DIY SEO #7: Keyword Competition Research

Keyword CompetitionUpdate (11/04/1024)
Since writing this post, a few things have changed.  Google’s Pagerank is no longer accurate or updated and should not be used. [End Update].

If you optimize your website for keywords that are too competitive, you are just wasting your time.  You might as well not optimize your website at all.

As a SEO with OurChurch.Com we get a lot of ministries asking about our SEO services.  While we are first talking with a ministry about optimizing their website, we’ll ask them what keywords they want to rank for and it’s not all that uncommon to get responses like, “Jesus”, “The Bible”, “God”.  Well, yes, it would be nice to rank well for such general and competitive keywords as “God”, but we have to be realistic.  Especially if you have a brand new site or haven’t ever done any search marketing.  We may be able to get you ranking for such keywords, but it’s going to take a lot of time and whole lot of link building.

If you optimize your site for keywords that are too competitive, you will either not rank for those keywords at all or, if you do start to rank for them, you’ll be on page 20 and no one will ever see the listing.  If  a site is listed on a search result page that’s never seen, is it really listed?  Whooo, you’re blowing my mind, dude!  It’s best to start with some less competitive keywords that might actually bring some traffic.

We have our list of keywords and we’ve already gotten estimates of how popular those keywords are.  So, now it’s time to figure out how competitive the keywords are.  There are lots of tools out there that claim to do competition research, but there are a few ways that are better than others.

Most of the tools that you’ll find advertising that they provide keyword competition  research only provide KEI, Keyword Effectiveness Index, or something similar.  The KEI score is gotten by taking the number of searches a keyword gets divided by the number of results returned when searching for the keyword.  Other multipliers may be included (e.g. multiplying the number of searches by 2 or using daily search volume vs monthly search volume), but basically your looking at how popular the keyword is divided by how many search results the keyword returns.

Personally, I think this is a completely useless bit of information.  First off, most keywords return millions of search results.  does it really matter if there are 5 million or 10 million.  Secondly, just because a page is in the search results doesn’t mean they are really competing for that keyword.  How many irrelevant search results do you see when searching?  Finally, it doesn’t take into account how competitive the pages in the search results are.  You could have results of a million very week pages or results of only 100 pages, but they are all very strong pages.  The KEI will say go for the keyword with 100 pages in the results, but in reality you have a much better chance of ranking well for the keyword with the 1 million week pages in the results.

Anyway, it’s only the first 10-30 pages that you are really competing against.  If you’re ranking past page 3, very few people will ever see your listing.  So, I don’t recommend using a KEI tool.

Google PagerankPageRank isn’t great because the only info we have is from the Google Toolbar which we know is not very accurate, but it can give you an idea of how competitive a keyword is.  When using PageRank to determine how competitive a keyword is, look up the keyword and find the PageRanks of the sites ranking in the top ten for that keyword.   First get the average PageRank of all top ten sites. After getting the average, find the lowest PageRank in the top ten.  This will give you an idea of how competitive the keyword is in general and whether your page has a chance to rank in the top ten.

For example, if the page you are optimizing has a PageRank of 1 and the keyword you research has an average PageRank of 4 with the lowest PageRank being a 2, you pretty much have no chance of getting into the top ten right now.  If your page as a PR of 2, then you have at least some chance because you see another PR 2 page listed, but the odds are still against you.  If you have a page with a PR of 4, then you have a pretty good chance of ranking well for that keyword.

Again, this isn’t a foolproof method because the PageRanking data Google is giving isn’t very accurate, but by getting an average of 10 sites, you can mitigate a little of the inaccuracy of the PageRank data.  The other downside to this method is there isn’t a public tool available to do the research for you that I’m aware of.  So, you have to manually search each keyword and do the PR calculations yourself.  To help you with the manual search you can use a tool like SEO for Firefox (an addon for the Firefox browser) that will tell you the PR information about each page right in the search listings.  At least you don’t have to go to each page individually.

