How to Choose Keywords: Understanding Keyword Competition

How to choose keywords? Getting this right, with the perfect balance of what people are searching for and how your business needs to be found, can be of huge benefit to your company.

The key: keyword competition.

Let’s take a closer look…

What is Keyword Competition?

SEO letters image for How to Choose Keywords blog

Keyword competition is the measure of how difficult it will be to rank for a particular keyword. The competition for a keyword can vary depending on how popular the keyword is and industry competition.

Competitive keyword research is one of the highest return activities in the search marketing field. Ranking for the right keywords can make or break your website. By researching your market’s keyword demand, you can also learn more about your customers as a whole.

Most of all, it’s not always about getting visitors to your site, but about getting the right kind of visitors.

The value of this cannot be overstated; with keyword research you can predict shifts in demand, respond to changing market conditions, and produce the products, services, and content that web searchers are actively seeking.

What is Keyword Value?

Understanding which websites already rank for your site’s keywords will give you valuable insight into the competition and also how hard it will be to rank for the given term. Are there search advertisements running along the top and right-hand side of the organic results? Typically, many search ads means a highly competitive keyword, and multiple search ads above the organic results often means a highly lucrative and directly conversion-prone keyword.


What is Keyword Difficulty?

In order to know which keywords to target, it’s essential to not only understand the demand for a given term or phrase, but also the work required to achieve high rankings. If big brands take the top 10 results and you’re just starting out on the web, the uphill battle for rankings can take years of effort. This is why it’s essential to understand keyword difficulty.


What is Search Volume?

Search volume is simply the amount or quantity of searches that occur for a particular keyword or term, often expressed as searches per month. The ideal combination is a term with high search volume and low search competition. These terms are hard to find.

Often the popular search terms already have a significant amount of competition, making them very difficult to achieve top position search engine rankings.  The competition is already there and has been there a while.

Long Tail Keywords

If you’re searching for ‘men shoes’ for example, you get about 1,210,000,000 results. However, if you add to those search terms ‘men leather shoes’ you get a little less than half of those results. What happened is that you got more specific with your keyword by making it long tail.

Almost all competitive keywords have long tail variants of them directly related to your business. If you sell only leather shoes there’s no point of people looking for other types of shoes to find your content and subsequently your store.


How to Rank in Competitive Keywords?

You won’t get the results you want 100% of the time, especially if you’re a new website trying to rank for a popular keyword, but if you take content marketing and SEO seriously, you can start to make things happen.

1)     Set Out Your Stall

This is really more of a pre-step than a first step. You’ll need to have some basics in place before you can hope to rank for any random keyword. These pre-requisites include:

A strong website, as the longer your website has been around, accruing authority and links, the better. It’s also important that your entire site follow SEO best practices. Start with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines if you don’t know what that means.

A network to draw on, because in order to rank quickly for a keyword, it’s very useful to have a built-in network to share new content with.

Don’t rush these considerations: f you don’t do things right the first time, you’ll just have to do them again later.

2)     Keyword Research

You may think you know what keyword you want to target, but fact-check your instincts. Use several keyword tools to get a sense of the search volume for the keyword as well as the competition before you finalise your keyword choice.

  • Choosing a keyword with good volume, but not too much volume: In general you don’t want to target a keyword that has low relative search volume if there’s an equivalent term that is much more popular. However, don’t always automatically go for the keyword with the highest volume or difficulty.

Some keywords are simply too competitive and not worth your time. They also need to be relevant, you’re not going to rank for “doctor” unless you are, in fact, a doctor.

  • Choosing a keyword that’s relevant to your business model: you’re more likely to succeed in ranking for a keyword if the term is relevant to your site and your business. You’re also more likely to get some real return on your ranking.

At this stage of the process, you should also make a list of close variations on your primary keyword. These will be helpful in writing and optimising your content later on.

3)     Competitor Research

Once you’ve settled on a keyword, do a search for it on Google and a few other search engines to see what your competition is already doing.

