When looking for the ideal way to do keyword research, you will no doubt stumble upon many a forum discussion that covers how to rank for a keyword.
The best approaches usually refer to competitive keywords and that is certainly the approach that I take, but the question of how to find low competition keywords is one that consumes a lot of brain energy.
But, is this effective use of time or not?
This case study works backwards by looking at keywords that are already ranking on page 1 of Google in order to determine if my set of criteria for choosing a keyword is valid.
I use a number of free tools, which I will list shortly. But I also use Long Tail Pro (affiliate link) extensively, as well as the free version of another premium tool, to round out my analysis.
I will discuss these in more detail shortly. These are tools that I would have no hesitation in recommending because I find them so useful.
A long tail keyword research tool is a must-have for my campaigns, niche or otherwise.
Most of us spend a lot of time looking for keywords that can rank on the first page of Google. With the Hummingbird algorithm update, there has been a shift, among some bloggers anyway, towards targeting topics rather than individual keywords. And I think that this is a good idea. In fact, many of the keywords analyzed in this study would come under the heading of topics or page themes if you like.
If you are already getting more than enough traffic to your site then you can just keep on doing what you have been doing all along. If your site, however, is languishing in never-never land and you are constantly searching for new ways to rank your site, then you might find this analysis of some interest.
How To Search for Keywords in a New Niche
When it comes to deciding how to find niche keywords, the approach tends to follow this pattern; at least this is the pattern that I have observed the most:
- Brainstorm some ideas for a niche that could interest you, preferably a relatively narrow niche.
- Spend some time doing keyword research.
- Make a list of possible keywords that you could target with decent search volume.
- Analyse the competition in the top 10 search engine results, more specifically the Google results.
- From your list of possible keywords, find a keyword that has good search volume, preferably between 3,000 to 6,000 searches per month, and has a chance of competing with the top 10. This becomes your primary keyword
- From your list, find a couple of competitive secondary keywords with reasonable search volume, preferably 1,000+.
- Look for other keywords that have smaller search volume and that have a chance to compete as well.
- Start fleshing out your site with content, based on the finalized list of keywords.
- Find a suitable way to monetize the site.
- Start working on a link building campaign. (A few do this step differently. See my note following these points.)
- Track your rankings
- Record your income (hopefully).
It is important to note that not all bloggers like to chase backlinks. Whilst they are harder to find, there are examples of niche experiments achieving success and impressive traffic figures without doing so. The niche site that Lisa Irby has discussed in her blog is a perfect example.
How To Find Low Competition Keywords – My Approach
Most niche bloggers would agree that it is important to examine the competition that exists in the top 10 positions in order to find competitive keywords. And we spend a lot of time checking potential keywords against this competition.
But how often do we analyze a keyword’s competition once it has started to rank to see why it achieved that ranking? Usually, most checking, after a niche site has been launched, consists of simply tracking whether or not a keyword is moving up in its search engine results’ position.
When I look at the competition in the top 10 ranking sites, using Long Tail Pro to decide if a keyword can rank, I typically like to see the following:
- at least 7 sites with a Page Authority (PA) below 30
- at least 7 sites with PageRank (PR) of zero or no PR
- at least 7 sites with less than 30 Juice Page Links
- a Rank Tracker Keyword Difficulty score of less than 30
My question is this: are these benchmarks reasonable or can I rank a keyword with more relaxed benchmarks?
Alternatively, do I need to be stricter?
For example, can I only rank a keyword if most of the competition has a Keyword Difficulty score of less than 25?
Investigating an Existing Niche Site
So what was the goal of my investigation?
I currently have keywords ranking on page 1 for a small niche site. I want to know why.
Which metrics allowed those particular keywords to rank on page 1?
Is it what I have always been assuming or are some of the metrics not worth looking at?
In other words, let’s work backwards and see if the keywords that are ranking are doing so because they do have the characteristics that we look for in competitive keywords. We might find that our rules for coming up with competitive keywords are too strict or not strict enough. We might find that some of these keywords are ranking for reasons other than what we have considered before.
Tools Used in This Keyword Competition Case Study
The free tools referred to in this study include:
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Webmaster Tools
The paid tools referred to in this study are listed below ((affiliate links) :
- Long Tail Pro …You can access a 10 day free trial.
In my opinion, the best SEO keyword research tool for the money. Read my review here.
You can access a video showing how to find long tail keywords.
The tool also solves how to check keyword ranking.
- Long Tail Pro Platinum … Referred to but not used in the study
- Rank Tracker … Paid version is referred to but only the free version was used in the study
Specifics of This Niche Case Study
As you would be aware, it is not always a good idea to divulge a niche in case it is copied or bombarded by negative SEO. Thus, I am not at this stage revealing the site URL but I don’t think that this detracts too much from the study, given that the results could apply to any niche.
Here are the main details that are relevant.
- The niche is a pet-related field.
- The ranking data was taken from Google Webmaster Tools.
- 40 keywords from this niche site are ranking on page 1
- Most of these keywords are long tail keywords that ranked as a side benefit of targeting other keywords. They were not targeted in a backlinking campaign.
- Only these keywords were investigated in my study.
- The URLs for these keywords do not have page rank.
- Only 8 (20%) out of the 40 keywords were in title tags.
- 29 (72%) of the 40 keywords were buyer keywords.
