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Deciding How Competitive You Can Go


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#1 Jill

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 01:53 PM

I use a combination of # of searches based on Google's KWR tool and how many pages use the KW in their Title tags to determine the relative competitiveness of all of my relevant keyword phrases.

The thing is, every website is different in terms of how competitive they can realistically shoot for with their SEO efforts.

When I have a Fortune 500 client with a PR8 home page, I don't typically worry about how competitive the phrases are and am happy to shoot for some of the most competitive ones.

On the other hand, when I have a client with a new site, or even just a small biz site, I know I have to shoot for much lower "AllinTitle" numbers than for the big brand site.

I typically have no problem doing this mostly by intuition. I'm sure somewhere in my brain I'm calculating a number of different factors as to where to start/stop on the AIT numbers, but it's at a gut level.

Does anyone have a more scientific formula they use to do something similar? I don't need it for myself, but I'm putting together a teaching presentation on choosing keywords, and there's no real way to explain how to use your gut instincts!

Certainly toolbar PR is a major factor. What else? And how do you fit them all together in a way that those without any experience could understand?

#2 jcrasco

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 02:11 PM

Jill--

I would tell people to look at their competitors, as well. What terms have they optimized for? Can you "hit 'em where they ain't?" We do a lot of keyword research, as well as looking at the number of competitive pages. Often, we can find terms with good KEIs with fewer than 5000 pages, sometimes fewer than 1000 or even 100...if there are tons of terms to consider, then we will ask clients to sort the spreadsheet by competing pages, and then select some terms that look like easy wins (some volume, good chance of conversion). Longer terms generally include the high volume, more competitive terms, so the client is immediately beginning to work on achieving authority for the tough terms...they can work on those terms over time, but it's important for everyone to see some immediate progress.

I agree that it becomes intuitive, but what you can teach is to measure their results and adjust. We normally do a thorough review and re-optimization at 60 days.

John Rasco



#3 Randy

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 02:40 PM

Good luck with that one Jill ! Been there, done that when I was still teaching courses and I'm still not sure if I was able to make it somewhat coherent or not. lol.gif I think you've got the main two things pegged already.

There is definitely a certain amount of gut instinct based upon previous experience involved in the process. Some of that you can overcome by doing a measured review/comparison of the sites you'll be competing with. For me that means I've recommended reviewing a couple of things about the Top 10 or maybe Top 12 sites that show up in the SERPs for the prized phrases.

You can sort of use Toolbar PR as an indicator, jotting down the tPR for each of the top 10 sites. On the same line of thought you can run each of the sites through Yahoo's Site Explorer thing to look at the number of links they report. If you do this I suggest recording both the overall number of links and also only links coming from other domains.

It's also wise IMO to give the landing page (usually the home page) of each of those competing sites a quick scan. Nothing too in depth. What you're looking for is some indicator of how well the site is optimized for its phrases. With the idea that if all 10 have been highly optimized it's quite likely the next 10 have also been highly optimized. Meaning it's going to be tougher to crack into the top 10. On the other hand if only some of the top 10 have been highly optimized for the target phrases, as is the case in most markets, attaining a top 10 position will probably be a bit easier to accomplish.

Though it's outside the scope of your question, I personally also look at those landing pages with an eye towards conversion. For example, does the headline and top graphic/design pull my eye into the copy. Are they stressing benefits over functionality? Are they answering the questions I've already identified as needing to be addressed from my Perfect Customer profile? Is there a strong call to action. etc, etc. I do this because I know if someone has a site that isn't converting, even if it's ranking well, there's a reasonably strong possibility I'll be able to capture more of their traffic simply by doing a better job in my copy. And if I sell more I can spend more. In other words, I'm looking for an advantage.

#4 Michael Martinez

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Posted 17 July 2009 - 07:37 PM

It's your request for a "more scientific" method that makes the request challenging. superman.gif

When I'm just eyeballing a SERP I look at the following factors to decide whether it's competitive:
  • How many listings use the keywords in title, meta description, and URL?
  • How many paid listings are there?
  • How many search results pages look like the first?
  • How many obviously unoptimized pages appear in the top 100?

