Checking out the competition
In most SEO campaigns, it’s likely that you’ll have some sort of mixture of objectives. You may have identified some “quick wins” – keywords where you think that progress can be made quickly.
These probably (although not always) will be terms that don’t generate huge amounts of traffic. You may feel that there is a lack of competition, however, which should ensure that you can gain positioning pretty quickly.
It’s then likely that you’ll have a set of keywords (or search terms) that represent medium and long-term targets. Over time, these are the phrases that you’re expecting to deliver visitors and resulting sales.
You may, however, be pretty realistic about this latter group of keywords. You’re probably competing against established sites and it’s going to take you that bit longer to really get anywhere.
The key to coming up with your strategy is obviously to be able to identify levels of competition at the outset. If you get this stage wrong, then you’re going to be facing some real problems. There is, however, a certain art to measuring levels of competition.
The use of the word art clearly suggests that we’re not talking about an exact science, although there are various tools that we can use to take a closer look at the search landscape. In effect, we’ll be looking to build up a complete picture by using a variety of these tools.
So where should we begin?
The search engine results
It’s never a bad idea to start by searching Google (and the other main search engines) using your target keywords. You’ll soon start to get some idea of the level of competition that you’re facing.
There’s a strong chance that you’ll already recognise the presence of many of your rivals within the listings.
Helpfully, Google also allows you to see the number of searches that have been returned. Some people would suggest that the higher the number, the greater the level of competition. Is this strictly true?
It’s not a measure that we actively choose to use. Instead, it’s possible to use the allintitle modifier, to take a closer look at the sites where the keyword has been used within page titles. Given the SEO advantages offered by the TITLE tag, this is a pretty good way of seeing who is really working on a specific term.
It’s also worth looking at the strengths of the sites that are ranking. You may choose to review PageRank, as assigned to each site, or to use a measure of authority. In fact, you’ll probably want to do both.
If the listings are dominated by sites that have a high degree of authority, then it’s fair to assume that they’ll be harder to shift.
Should you check the backlinks of the sites that are ranking well? That’s always a good idea and will help you to get a view of how some of your competitors are making progress.
Are they building links in an active manner? Are they relying on the fact that they have plenty of fresh, interesting content?
You’ll also discover some link building opportunities here. You may set out to replicate some of the links that have been built by others. You may, for instance, be able to find some guest blogging opportunities, or some reputable directories.
Active SEO behaviour
Have the sites concerned been making use of professional SEO services? In many cases, the SEO company may insert a link on the client site. In some situations, it may be able to identify what’s going on from the link profile.
If the majority of the sites on the first page of the search engine results are using SEO experts, then it seems fair to assume that this will make your task more difficult.
There are a number of signals that you can use in order to identify how competitive a particular keyword really is. Over time, you’ll find that it becomes second nature and that you’re able to make relatively quick decisions.
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