Keyword Research Strategies: Using SEMRush to Brainstorm for Seed Keywords

Over the course of the past few years, I have tried out lots of different keyword research strategies.  In a nutshell, I think we are all looking for the same thing: how to find keywords that are easy to rank for as quickly as possible.  One of the “bottlenecks” of keyword research is that you have to start your brainstorm process somewhere.

After all, no one is going to hand you a list of thousands of keywords and say, “Here, these are all easy to rank for”.  Right?

Well, that's not completely true!  You actually can pull up lists of keywords that websites are ranking for.

Yep, you can reverse engineer sites!  At first glance, perhaps this doesn't sound too amazing; after-all, who cares what keywords the sites or are ranking for? These are a couple of very authoritative sites and they are probably ranking well for keywords that you have no chance of ranking for.

How to Reverse Engineer Weak Sites

However, if you start to think, “What if I knew all the keywords that very weak sites are ranking for?” – then you might realize where I am going with this.  You see, I always get excited when I see weak types of sites ranking in the top 10 results of Google for a keyword.  These weak types of sites include:

In a nutshell, I believe that if you can find the keywords that weak sites are already ranking for, then you should be able to rank for those keywords too with a little bit of effort!  So, in the video below, I show exactly how I use SEMrush (affiliate link) to find those types of keywords, and then how I use Long Tail Pro to find even more keywords that I can target.

As you can see, looking at the keywords that an Article directory is already ranking for is a quick and easy way to brainstorm for some seed keywords.  If you put a little thought into the process, you can find lots of other types of sites that you might like to “spy” on as well.

Overall, this is simply one keyword research strategy that I use.  There are lots of other places that you can brainstorm for keywords, which I have documented previously here.

If you would like to check out the type of data SEMRush provides in a little more detail, you can get a sample report for right here.  (Yes, this is an affiliate link)

What do you think of this process for finding seed keywords?  Do you think it will be beneficial for you?  Do you have any other process that you are using that you would like to share?

Strategy and Mindset

By Spencer Haws

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This reverse engineering idea makes a lot of sense, and nice video! Definitely going to check out SEMRush in more detail.


You can do this for free with Google Keyword Tool.

Steve Wyman


How Marc?


Can’t you put URL of a site into GAKT and it will show you what kw the site is using?

Steve Wyman

that’s true (ish) what it does is bring back upto 100 (only logged in or not) and it DOESNOT pull back the keywords the site is ranking for but a collection of related keywords to the site.

You can test this if you have an authority site which you know its rankings.

What th GAKT tool does is give you some keywords to research off of and thats usefull.

Spencer Haws

Marc – actually what you can do with the Google Keyword Tool is not even close to what SEMrush is doing. The Google keyword tool if you type in a URL will pull up “related keywords”. It does NOT pull up keywords that the site is necessarily already ranking for.

SEMrush on the other hand shows you what keywords the site is actually ranking for in google and is sorted by what percentage of traffic is coming from that keyword. For example, is getting 1.11% of all its Search Engine Traffic from the keyword “craigslist home page” according to SEMrush. However, this keyword doesn’t even show up in the Google keyword tool.

SEMrush shows you over 250,000 keywords that Ezinearticles is ranking for – the Google tool only shows you 100 related keywords (and these are keywords that the site might not even be ranking for).

Yes, the free Google keyword tool is a good start. But its not even close to what I just showed in the video.

Trent Dyrsmid


I first learned of this SEMRush idea from Spencer quite some time ago, and I can assure you it’s a terrific idea.

Here’s how yo can take it a step further. Let’s say that you want to buy a site that you’ve found on flippa and you want to know what keywords that site is ranking for.

Use SEMRush on that site, and voila, you can see if the site you are thinking of buying has a diversified set of keywords that it is ranking for, or if all its traffic is coming from just one or two keywords.


Spencer Haws

Another great tip for using SEMrush…thanks Trent!


