This article shows you the secret SEO framework that we have implemented for some of our clients who need to rank fast with a new website while maximizing business conversion.
Over the years, we realized that most people get stuck at the keyword research stage.
They are either always looking for the best keyword to rank. or have no idea what they can achieve with the best keywords.
You see, common topics have all been written by the competitors, so what’s left for others are just keywords that have little value. And those are the keywords that seem too niche and not aligned to the topics they want to write about.
At this point, it looks pretty tough to get anything out of the few options you’ve been left with.
If you are looking to fast track your SEO results, then this guide is for you. Here’s what you will learn:
Traditional Keyword Research Strategy
With traditional keyword research method, you start by generating hundreds of keyword ideas through keyword tools like Keywords Everywhere, UberSuggest, KeywordsShitter, AnswerThePublic. Then you look up their volume and competitiveness or Moz Domain Authority on top results.
It’s great and it works for a lot of people, so it’s definitely something that you should be doing as well.
But hold on. If you’re new to SEO, how do you tell which keyword to prioritize?
What if months after you published your articles with those keywords, you still don’t rank on top of Google?
How do you identify what went wrong? Is it your on-site optimization? Or maybe you picked the wrong keywords? Or is your content not great enough?
You see, there are too many variables, and it’s hard for you to pinpoint and tackle one by one.
So you started to read more SEO guides online and before long, you get overwhelmed by the many different tutorials showing you what to do.
Some teach you to do on-site optimization on keyword density, anchor text, H1 H2, Alt Tags, Meta Title and description.
Whereas the others teach you to build a lot of backlinks through social bookmark sites, web 2.0, and article directories.
The list goes on, but now you are more confused than ever and the question remains: How do I rank on first page of Google for SEO beginner?
Competitor-based Keyword Research Strategy
Introducing the competitor-based approach to SEO, a.k.a the SEO Imitation Framework.
There are thousands of sites ranking in your niche ahead of you.
Whichever keyword you type on Google, there will always be somebody ranking on 1st page.
But what if we can make them work in our favor?
Imagining that you are learning to draw for the very first time. Probably like most people, you’ll begin by imitating an existing piece of art; a simple enough task for newbies.
By looking at this piece, you’ve got the idea of how your own work should look like when you’re done so you begin to learn each stroke, one by one. Once you’re finished, you can tell which part needs to be improved and which part already looks good.
And as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. So by learning from each mistake, eventually you get better at drawing.
It’s basically the same with doing SEO. Nobody can tell the exact algorithm to rank on first page of Google. But if you go step by step and reverse engineer your competitors’ SEO strategy who are ranking on top, you should get similar rankings to theirs, right?
Good Artists Copy, Great Artists StealPicasso
Throughout the process you will learn what to do and what not to do.
Why Should You Reverse Engineer Your Competitors?
1. It’s easier to get you started.
It saves you time from the inertia of learning everything by yourself all at once. Forget about x% of keyword density, content length, keyword difficulty. You just need to reverse engineer on what keyword works for them and make use of it for yourself.
2. You can benchmark competitors around your level.
If you are a new site, you can benchmark your results with competitors around the same age and backlinks.
If you are an established site, you can benchmark with authorities in your niche.
3. It saves you time from troubleshooting.
If you’re new to SEO and want to learn everything from scratch, you’ll have a big time failing and doubting yourself.
However with competitor research approach, if a site ranks on Top 1 with [YOUR KEYWORD] with 7 backlinks and you know that if you can acquire backlinks from the same source, then you are able to achieve similar results.
What can you learn from competitors?
Thanks to Ahrefs, Moz, SEMRush, Majestics, Spyfu, you can now very easily study your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses:
- What keywords are they ranking organically on top results.
- What contents that ranked.
- Their Meta Title & Description
- Type of content (Listicles, How-to, Why, Case study)
- Permalink Url structure
- Length of content
- Who links to them.
Step-by-step to Competitor Research using Ahrefs
This example takes the Keto Diet niche, as it has growing interest over the years.
1. Identify your competitors
It’s very important to know WHO you are competing with.
However, Googling ‘Keto diet’ returns all the authorities in the niche.
They are not your competitors.
Benchmarking is important, and you don’t want to compare
your new site to an established site that has millions of backlinks and monthly visitors.
Step 1: Type ‘Top [Niche] Blogs’ on Google. In this case, ‘Top Keto Diet Blogs’.
There will be list of sites in the niche, go ahead and paste them all in spreadsheet. Ideally, we are looking for at least 50 sites.
Step 2: Run Ahrefs Batch Analysis with the list.
Sort by Domain Rating (DR), and export the output as Excel. Now, we have generated metrics from the 50 websites.
If your list is sorted by DR, now you can highlight the competitors with colors.
