Every year, Google releases new algorithm updates to keep SEO experts on their toes. It can feel harder and harder to make any progress towards making the website rankings.
But the heart of the SEO process has remained the same: keyword research.
Keyword research is the most central element of successful SEO. With the internet constantly expanding, it’s getting harder and harder to find keywords that can pull in an audience with little competition. That’s what keyword research is all about—scanning keyword lists, generating new keywords, and determining what kind of competition you can expect.
If you’re tired of being outranked on search engines, it’s time to change your strategy. This guide will help you break down the process of keyword competition research and discover new tactics that will help you break through and start ranking.
What Is Keyword Competition?
Keyword competition might not involve athletes stepping into a boxing ring one-on-one, but it doesn't make it any less difficult. It refers to the level of competition surrounding a particular term and how challenging it is to rank on search engines for said term. Essentially, it can tell you how many websites you’ll need to beat to get the top ranking for a particular keyword.
The competition of a keyword is determined by factors like content quality, page authority, and domain authority. Low or high competition indicates how often a keyword is used by various sites. Low or high volume indicates how often the keyword is searched for on a search engine.
For this reason, high-volume, low-competition keywords are some of the most sought after.
Doing keyword research can tell you more than just how competitive a keyword is. Research provides you with valuable insights and data that can answer vital questions regarding your marketing strategy like:
- What is my target audience searching for?
- How many people are searching for it?
- What specific questions are they seeking answers for?
But the real question is how do you measure keyword competitiveness? To answer that, let’s take a look at the facts to start understanding and using keyword competition analysis.
Understanding Keyword Competition Analysis
The goal of keyword competition analysis isn’t just to find high-volume, low-competition keywords for yourself. It’s about getting a full view of what you’re up against and learning where to find new opportunities.
Before we jump into the process, let’s break down some of the essential concepts and terms used in keyword competition analysis.
A search query, often called a query for short, is a term typed into a search engine. It often incorporates one or more keywords.
A focus keyword is a word or phrase that you want a page to rank for the most. Through keyword research, you can create a set of focus keywords to incorporate into your content.
A head keyword, also called a “broad” or “seed” keyword, is a shorter, more general term with a higher search volume. Because these keywords are so general, a search engine may not be able to determine the searcher’s intent for these—the topics of results might be all across the board. For example, searching the word “mustang” might yield results about both the horse and the car.
While they pull in a high volume of searchers, head keywords are the most difficult keywords to rank for.
Long-tail keywords are exactly what the name suggests. They are longer, more specific, and less commonly searched for. They tend to be much more niche.
The longer and more specific a keyword is, the easier it will be to rank for it. On the flip side, however, long-tail keywords might have fewer people searching for them
When analyzing keyword competition, you need to dig deeper than just basic search terms. You have to understand what your searcher really wants or needs. What do their keywords suggest about their underlying goals and desires?
Understanding your target audience is the first step towards understanding which keywords will appeal to them. You need to anticipate your audience’s needs and then publish content that offers a solution.
The whole point of keyword research is to develop an effective strategy. What are you going to do next? Using your new list of both focus and long-tail keywords, you can start planning your SEO-optimized content.
How to Research Keyword Competition
As you're brainstorming your list of potential keywords, you might be wondering how to determine which ones are competitive and which ones aren't. Most SEO experts determine the competitiveness of a keyword by taking a closer look at some of the pages that already rank highly for them.
First, you’ll have to take a look at your own SEO competition among the top-ranked websites. Once you know what you're up against, you can evaluate your competition, find out what makes them successful (or unsuccessful), and learn from their strategies. Here are the steps you can take to start your keyword competition analysis.
1. Identify Your Brand's Competition
Your first step will be to track down your potential SEO competitors. Try typing some of your potential keywords into the search bar and see what ranks at the top.
Keep in mind that not all the top results will be relevant to your business. Look for keywords that lead to top-ranking websites similar to your own website.
You should look for:
- Sites within the same niche
- Sites with a similar domain age
- Sites with more common keywords
- Sites with lower domain authority than you
Once you’ve assembled a list of SEO competitors for some of your most important keywords, keep their URLs on hand.
2. Use Keyword Research Tools
In this step, you can use keyword research tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to find the keywords your competitors are ranking for. By analyzing your competitors’ sites, you can not only determine which keywords are successful in the rankings, but also find new supportive words, phrases, and topics you should add to your site.
With keyword analysis tools, you should do the following:
- Insert the URL of a competitor’s website
- Scan the report or dashboard given to find keywords that feature frequently on the page as well as their level of competitiveness
- Keep track of top keywords and phrases to add to your keyword list
Ready to start analyzing? Here are a few of the top SEO and keyword research tools you can try:
- Google Keyword Planner
3. Try the Golden Ratio
First coined by Doug Cunnington, the ”keyword golden ratio” applies to keywords that have a significant amount of demand but limited supply. People are searching for these terms, but they’re not finding what they’re looking for.
This offers a great opportunity to create content with low competition but plenty of demand.
First, type a keyword into Google. Take note of the number of results. Then, plug that same keyword into Keywords Everywhere or a similar tool to find the monthly search volume, which should be less than 250 per month.
For the next step, you’ll need to do a tiny bit of math. Divide the number of results by the monthly search volume of the keyword. The result is what’s called the Keyword Golden Ratio.