If I don't see meta descriptions in the search listings then they usually are not targeted toward the query. In a hyperoptimized query the meta description tags usually appear like clockwork.

When people are throwing all their SEO into the competitive game the page titles, meta descriptions, and URLs all have the query embedded in them. If, however, there is only one page of results like that then you have a pretty good chance of breaking into the top ten. When you have 10 results pages like that, well, start building links and hope your links count more than the other guys'.

If there are obviously unoptimized pages in the top 100 then there should not be much competition, but the competitors may still be bloodthirsty.

I rarely look at Toolbar PR but if I see nothing less than a 6 on page 1 I'm going to guess there are a lot of links at play. In a normal SERP even a TBPR 1 page should have an equal chance of appearing in the top ten for a query. Hyperoptimization tends to reduce the number of link-poor pages in the visible search results.


#5 Ron Carnell

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 12:06 AM

I wrote an article way back in 2004 where I talked about graphing your keywords and utilizing the resulting bell curve to help determine where to start SEOing a site. A lot of the article talks about how to build a keyword list and is very badly dated, but there might be a few other parts that are still relevant.

I don't think the article is on-line any longer, but I'll see if I can edit it down to a not-too-daunting forum post? Forgive me if it reads a little choppy.

The audience for the article was NOT your typical HR poster, so some of it may seem pretty simplistic to people here.

(blah blah blah introduction)

----- Building the Foundation (or, This is the IMPORTANT Stuff!) -----

If we were to graph the relative importance of keywords across the Web, they would be best described by a standard bell curve.

At one end of the spectrum are the keywords that are so highly competitive as to often be useless to you. Go to Google and search for "travel." Notice all the sponsored links? There might be a few government or educational sites (.gov or .edu), but you'll probably notice that most of the results are extremely well known, very long established web sites. Unless you have a few million dollars in the bank, I wouldn't recommended trying to compete with Microsoft or CNN for this particular keyword.

This side of our bell curve is filled by the words and phrases that are the most searched on the Internet. They include travel, mp3, jobs, sex (of course), music, food and many more. Millions of people enter these words into a search engine every single day. And thousands of web sites are trying to capture that very big audience. It's a bit like the lottery. The rewards for winning seem gargantuan, but your chances are abysmally slim. You compete for these keywords at your own risk!

(blah blah blah)

In the middle of our bell curve lies the bull's eye. These are the words and phrases people actually will USE when searching for your products or services. And that brings us to another, albeit slightly different, way of looking at the same thing.

----- Painting a Target on Your Customer -----

Contrary to popular opinion, you don't really want visitors. You want customers.

If you could build a web site that came up on the first page when someone searched for "britney spears," you might get a ton of visitors. But you'd be a bit daft to think you could sell many Rolex watches. The traffic you received would be very untargeted and your bandwidth costs would probably far exceed the occasional and random sale.

Selecting the keywords for which you will optimize your web site is how you prequalify your traffic. Say that three times, real slow. Let it sink in. It's important.

If you select keywords that target your traffic, your conversion rate (how many people visit versus how many people buy) should be fairly high. But, uh, not too high. If your keywords are TOO targeted, you're almost certainly missing a large chunk of your potential market. Gee, that sounds a bit like a curve, too, doesn't it?

It's not really a different curve, though - it's a subset of the same one we talked about previously. The subset includes only the keywords specific to your product or service. At one end are the keywords with the potential to bring hoards of largely untargeted visitors to your web site, at the other end are the words that will bring a very few highly targeted people, and in the middle are the ones that represent an equitable ROI (Return on Investment is something we'll discuss in just a minute).

Unless you're selling U.S. dollar bills for eighty cents each, you will never want to promote keywords too far to the left on the curve. This is a critical point to understand, so let's talk about it for a minute.