- The competition facing these 40 keywords was checked using 2 free tools and 2 premium tools
- The free tools were used to find keywords that are ranking in the top 10.
- The Competitor Analysis module of Long Tail Pro was used to track 3 metrics.
- The Rank Tracker Keyword Difficulty Module was used to track 1 metric, namely how difficult it might be to rank a particular keyword.
- An Excel spreadsheet was used to record the analysis results.
Competitive Keyword Analysis Using Keyword Tools
The 40 long tail keywords included in this study were ranking from position 1 to position 10 with the average position being 7.
Doing Competitor Analysis with Long Tail Pro
I checked each keyword using the Competitor Analysis module in Long Tail Pro.
As mentioned my analysis tracks 4 metrics, 3 from Long Tail Pro and 1 from the Keyword Difficulty module of Rank Tracker.
In the screenshot of Long Tail Pro below, 3 of the metrics included in the study have been circled, namely:
- Page Authority: a score out of 100
- Juice Page Links: the # of juice-passing external backlinks to the URL
- Page Rank of the page itself rather than the domain: a score 0 to 10 assigned by Google
Checking Keyword Difficulty with Rank Tracker
In the screenshot below of the Keyword Difficulty Module from Rank Tracker, the Overall Keyword Difficulty is circled. This was the 4th metric that I tracked for this case study, a metric that I like because of its inclusion of social signals and on-page optimization.
The Keyword Difficulty Score in Rank Tracker is a formula that takes into account:
- The Page PageRank
- The Domain PageRank
- The page backlinks
- The domain backlinks
- Content optimization of the page
- The Alexa rank
- Number of social signals to the page
- The domain age
Results of Competitive Keyword Analysis
For each of the 40 keywords ranking on page 1, the top 10 sites were examined to see how that keyword was able to compete.
Below you can see a snapshot of the spreadsheet used to record the results.
As an example, let’s take keyword #4 from the screenshot above.
If we enter it into Long Tail Pro, here is what we see by way of competition in the top 10 positions in Google:
From the screenshot above, we can see that:
- 8 sites have a page authority (PA) of less than 30 (great)
- 7 sites have a page rank of zero or NA (good)
- 9 sites in the top 10 have fewer than 10 juice page links (no wonder my keyword is ranking)
- This keyword has a keyword difficulty score of 25.8 (just what I like to see)
Summary of Results of This Competitive Keyword Case Study
The following metrics can really influence how to rank for keywords in a given niche. But is each metric indicative or just a few? Here is what I found:
Page Authority (PA)
In 30 out of the 40 keywords (75%) there were 7 or more competing pages with a PA of less than 30.
Therefore, if at least 7 of the sites in the top 10 for a given keyword have a PA of less than 30, there is a reasonable chance of ranking for that keyword.
Page Rank (PR)
In only 9 of the 40 keywords (23%), there were at least 7 competing pages with a PR of zero or no PR.
Given that all of these 40 keywords are actually ranking, this tells me that the PR metric is not so important. In other words, many of the competing pages had a PR of 3 or 4 or more and still my keyword page (with a zero PR) was ranking.
Juice Page Links
In a whopping 36 out of 40 keywords (90%), there were 7 or more competing pages with less than 10 juice page links.
If you see the majority of competing pages with very few backlinks (less than 10) then there is a much better chance of ranking that keyword.
Just 20 out of the 40 keywords (50%) came in with a Rank Tracker keyword difficulty score of less than 30.
But a massive 95% of these keywords (38 out of 40) had a difficulty score of less than 40.
This tells me that a keyword can more easily rank if it has a keyword difficulty score below 40 if using Rank Tracker’s keyword difficulty formula.
The Takeaway Message From This Competitive Keywords Case Study
So how has this knowledge influenced the way that I now do keyword research? Has it resolved my debate about how to do keyword research effectively?
How to Find Keywords for SEO Going Forth
It’s not just a matter of finding keywords that will enhance your chances with search engine rankings but also a matter of how to find good keywords that really suit your niche, how to find the best keywords for your particular audience.
Therefore, will I make any changes in my keyword research as a result of these findings?
Well, in a nutshell, here are my conclusions:
- In future, I will take less notice of the PageRank of competing pages in the top 10 results. Each of my keyword pages was able to compete nicely with pages having a PR or 1, 2, 3 etc.
- I will continue to use my benchmark for Page Authority. In other words, I still like to see at least 7 sites with a PA or less than 30.
- I will relax my keyword difficulty score requirement. (This could be different if you are using Long Tail Pro’s Platinum version.)
If I am using Rank Tracker’s keyword difficulty score, I will lift the limit from below 30 to below 40.
- When starting out with a new niche, I will look for keywords that have very few competing sites with juice page links as they should be able to rank more quickly while the site is accruing a backlink profile. The importance of links coming into a page was born out. However, this study does not examine the impact of internal links pointing to a given page.
I hope the figures above are not too confusing.
I was surprised to see the consistency of the absence of juice page links among the competitors and equally surprised, but pleased, to see that I could more easily rank a keyword if I could keep the Rank Tracker difficulty score below 40. I still feel pleased when I see a score in the 20s but I will no longer rule out keywords with a score in the 30s.
When it comes to finding the best keywords for search engine optimization, low competition wins hands down in my view.
What benchmarks do you use when analyzing your competitors?
Featured image by hywards, FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Top 10 image by Stuart Miles, FreeDigitalPhotos.net