If the ratio is below 0.25, then you may have a successful niche keyword on your hands.
4. Use Domain Authority
Once you have a few keywords in mind, you can put them to the test by looking at domain authority. Domain authority is the primary factor in a website’s ability to rank in Google. While page authority involves the ranking power of a single page, domain authority is a measure of the entire site's ranking power.
First, you’ll need to determine your own domain authority. You can do this through various tools, including the Moz Link Explorer.
Once you’ve found about 10 effective keywords that you want to use, go ahead and put them into the Google search bar.
On the first page of results, check the domain authority of the sites that pop up. If there are four to five sites with a lower domain authority than your own site, that means you have a good chance of ranking with that keyword.
5. Seek Out Low Competition Keywords
When you find one of these results on the first page of Google, you’ve just found a low-competition keyword that can yield high search results.
Here are some characteristics of results that are typically low competition:
- Has a domain authority lower than 10
- Hosted at Yahoo! Answers
- Hosted at ehow.com
- Hosted at a spammy looking domain (.info, .biz, hyphens, misspellings)
- Hosted on eBay
- Hosted on a forum
- Hosted at Blogspot or another free blog site
- Comes from a press release site
6. Evaluate Content Quality
Keywords and backlinks are important metrics when it comes to determining the strength of an article’s SEO potential, but don’t forget about content quality.
If you want to rank on the first page of Google, be prepared to create quality content that can offer more information, value, and authority than the top 10 results.
Content quality refers to how well written and helpful an article is, but it’s also about readability and design. Does your page have a lot of white space? Are paragraphs broken up with headers and bullet points? Is the design appealing to the eye?
To get a sense of what you’re up against, search your keyword and read through the top 10 results. Content quality might be subjective, but you should be able to tell from first glance whether the content is high quality or not.
For example, let’s take a look at the example search term: “Is elderberry healthy?”
One of the first results is from Healthline, a reputable site specializing in health and wellness.
The content appears to be evidence-based. It’s written with authority and is easy to read. The site itself is also streamlined and well designed.
Now, let’s take a look at another example that doesn't rank as highly.
While this article from NUTRA Ingredients offers similar information and is clearly well-sourced, it’s much shorter than the other article. The font is also smaller and more difficult to read. Most critically, the title doesn’t contain any important keywords and the content doesn't contain any links.
Another factor that might tank this page’s SEO is the page’s poorly optimized design. The header appears to be outdated and the site’s design hasn’t loaded properly.
If a site like this ends up in the top 10 results, you have a good chance of breaking through and ranking with that keyword.
High-Competition or Low-Competition Keywords?
Now that you have a list of keywords and you know their level of competitiveness, it’s time to decide which ones you’re going to put to use.
If you’re just getting started optimizing a new site, the best strategy is to concentrate on low-competition keywords. So, what is a low-competition keyword? Like diamonds in the rough, these keywords have great potential but they require patience, hard work, and finesse. Because there aren’t many authoritative domains competing for these keywords, they’re easier to rank for when you’re first attempting to rank for a specific focus keyword. These also typically require fewer link-building opportunities.
However, many low-competition keywords are also low volume, so you may not get much traffic. But this doesn’t have to be the case. If you stumble across a few high-traffic keywords with low competition, you could hit the jackpot and get a boost of traffic to your site.
In most cases, however, growth will be slow but steady. Utilizing the right low-competition keywords, especially long-tail keywords, can help you bring more visitors to your page. Give this strategy about three months or more to start taking effect.
Now, what are high-competition keywords? The upper echelon of search terms, these are keywords that are extremely difficult to rank for because multiple domain authorities are competiting for them. Content that ranks for highly competitive keywords have usually accumulated numerous high-quality backlinks as well.
It might be tempting to try and tap into this audience. Many of these keywords are high volume, which means they could translate to a significant increase in traffic.
However, it’s best to use them sparingly at first. Start focusing more on high-competition keywords once you’ve established your site and you have high domain authority.
Should You Use AI Tools for Keyword Competition Research?
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again, Google penalizes low-quality content—period—regardless if a human or an AI tool created it. When it comes to using AI to conduct competitive keyword research, you should ensure an SEO expert is still involved in the process to help put the analysis into practice.
AJ Mihalic, President of Clean Media and SEO industry veteran (ex-Amazon), said it best:
“Google doesn't matter how the content is made, just as long as the content is useful and high-quality. The search generative experience, however, is pretty terrible. It usually only provides one answer. Good SEO becomes even more important because you have to be a top result. You have to know how to compete in search if you're a small brand."
AI tools like ChatGPT can assist you with analyzing the keyword difficulty and search volume of a set of keywords to help you identify the best focus keyword for your content. However, only an experienced writer can weave keywords into a piece of content organically while maintaining a brand’s tone, narrative, and unique POV. AJ shared his thoughts on how “AI doesn’t make bad content good.” in our recent webinar, Navigating Content Creation in a Post-AI World.
The Bottom Line
Mastering SEO takes time, practice, and expertise. But choosing the right keywords will save you time and set you on the right track from the get-go.
With a constantly shifting algorithm and fierce competition from all sides, learning how to do keyword competition analysis can give you the resources you need to stand out from the crowd. Using your competitors’ sites to find the best keywords—both high and low competition—you can tap into their success and fight your way to the top.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Julia Dupuis.