----- Using ROI to Select Your Keywords -----

Simplified, we can say Return On Investment = Profit / Cost * 100.

Let's say you get 1,000 visitors per day to your site from the keyword "e-commerce," and it costs you one U.S. penny for each one. That cost comes from several different places, including your own time, but we don't need to worry about those yet. You just invested $10 USD. Unfortunately, these are very untargeted visitors and you manage to sell only one e-commerce widget, for $5 USD. Your Return on Investment (ROI) is -50%, resulting in a net loss of five bucks. Oops.

This is important. Generic keywords can bring lots of traffic, but the traffic is very poorly qualified. They don't stick around your site, and they rarely buy anything. They are window shopping, plain and simple. That doesn't mean you don't want them, of course, because they do have potential value down the road. It just means you don't want to spend all your resources attracting them and, because these terms are often highly competitive ones, they DO require a lot of resources.

Increasing your search engine rank for the keyword "e-commerce" won't help!

Getting 10,000 equally untargeted visitors every day only means you lose $50 instead of $5. When you're losing money, you can't make it up on volume. A negative ROI is always bad, at least in the short term. You are too far to the left on the Keyword ROI curve and the only solution is to move to the right, to a more highly targeted keyword.

Generic keywords don't always go negative, of course. But they do invariably result in a lower ROI, sometimes too low for a business to survive.

Okay, so you make some changes to your web site copy, targeting the keyword "e-commerce widgets in Southern Michigan." You now get 10 visitors a day to your site, and it takes a week to sell one of those visitors an e-commerce widget. Those seventy visitors still cost a penny a piece, seventy cents, and you still made $5 on your single sale. Your net profit is $4.30, with a very healthy ROI of 614%.

If you can increase your SE rank for "e-commerce widgets in Southern Michigan," you should get more visitors and your ROI will likely remain the same. Ergo, more money in the cash register. However, if you already have the number one rank for that keyword (and chances are VERY good you would), you'll have to learn to live on $4.30 a week profit. You have a great ROI, but miserable cash flow. Oops.

Of course, what's happened here is that you optimized your site for a keyword too far to the right on our curve. It is highly targeted, with an impressive ROI, but there just isn't enough volume because very few people search that way.

So, you go back and optimize for the keyword "e-commerce widget." You get 500 visitors a day and sell two widgets. That's a net profit of $5 a day, or a ROI of 100%. Note that your ROI has dropped from a very high 614%, but you're making substantially more money. (We are grossly over-simplifying ROI by including only variable costs, but it should still serve to make the point.)

Selecting your keywords is the foundation upon which everything else in SEO must be built.

----- Search Engine Keywords -----

The secret to SEO is to not select a single keyword, or even a handful of keywords. You wants scores, hundreds, possibly even thousands. Instead of a few highly visible keywords that bring in a ton of untargeted traffic, you want a hundred less competitive keywords that TOGETHER can bring in almost as much very targeted traffic.

So, how do you choose the right keywords. The first step in selecting the keywords for your site is to make a whole lot of educated guesses.

... blah blah blah about building a keyword list

----- Putting It All Together -----

You now have the genesis of a Keyword List. Conservatively, you should have several hundred keyword phrases, and several thousand isn't at all unusual. So far, we've been learning how to move knights and bishops around the board. Building a comprehensive list of relevant keywords is a lot of work, but it's still just work.

It's time now, to move into Mastery.

To refine your list, we should ideally look at the ROI for each Keyword you've gathered. But, uh, what if you don't HAVE any returns on your investment, yet? That's what makes this a chicken and egg paradox. Your best keywords will depend on how much profit they bring, we can't determine profit before we promote the web site, but we need keywords before we start promoting. A vicious circle, indeed.

Remember our bell curve? One side is occupied by keywords that bring a lot of traffic but not necessarily a corresponding number of sales. Most of the people on the Internet make the mistake of optimizing for one of these keywords, often making those terms very competitive. I mean, only so many sites can get a first page ranking, right? You want to avoid these keywords, at least for right now. Let someone else fight over those. Your investment will be too high, your return too low.

