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Old 12-07-2004   #1
Dave Hawley
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Competitiveness of a Search Term

I constantly see people referring to Google's Results 1 - 10 of about x where x is Google estimate of the search term as an indication of how competitive a term is.

IMO, this is totally flawed as not only are Google's estimates way off, it also only tells us how popular a search term is, not how competitive it is.

I'm curious how others judge the competitiveness of a search term?
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Old 12-07-2004   #2
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Keyphrase in " ", AdWords, Overture...
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Old 12-07-2004   #3
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i think "ART" is pretty hard to crack and "microsoft" as keywords...

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Old 12-07-2004   #4
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I agree that the number of search results only gives a very vague popularity figure, and really not much about the competitiveness of the search term.

My take on it is that if I am competing for a first page spot there are only ten other competitors, those currently on the top page for that term, one of whom I will have to knock off to get onto that page.

The only information available as to how hard it is going to be to gain that position can IMO only be found by researching the top pages.
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Old 12-07-2004   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mel
The only information available as to how hard it is going to be to gain that position can IMO only be found by researching the top pages.
prettymuch just research the anchor text and unique C class IP addresses of backlinks (using tools or an engine that shows more details than what Google is showing).
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Old 12-07-2004   #6
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The way we track competitiveness

1. Research using Adwords, Overture, wordtracker and comparing the results,

2. Checking log files of the sites ranking and see what are most popular terms and the most popular keyword combinations and research based on that,

3. Checking the top pages ranking for that term, where they originate how it ranks for that query,

4. Use advanced searches like allintitle, intitle, allinanchor, allintext etc to find the sites ranking for that term and research based on that,
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Old 12-07-2004   #7
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http://socengine.com/seo/tools/keywo...ulty-tool.html

This tool I made measures:

- Top 3 Bids @ Overture
- # of Times Searched Last Month
- Strength of top 10 Competitors' Site PR
- Strength of top 10 Competitors' Page PR
- Strength of top 10 Competitors' Backlinks
- Strength of top 10 Competitors' Size
- # of words in phrase
- # of Search Results @ Google
- # of Results @ Google in Quotes

It then uses a scoring system to come up with a percentage answer (0% - easiest to 100% - most difficult)
Some examples:

new bmw 68.27%
mesothelioma 82.32%
university degree online 68.15%
barber shop seattle washington 38.64%

The scoring system isn't perfect yet, but maybe you can chip in and test - let me know what you think.
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Old 12-07-2004   #8
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That's a great tool!

One thing I noticed is that "Times Searched Last Month" seems to be grabbing the number from overture's key word suggestion tool (which is what I use for ranking a keyword). You should double that number because the overture network only gets roughly 50% of all searches.
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Old 12-07-2004   #9
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Supply, Demand and Profitability...

Hi Dave,

Regarding your question...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Hawley
I constantly see people referring to Google's Results 1 - 10 of about x where x is Google estimate of the search term as an indication of how competitive a term is.

IMO, this is totally flawed as not only are Google's estimates way off, it also only tells us how popular a search term is, not how competitive it is.

I'm curious how others judge the competitiveness of a search term?
I love lurking these forums and have been a huge fan of Danny and SEW since way back when.

As far as I know, we (SiteSell.com) were the very first company to introduce this concept, before any of the companies that now make this their business, and of whom WordTracker does it extremely well. WordTracker is the only company in this category in our short list of recommended resources to our Site Build It! customers, to supplement what our brainstorming part of Site Build it! does, because WT adds tremendous EXTRA value -- this is their bread and butter and they do it well.

The concept is this...

1) DEMAND is how often SURFERS search for a keyword. Surfers are the marketer's "PRE-customer," if you will. Therefore, if Web surfers search on "Caribbean" 100,000 times and only search on "Anguilla" 10,000 times, there is 10 times more DEMAND for "Caribbean" than for "Anguilla."

That is an important point for anyone planning to market about the Caribbean or Anguilla (or both) to know. Data like this already starts to shape, for example, the outline for a new site. Of course...