  • Check out their domains and URLs. How many are exact match domains? Does every URL in the top 10 include the keyword?
  • Look at that their titles. How do the title tags incorporate the keyword?
  • What  type of content is ranking. Is it product pages? Blog posts? Videos?
  • How big are the business ranking in your competitive keywords.  Are they huge brands? Small businesses? News sites?
  • How authoritive are the leaders in these keywords? There are plug-ins and websites that can help you analyze any website’s authority and how old they are.

You’re looking for ways that you can differentiate yourself. You’ll need to do at least as much as your competitors are doing to beat them. Ideally, you should be doing more, and doing it better.

4)     Research The Customer’s Intent

The more specific the keyword (think long-tail keywords), the easier it is to gauge the searcher’s intent, and the easier it will be to serve up what those searchers are probably looking for. In search marketing, “intent” is our best guess at what the person using the search query really wants.

Ask yourself, what kind of content best serves the keyword? An e-commerce business is mostly going to be trying to rank for commercial keywords.

Google’s founders have said that the perfect search engine would serve only one result. You want to be that one result that satisfies the searcher’s need so they don’t bounce back to the search results, looking for a better answer.

5)     Choose Your Media Type

Next, form a plan for the actual content you’re going to create that will, hopefully, rank for your chosen keyword. There are many paths to ranking for a keyword. You can publish different types of content like:

  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Product pages
  • An authoritative guide
  • Infographics
  • Videos

How long will it take to create the content? Who should create it? Will you be doing everything in-house or outsourcing? Do you have all the resources and budget you need? Don’t get defeated.

No matter your size or your budget, you have the ability to create a blog post. Content like infographics and videos will require more resources. Sometimes, the best way to answer a search query is with some sort of tool, like a mortgage calculator. If this is the case, you’ll need engineering resources.

6)     Get Creating

Again, you shouldn’t rush any of these steps, but it’s especially important not to rush this one. More and more, search engines are looking for high-quality content that benefits the searcher, not keyword-stuffed spam or pages full of ads of no benefit to the searcher.

7)     Optimise and Optimise Again

In reality, steps 6 and 7 should be combined. Optimise your content while you’re creating it, rather than applying optimisation after the fact. This is where the list of keywords you formulated in step 2 comes in. Leverage those keywords where you can in your content, but not to the point of sounding like a crazy robot. Remember that there are a lot of “invisible” places for keywords  like image file names. Users won’t see these if they’re not looking for them, but they can increase your keyword rankings.

Before you hit “publish,” it’s a good idea to quickly double-check your keyword research. It’s possible that your content has evolved during the development and creation phases, and you’ll need to make sure that there’s still alignment between keyword and content.

8)     Publish

It’s time to push your content out into the world. Depending on the type of content it is, you may need to be careful about scheduling this step. This isn’t usually a consideration for evergreen content, but it may be important for content that’s tied to something in the news, an event or a trend.

You may also need to coordinate with PR or other interested parties at your company, for example when launching content related to a new product or service.

9)     Marketing

This step is important and should come immediately after publishing. In fact, for big pieces of content; it’s great if you can do some media outreach before the piece goes live. Make sure you do what you can to get your content in front of as many eyeballs as possible before it even has a chance to rank for the keyword:

Share your content through your business’s social accounts. If you can, do this through your personal accounts too.

Use social buttons or widgets on your site to promote independent sharing; make it easy for readers and viewers to keep the chain going. They’re more likely to tweet or share your article if all they have to do is click a button.

Build links to your content – Whatever the future of PageRank, link building is still a huge part of SEO (even if it is the most annoying part). Check out our blog archive on the topic if you’re looking to learn about link building.

10) Analysis

The web is a living medium, and it’s never too late to better optimise your content. Check your keyword ranking manually (be sure you’re signed out and not seeing overly personalised results) or with a rank checking tool.

Use your analytics to see what keywords your content is actually ranking for. They might not be the exact ones you initially targeted. If, after a couple of weeks or so, you’re not ranking for the right keywords, you have more work to do. Try adding more content optimised to the keywords you need.

It’s also possible that the keyword you chose is too competitive and you need to scale back your ambition. Try targeting less competitive keywords until you’ve built up more authority.

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