The other side of the bell curve is occupied by keywords that don't bring a ton of visitors, but which otherwise convert really well. These are a real goldmine, but often represent a whole lot of work (we'll talk about why in a minute).

In the middle of the curve are the keywords that bring a decent amount of traffic that results in a decent amount of sales.

Your job, now, is to go through your list of keywords and assign each of them a priority number. Make the most competitive, highest traffic phrase number one. Then find the second most competitive, highest traffic keyword. Keep going until every keyword in your list is assigned a number, then sort the list accordingly. Obviously, there's going to a whole lot of guessing. How well you guess, in large part, defines your mastery of SEO. That's the part no one can teach you.

Ready? Go to the last keyword on your list, the least competitive, lowest traffic one, and type it into Google. Visit each of the ten sites on the first page and see if you can determine why the search engine though that site was relevant to that keyword. Ask yourself, could you build a page that was more relevant? If you can honestly answer yes, if you are confident you could get a web page listed in the top ten, go to the next keyword in your list and repeat the whole process. You want to work your way up your list of keywords until you are no longer certain of success.

THAT is where you want to start optimizing your web site.

You've just found the point on your bell curve that takes into account relevance, an estimate of ROI based on competitiveness, and your own gut feelings for your current ability to get results.

Create a web page optimized for that specific keyword. Get some links to it, both internal and, if possible, external. Then, while you are waiting for it to be visited and indexed, move down your list to the next keyword you feel confident is attainable. Repeat this process until you run out of keywords.

Of course, in truth, the process is going to depend on the type of web site you're building. You can't just build pages randomly, and the structure of the site will determine the best way to proceed. However, within that structure, you need to always keep your real goal in mind.

The definitive secret to SEO is deceptively simple, just like learning to play chess. Create a bell curve, pick a point on the curve, then optimize everything to one side of that point. In all likelihood, there won't be a single keyword on that side of the curve that will make your SEO campaign a huge success. Taken collectively, however, they're going to be dynamite. Instead of getting a lot of traffic from just a few high profile keywords, you're going to be getting a trickle from bunches and bunches of keywords, each of which will bring you highly targeted visitors. Make sense?

Here's the good part.

By the time you've exhausted the keywords on one side of your originating point, you should have a really solid foundation. You've built a ton of great content, which in turn, should have brought you some good links. It's now time to return to that point on the curve and start building web pages for the keywords going in the other direction. With your new foundation, you're going to find it much easier to start attaining some of those more competitive terms.

The secret to SEO is keywords, and the secret to keywords is targeted diversity.

* Epilogue (or, Do Not Open Until Christmas) : As your SEO campaign progresses over time, you want to periodically revisit your keyword list and convert all those guessed ROI numbers into real ones. Use your server logs to track which keywords are bringing in visitors and, where possible, which visitors are converting to customers. The more you know about your keywords, the more success you can expect.




#6 zephyr

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:00 AM

QUOTE(Randy @ Jul 17 2009, 03:40 PM) View Post
Though it's outside the scope of your question, I personally also look at those landing pages with an eye towards conversion.


maybe not. This is Jill's ? after all wink.gif

Lately, I always take into account the quantity of anomalous results. If high, it is often easier to leapfrog them sooner than if most serps are decent. They also prob make searchers appreciate you more when they do visit you.

#7 Jill

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Posted 18 July 2009 - 09:40 AM

Thanks, guys!

Good food for thought here which has clarified my own process into something I think I can now try to convey to others in my teaching.

#8 MarcP

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 02:25 PM

QUOTE(Ron Carnell @ Jul 18 2009, 01:06 AM) View Post
The secret to SEO is to not select a single keyword, or even a handful of keywords. You wants scores, hundreds, possibly even thousands. Instead of a few highly visible keywords that bring in a ton of untargeted traffic, you want a hundred less competitive keywords that TOGETHER can bring in almost as much very targeted traffic.


