What if you waste your time and money on a keyword? What if you never rank at all?
Gauging the competition in the SERPs can be hard. Before attempting to rank for any keyword you’ll need to understand the important metrics for ranking. More specifically, you’ll want to know exactly how your potential competitors are ranking for YOUR keyword.
This a competitive keyword research guide for analyzing and outranking your competition.
# of Results Doesn’t Matter
Yup, you see it over and over again.
“Check out the number of results to check the competitiveness.”
It’s not important.
The number of results that appear is simply the number of pages containing all or some of the keywords in the search query. Most of these pages are not actually competing for your keyword phrase. Rather, they just have some or all of the words in them. Here’s another one…
“Check the number of “phrase” results and use the intitle: search operator.”
The phrase search finds all on-page instances of the keyword and the intitle: search operator will find all pages with the keyword in their title. This means they are competing for the keyword. However, all of these sites are not your competitors.
Some of these sites might coincidentally contain your keyword. Some of them might be competing, but are poorly optimized. Who cares about your competitors on page 5?
Your only competition is on the first page. More specifically, the top 3 sites getting the traffic are your competition.
Looking Closer at keyword research
Now that you are only worried about 3-10 sites instead of thousands, you can get in-depth. It’s time to study them and find out how a site ranks for your chosen keyword.
The Quick and Dirty Analysis
This is a short analysis you can do for the top 10 sites for a keyword. This is only the beginning of any serious research.
(I recommend SEO Quake for your quick analysis)
What’s the average PageRank in the first page of results? PR is often over-emphasized, but it is a decent indicator of authority.
- Title Tag
Is the keyword in the title tag? If there are results on the first page that don’t have the keyword in the title tag then there is probably opportunity for an easy ranking.
- Number of pages
How many pages do the first page sites have on average? If it’s mostly large authority sites then ranking could be tough. Small niche sites are often a good sign.
- Domain Name
Are there any or a lot of exact match domain sites? EMDs can be a pain to outrank, but I am usually glad to see them in the results. They’re often small sites with spammy links, and they likely haven’t hired a search firm to do serious SEO for them.
After a fast evaluation of the top 10 if things look good, it’s time to get more intensive. Backlinks are the most critical ranking asset of any site.
Overall Quality of Links
The number of backlinks a site has doesn’t tell you much. You need to look at where the actual links are coming from.
IMO the best tool for backlink analysis is SEO Spyglass. You can use it to find virtually every aspect of a backlink you would need to know. This includes link statistics such as:
How many DoFollow links do they have? Are these links blog comments or in more trusted places like inside the actual content?
Does the page the link is on have PR? How many other links (inbound & outbound) are on the page?
Here are a few important metrics to understand when looking at the link juice passed from a link on a page with PR
- The PR sent through the link is divided by the total number of links on the page
- Nofollow links DO NOT pass any PR
- Each point of PR is actually 8.5x more authoritative than the last because of the log scale it’s calculated on. PR 4 is 8.5x more than PR 3 etc.
- Anchor Text
Are they consistently targeting their anchor text? How much variation is there in their anchor text?
- IP/Domain Diversity
How many different sites link to them?
- Backlink Age
How old are their backlinks? The age of the site and page isn’t relatively important, but the age of the backlinks is. Long-term backlinks are a sign of trust.
Observing your competitor’s link profiles will give you a good idea of what it takes for you to rank. You can mimic their anchor text variation and backlinking strategies.
You can even copy their backlinks after analyzing them.
When you look at your competitors’ links you can only assume which ones are helping them rank the most. The above metrics will give you a good idea of what their “good” links are. But what if you could know exactly which links were helping?
Here’s a way to isolate backlinks that have a lot of ranking power for YOUR keyword:
Look through every page in the SERPs until you get to a result that does not have your keyword in the title. In other words, find results that show up without being optimized for the term.
Run that page through SEO Quake, SEO Spyglass, and/or Open Site Explorer and find the links that are giving them that position.
Since the page is not optimized, we know that these links are giving them their ranking. Sometimes you will find a page with only a handful of links which makes it very evident which links are giving them their ranking.
The site's internal linking to that page or it's overall authority will also be a factor to consider when analyzing these sites backlinks.
You can find more pages in the SERPs that aren’t optimized and ranking to find more of these backlinks. The next step is to mimic these backlinks by either getting links on the same pages or obtaining very similar links.
Forward Thinking: Where’s the Competition Headed?
One last metric to consider…
Has your competition been stagnant or are they growing rapidly?
You might be fighting an uphill battle if one or more of your competitors are just taking off. Likewise, pages that haven’t received links in months could be ripe for the picking.
Every keyword is different. You won’t know exactly how tough it will be to rank until you try, but these competitive analysis and keyword research tips should help you get a good feel for the difficulty.
Do you have any important metrics to add? Do you try to rank for competitive terms?