Understanding Keyword Competition

Understanding Keyword ResearchThe competitive strength of a web page is determined by several factors.  While the search engines don’t give too much information about what factors they look at and how they weigh those factors, experience and testing have revealed a good idea of what is important.  Some of these factors are…

Age – Generally speaking, the older a site is, the more value the search engines give it. New sites have a much harder time competing for keywords. Similarly, new pages start off less competitive, but, if the rest of your site is strong, new pages will quickly gain page strength.  Age plays a minimal role in competition and can be overcome quickly with link authority.  I only mention it here for your information.  I don’t recommend including the age of the page / site in your competition research.

Inbound Links – Inbound links, The most prominent piece of the competition puzzle,(also called back links and incoming links) are a key component in determining a web page’s competitive strength. Links give your web pages authority.  Think of a link as a recommendation of your site by another site.

Generally, the more inbound links you have the better, but quality plays a large role as well. Links from authoritative pages (pages that are very competitive) are worth far more than links from lesser pages and links from sites relevant to your keywords are worth more than links from unrelated sites. Again, if you think of a link as a recommendation, getting a link from a relevant, authoritative page is like a world famous chef recommending a restaurant.  The recommendation means more because they have authority in that field.

Also, you not only need to consider the inbound links to the specific page you are optimizing. The links directed to other pages of your website will increase the competitive strength of the pages those pages link to.

Internal Linking Structure – The internal linking structure of a site is both a reference to the navigation menus and other forms of linking from one page of your site to another. This is an often-overlooked aspect of both site design and SEO. Just as inbound links bring authority into a site, the internal linking structure spreads that authority around the site.

Have you ever wondered why for most site’s the homepage ranks better than their other pages?  It’s not because it’s the homepage, per se; it’s because on most sites all the pages of the site link back to the homepage. So, all the pages are passing some link authority to that homepage and it, therefore, becomes the most authoritative page on the site.  Don’t underestimate the value of a good internal link structure.

Link Reputation – Links not only pass link authority, they also can pass reputation.  Link reputation is passed when a link uses text in the anchor or, to a lesser extent, when a graphic link uses text in the alt tag.  If you have a text link, the text being used in that link is the anchor text and whatever text is being used is the reputation that link is passing.

For example, in the link “link reputation” the text “link reputation” is the reputation being passed.  When you have links passing link reputation for a particular keyword to a page, it makes that page more likely to rank well for that keyword than if the links did not use that keyword in the anchor text.

Additional Thoughts:
These are some of the key elements to determining a page’s competitive strength. As you can see this is starting to get complicated. There are some online tools available to help, but there is a wide range of ideas about what is important and how important each element is. Instead of using just one tool, you may want to use several. It will take longer, but may give you a more accurate assessment.

In the end, if you keep track of your keyword research and your results, you may find one tool or one method is more accurate than the others and be able to trust that over the others.

Photo by @boetter

Next, let’s look at how you can determine how difficult it will be for your web page to rank well for a particular keyword.

About the author

Kurt Steinbrueck

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