Low Competition Keywords: The Techie's Guide to SEO

What would you say is the biggest mistake companies make regarding SEO?

Hiring that hipster from San Francisco?

Not doing any SEO at all?

I say the biggest mistake is this: Trying to rank on the first page of Google for a search phrase that's too competitive. You can avoid costly publicity and link building campaigns that are required to rank if you find ultra low competition search phrases to write about. These often require few links to rank, and occasionally no links at all.

This article is a technical guide that explains how to find LOW COMPETITION search phrases.  Do this and you will appear on the first page of Google's regular search results more often.

If you want a little background first, here's a Moz article on keyword research, and here's one from Brian Clark.

Use Seed Keywords to Generate Thousands of Ideas

Go to the Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
Log in and enter any search phrase - for example, camping tents.

The tool will return up to 800 related search phrases.  Using the Keyword Filters, filter out the search phrases that are searched for less than 1,000 times a month.
  • For "camping tents" you'll see 800 related search phrases.
  • Filtering out the keywords that are searched for less than 1,000 times a month leaves only 110.
To rank for a particular search phrase, you'll probably want to make a new page that laser targets the search phrase topic.  This may not be justified for keywords that are searched for less than 1,000 times a month because you'll receive relatively few visitors.

At more than 10,000 searches a month, there's often more competition, requiring more links to rank, so we are starting to move away from the ROI sweet spot.

It takes a little time, but from a business perspective, time spent finding low competition keywords pays off later by greatly reducing the amount of time you need to spend publicizing your page and getting good links to it.

Evaluate Your Competition

We now have 110 search phrases, all related to "camping tents" and all searched for at least 1,000 times a month.  Now we need to pick ones that are relevant to our business and analyze the competition.  How easy will it be to rank on the first page of Google?

First, don't be fooled by the column you'll see in Google's Keyword Planner that is labeled "Competition."  That column refers to competition among paid advertisers.  It gives you NO indication of how easy it will be to rank on the first page of the regular, organic Google search results.

How to estimate competition, in three steps:

(1) Check "Page Authority" of the Ranking Pages
All you are going to do here is run search phrases in Google, with the Moz SERP overlay on, and quickly check the Page Authority number for the top ten pages Google shows.

To check the Authority of the pages that Google displays, try....
After installing this browser extension, turn on the "SERP Overlay."  SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page.  With the SERP overlay on, focus on the "Page Authority" (PA) number.
Page Authority is 77
For the example above, the Page Authority (PA) is 77.

Page Authority (a number from 1 - 100) is Moz's best attempt to take links and many other factors into account.  It's just an estimate from a company that is not Google, but it's a reasonably good estimate.

TRY IT!  Search Google for "credit cards" and "laptop computers."  You probably already know that competition will be tough for these search phrases, so check it out and see.  You'll notice that the Page Authority numbers are high.

TRY IT AGAIN!  Search Google for "worm farm setup" and "buffalo head nickel."  The Page Authority numbers are much lower.

SUMMARY:  If the Page Authority number is less than 30, you're looking at a weak page.  Focus on search phrases where some of the pages on the first page of Google's search results have a Page Authority that's less than 30.  If weak pages like these can hit the first page of Google's search results, maybe you can too.

(2) Check Relevancy

Google your search phrase.

For each web page listed in the search results, the blue line of text is usually is taken from the web page itself - the page's HTML title.  The two black lines of text are usually taken from the web page's HTML description tag.
  • On the first page of the Google search results, how many pages have your exact search phrase in the blue HTML title?  If all of the search results contain your search phrase, you have a little problem.
  • You are hoping to see the opposite.  If some of the results do not have your search phrase in the title, Google may be scraping the bottom of the barrel, unable to find relevant results.
    • Also, when you read the blue title and the two black lines of description, do the pages seem to address the intent of the searcher?
      We are probing to see how relevant the search results are.

      SUMMARY:  Find search phrases where the search results are not on target - where the exact search phrase does not appear in some of the blue titles, and in general the pages do not address the topic that the user obviously finds to be of interest.  If pages like this can hit the first page of Google's search results, maybe you can make a page with a better title and better content, and hit the first page of the search results too.

