Chapter 5: Keyword Competition Analysis
So you’ve found a popular keyword with strong commercial intent.
There’s only one thing left to do: check out the competition on Google’s first page.
If you see a page littered with authoritative, big brand results, you might be better off moving to the next keyword on your list.
But if you take the time to evaluate keyword competition, you can usually find keywords that get great search volume AND have little to no competition.
That means that you need less content, links and promotion to claim your spot on page one.
In this chapter I’m going to show you how to quickly evaluate a keyword’s competition in Google’s organic search results.
First Step: Install SEQuake and MozBar
There are two free browser toolbars that make Keyword Competition faster and easier: SEO Quake and MozBar.
Here’s how to install and set them up:
Head over to SEOQuake.com and click on the big orange button:
(SEOQuake supports Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari browsers)
Follow the prompts to install and activate the toolbar:
Point the same browser you installed SEO Quake on to this page. Choose either Firefox or Chrome:
And install and activate MozBar.
When you do a search in Google you should see information from SEOQuake:
And from MozBar:
(Sometimes the two toolbars don’t get along and show funky results when they’re both on at once. If that’s the case you can use one — gather the information you need — and then use the other).
Now that you have SEOQuake and MozBar set up, it’s time to size up the competition.
PageRank and Page Authority
There’s an old SEO adage that goes: “Google doesn’t rank sites…it ranks pages.”
Although a site’s domain authority and brand presence play important roles, the #1 factor in a page’s ability to rank in Google is the authority of that page.
So there’s a lot of truth to that old adage.
The two best measurements of a page’s authority are PageRank and Moz’s Page Authority.
PageRank gets a lot of flack from the SEO community (“PageRank doesn’t matter!”). But you know what? It’s data straight from the horse’s mouth. That’s why I actually pay a lot of attention to PageRank (when it’s actually updated).
To check a SERPs PageRank on the fly, search for the keyword and look at the “PR” measurement in SEOQuake:
(Because toolbar PR isn’t updated very often, newer pages may not show any toolbar PageRank…even if they have tons of authority in the eyes of Google)
Page Authority is a nice complement to PageRank. Because it’s updated monthly, it’s much more fresh than PR.
You can easily check PageAuthority by looking at the “PA” number in the MozBar SERP Overlay:
It’s OK for a SERP to have a few high PR/PA results on the first page. That’s the case for most medium or high volume keywords.
You want to keep an eye out for low PR/PA pages. Those pages are ripe for getting knocked off by your new, awesomely-optimized page. If you see a lot of these, consider giving your potential keyword the green light.
Domain Authority and Brand Presence
I don’t need to tell you that Google loves ranking pages from major authority sites like Wikipedia, Amazon and CNN.com.
While a lot of pages from these sites rank on page authority and merit, quite a few get a huge bump from the simple fact that they’re on an authoritative domain.
Which means that – when you evaluate keyword competition — you also want to take a look at the sites you’re competing against (not just the pages).
The MozBar displays Domain Authority on the SERP overlay:
In general, results with high PA and DA are super-competitive.
As you might expect, you want to see a lot of the top 10 results with low PA and DA. Those are keywords that you can easily rank for.
In other words, a page’s authority is most important…but you also want to take DA into consideration.
Brand signals – signs that show search engines a site is part of a large brand – is becoming more and more integrated into Google’s algorithm.
Which means you want to take a brand’s size into consideration. For example, sites like Amazon, ESPN.com and YouTube are given an edge over small brand results with similar page and domain authority.
If you’ve been in the SEO game for a while you know that DA and PageRank can be VERY misleading metrics.
Sites with spammy link profiles may boast high DA and PageRank – but because they’re using spam links – they’re not going to stick on the first page over the long-term.
If there’s a keyword that looks especially competitive, but you have a gut feeling there’s a lot of black hat SEO behind the results, spot check the top 10’s link profile.
You may also want to see if any of the top 10 have links that are going to really, really hard for you to get (for example, media mentions on major news sites).
Either way, if you’re going to put a lot of effort behind ranking for a keyword, it makes sense to have a feel for how the top 10 got to where they are. And the best way to do that is to check out their link profile.
First, copy the URL of one of the top 10 results:
Paste that URL into the field on ahrefs homepage (if you prefer, you can use another similar tool like Open Site Explorer):
Click “External” under the backlinks section of the sidebar:
This will display all of the external links pointing to that page.
Click on “One link per domain”. This makes interpreting the results significantly easier by removing sites that link to a page multiple times:
Finally, glance at the top 10-25 links in their link profile:
You can usually tell within a few seconds whether or not the page uses black hat SEO.
Links coming from these places tend to indicate a black hat link profile:
- Low quality web directories
- Article directories
- Blog networks
- Blog comments
Also keep an eye out for over-optimized anchor text. That’s another sign that a page isn’t going to last.
On the other hand, if a page has a lot of these links, beating them might be more competitive than the PR and DA numbers indicate:
- Major news sites, like The Huffington Post
- Editorial links from authoritative sites in your industry
- Hard to get directory links (like DMOZ)
The point here isn’t to obsess over their link profile. It’s just another layer of information to help you make an informed decision about a keyword.