Keyword Research: SEO Competition Analysis
When it comes to doing market research, competition is usually your friend: it means that there is money to be made in a market. However when it comes to optimizing your site for the search engines it's a slightly different story: you need to be able to take a look at the competition that's out there and decide how good your chances are of ranking well for that keyword.
In this lesson we're going to take a look at SEO Competition Analysis to assess whether optimizing for a specific keyword is worth your time.
How many results?
The first (and, far too often, only) trick that most affiliates try is to punch their keyword into the search engine to see how many results they get. Unfortunately, when many receive their 12,000,000 results back, they get discouraged, ditch that keyword and look for easier pickings.
However it may come as a surprise to you that this figure doesn't mean a whole lot and you should take it with a grain of salt. The 'number of search results' is an estimated figure, and not all those 12,000,000 listings actually appear in the search results. Furthermore, most of these sites won't have done any search engine optimization, so it's pretty easy to beat them.
Instead, use this figure more as an indicator of whether there's any activity in the market: if it's super-low (say, under a million) it might indicate a lack of interest in that particular word - try whacking it into your keyword search volume tool to see how many people are searching on it and see if it confirms this theory.
The next two steps try to identify how well search engine optimized the competition is. Is it a fluke that they're ranking well? Or have they designed their sites this way?
One of the key on-page SEO factors is your title text. This is the text that appears between <title> tags in your HTML, at the top of the page in your browser, and it's the clickable text that appears with your search engine listing. If a page has a keyword in their title tag, it usually means they're pretty focused on this keyword and have possibly got a bit of SEO going on.
If you enter allintitle:"your keyword" into Google it will tell you how many sites have your keywords in the title tag. A lower figure is obviously better; anything up to 5000 means you could be in there pretty easily, but don't discount keywords just because you get more than 5000 results in this test. As you'll soon see, there are still more factors to consider.
This is similar to the allintitle tool, but tells you how many sites have incoming links with those keywords in the anchor text. You may remember from our SEO lessons that anchor text is pretty important in determining your rankings. If there are lots of sites with your keyword in their anchor text, it makes it harder to rank well yourself. Ideally you want to see a low number here, but what constitutes "low" depends on the topic and the market. You may need to dig around for a while to get a feeling for what "low" is.
Examine the PR of top-ranking sites:
PR (PageRank) is a reflection of the strength of a site's backlinks. Since backlinks are a pretty big component in determining your ranking, it's a reasonable indicator, but remember: it is completely possible for a high-PR site to rank lower than a low-PR site for any number of reasons. Perhaps their page isn't optimized for the keyword, or perhaps they have backlinks from good sites (lots of PR), but they're not targeting the keyword with their anchor text.
Use Traffic Travis to analyze the backlinks to a particular site: if there are thousands of backlinks with many coming from PR5+ sites or .edu sites then it makes it harder. If they're all using your keyword in their anchor text, then it's harder again.
If all the sites on the first page of Google are PR6+ with lots of good backlinks you may have a pretty tough time ranking well for this keyword.
Examine the domains:
Another thing to check is the age of your competitors' domains, using a WHOIS tool to check their creation date. Older domains tend to do better in the search engines than newer ones so, conversely, if most of your competitors have fairly new domains they may be easier to beat.
Keep an eye on search volumes:
While you're doing all this research, keep in mind another key factor: Whether anybody is actually searching on your keyword!
Usually it's the case that the competition will heat up when there are lots of people searching on that keyword, but it's not always equally balanced. Work out whether the number of visitors you'll receive from a good ranking is really worth the effort involved in getting that ranking: some keywords have just too much competition and not enough traffic to justify the big effort.
Another important consideration when choosing a keyword is whether there's actually any money in the market! If you find a keyword that seems easy to rank for, ask yourself if there's a reason for this. Is it undiscovered, or unprofitable? A good indicator is whether there are any Google ads on the right of the search engine results - if people are paying to get traffic to their sites, then there must be some money to be made.
(When checking this be sure to account for Google's regional variations: If you're searching from outside of the United States or Canada you might not see as many ads as you should.)
Many keywords to work with?
When you build an affiliate site for SEO you shouldn't focus on one keyword but instead have a few - that way your main keyword isn't the make or break focus of your SEO campaign.
When you're researching markets and keywords, try to find ones that have a number of highly searched keywords to target. You can use keyword research tools like Traffic Travis or freekeywords.wordtracker.com to get ideas of search volumes for related keywords.
Finding related keywords:
Since these keyword tools usually use the words you enter as the base for their suggestions, you can often miss finding keywords that are related, but not based on the same word. For instance, if you were focusing on "dog training" you might miss a keyword like "stop german shepherd aggression".
One cheap and nasty trick you can use to find semantically related words is to enter your keyword into Google with a tilde ( ~ ) in front of it. For instance, for "garbage can" you can enter:
~ garbage ~can
When Google returns results, you'll see that there are a bunch of words on the page listed in bold. These are related words. "~garbage ~can", for example, gets additional words like "waste", "recycle", "containers" and "recycle cans".
Going the long way around
If your main keywords look intimidating, don't completely rule out your chances of succeeding in a market. Take another look (and do some lateral thinking) and see if there are any easier words in the market that you can tackle first. For instance, a keyword like "trash cans" has a lot more competition and would be harder to rank for than a word like "garbage cans".
If you can optimize your site for a few easier keywords, you can get just as much traffic as if you ranked highly for that one difficult keyword. As a bonus the more targeted search terms tend to earn you more money as well! A keyword like "stop german shepherd aggression" is not only easier to rank for than "dog training", but people searching for this term are more likely to buy than people who are searching for the more general "dog training". Perhaps it's because they already know what sort of solution they want, or perhaps it's because you're better able to target your site to their specific interests. Regardless, it's a win-win situation for you as an affiliate!
Don't just whack your keyword into a search engine only to be discouraged by the results. Instead you can try some of the following methods to determine if a keyword is worth your time and effort:
- If most of your competitors don't appear to have your keyword in their title, they may not be SEO optimized and could be easy to beat in the rankings
- If your competitors' backlinks are missing your keyword, they may not be ranking as well as they should be
- Check PageRank
- If too many competitors have a PageRank 6+, they may be quite difficult to beat and you should focus on a different keyword
- Examine domain age
- Use a WHOIS tool or similar to see just how old ranking domains are
- Check search volumes
- Don't forget! If a keyword seems too easy to rank for, it may be because no-one is searching for it!
- Research more than just your main keyword
- Don't let your main keyword be the make or break of your SEO campaign
- Find similar keywords
- You may find targeting similar keywords is easier than your main keyword, while returning the same results!
- Check some targeted keywords
- Using more specific or creative targeting can not only improve your rankings, but even improve your conversions since you can target to customers who already know what they're looking for!