In the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), keyword research is akin to the foundation of a building—it’s the most crucial aspect. Within keyword research, one of the key components is competition research. Understanding the competitive landscape is essential because it determines whether you’re aiming for a target that’s achievable in a reasonable timeframe or if you’re setting your sights on a goal that could take years to reach. Competition research examines both the general competitiveness of your website and the competition for specific keywords. This aspect is often referred to as “page strength.”
In this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of competition research and its relevance to keyword optimization.
Page strength comprises two critical dimensions: the general strength of your website as a whole and the specific strength of individual pages within the site. To keep things simple, we’ll use the term “web page” to refer to both.
To assess competition, we must first analyze the competitiveness of your web pages. A critical part of this analysis is understanding how competitive the keywords themselves are, often referred to as “keyword difficulty.” Determining keyword difficulty involves assessing the competitiveness of the pages that currently rank well for those keywords. This process can be challenging for two main reasons:
- Search engines do not disclose the exact criteria they use to evaluate site and page competitiveness.
- Different search engines may use distinct criteria to determine competitiveness.
Despite these challenges, search engines do provide some general insights into what makes web pages competitive and how page strength is determined. Several factors influence the competitive strength of a web page, including:
- Age: Generally, older websites receive more favorable rankings from search engines. New websites face a more difficult path to competing for keywords. However, if your overall website is strong, new pages you add can quickly gain page strength.
- Traffic: Search engines value more popular websites, as increased traffic indicates higher page strength.
- Internal Linking Structure: A well-structured internal link system, including navigation menus and other forms of linking from one page of your site to another, is an often overlooked but significant aspect of both site design and SEO.
- Inbound Links: Inbound links, also known as backlinks or incoming links, play a pivotal role in determining a web page’s competitive strength. In general, having more inbound links is advantageous, but the quality of the links matters more than quantity. Links from authoritative sites are more valuable than links from less authoritative sites, and links from sites relevant to your keywords hold greater weight than links from unrelated sites. It’s also essential to consider not only the inbound links to the specific page you’re optimizing but also those directed to other pages on your website. These additional links contribute to the overall competitive strength of your website and, consequently, the individual pages. (Link building will be explored further in a future article.)
These are some key elements that factor into determining a page’s competitive strength. As you can see, the process is becoming intricate. Various online tools are available to assist in this process, but there is no universal consensus on which elements are most important or their relative significance. Using multiple tools may provide a more accurate assessment of your page’s competitive strength. Over time, you may find one tool that consistently provides more accurate results. This can help you gauge how competitive your page or website is and whether you have a good chance of ranking well for a specific keyword at a given moment.
One way to assess keyword difficulty is by comparing your page’s competitive strength with that of the pages currently ranking well for the keyword. If your page is equally competitive with the other top-ranking sites, you should be well-positioned to optimize for that keyword and achieve good results with SEO. However, if other sites are stronger, you may need to target less competitive keywords while working on strengthening your web page. If the other sites are weaker, the keyword is a viable target.
Other Methods for Determining Keyword Difficulty
In addition to analyzing the competitiveness of the pages ranking for specific keywords, other methods can help you determine keyword difficulty:
- Adwords: Paid search marketing tools like Google AdWords provide an estimated cost per click to rank well in paid search results for a given keyword. If the cost per click is high, it indicates high keyword difficulty. This information also implies that the keyword is valuable.
- Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI): The KEI is a measure available through some keyword popularity tools. It compares the number of searches a keyword receives to the number of results it generates in a search engine. A high KEI suggests that a keyword is worth targeting because it receives a significant number of searches relative to the competition. Conversely, a low KEI indicates that a keyword may not be worth targeting. Keep in mind that while KEI can be part of the keyword difficulty research, it should not be the sole factor considered. The number of results in a search does not necessarily equate to strong competition. It’s possible to have 100,000 pages in the search results, but if these pages are weak and not well-optimized for the keyword, it might be easy to rank well for that keyword. Conversely, a keyword with only 1,000 results could be very competitive if a substantial number of those results are from strong, well-optimized sites.
Understanding the competitive landscape of keywords and your website’s strength will enable you to optimize for keywords that your site can readily compete for, resulting in immediate gains. You will also be better equipped to devise a strategic plan, primarily involving targeted link building, to compete for more challenging keywords.