Understanding how difficult it is to rank in the top 10 of Google for your chosen keyword is probably the most important skill you can acquire when it comes to building niche websites. Unfortunately, it is also the most difficult skill to learn. Bar none, picking keywords that are too difficult to rank for are the #1 reason why websites fail.
Most people just do not have the ability to effectively analyze the top 10 results in Google OR do not have the discipline to only go after low competition keywords. Luckily, this skill can be acquired with experience, serious study, and effort. In my post today, I hope to shed some light on how you can effectively analyze how difficult the top 10 results in Google are for your keyword.
I first want to point out that I am NOT talking about the number of competitors in Google. For some reason, people still type their keyword into Google and look at the number of competing pages to judge how difficult a keyword is to rank for. This is ridiculous! Even if you are looking at “exact match” results – you are still being mislead. If you are doing this, please stop now – as this will tell you nothing about how hard it is to get where you want to be – which is on the first page of Google. I don’t care if there are 300 trillion competing websites for my keyword, if the first page of Google is filled with weak websites, I will go after it!
Okay, now that I have that cleared, what exactly am I talking about then? Well, if you know anything about search engine optimization, you know a thing or 2 about how to rank a website in Google. So, what we want to look at is how well the top ranking sites are doing these SEO tactics. Some of these things that websites do to rank well in Google are this: use keyword in article, use keyword in titles, build links to site, build links with keyword as anchor text, and other factors. So, these are some of the things we need to analyze to determine if the competition is weak.
Ranking Factors to Look At
Here are the criteria that I look at to Analyze the Competition:
- Relevant Content. Is the keyword in the content?
- Optimized Title. Is the keyword used in the title?
- Targeted Content. Is the entire site about your chosen keyword? Or does the page just happen to mention the keyword?
- Page Links. How many links are there to the ranking PAGE?
- Site Links. How many links to the root domain of the site?
- Authority Links. Are there .edu, .gov, DMOZ, or Yahoo Directory links?
- Google PageRank. What is the Google PageRank?
- Root Domain? Is the ranking page a root domain or a subpage?
- Site Age. What is the site age?
- Type of site. Is the ranking page a weak type of site like: article directories, forums, Yahoo Answers, other Q&A sites, social sites, or other user generated type sites?
You could certainly go alot deeper and start looking at things like whether or not the ranking pages have links pointing to them that use the keyword in the anchor text, etc – but that gets pretty cumbersome. And because I like to find ranking pages that have fewer than 10 links or even NO BACKLINKS many times, I don’t worry too much about the anchor text. This is because I go for very low competition keywords. If you are looking at more difficult niches, you may need to do more analysis than I discuss here; but most people will do just fine finding low competition keywords using the criteria I have listed above and will discuss further below.
The Importance of Relevant Content
You will notice that the first 3 ranking factors that I mentioned deal with relevant content on the ranking sites. I stress the importance of determining whether or not a ranking site is actually targeting your keyword or whether they just happen to mention the keyword in passing. The reason is simple, if a site is ranking for a keyword almost by accident (because they simply mention a keyword in their content) – then you can feel confident that you can outrank them with more targeted content and links.
There really are millions of keywords out there that have sites ranking which may not even be using the keyword in the title of their page. This is a BIG sign of weakness. So, even if the site has a high PageRank and has thousands of links to the ranking page, if the site is not really targeting your keyword – you can still outrank them very easily.
To drive home this point, I am doing a little experiment and by giving you an example. I typed in a phrase that no one is targeting right now – “Spencer likes Honeycombs” (a true statement by the way). Below is an image of the sites ranking for this keyword:
You will notice that NONE of the ranking sites are really targeting my keyword (of course not!). None of them use the exact keyword in the title of their page and only use bits and pieces of it in their content. So, if this were a keyword I was hoping to rank for, I would immediately get excited because I would know that no one is actually trying to rank for this keyword! Even if these sites had lots of links or a high PageRank I would still feel confident in my decision (of course its better to target keywords that have weak competitors both in content relevancy and links, etc). Does that make sense?
So, to make my point even more vivid, I am going to guess that this post will soon rank very high (perhaps #1) for the keyword: Spencer Likes Honeycombs! The reason? Simply because I am mentioning the keyword in my article here. I don’t need any links or anything else – just relevant content. You can do a Google search and see if I’m right (it may take a day or 2).
So, don’t EVER overlook the importance of relevant content in the article, in the title, and whether or not the entire site is targeting your keywords. This is why my first 3 points have to do with content. And YES! you can still find lots of keywords that have weak title competition or content relevancy.
Spencer Likes Honeycombs!
The Importance of Links
The next 3 items I discuss for analyzing the top 10 competitors in Google is links. I look for less than 10 links to the page if possible (I look at the Yahoo Page Links). Links to the page are MUCH more important than links to the root domain. Each page of a site ranks individually, so the page links give you a better indication of how strong the ranking page is.