DR > 50 = red (authorities); DR 26–50 = orange. DR <= 25 = green (benchmark)
The green zone is where we benchmark our site with.
We are interested to reverse engineer our competitors in the green zone by analyzing what they do and how they do it.
However, we’re less keen to do the same on the authorities since even if you could write higher quality content than theirs and it’s also optimized better, you still won’t get rankings anywhere near them soon.
Step 3: Now run Ahrefs Site Explorer with domains from green zone.
Select Organic Search. At the bottom right you can see Top 10 Competitors.
We segmented the competitors into 3 categories earlier (Red, Orange, Green); if you run the sites in Red and Orange zone, the top competitors you get will be THEIR competitors, not yours.
Our goal is to benchmark with our competitors in the green zone.
If you find any competitor that’s not in your previous list, paste them in. You can setup conditional formatting in the spreadsheet and any duplicates found will be highlighted orange.
(Advanced Optional) Run Ahrefs Competing Domain with keywords that are around 10,000.
Blue bar: Unique to you
Yellow bar: Unique to Competitor
Green bar is Common Keywords (ranking at top 100 positions)
Now sort by keywords unique to competitor.
Paste in more domains until you are happy with the list.
Step 4: Run it again on Ahrefs Batch Analysis.
Export to Excel. This time, keep these columns:
- Target (Domain)
- Domain Rating (DR)
- Total Referring Domains
- Total Backlinks
- Total Keywords
- Total Traffic
We have gone through many steps to get a list of final competitors. This is extremely important because you wouldn’t want to miss any of them. They all give valuable insights on gaining rankings.
2. Identify Easy Win Keywords
You can type in any sites from the green zone into Ahrefs Site Explorer. For example, we used essentialketo.com.
(A) Ahrefs Organic Keywords (on the side bar)
It shows around 2,237 keywords ranking in the US (top 100 positions). To narrow down potential keywords, from the top filter bar, input:
- Position: To 10
- Volume: From 80
- KD: To 10
- Traffic: From 10
Finally, click on the column Position to sort by Position (low to high).
Now you have narrowed down the keywords’ ranking in US to just 26. Feel free to adjust the filter so it does not show too many nor too little.
We found the keyword “How to put your body in ketosis”. Click the SERP button on the top right column and you will see the Top 10 results showing on Google.
From the screenshot above, there are 3 results below DR 20 ranking on Top 10 (with less than 5 backlinks).
If you can write a longer and better article targeting this exact keyword, then you are likely to rank on Top 10 as well, probably doing so with little to no backlinks.
You can try with different domains on the Organic Keywords tool, for example with hip2keto.com, we found the keyword wendy’s keto have very little competition. 4 domains with DR<10 ranking on Top 10. All of them contain no backlinks and this is a keyword that has 1,200 monthly searches.
As you can see, this keyword has good monthly volume but is not targeted by most authority sites (highlighted red). Authority sites are targeting “XX Fast Foods You can Eat For Keto”, but if you write an article for each fast food in the list, then you are able to rank it. It’s basically using the divide and rule principle.
(B) Ahrefs Top Pages
Similarly, the Top Pages tool can achieve a similar purpose.
It’s automatically sorted by Traffic, which is important since you’re interested in keywords that bring them organic traffic from search results.
In this hip2keto.com example, you can find many keywords that this website is ranking on first page. However, there is no SERP dropdown in Top Pages tool, so you need to click the button in keywords column to expand more similar keywords and open the keyword in new tab to see the SERP positions.
(C) Ahrefs Content Gap
This tool allows you to scout for keywords that your competitors are competing for.
But why those keywords in particular?
Because it means that they’re relatively easy to rank. If your competitors (DR <25) can rank on first page and not outranked by authorities, that means you can do it too.
Select competitors that are in your range [DR <25].
- Volume: Around 100–500
- KD: Set Max to 10
- Include (Optional): Filter by Keyword
For the keyword ‘keto friendly ice cream brand’, it has 200 monthly searches.
It shows 3 competitors ranking on the first page (highlighted green). Whereas those highlighted gray are not so relevant to search results. They usually surface when Google can’t find a better content and there aren’t many authorities are competing on this keyword.
You might need to try different combinations several times to get optimal results. Don’t be panicked if you see many domains with high DR in top 10 results. Take a closer look on their meta title and url, and figure out if they’re targeting the same term. Also, even if it’s just one competitor ranking on Top 10, it’s worth taking a look at the SERP and see if there are other domains with low DR rankings.
(D) Ahrefs Content Explorer
Type your keyword ‘Keto Diet’ and Ahrefs will generate the most popular content for you.
You should apply these filters:
- Date range: Change to just 2018. You want to know which recently published contents are able to rank; not those published in 2015.