I need to go through my numbers from my list but just a quick glance is telling me that I could be in the situation of having many not as competitive keywords/keyword phrases, with not much search volume per but not much competition using allintitle "keyword". As the market I'm looking to market to me is really a market that isn't serviced well and almost untouched per say, so that could be the reason too.

But together they migt be able to bring in as much as very targeted trafffic.

Pretty simple concept when you think about it.

Thanks!

Take Care,

Marc

#9 MarcP

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 07:10 PM

QUOTE(Ron Carnell @ Jul 18 2009, 01:06 AM) View Post
The secret to SEO is to not select a single keyword, or even a handful of keywords. You wants scores, hundreds, possibly even thousands. Instead of a few highly visible keywords that bring in a ton of untargeted traffic, you want a hundred less competitive keywords that TOGETHER can bring in almost as much very targeted traffic.


Makes a whole lot of sense.

How do you mish mosh hundreds/thousands of keyword phrases into the content of your site?
Marc

#10 Jill

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 07:45 PM

That's where the keyword phrase map comes in handy, from the next article on the TalentZoo site!

#11 MarcP

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 07:46 PM

QUOTE(Jill @ Jul 19 2009, 08:45 PM) View Post
That's where the keyword phrase map comes in handy, from the next article on the TalentZoo site!


Great didn't get there yet but can't wait!

Marc


#12 JayneR

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 01:18 PM

Ron's article is really useful. It articulates the intuitiveprocess that I go through really well but adds so much value providing a more formal framework. And it will help me explain the process to a new graduate trainee!
Thanks a lot

#13 SERPico

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Posted 06 August 2009 - 08:21 PM

Hi Jill,

Personally I think using the Intitle method is a good start, but nothing beats analyzing the top ten results for the type of websites:

1: Long established authoritative wellknown domains or unknown sites?
2: Domains or pages in the top ten?
3: Number of backlinks to domain or page in the top ten results?
4: Quality of backlinks that are being reported through Yahoo Site EXplorer?

Millions of Intitle results don't impress me at all, a very low amount of intitle results makes me feel like finding a pot of gold sometimes and sometimes you know that pot of gold is unobtainable by seeing the top ten results contains sites that are authoritive in nature, have an insane amount of backlinks and a good amount of quality backlinks.

Low or high amount and type of backlinks being reported for the top ten results is something I find more interesting to judge competitiveness and feasibility to obtain a good ranking then Intitle results. smile.gif

#14 Nueromancer

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Posted 07 August 2009 - 06:24 AM

QUOTE(Jill @ Jul 17 2009, 07:53 PM) View Post
I use a combination of # of searches based on Google's KWR tool and how many pages use the KW in their Title tags to determine the relative competitiveness of all of my relevant keyword phrases.

The thing is, every website is different in terms of how competitive they can realistically shoot for with their SEO efforts.

When I have a Fortune 500 client with a PR8 home page, I don't typically worry about how competitive the phrases are and am happy to shoot for some of the most competitive ones.

On the other hand, when I have a client with a new site, or even just a small biz site, I know I have to shoot for much lower "AllinTitle" numbers than for the big brand site.

I typically have no problem doing this mostly by intuition. I'm sure somewhere in my brain I'm calculating a number of different factors as to where to start/stop on the AIT numbers, but it's at a gut level.

Does anyone have a more scientific formula they use to do something similar? I don't need it for myself, but I'm putting together a teaching presentation on choosing keywords, and there's no real way to explain how to use your gut instincts!

Certainly toolbar PR is a major factor. What else? And how do you fit them all together in a way that those without any experience could understand?


Interesting I tend to look at the google keyword deta and relate it to the competition I normally set up a spread sheet and calulate the % using competition and local seach voume - il also sometimes double check with google trends


#15 Scottie

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Posted 07 August 2009 - 11:25 AM

I tend to go with the ole top 10 thing myself. What do the top 10 results for that phrase look like and do I think I can beat them?




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