Hey spencer,

Thanks for the tip. I enjoyed the video and I should give a try with semrush as I wasn’t using it that much. However I use spyfu to brainstorm my keywords and the good thing with this is I can always come up with buying keywords by spying on other sites 😉 you can give it a try 🙂


Great tips Spencer!

One of my favorites is using the Google KW tool, but instead of searching by typing in seed words, you use the website feature & type a URL in your niche (this tip has helped me rank for tons of keywords & have $1,000+ paydays).

This is a great way to use popular websites to reverse engineer popular keywords in a particular niche.

As always…great post.

Spencer Haws

Yep, using that feature of the Google keyword tool is a great tactic. But as explained above in my comment – this method takes it to a whole new level (that you can’t do with the free Adwords keyword tool).

Andre Garde

Neither SEMRush or GAKT are 100% accurate. SEMRush is cached and the date stamp can be seen at the bottom of their website. It usually updates once a month. On the other hand, GAKT is waaaaaaaay less accurate.

Though, I suppose that you could use both tools and merge your results. Considering the advantages and disadvantages I’d rather use SEMRush.

Steve Wyman

Hey Andre,

Thats true (the aged date thing) but from a KW research point of view thats not so important Im sure you agree.

Andre Garde

Yeah for sure. These are just seed keywords and it only takes a few to generate a ton of them. One SEMRush report stretches a long way.

Steve Wyman

it sure does 🙂

Steve Wyman

Hi Spencer

Thanks for sharing the ideas in the video. I had a complete blank on ideas earlier today ! to much time spent in LTpro today :-0

One question: how do you keep track of what seed keywords you have already tried? And what keywords youve rejected or kept?

I’m starting to see alot that i recognize as i do more and more research.

Its a lot of wasted effort re doing keywords think


Nice strategy! So far I use only, as I think this is by far the best keyword research tool existing (it pulls ranking data from semoz to evaluate ranking difficulty).
But I get your point of view for this strategy, will give a try. Thanks Spencer!

Spencer Haws

Long Tail Pro also pulls link data from SEOmoz 🙂

Tyler Herman

This is also a nice strategy for finding not necessarily easy keywords but those that your competition is pulling in traffic from that you might want to start competing for.

You might have thought of most of the good keywords but there are always some you’ve missed or just would have never thought of.

Spencer Haws

Yep, that’s another great use.


I use a tool that shows how many PR0 and PR1 sites are on the first page for the keyword. They get their data from SEMRush and SEOMoz. It is a dump though and not real time.


thanks for an idea Spencer
Btw, you entered instead of that’s why you didn’t get any results

Spencer Haws

Ah! Good catch Vi.


Hey, Spencer.

Great post here. I have been using SEMrush for some time now, and they work quite well for discovering keywords when you are trying to rank for keywords. I actually started a very large website some time ago, and I used SEMrush to build a massive list of keywords using a very large competitors website.

I believe SEMrush is an excellent way to find seed keywords if you are building niche websites. Honestly, for most of my purposes, the Google adwords tool works just fine for me. Thanks for the useful video, though.


Spencer Haws

Thanks for sharing what worked well for you. I agree – if I were building a large site, I would want to mine my competitors keywords as well.

Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon

Love using SEM Rush for “spying” on how much organic traffic a site is getting. However, this seems like a really fantastic idea that might make it worth upgrading to a paid account for!


Casey Dennison

I still use this tactic from when you last showed us. You can also use, but I like semrush better. Theres some other tricks I know, as well, but its been awhile since I used them.

Spencer Haws

Hey Casey, you’ve been following for a while then! It was well over a year the last time I showed this tactic I believe.


Another excellent post, thanks Spencer. Haven’t been using SEMRush to its full potential.

Using the reverse keyword research idea in conjunction with long tail pro should throw up some nice results.

Josh @ WSOtesters

LTP and SEMrush are ridiculously powerful together. One thing that I’ve found to work wonders is to use SEMrush to analyze competing sites in niches that we’ve already ranked for. If we can beat out the competition for one keyword, then we’ve noticed that we’re likely to beat them out in several other keywords that they’re going for as well. I’ve been able to find batches of winning keywords all at once using this strategy.

