Choosing the Right Keywords for SEO, Part 2: Determining Competition

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At this point, I have my keyword list. (See how to generate a keyword list.) Now I need to know how competitive the keywords are to determine which are worth targeting and in what order.

There are two methods I use to measure competition, one paid and one free.

Paid (Easy Way!)

The first is SEOMoz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool. It’s quite complete, giving you a firm difficulty score that makes decision making and comparing words easy. However, the tool is only available with Pro Membership, which comes with a $79/mo price tag. Sounds hefty, but you get so much with Pro that it’s worth it. If you’re an SEO or firm, I highly recommend this option. It will save you time and money in the end.

Free (Manual)

BUT, if you don’t mind taking extra time in your research, you can do it yourself manually. A word of caution though… doing it manually requires many repeat Google searches back-to-back. Doing many searches back-to-back will get you temporarily blocked from the SERPs. It isn’t harmful in any way and it isn’t a penalty. It’s just Google’s way of protecting itself from automated requests. So if you have many keywords to check, be sure to spread them out over the course of a few hours or days. Another tip: Only worry about the difficulty for the highest volume keywords. This will save you time, especially if your list is long. More than likely, the lowest volume keywords are not as competitive or will not be the ones your target.

To do this manually, you need to find out how many pages are optimized for your keywords. I say “optimized” because (usually) pages that are optimized are harder to compete with than pages that are just there through circumstance.

To find out how many pages are optimized for a keyword, use the following search operators:

1. [intitle:"kw"]

2. [intitle:"kw" and inanchor:"kw"]

Plug your keyword in for “kw.” So, if my word was red shoes, the operator would look like this:

[intitle:"red shoes"]

Enter the above operators one at a time into the Google search bar and get your results.

Add columns to your keyword Master List and record the number of search results from your search operator search. You can get this number from the upper left side of the SERP page under the search bar. The lower the number, the better. Low numbers mean that there are not many optimized pages, so it will be easier to rank.

Now, take note of the page rank of your competition. (On-page data provided by the SEO Quake Firefox browser plug-in helps a ton!) Do a normal search with your word. Write down and average the top 10 results’ page rank to get an average overall page rank. Record the averaged number on your keyword master list as well.

Choosing the Best Keywords to Target

To me, the best keywords are words that are relevant (obviously), have healthy volume, and are low to moderately competitive. These are the keywords that you can get rankings for the fastest and where your efforts will yield the most results. You will, of course, have some keywords on your list that are high volume and very competitive, but knowing competition will help you know how to stack your keyword deck.

To make your choice, peruse your list. Find words that have good volume with low optimization and page rank competition. These are the words that are best to target. Done!

This may seem like a lot, but the extra time spent here will make all the difference. You will also be able to set accurate expectations as to the time it will take to rank. This will keep you from taking stabs in the dark when your client asks, “When will we see results?”

Good luck!