Competition research starts with analyzing your web pages to determine how competitive your site is both in general and for specific keywords. This is sometimes referred to as page strength. I should note that there are really two aspects to page strength, the general strength of a site and the specific strength of a page within the site. For the sake of simplicity, in this article I will use “web page” for both. The next step is to examine the keywords themselves to see how competitive they are. This is sometimes called keyword difficulty. Determining keyword difficulty is done partially by examining how competitive the pages are that rank well for this keyword, though other methods can be helpful as well. This can be tricky for two reasons.
1. No one other than that search engine designers knows how each search engine determines how competitive a site or page is and the search engine folks aren’t talking.
2. Each search engine has a different way of determining how competitive a site or page is. So, even if you could figure out one, it wouldn’t necessarily be so with the other search engines.
Despite these difficulties the search engines do give us some general information about what makes web pages competitive (what determines page strength). The competitive strength of a web page is determined by several factors including:
• Age – Generally speaking, the older a site is the more value the search engines give it. New sites have a much harder time competing for keywords. Similarly, new pages start off less competitive, but, if the rest of your site is strong, new pages will quickly gain page strength.
• Traffic – The more popular a site is, the more value the search engines give it. Getting more visitors (web traffic) to a website increases page strength.
• Internal Linking Structure – The internal linking structure of a site is both a reference to the navigation menus and other forms of linking from one page of your site to another. This is an often-overlooked aspect of both site design and SEO. Don’t underestimate the value of a good internal link structure.
• Inbound Links – The most prominent piece of the competition puzzle, inbound links (also called back links and incoming links) are a key component in determining a web page’s competitive strength. Generally, the more inbound links you have the better, but quantity isn’t as important as quality. Links from authoritative sites (Sites that are very competitive) are worth far more than links from lesser sites, and links from sites relevant to your keywords are worth more than links from unrelated sites. Also, you do not only need to consider the inbound links to the specific page you are optimizing, the links directed to other pages of your website will increase the overall competitive strength of the website and thus the individual pages of that site as well. (We’ll talk more about this in a future article on link building.)
These are some of the key elements to determining a page’s competitive strength. As you can see this is starting to get complicated. There are some online tools available to help, but there is a wide range of ideas about what is important and how important each element is. Instead of using just one tool, you may want to use several. It will take longer, but may give you a more accurate assessment. In the end, if you keep track of your keyword research and your results, you may find one tool is more accurate than the others and be able to trust that tool over the others. This can help you determine how competitive your page or site is and whether you have a chance at ranking well for a particular keyword at this time. By looking at how competitive the other web pages are that currently rank well for a keyword, you can compare that to how competitive your page is. If your page is about as competitive as the other sites, you should be able to rank well for that keyword after targeting that keywords with search engine optimization. If the other sites are stronger than your site, then you should choose less competitive keywords until you’ve improved the strength of your web page. If the other sites are weaker, then the keyword is a sitting duck.
Other Ways to Determine Keyword Difficulty:
• Adwords: In addition to evaluating the other web pages competing for the keywords you want, it can be helpful when attempting to determine how competitive a keyword is to look at other sources such as pay-per-click search marketing stats. Google Adwords has a tool that will show you the estimated cost per click to rank well in the paid search results for a keyword. If that cost per click is high, that’s an indication the keyword difficulty may be high as well (it’s also an indication that the keyword is valuable).
• Keyword Effectiveness Index: Another way some people determine keyword difficulty is the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI). KEI values are usually available with keyword popularity tools. The KEI compares the number of searches a keyword gets to the number of results that keyword brings up in a search engine. If a keyword gets 100 searches a day and a search on Google returns 1000 results, then the Google KEI will be high, indicating the keyword is probably worth targeting. On the other hand if a keyword gets 100 searches a day and a search on Google returns 1,000,000 results, the Google KEI will be much lower, indicating the keyword may not be worth targeting. A lower search popularity will also effect the KEI Keywords with the same number of results in Google will have a higher or lower Google KEI depending on whether the keyword gets searched for more or less, respectively.
Tip: KEI can be used as part of the keyword difficulty research; however, I don’t recommend using solely this information as it isn’t necessarily an accurate indication of how difficult ranking for a keyword will be. After all, just because 100,000 pages are returned as results for a keyword, it doesn’t mean they are strong pages and it doesn’t mean any of the pages are well optimized for that keyword. A keyword could have 100,000 weak sites in the results. So, it could be easy to rank well for that keyword. Similarly, a keyword could have only 1000 sites in the results, but if 100 of them are very strong sites, then ranking well for that keyword could be very difficult
By understanding how competitive keywords are and how strong your website is, you will be able to optimize for keywords that your site can compete for immediately to get some immediate results. You will also be able to properly devise what additional work (primarily targeted link building) you will need to perform to be able to compete for more competitive keywords.