If the competitors in Google have relevant Titles/content and have lots of links to their pages then you shouldn’t be targeting the keyword. You can determine on your own how many links is too many for you, but I like to find results with 10 or less links to the page. Again, I don’t stress out about how many links are to the root domain, unless the resulting page happens to be the root domain. In that case, a root domain that is optimized for your keyword and has lots of links built to it – is exactly what you want to avoid! You will typically want to stay away from these keywords.
Most of the time you don’t need to worry about .edu, .gov, or DMOZ, or Yahoo Directory links. I will typically look at these just to make sure the ranking page doesn’t have any. Most of the time these type of links only become a factor when you are targeting higher competition keywords or looking at beating root domains. So, if you see ranking pages that do indeed target your keyword with relevant titles and content, and they have lots of .edu or these other authority type links, you should probably just move onto something less competitive.
I won’t go into great detail about what Google PageRank (PR) is other than to say its a number assigned by Google from 0 to 10 that shows how much authority a page has. Pages or sites can also sometimes have a dash (-) which simply means there is no page rank assigned (this is a good sign for you!). I like to see ranking sites with a PageRank of 0 or – if they are targeting my keyword.
However, if they are not really targeting my keyword well (like in my “spencer likes honeycombs” example), then the PageRank really doesn’t matter. So, don’t get too hung up with PageRank – unless its obvious that the ranking page REALLY is targeting your keyword. If so, remember that lower pagerank is better for you. You can certainly still outrank sites with a Pagerank of 3 or 4, but for the low hanging fruit you should really focus on the PR of 0 sites.
Other Ranking Factors
Root Domain or Subpage?
If the top 10 competitors of a keyword are all root domains, I would probably avoid this. This usually means that their entire site is targeted and optimized for your chosen keyword. However, if all the ranking pages are something like: domain.com/subpage1/subpage78/directory/rankingpage.html – this is what you want to see. The long URL is a good sign for you when looking at the top 10 competitors.
Older sites tend to have more authority. I usually only worry about site age if I am targeting a more difficult keyword and need to do some more in depth analysis of the difficulty of ranking for a keyword.
Type of Site
As mentioned in my original list above, I like to see certain weak types of sites like article directories, forums, Yahoo Answers, other Q&A sites, social sites, or other user generated type sites. The reason for this is that these types of sites are usually not very good at targeting a specific keyword. Article directories might mention the keyword in their title, but they usually don’t have any backlinks to the ranking page. Some of these other types of sites usually just happen to mention the keyword somewhere in the content, but don’t have an optimized page or any relevant links. Hope that makes sense why these are types of listing you WANT to see in the top 10 (easy to outrank).
Some General Guidelines I Follow
These factors that I have discussed can be a lot to swallow at first. But I wanted to give you a quick list of some general rules that I use to decide whether or not to target a keyword.
- Target keywords where not all the results are using the exact keyword in the title.
- At least 2 of the top 10 results have less than 10 links to the resulting page (0 links preferred)
- At least 2 of the results with less than 10 backlinks also have a PageRank of 0. Meaning 2 results need to have a PR of zero AND have less than 10 links.
- Target results with weak types of sites (article directories, forums, etc.).
- Target results where ranking pages are NOT root domains.
So, if you can find a keyword where the competitors don’t really use the keyword well in the title, 2 results have 0 backlinks to the Page AND have a PageRank of zero – then you are MONEY! Yes, this is an ideal and can be very difficult to find – but it is possible. I always look for the ideal, but often settle for something with just a little more competition if I need to. I can tell you that my highest earning sites met the 5 bullet points that I mentioned above. So, its very possible to find keywords that meet this strict criteria. And if you are patient in doing your keyword research and find these really low competition keywords – you significantly increase your chances of making good money with niche websites.
Tools to Help You Get the Data
I have discussed the factors that you need to look at, but where can you get the data? Well, luckily there are lots of tools to help you quickly and easily get this data. Here is a list of 4 tools that I am familiar with:
- Long Tail Pro (will be released soon!). You can see a video of the keyword research portion of the tool here, I will have videos of the competitor analysis function very soon.
- SEO for Firefox (I have used this extensively and love it…oh yeah, it FREE!)
- SEOQuake for Chrome or Firefox (also free)
- Market Samurai (I don’t use this tool)
All in all, I have provided you with everything you need to know to determine if the keyword you are looking at has low competition in the top 10 of Google. Yes, it takes lots of analysis and know how. That’s why only the diligent succeed with niche websites or search engine optimization, there is no shortcut.
I have been as detailed as possible in this post, and it may be my longest to date. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on this subject. Are there other factors that you look at to judge the Google competition? What comments or other questions do you have in regards to this subject?