You also have to measure that AGAINST how hard it is to "rank" for each word. And that is where SUPPLY comes in. The more Web pages that exist about a certain keyword/phrase, the harder it will be to rank highly... more "competition." WordTracker calls it "Competition" and we call it "SUPPLY" in our courses and in Site Build It!, but it amounts to the same concept -- how hard it's going to be to score due to the number of pages that exist that already contain that keyword.

2) SUPPLY is, therefore, how many Web pages create content for a specific term. It's best to do that estimate with quotes around a multi-word keyword phrase because THAT is the single best way to estimate how many pages actually focus on that term.

For example, Google estimates that there are 255,000 pages about /anguilla beaches/ (/ = without quotes), but only 2,070 pages about "anguilla beaches" (WITH quotes). The latter number is a more realistic estimate since the former includes all kinds of pages that are far less targeted.

Dave, you're right when you say that the SUPPLY number is also a measure of how popular it is. It is a DIRECT indicator of how popular it is among Web site PUBLISHERS of content. But it is only an INDIRECT implication of how popular it MAY be amongst CONSUMERS of content (i.e., Web surfers).

And in fact, the two are not always perfectly aligned. There is nothing nicer than finding a great niche with lowish SUPPLY and solid DEMAND (yes, they still exist).

You can use this technique to find very profitable niches. And that brings me to the concept of "profitability."

3) PROFITABILITY

To oversimplify, the ratio of DEMAND to SUPPLY is a rough indicator of PROFITABILITY.

(We use a more complicated formula that weights demand and supply and adjusts the true profitability IN RELATION TO ALL OTHER KEYWORDS in a collection of keywords, but that's a wrinkle that is not important to the big picture of this discussion. I just mention it in case anyone says the simple ratio is overly simplistic -- it is -- I am only trying to address the central issue, which is Dave's doubts about what Google's SUPPLY data is worth to us as marketers, and how it fits into the bigger picture).

Dave, regarding your comment about "Google's estimates being way off," it does not really matter. What DOES matter is that their estimates are accurate, RELATIVE to all the other keywords that you are querying at Google. Once you start with an engine for a given set of keywords, stay with that engine.

You CAN get DEMAND from one source (ex., WordTracker via the feed it pulls from its sources) and SUPPLY from another source (ex., Google). As long as you do that consistently, the PROFITABILITY ratio of all words, relative to each other, will be fairly accurate. The ABSOLUTE numbers (as long as each is in a reasonable ballpark) is not as important as the ratios, especially in comparison to all the other keywords in a related set. So as long as your sources for DEMAND and then for SUPPLY are consistent, your PROFITABILITY results will be valid.

In case you want to see something really neat, we've just added a tremendous free search to our free e-commerce search tool, Search It!. You can enter up to 1,000 keywords at one time and receive SUPPLY data back in a nice tabular format for all 1,000. It uses the Google API, so you'll need your own key, but we explain how to get that. Just go to searchit.sitesell.com, click to the Search tool itself after reading the online help and then...

1) Pick "Competition" in the "KEYWORDS" section of STEP 1.

2) Then select "Google Multiple Keyword SUPPLY" in STEP 2. Read the online help for details of how to enter your 1,000 words to get your SUPPLY data in one clean sweep into STEP 3.

Simply follow the online instructions and you'll have a single table with Google SUPPLY data for all your keywords, with ONE search.

Search It! itself is very slick, but this is my single favorite search -- it removes a ton of drudgery.

The Google API uses a different database and/or set of configurations -- so its supply data is different from the feed from its actual "live" search results page delivers for each keyword. But that's OK... check it out and you will see that the supply numbers are quite close RELATIVE to all the other keywords in your related set of words. Since all your data is from the same source, your SUPPLY denominator is valid relative to each other and the RELATIVE PROFITABILITIES therefore are also valid.

So, as long as your DEMAND data is coming from one source (Overture, Wordtracker, etc.), you can build a fairly reliable set of keywords with SUPPLY, DEMAND and therefore PROFITABILITY.

The most important point? After you gather all this data for 200 keywords, say, you have to judge it all, using a human brain. Let me repeat that because I see too many people become slaves to the numbers. You have to use your human judgment to make the final decisions. If you don't...

