

Let's start with strengths.

Strengths – What's working now?

The Strengths are the easiest to identify. Which keywords are working best for your domain?

This is easily achievable using the Organic Positions report.

We input the domain and get a list of keyword data.

Lacrosse Monkey Organic Positions Report

Then we export the keyword list into Excel and sort by Position to get a handy list of keywords for which we're already ranking well

These represent our Strengths. Fairly self-explanatory.

Lacrosse Monkey Organic Domain Keyword Report

I then pasted the top 20 of those keywords into a SWOT template (minus the branded terms.) You can use a larger or smaller list, but for the purposes of this sample, I wanted to keep the size manageable.

SWOT Strengths

Weaknesses – What's not working?

For Weaknesses, we use the same data as above, but we instead sort the keywords by LOWER rankings.

Lacrosse Monkey Weaknesses - Keyword Export

Now, these are little bit trickier. There's bound to be a few clunkers in this list because of how broad the returned results are. We definitely want to use context to exclude terms which do not fit. For example, I'm going to remove a few different terms (despite the promising search volume) because I know they don't represent products that Lacrosse Monkey sells.

Some, however, do fit into other domains which they own, like HockeyMonkey.com. I'm also removing those, but if I were working in-house for them, I'd probably want to let whomever runs the other domain's SEO that there lie some opportunities in these underserved terms.

SWOT Matrix 1 and 2

Opportunities – What keywords are unique to your competitors' domains?

Now let's revisit the keyword spreadsheet we created in the previous section.

There's a lot of keywords that have decent search volume and relatively low competition at the bottom of the list. I generally like to sort these into actionable research using the following formula:

Number of monthly searches for the keyword multiplied by the cost per click, then divided by the competition level on that keyword

I've added a column to the spreadsheet for that tabulation:

KPI Formula added to spreadsheet

We then re-sort those keywords by the new column which gives us some really competitive terms at the top:

Competitive Terms

Ok, this gets a little hard to follow, but stay with me. Terms which return the largest number in the Keyword Performance Index represent those keywords which would result in the highest potential return should you gain ranking. How you then prioritize those targets depends on a few different factors such as budget, age of domain and other similar metrics.

For example, if you have a really strong domain that's been around a long time and has the budget to really go after some of these high-risk, high-reward keyterms, start at the top and work your way down.

For most sites, however (including Lacrosse Monkey), the sweet spot lies in the middle of these ranking numbers.

But we can make deciding which keywords to target much easier by working with SEMrush's Domain vs. Domain tool to identify those keywords our competitors are not ranking for at all and matching that up with the data we just created.

Lacrosse Monkey Domain vs Domain

In between each of the domains we've entered into the Doman vs. Domain tool, there's a small Venn diagram. You can use this operator to select a number of different options for sorting the set and subset of returned keywords from each domain.

Lacrosse Monkey Domain vs Domain Venn Diagram

In this case, we want to see which keywords are unique to the competing domains, so set each of the Venn diagrams like so:

Unique to Competitors

Then we run the report and export the results as an Excel spreadsheet:

Competitors Unique Keywords

Now we can compare these results with those from the previous list by looking for keywords that are unique to our competitors' domains but which are within our "sweet spot range" for keyword targets.

I pasted the 4400 keywords we got from the Weaknesses results into a new spreadsheet and compare them to the 4800 keywords that are exclusive to our competitors' domains using a simple Excel formula.

From that list I got more than 100 matching terms. I took the top 20 and added them to the Opportunities section of our SWOT Analysis, but again, that's only to make the data more manageable.

SWOT Analysis 3/4 Full

Threats – What keywords are unique to your domain but represent opportunities to your competitors?

We're trying to identify which keywords are unique to Lacrosse Monkey, so we need to change each Venn diagram like so:

Lacrosse Monkey Domain vs Domain Unique to First Domain

We then repeat this for each domain listed which gives us this result:

Unique to Lacrosse Monkey via Domain vs Domain

More than 4,200 keywords unique to our domain. Not bad.

We then export that list to Excel and then sort by "Position" and "Domain 1."

Domain vs Domain Excel Export

Again we can list more keywords in the SWOT matrix but for the purpose of this post, we'll stick to the top 20 (minus branded terms.)

These are keywords for which we're ranking well but we might want to keep an eye on for competitors muscling in.

Full SWOT Analysis

So now we have a list of four distinct sets of keywords, each with its own strategic value or liability. By using the SWOT matricies to sort the lists, it becomes easier to define which strategy best fits each set of keywords and adjust our plans accordingly.

Have you ever tried to use a SWOT Analysis in your Keyword Research? How did your methodology compare? I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Phillip Brooks is SEMrush's Content Marketing Manager.


2000 symbols remain
Vladislav Yanovskiy
Vladislav Yanovskiy
Thank you for the detailed "how to", Phillip! I will necessarily try your method in my practice.

How much time did you spent to this example?

p.s I've watched Silicon Valley this summer and now every time I hear the term "SWOT", I involuntary recollect this frame in my mind xD
Alex Walker
SWOT analysis is equally important for
both traditional and online marketing and you touched on a lot of great points! Thanks for sharing.

I followed all the steps you mentioned here and came up with 145 "Opportunity" keywords list.

I think the list already shows the keywords that my site is ranking for vs my competitors. Now, what's the use of this list?
Gracious Store
Gracious Store
Thanks so much for this, I have never heard of SWOT analyses, I will surely try it out.
Samia Ali
I like the idea, but it's the same way most of us already practicing on Excel, without mapping them on a SWOT table.
Alan Brocious
Alan Brocious
This is great and I like the Lacrosse examples. I am thinking of the doing the same thing for PPC.
Sean Francis
Sean Francis
I love this idea. Very useful keyword research technique, thank you.
Michael Stricker
Thanks, Phillip. Bosses love to speak of S.M.A.R.T. goals, and S.W.O.T. analyses. So, this can help SEOs be on good terms with C-suite and VPs. Another idea for Threat might be a competitor whose Brand is a huge draw, organically. We can't all be Coca Cola ; )
Have a Suggestion?