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 onto 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.
And in this chapter I’m going to show you how to quickly evaluate a keyword’s competition in Google’s organic search results.
Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?
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First Step: Install The MozBar
There’s a free browser toolbar that makes evaluating Keyword Competition faster and easier: The MozBar.
Here’s how to install and set it up:
Head over to this page. Click the big yellow button:
And install and activate MozBar.
When you do a search in Google you should see information from MozBar in the SERPs:
Now that you have the MozBar set up, it’s time to size up the competition.
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 best measurement of a page’s authority is Moz’s Page Authority.
(You can easily check Page Authority by looking at the “PA” number in the MozBar SERP Overlay:)
It’s OK for a SERP to have a few high-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-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 that keyword the green light.
At its very core, Google is a vote collection engine.
The more “votes” a page gets (in the form of backlinks), the higher it tends to rank.
(Think links don’t matter anymore? Our recent ranking factors research study found that the number of referring domains was correlated to higher rankings more than any other factor).
Which means that the number of referring domains is worth taking a look at.
Because there are several link analysis tools out there, there’s no shortage of conflicting data about how many links a page has pointing to it.
So you have two options: you can use the MozBar. Or you can use Ahrefs.
Moz’s link index isn’t nearly as good as Ahrefs’. But the MozBar is convenient because it shows you data from within the SERPs.
Here’s how to use both:
You can see the number of referring domains from the MozBar if you have a pro account:
You can also use a tool like Ahrefs to see how many referring domains point to a particular page. Just take a URL from the top 10:
Pop it into ahrefs and hit “Explore”.
And the tool will show you the number of referring domains linking to that page:
This process takes longer than using Moz’s toolbar, but the information from ahrefs tends to be a lot more accurate.
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 certain 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 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.
Competing vs. a Big Brand?
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 link metrics can be VERY misleading.
Sites with spammy link profiles may boast high DA and PA – 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 each site cracked the first page. 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 Ahrefs:
Click “Backlinks” in the sidebar:
This will display all of the external links pointing to that page.
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
- Spammy 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 PA and DA numbers indicate:
- Major news sites, like The NY Times
- 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.
You already know that on-page SEO can make or break a site’s ability to rank.
That’s why you want to pay attention to the on-page SEO of your would-be competitors in the top 10 results.
First, take a look at the page’s title tags. This is the blue link displayed in Google’s search results:
The two results above are examples of well-optimized title tags (in this case I searched for “gluten free cookies”).
They’ve used the exact keyword or a close variation of the keyword in their title.
To dig deeper, click on one of the results. Next, click on the “Page Analysis” icon in the MozBar:
And this will display information on the page’s basic on-page attributes:
If the keyword is included in an H1/H2 tag and in the URL, consider the page well optimized.
On the other hand, if a page has lazy on-page SEO, it can be easy to knock off the first page…even if it has decent authority.
Easy Target Results
When you see one or more Easy Target Results in the top 10, it’s time to celebrate. You just found a low-competition keyword.
Here are results that tend to indicate a very, very low competition keyword:
- Pages with <10 PA and DA
- Ezine Articles
- Yahoo! Answers
- Squidoo Lenses
- Blogspot (or other free blog)
- Spammy press release sites
Here are some examples of keywords with Easy Target results:
With all the talk of referring domains and title tags, it’s easy to forget that the quality of your content is a huge part of your ability to crack the top 10.
In other words, if you want to rank for a competitive keyword, be prepared to match (or beat) the quality of the top 10 results.
Although highly subjective, you can usually get a feel for what type of content you’ll have to bring to the table to beat the top 10 with a minute or two of digging.
Just search for your keyword and read the content of the top 5-10 results.
Let’s look at an example keyword, “health benefits of garlic”.
The first result, from Healthline, is a high-quality article written by a legit nutrition expert:
The article also cites several scientific research studies, making the content more credible and worthy of links:
In other words, it will take some very good – although not necessarily amazing – content to beat the first result.
Let’s look at another result lower in the results, WHFoods:
The first thing I notice is the layout and design is REALLY dated. This probably hurts their ability to generate links and social shares. Now you know that design is one way to stand out from the current top 10.
However, the content itself is outstanding, featuring charts:
And a list of scientific references:
What keeps this page from ranking higher is its dated design and on-page SEO.
The title tag of the page is simply “garlic”, and there’s little mention of the keyword “health benefits of garlic” anywhere else on the page.
Otherwise, the content itself is very good, but beatable.
Finally, let’s look at another result on the first page: organicfacts.net.
Unlike the HealthLine article, this article wasn’t written by a certified expert (the author is anonymous) and doesn’t cite any research. That’s good news: this is easy content to beat!
Now that you’ve sized up the competition, it’s time to go pro. How? By diving into the best keyword research tools on the market. See you in the next chapter (Chapter 6).