There is definitely weirdness in some of the results you will pull back, likely generated by algorithms hitting your DEMAND resources for example, boosting them artificially. Some pretty strange words can appear with relatively high DEMAND and near-zero SUPPLY. You have to recognize that is not a REAL situation.

Another example -- If you use Overture's DEMAND tool (Keyword suggestion tool), you have to reorder some of their bizarre word orders within a multi-word keyword-phrase to make some sense out of the results, and base your SUPPLY research on that. You'll have to account for the fact that they don't pluralize (at least not most of the time). I'm wandering off a bit, now, so I'll bring it to a halt because you were seeking a "bigger picture answer."

Bottom line? As long as you apply the human filter at the end of this process, the SUPPLY-DEMAND-PROFITABILITY process is an excellent way to identify profitable niches about which to create content that ultimately turns into traffic and income.

Hope that helps.

All the best,
Ken Evoy

MOD EDIT: please, no 'sig files' per TOS , see info on custom user titles.

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Old 12-07-2004   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iamrussell
One thing I noticed is that "Times Searched Last Month" seems to be grabbing the number from overture's key word suggestion tool (which is what I use for ranking a keyword). You should double that number because the overture network only gets roughly 50% of all searches.
Russell - I understand your point, but the tool's purpose is more about showing the relative difficulty rather than the actual number of searches. For this purpose, doubling the number would simply make me cut the scores in half for the percentage measurement - not particularly valuable.

I'm glad you like the tool - please let me know if any of you have other suggestions - especially in the area of percentage balancing of the scoring.
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Old 12-07-2004   #11
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Hey, big welcome to SEW Forums, Ken!

Supply, demand and profitability aside, one of the key things I look at, that I consider very important and to a great extent relies on personal evaluation within any market, is feasibility.

Three of the factors related to whether a search term is feasible to pursue:

1. Timing
When a site is brand new, it's generally simpler and quicker to rank for lesser terms until more content and/or inbound links are developed, and/or the site's optimization is further refined. What's reasonably competitive for a brand new site may be far less than what its potential may be as it ages.

2. Who's on First?
Sometimes it isn't how much demand or supply, but who the competition is. That can only be discerned by examining the SERPs and evaluating what techniques are being used to rank. There can be a search term with high demand and little numerical competition, but there are very aggressive people operating in that space.

3. Pick your Poison
This relates to how far a person is willing to go and what methodologies they're willing to employ. Realistically speaking, garden-variety SEO is more than adequate for certain levels or markets, but for others it won't necessarily make the grade. This is where individual value judgment and personal choices need to come into play - is there a taste for sweet dill pickles, so to speak, or wlll hot jalapenas be tasty? That will determine how competitive something is for that person or company in particular.

What's competitive for one may not be considered so for another. Unless someone is willing and capable of becoming fairly aggressive, it's wise to be realistic, regardless of what the unusual indicators show, and assess competitiveness based more than just empirical evidence and numerical factors.

Last edited by Marcia : 12-07-2004 at 01:51 PM.
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Old 12-07-2004   #12
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Thank you for the nice welcome, Marcia...

Yes, excellent points, Marcia.

Your "timing" point is superb -- it's a great way to get the snowball rolling down the hill. It's exactly what we explain to our users. The really big/tough keywords are the last words that you'll rank highly for, not the first. Start at the fringes.

One thing... I doubt if we'd see eye to eye on SEO. At Site Build It!, we choose to leapfrog "advanced, nth degree SEO" and head straight towards reality. By giving the SEs enough on-page hooks to sink their teeth into, and by otherwise PREselling with excellent content and getting some key inbound links, human visitor behavior takes over and does indeed build the off-page criteria naturally and organically.

Overall, we show our users how to "engineer success" through superb content that hits the basic on-page criteria and that WOWS the human visitors. Ultimately, it is those delighted human visitors who generate all the off-page criteria (with a little help from the marketer of course, who must start the ball rolling by securing a few good inbound links). All of this to (hopefully) lead into a little controversy...

I find that heavy SEO emphasis is a little like chasing the Holy Grail. The engines get steadily more and more sophisticated at reaching the ultimate goal, which is simply to recognize reality the way humans do. SEOs have to chase this increasing sophistication constantly. Instead...