Keyword Difficulty:
There are a couple places that offer a Keyword Difficulty tool, but currently none better than SEOmoz.  With their tool, you just enter in your keyword and they give you a Keyword Difficulty score.  They arrive at their score by performing page strength analysis of each of the pages in the top ten.

This is the most accurate of the keyword competition research tools, but even their tool isn’t perfect.  I find that most keyword are given a score between 35 and 65.  Since the score is out of 100, it’s a little odd that the vast majority of keywords end up withing a narrow 30 point range.  So, that said, it is still the best tool publicly available right now becuase they are looking at the right data.

The downside to the SEOmoz tool is 1. you have to have a pro membership to use the tool and that will cost $99 (at the time of this post) and 2. even with the pro membership, you are still limited to 300 keywords a day.  The limit, however, shouldn’t be too big an inconvenience to most organizations.

What Do You Use?
If you’re wondering what I use, I have several internally developed tools.  I would love to let you use them, but right now they aren’t ready to be made available publicly (sorry), though we may make them available in the future.  I’ll be sure to let you know if we do.  For now, I recommend using the SEOmoz tool and, if you have the time, the PageRank method.  Because the SEOmoz tool’s keyword difficulty scores tend to be very close to each other, having the PageRank data as well can help to give a clearer idea of the competitiveness.

Additional Tips and Notes:

Today’s Tasks:

  • Decide on the method of keyword competition research you are going to use.
  • Perform the competition research for your keywords.

Photo by 2-Dog-Farm

SEO’s do you have any other method for competition keyword research that you prefer?  If so, let us know.

DIY SEO #6: Determining Your Website’s Strength <- DIY SEO: Main -> DIY SEO #8:Determining the Competitiveness of Your Competition

8 Responses to “DIY SEO #7: Keyword Competition Research”

  1. Awesome insight as usual, Kurt!

  2. Hi Kurt,

    In order to determine the best way of making my post appear in search results, I try to find what are the actual words that people use to find the information my post is about. For this I am currently using Google's free adwords keyord finder.

    An example would be my post, which I was originally going to call, "What should I do to be saved?" However, when I checked the keyword tool, I saw that MANY more people are using the term, "What must I do to be saved?" So I changed one word in the title and the URL in order to better serve the people searching for this. You can see the page here:…

    PS You really should clean up these spam comments – there is very questionable content here, which is a shame.

  3. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for your tips and good example.

    And, yes, I do know there's spam comments. I was away from the blog for the weekend…ALL those spam comment were posted in the past 3 days!! We literally got spammed with over 2000 spam comments. What a pain.

  4. "If a site is listed on a search result page that’s never seen, is it really listed?"

    Oy, oy, oy…. there is more to this than meets the KEI :-)

    Could you provide an example along the lines of your "Who is Jesus?" post?

    Let's say I wrote an article, which was all about "Who Jesus is", called "Who is Jesus", and it was all about Jesus. This search term gets tens of thousands of searches every month and I get listed in the big Google at, say, page 30.

    At this point, would you recommend I optimize for another less competitive keyword (but one which the article is not really about) or would on (and off)-site SEO be the only way to increase visibility in Google?

    PS Nice security question below :-) When I first started my site on January 1st 2011, I was actually pleased to receive my first spam comment 5 days later – I took it as a rite of passage and proof that "people" could find it. Now, 300 spun comments later (all on the same post) I could live without them too!

    • You really only have three options:

      1. Build up the authority and reputation of the page through link building, especially with links including your targeted keyword in the anchor text until your rankings improve.

      2. Target less competitive keywords for which the page already has enough authority to rank well.

      3. Target less competitive keywords for now and then build links until eventually you can rank well for the more competitive keyword you want to target. (basically a combination of 1 and 2).

      I don't recommend targeting a keyword which the article is really not about, but look for related keywords for which people search, but are less competitive. If there are tens of thousands of searches for a single keyword, I guarantee you there are many other keywords people are using to find the same information. Sure, they aren't getting tens of thousands of searches, but they are getting something…and something is better than nothing.

  5. Thanks for the advice Kurt!

  6. When you research for a keyword, what is your preferred global monthly search and websites competition?