      (3) Now Check Links

      The Moz SERP overlay also shows a count of the number of links that Moz has been able to find.  You are looking for signs of weak competition.

      SUMMARY:  You want to see several pages listed in the search results where the number of links is less than ten.  Zero is better.  If pages with very few links can make it to the first page of Google's search results, maybe you can too.
      "Use low competition search phrases and you will hit the first page of the search results more often."
      Here's Your Action Plan
      You are looking for search phrases that meet these criteria:
      • 1,000 - 10,000 searches a month (because this range has the most low competition search phrases for you to find)
      • When you run the query and look at the Google search results:
        • Relevance:
        • Some of the pages don't use the exact search phrase in the blue title
        • Some of the pages don't appear to cater to the question posed by the query
        • Authority:
        • Some of the pages have a Page Authority that's less than 30
        • Some of the pages have less than ten links or even zero links
        • You see at least two pages that have both: PA less than 30 and fewer than 10 links
      If you make pages based on search phrases that have all of these factors, a significantly higher percentage of the pages you make will rank on the first page of Google for your target keywords.  Pages like these will require fewer links to rank.

      Doing a great job with keyword research and competition analysis will accomplish the three business goals that Jim Stern often mentions:
      • Increase Revenue:  The number of targeted visitors to your site will increase.
      • Decrease Costs:  The need for expensive link building will decrease.
      • Increase Customer Satisfaction:  Because you focus on the intent of the searcher and the quality of the competition, you will naturally produce a page that, compared to the competition, is better.
      1. Smile if the Google search results that include weak pages (Yahoo! Answers, Wiki How, Squidoo, forums and the like).  These pages are usually weak competition.
      2. Smile if you see a list of sites like yours.  If you are an eCommerce site and the search results contain pages from other eCommerce sites, it means that Google likes to rank pages that are just like yours.  If you don't have an eCommerce site, watch out.
      Low Competition Keywords Require Fewer Links to Rank
      • PROBLEM:  You are not going to rank on the first page of Google's search results when people search for "credit cards."
      • SOLUTION:  Type "credit card" as a seed phrase and see if you can find a few related search phrases that are easier to rank.
      You Need to Know....
      When you sit at your desk and actually do this, plan on entering about 25 seed keywords into the Google AdWords keyword planner tool in order to find one great, low competition keyword to target.

      Each search phrase you enter will produce, on average, at least 500 related search phrases.  That's over 10,000 search phrases.  You are looking for one great one that's relevant to your business and has ultra low competition.

      That's right, you are looking for that 1 in 10,000 ideal search phrase.

      To filter through thousands of search phrases and find a few good ones, it's great to have a tool that automates your tasks.

      Here are a couple that offer free and paid versions:
      The person who created this tool, Spencer Haws, has a BA in business from BYU and an MBA from Arizona State.  After several years working for an investment bank, his personal web sites were earning more income from clicks on Google AdSense ads than he was making at his corporate job, which he quit in 2011.
      Spencer has personally created over 300 sites. Some rank, some don't. Unlike people who repeat ideas they read about, Spencer's tool is based on his experience.
      Instead of only providing a "competition difficulty" number for a search phrase, this app takes your site into account. Using 200 ranking factors, it provides a read out of how easy it will be for your site to hit the first page of Google's search results, and it suggests exactly what SEO actions you should take to make that happen.

      Make Choices Based on Running the Numbers
      Opinions are the basis for decisions made by Don Draper on Mad Men.  On the show they say, "Don likes the idea so we'll run with it!"

      The show is a satire.  Don's a fake.

      If you use the data analysis mentioned here - instead of opinions, guesses or Don's latest idea - your SEO projects will be front loaded for success.  A greater percentage of your pages will rank, the increase in visitors will show up in your analytics app, and the increase in customers will increase revenue.

      What do you think?  Do you have favorite keyword research techniques or tool that I have not mentioned here?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
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