Spencer Haws

Great tactic Josh…thanks for sharing!


Excellent site for ideas. The combination keyword depth and the art of link building is fundamental. Keep up the work!

Spencer Haws


Matthew Allen

Just starting out, my tactic is to build sites around keywords that I have searched for in my personal life. Thus worked beautifully for my first niche site. I had a problem that I needed an answer to. I Googled it and found that all of the top sites with my answer were weak type sites. I got my answer, bought the exact match .com domain, built the site and ranked it at #1 in about a month. I have several keywords that I am targeting and researching via this very method.

I can’t wait until I am thru this learning process and start to earn some decent extra income so I can start using some of these paid tools. Long Tail Pro will definitely be my first purchase! It’s all free tools while I learn the process though.

Thanks for all you do Spencer.

Spencer Haws

That’s a great way to start out finding some niches – things you are searching for.


I’m just a bit confused, what search type should I be using to research keywords, Phrase match or Exact match?

Spencer Haws

I always use exact match.


Oh ok thanks that completely changed everything. I already created a niche website using phrase match it’s ranked number 1 in and if i type it quotes. However I didn’t get much views at all. Because I was using global search instead.
Now I read some tips about local search etc. I shall be using that. Btw when checking for competition should I use quotes or without quotes in the search term bar since I’m using exact match now?

Spencer Haws

check without quotes. Nobody searches for things in quotes, so looking at the top 10 without quotes is your real competition.


Thanks very much for the information!

Trevor @ WSOtesters

I love the LTP/SEMrush combo! One addition that I make that helps me filter through 300,000 keyword ideas is to download the excel file from SEMrush and then add a new column with: =sum(CPC*SearchVolume). Then apply a filter to get rid of anything below 1000. Takes 10 seconds and has provided me with many great keywords. We were going to make a short video on this same topic but might have to hold off for a bit now that you beat us to the punch!
Thanks for the post Spencer.

Spencer Haws

Great tip Trevor. I’ve done similar things as well, but also be careful as I have found the CPC to not be very accurate (some 0.05 keywords have turned out to be very high paying). But in general, its a great way to weed out non-valuable keywords.


Heres a secret look for keywords that 2nd tier article directories are ranking for. These are usually very easy to rank for.

Spencer Haws

Good tip. Any weaker type of site you can think of is worth checking.


In your opinion, SEMRUSH is better than Market Samurai? If yes, why?

Spencer Haws

No, they are different completely. SEMrush focuses on analyzing competitors keywords, search traffic, paid traffic, etc. Market Samurai has a completely different purpose.

Chris @ Npi

Hi Spencer, finally I find your site 😉
I also use SEMRush and Majestic SEO for reverse engineering – it’s very smart approach. I also use MS for keyword research but I don’t use long tail pro. What are major benefits of it comparing to MS (except the speed)?
BR, Chris

Spencer Haws

Speed is obviously a big one. But the fact that you can search for multiple seed keywords at once on Long Tail Pro is another big time saver. Searching for just 1 seed keyword on Market Samurai gets pretty monotonous. Also, you can pre-filter all your keywords on Long Tail Pro, which you cannot do on Market Samurai.

Chris @ Npi

Thanks for your answer!


This post is simply great.
I am struggling so much for some reason with building niche sites that actually make any money whatsoever. I don’t think I am really all that slow but I am having difficulty grasping or implementing what it takes. I take notes, listen/watch the podcasts a few times etc.
Thanks for the help here, I will be using this info right away.


Great post Spencer!

I admit I own almost every keyword research tool known to man. Some girls like shoes – so do I – but I’m addicted to keyword research programs! LOL.

They are probably as expensive as shoes, but shoes don’t make me any money! So, to PAY for my shoes, I invest in keyword research programs…

After about, I guess, nine years now, my TOP favs are Market Samurai and Spencer’s Long Tail Pro. I’ve spent many thousands over the years. I love Long Tail because you can set your filters really easily and it’s quick.