- Domain Rating: Set Max to 20.
- Referring Domains: Set Max to 3.
- Organic Traffic: Set Min to 20.
- Sorted By: Set it to Domain rating
Now you can start your analysis from bottom up. Go with those that have very low DR first (meaning they’re less competitive).
We found that the keyword ‘buffalo wild wings keto’ has quite the volume, but this site is able to rank on top 10 results without any backlinks.
If you plan your content around the same keyword, you stand a good chance to rank on Page 1 as well.
Top, Mid, Bottom Content Funnel
Don’t stop there. Without proper planning, your website will be a mess since your articles are all over the place targeting for quick wins. Hence, you need to design a content funnel.
How are you going to utilize your quick wins from competitor’s keyword research and ultimately lead to conversions?
Because if you can’t convert, all these traffic will go to waste along with all the hard work you did to gain them in the first place.
To achieve your conversion goal, we need a content funnel.
Top of the Funnel (TOFU): Topics to drive relevant traffic
The main purpose of TOFU is to drive relevant traffic to your website through SEO.
You might think that keywords with lots of monthly search volume can generate the most traffic to your site. However, if you rank on the 93rd, you’re still getting 0 visitors.
What works for a new site would be super niche content that likely has not crossed your mind before. After all, what’s the point if it’s something everyone knows? The authorities have been sitting on Page 1 with them by now.
Purpose of TOFU: Get traffic from SEO
Let’s call TOFU content as “Content you have never thought of”.
These are the content your visitors initially land on through Google search.
In the competitor keyword research guide above, we have generated and validated a list of easy ranking keywords for the keto diet niche such as:
- Wendy’s Keto
- Buffalo wild wings keto
- Chick a fil keto
- Red robin keto
- Air fryer keto
- How to get in ketosis
They are the TOFU keywords. You can create titles for your TOFU articles using the keywords. For example:
- Air fryer keto
- 10 Reasons to Love Air Fryers on a Keto Diet
- Is an Air Fryer Good for a Keto Diet?
- 20 best Air Fryer Keto Recipes
- Wendy’s Keto
- Keto at Wendy’s: What To Eat and Avoid
- Keto friendly orders from Wendy’s
- Ultimate Wendy’s Keto Guide
But that is not enough. The goal of your website is to convert, whether for email opt-in, schedule a call, or purchase a product. Hence, when your visitors finished reading the TOFU content, you need to lead them to Mid Funnel Content next.
Mid of the Funnel (MOFU): Educate and Gain Trust
This will be the “Content Everyone Loves”.
They are topics that have a wider interest than TOFU, however harder to rank at the beginning.
Purpose of MOFU: To gain backlinks & build trust with readers
You don’t have to be too concerned about keyword competitiveness in MOFU. Since you are not expecting traffic to come directly from Google to MOFU in the short run, what’s more important is to keep the content engaging.
It should be able to attract bloggers in the same niche to link to your article.
The best content type for MOFU: Case Studies
Websites and bloggers like to link to case studies because they give concrete examples, facts and statistics to be used in articles.
When you can acquire more high quality backlinks, then your MOFU keyword would be able to rank on top more quickly.
Readers like case studies too. It paints the before and after more vividly in their minds. Plus, you can always count on facts and statistics to make your articles more solid and trustworthy.
“If I do this, and if I do that, I will eventually get to similar results”
- Keto Diet Results: What 60 Days in Ketosis Did for Me
- I Tried the Ketogenic Diet for 30 Days and Here’s What Happened
- 27 Insane Keto Before and After Photos
You can brainstorm content ideas by typing those MOFU keywords on Google:
- [keyword] before and after
- [keyword] results
- [keyword] after XX days
Once you have your case study article, how do you get backlinks from competitors?
Head over Content Explorer again.
Type “Keto diet before and after” and search.
Filter Referring Domains: From 10
You will see a list of results that have at least 10 referring domains. If the websites can link to theirs, they can link to yours too, right?
PopSugar has an article titled “18 Before-and-After Pictures to Show Just How Damn Effective the Keto Diet Can Be”
Click on the button ‘Details’ to view the list of backlinks. Then click ‘View all XX links’ below to open the full result in Site Explorer.
- Select ‘One link per domain’
- Link Type: Content
- Platform: Blog
- Sort by DR
This way you can weed out referring pages that you don’t need to contact (because it doesn’t make sense to) like forums and article directories.
Send an email like this to all of them.
Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU): Conversion Goal
Let’s say you are getting 1,000 organic visitors monthly at the beginning to your TOFU and MOFU content. The content is great, and they are ready to know more about your products or services. But your article does not lead them anywhere else. So they leave your site and go to the next result on Google (your competitor’s site). Now, your competitors are getting all the free leads you sent to them.
