How to Determine Keyword Competition

October 15th, 2005

A major aspect of keyword research is the ability to determine the competitiveness of your keywords. Depending on your website the importance of the keyword competition involved varies. But generally, the goal is to target highly searched for terms that have as little competition as possible.

(*Read our How to Select Keywords article to find out how to find these highly searched for terms)

Unfortunately, the world has caught on to the power of advertising through organic search, so these types of keywords are few and far between. So what do we do today when it comes to choosing keywords based on competition?

Before we get into the measuring of competition, it’s important that we first think about the website that we are trying to optimize. Things like how long the site has been online, how long it’s been indexed in the major search engines, how many incoming links it has and how much ‘buzz’ has been spread throughout the internet about the site are very important. A general rule of thumb is the more of each of these the better.

If you have a brand new website on a new domain that is unknown to Google (and the other search engines but most notably Google), don’t expect to rank for any competitive phrases for a minimum of 6 months. If you’ve been around for a little while, have some decent incoming links and a little bit of overall website popularity, then determining the competition of your keywords will help immediately. That being said:

Let’s start determining keyword competition, shall we?

First things first… We need to choose a keyword. For our purposes in this article, we’ll use the keyword ‘custom website design’. You may choose any keyword you like. Just follow the steps and replace the numbers listed here with your own.

The first place I go to when I want to analyze the competition is good ol’ Google . I do this for many reasons, but most importantly because Google rules the search world at the moment. So I like to go where the masses do when defining competitiveness.

Step 1: Search for Keyword
Enter your keyword and click search. In my example I will be entering keyword custom website design.

Step 2: Review Listings
After the results have been listed, focus your attention on the upper right hand corner of the webpage. You will notice a sentence that says: Results 1-10 of ‘x,xxx,xxx’. The x’s should be replaced with the number you currently see. In my example, I am seeing results 1-10 of about 51,800,000 for custom website design. (see link below)

*Click to View Screen Shot*

What does this mean? This number shows you how many pages exist within the Google index that relate to the keyword custom website design. This is our first variable in the competition equation.

Now, as you can see, 51,800,000 pages is a HUGE number. Depending on the keyword you have chosen to search for, you will definitely see different results. Common keywords have anywhere from 100,000 pages indexed up to 10,000,000. You have to remember though, the goal of Google is to index the worlds information, so there is going to be lots of pages for just about any search. But don’t be scared.. This does not mean that you would be competing against 51,800,000 sites to rank well for that term.

But why does Google show such a high number then?

Well, the main reason being.. Custom website design relates to many search queries other than custom website design. It relates to ‘custom website’, ‘website design’, ‘custom design’, ‘design’, ‘website’ ‘custom’ and many many other phrases containing these three terms. With all the possibilities and all the combinations that this word string might relate to, there is an exponentially larger number of pages in the Google index that contain these words. Google’s job is to find every occurrence of these words that exist in their index and then display them in order of relevance.

So, when you do search for a keyword such as this, chances are the top three hundred or so listings will be related. Now that the number has been explained, let’s make a note of it and move on.

Step 3: All in Title
Out of the large number of pages Google finds relevant to your keyword, not all of them are actually competing to rank for that keyword.

So how do we determine what sites are actually targeting our desired keyword?

There are a few ways to do this.. The first one I’ll show you is called an all in title search. Among the search engines various search features, they provide us with ways to narrow down our searches in order to help us find exactly what we are looking for. When a website has been optimized to rank for keywords, there are some common areas that the keywords should be located within that page. One area is called the Title tag, which can be found in a websites header tag located in the HTML code. (see link below)

*Click to View Screen Shot*

The title tag is meant to pronounce the main theme of that particular web page. In this example, the theme of the number1 listed website for keyword ‘custom website design’ is also represented in website’s title tag.

In order to find out how many sites are utilizing this technique, the search engines allow us to modify our search to strictly title tags.

To do this we use the search operator:
allintitle:custom website design

Type that search query in to Google exactly how it is, but simply replace custom website design with your desired keyword. Click Search and when the results populate you should see a new number in the upper right hand corner. This number should be much lower than the number shown after completing step 2. (see link below)

*Click to View Screen Shot*

As you can see, we’ve lowered the pool of potential competition considerably with this search from close to 52,000,000 to less than 60,000.

What does this mean?

This number shows us exactly how many websites existing within the Google index that have the keyword ‘custom website design’ located inside their title tag. This is a good indicator that the webpage involved is actively targeting that keyword. In this case, 60,000 of them. On to the next step.

Step 4: All in Anchor
Another area that should be examined when determining keyword competition is anchor text. Anchor text, simply put, is the clickable text of a link.

For example: Find out more about anchor text .
In the link above, the clickable text is considered anchor text.

Anchor text is another important factor used to determine relevance for search engines. As you may have already heard, incoming links are used by search engine algorithms to help gain an idea of a website’s popularity. Adding keywords in the anchor text has been known to help increase rankings for the site that is being linked to. Because of this, it is common for websites that are competing for certain keywords to try and build incoming links that contain their desired keywords in the anchor text. So, this is why checking for anchor text is helpful in determining competition. As with the title tag, the search engines allow us to modify our search to strictly anchor text. Let’s take a look and see what I mean.

To do this we use the search operator:
allinanchor:custom website design

Type that search query in to Google exactly how it is, but again replace custom website design with your desired keyword. Click Search and when the results populate you should see another new number in the upper right hand corner. (see link below)

*Click to View Screen Shot*

What we can see from this screen shot is that 64,600 thousand links have anchor text containing the words custom website development. This number should also be much lower than the original search query but may or may not be similar to the allintitle: result.

What does this mean?

To put it simply, there are 64,600 links Google knows of that have anchor text containing the words custom website development in the anchor text. This also means there should be 64,600 pages on the end of those links that discuss, in some form or another, custom website development. Any web page discussing the same subject as you are, can be considered possible competition.

Step 5: Evaluating the Numbers
Now we have three numbers, each useful in its own way. Our next move is to take these numbers and give them a look.

First list them all as such: *Note- numbers are from date of article creation and will change over time..

Total pages indexed: 58,800,000
All in Title: 57,200
All in Anchor: 64,600

Some general rules of thumb to determine whether or not a keyword is manageable:

- less than 1,000,000 pages indexed
- less than 1,000 all In title
- less than 2,000 all in anchor

From looking at my example, I’m hoping the numbers I’ve listed are quite a bit higher than the numbers you’ve listed. Chances are that is the case. If not, you may want to do some more keyword research and make sure you have a plan to target some less competitive phrases throughout your website.

(*Read our How many keywords should you target article to find out how to target many keywords throughout your website)

Keyword custom website development is a HIGHLY competitive keyword to conquer. Most keywords are much more manageable. If you’re numbers are similar to these, don’t be completely discouraged. It is possible to rank highly for such terms eventually. You’ll notice in the screen shots I’ve used throughout this article show a number1 ranking in Google for which just happens to be our website. We’ve successfully targeted our desired keyword in this case. But it took lots of time and lots of effort. If you do the same, you will get results. Good luck!

About the Author

Ryan McCann is an Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization manager at Ecommerce Partners located in New York, NY

Entry Filed under: Search Engine Optimization

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