I think I bought SEMrush in the past, or perhaps it was a monthly thing, I just know I remember it. I will check it out again. I like the vid, I just don’t like monthly fees, so unless it’s for specific research I won’t use it.

However, great video.

Quick question – why do you now think article sites are “weak?”. Why do you think Yahoo Answers is weak?

They are almost always there no matter what the keyword is that you put in Google.

Looking forward to your answers.

Thanks! Keep up the great informative work.


I think he means weak meaning that they are easy to compete with because they tend to have few or no backlinks.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Michele! I have also thought article directories are weak and discussed it here: . Article directories and Yahoo Answers usually just mention the keyword in the title, but are typically weak content (not in-depth) and usually have no links pointing to them. These are very weak pages that can often be easily outranked.


the semrush tool looks amazing. I was suprised about traffic data. I was just checking alexa toolbar up to now. But I am confused, for example my eshop has alexa about 250000 and then I see on Flippa selling website with Alexa 5 000 000 and verified google analytics data show that trafffic is 10x bigger than on my side , how is that possible ? Is semrush in this way more reliable ?

Thank for respond,


Thanks for the video Spencer. Just bought LTP and have a trial for SEM Rush. In less than one hour I was able to find 3 excellent keyword niches to begin writing and building sites in. This is one great combination!

Spencer Haws



Hi Spencer, glad You’re back to niche sites. As i know, since you don’t have adsense on Your sites, you’ve tried some different ways to make up your income, where it was (software development, IOS app, niche theme, etc.), were these methods came in for You? I was wondering will you provide us a detailed income report (as befre) of your existing sites without adsense? I’m very curious about what niche sites can make with CJ, and other ad platforms.

Ranjan jena

Thanks for sharing your experience with SEMrush tool. It was very simple and understanding to go ahead with the usage of this tool.


Hi Spencer,

Great Video. Something is killing me about SEM RUSH.
There is no documentation on this. The SEOQUAKE toolbar
lists two default parameters, they obviously must be Important, since SEMRUSH replaced the former YAHOO results – but these total numbers are wildly different.

SEMrush links –

Ok pretty easy – Backlink Tool… (Straight Forward)

SEMrush Domain_Links
What exactly is this comparing? Why are Numbers so different? I see more details…may be you know something..

Thanks in advance

Spencer Haws

Hey – Those links display the exact same information on SEMRush. The only difference is the first link displays this message “Requested URL – is not found.
You have been redirected to the domain overview report for domain –”

So, both links display the exact same data.

Also, I’m not sure why you mention that SEMRush has replaced former Yahoo results. This is not the case at all. SEMRush does not display link data. (Its completely different than SEOQuake). So perhaps that some of the confusion?


Hi Spencer,

Take a look at this TwitPic
Screen Shot of SEOQUAKE with SEMRUSH links.

My apologies the URL’s were slightly Malformed.



I’m trying to understand the difference between these two
settings..Somehow QUAKE is displaying two different numbers for the same report?

Thanks in Advance

Spencer Haws

Since I don’t use SEOquake, it would take me some time to look into it. Anyone else want to look into it? Searchengineman, I recommend you contact SEOquake to ask about the difference, they would be able to tell you pretty easily.


I like the idea of reverse engineering for keywords. I have been out of the game for awhile as well and I was frustrated because I spent loads of money on products to help me find keywords and get backlinks and my sites did not ever earn much. But I have recently been going through everything I have and realized that my backlinks were horrible and that was probably why I was not ranking. My question is do you have a way to do this without paying for SEORUSH? Thanks Spencer. You keep my hope alive that niche sites are not dead.

Spencer Haws

I’m not aware of how to reverse engineer keywords without SEMrush or other tools. There are other tools, but I’m not familiar with them.

Chodniki dywanowe

This is my first time visit at here and i am actually happy to read
everthing at single place.

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