That makes it sound like all the effort you’ve put into getting more visitors have gone down the drain.
You see, the purpose of SEO is to drive traffic, and the purpose of traffic is to convert.
If you are an SaaS company, your conversion goal could be to get a trial version or to purchase your software.
If you are a blogger, your conversion goal could be to opt-in your email series.
If you run a local dentist, your conversion goal could be to schedule an appointment.
Purpose of BOFU: Convert visitors
- Pros and cons
- Perfect Keto Review
- Perfect Keto vs Keto OS (volume 260, but CPC $2.30 because it has high purchasing intent). PureFit Keto Pros & Cons. Best Keto Supplements.
If your site is relatively new, the traffic you’re getting from organic searches will be significantly less than your competitors.
BOFU Content has high commercial intent, visitors are ready to make a purchase, and advertisers have been bidding on Adwords with high cost-per-click (CPC).
Hence, SEO does not play an important role here when your site is new.
Content Funnel Summary
You need to link your TOFU articles to MOFU, and MOFU to BOFU.
Give them what they search for (TOFU), get them to trust you with case studies (MOFU), and then recommend a quality product (BOFU) to them.
Blueprint for New Websites
What if you do not want to commit too many resources into SEO without seeing results?
This is what you can do.
- Competitor Keyword Research
- 2 TOFU articles of 1,500 word each
- 3 TOFU articles of 1,500 word each
- 1 MOFU case study article of 3,000–4,000 word
- 1 BOFU product article
- Generate and submit sitemap to Google Webmaster Tool.
- Share the MOFU case study in social media.
- Pitch bloggers in the same niche for backlinks to MOFU with the Skyscraper Technique mentioned on MOFU earlier.
Now you need to monitor 3 things from Week 5–8:
- Monitor TOFU rankings. You can track the keywords’ ranking in Ahrefs https://ahrefs.com/rank-tracker
- Check your site backlinks on Ahrefs Site Explorer. Does any website you pitched link to your case study? Alternatively, visit those sites one by one and see if your link is there now. If not, how do you improve your content and pitch?
- Monitor visitors’ Behavior Flow in Google Analytics. Do they go to BOFU content after reading TOFU & MOFU?
Example of how Behavior Flow looks like in Google Analytics:
It’s common to want to learn and understand everything as a SEO beginner.
And to do that, modeling your own competitors and reverse engineer what works for them is your best bet.
Using our SEO Imitation Framework, you can drive traffic to your website through easy ranking keywords (TOFU content) with the competitor keyword research strategies, funnel them to your MOFU article (Content Everyone Loves), and eventually bring them to your BOFU content to achieve your conversion goal.
Remember, it’s never about the ‘best SEO strategy’, but rather how you play to your strengths and how you actually make use of those strategies for what you need.
What SEO strategy has worked for you in the past? Let us know below!
Does this work with affiliate blog too?
Certainly. If your competitor is ranking high for an affiliate product with low keyword competition, steal it!
Fantastic article Reeve! Do you have a coupon for Ahrefs? It’s $99/mo 🙁
I don’t. You can sign up their trial plan: $7 for 7 days and complete all your research within that period.
I am trying to rank for my personal finance blog (7-month old). I have written 25 posts so far (mix of my own writing plus freelance writers). However, my monthly traffic is only about 100~ in Google Analytics. I have a fairly good bounce rate 43.5% but I noticed my rankings won’t go up even for REALLY low competition keywords. One of my competitors have less and lower quality content than myself, but it’s always ranking above my position. Why?!
Have you looked through on Ahrefs why your competitor is doing better? You can run a Site Audit on his website. If it’s a newer site, lower quality backlinks, worse content, worse on-site optimization BUT ranking higher than you across many exact same keywords, he’s probably using some PBN (black hat techniques).
I’m sure he’ll be ranking above you for only a shortwhile (maybe a few months).
Don’t worry, continue to produce quality content and acquire quality backlinks, and in no time you’ll outrank him.
I have just started by blog and have only written 4 posts so far. I wish I stumbled upon your article earlier. Now it seems like I need to rewrite these articles with different keywords now!
I’m not sure what keywords you used and will use. But I advise you to create new articles instead of rewriting the current articles.
Ahrefs looks promising. Can Semrush achieve the same?
I have used Ahrefs, Moz, and SEMRush. However, I feel like SEMRush is trying to do everything, and nothing really stands out imo. It has a 40% affiliate commission, probably why most people are promoting it (Ahrefs does not have an affiliate program)
Moz is good for the PA and DA (the next best after Google PR). But it lacks the features Ahrefs offer like Content Explorer.
Thank you for this comprehensive guide!! There’s nothing like it out there and you’ve answered so many of my questions. Can’t wait to see more of your content.