We choose to leapfrog the algorithm-chase and head straight to reality. And, all in all it's worked darn well for our tens of thousands of small business users. For example...

My own daughter started her anguilla-beaches.com site by eating away at the edges. She started when she was 14. She didn't rank anywhere in the Top 500 for her toughest word, anguilla. As she built more and more content, got more and more links in from caribbean and anguillian sites, as people loved her site more and more, they naturally deliver off-page criteria (we can only imagine what Google must track -- I doubt if more than 3 people have the COMPLETE picture, and their NDA is probably tighter than Coke's!).

The effect is like a boat with the tide coming in. Now she puts up a page about "anguilla wedding," is spidered and ranking in the top 10 within days. It's a slow, steady, tortoise-like process... but the tortoise wins in the end (she has averaged about an hour per week over a period of 2 years). And the only "work" I've done with Nori is on how to write more effectively for the human reader ("PREselling"), not SEO or anything like that.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, "geeks" like Marc Liron do the same thing, but in a bigger way as adults with more time and devotion and generate 15,000 pages per day at his updatexp.com site. Ask him what kind of advanced SEO he does and he'll just chuckle -- he abandoned those worries long ago.

Now, I know I'll get banged by a lot of SEO experts who love chasing the zillion variables down to the 4th decimal point or, worse, who still love "fooling" the engines. But you're over-engineering and doomed to chase the engines instead of delivering what humans want... and THAT actuallyl is what the engines want, too.

We just like to keep it real.

But I digress (although that should stir things up a bit ;-) ). I hope we've answered Dave's question about how SUPPLY *and* DEMAND are quite useful parameters. Marcia added some excellent points, and taken all together I think it points the user in some solid directions.

Ken Evoy

P.S. to Elisabeth --- sorry for putting my URL after my name. It was relevant in the context of our Search It! tool. I must admit I didn't read the TOS and never dreamed that one would not be allowed to put a URL WITHOUT any promotional slogan or anything else, after one's name. But I won't do it again. My apologies.
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Old 12-07-2004   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KenEvoy

P.S. to Elisabeth --- sorry for putting my URL after my name. It was relevant in the context of our Search It! tool. I must admit I didn't read the TOS and never dreamed that one would not be allowed to put a URL WITHOUT any promotional slogan or anything else, after one's name. But I won't do it again. My apologies.
no problem - sorry i posted it publicly, but you had PM's turned off. It was relevant in context, so I have no problem with that or the other examples you just cited, it's just that we've opted to use Custom User Titles instead of linked sigs, so just needed to be consistent.

welcome to SEW, ken! excellent post, too btw.
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Old 12-07-2004   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Hawley
I constantly see people referring to Google's Results 1 - 10 of about x where x is Google estimate of the search term as an indication of how competitive a term is.

IMO, this is totally flawed as not only are Google's estimates way off, it also only tells us how popular a search term is, not how competitive it is.
Absolutely right - and one of those silly mis-conceptions in SEOs.

You can struggle to get a no.1 ranking for a specialist niche phrase, out of just a few hundred thousand results, if mostly up against universities - but walk into a top spot where the search term involves a few tens of millions pages.

In fact, just for the hell of it, I'm currently testing popularity vs competitiveness with a search term with around 250 million pages returned - just to see for myself how badly popularity factors into it compared to competition.

Popularity of a search term is pretty suggestive by the number of returns, but working out the actual competitiveness is something of a task - KEI, traffic logs, and SERPs required with some live testing.
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Old 12-07-2004   #15
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When determining competitiveness we look primarily at the sites already occupying the top positions for the keywords targeted. No one needs to know how many turtles are in the race, could be one or a hundred, it doesn't matter if you know you are faster. You want to know how many Hares you are competing against. Research the Hares and their weaknesses, then you can have a good idea of where your performance will be.

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Old 12-07-2004   #16
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Brian & Stoney -

Good points. That's why the tool measures the top 10 competition for any given phrase and makes it a big part of the competitiveness of the score. The only tihng I can't currently measure is traffic logs, but the results are fairly revealing still. I could definitely use your help refining the percentage of the total score for each input.

P.S. Ken - Great example about your daughter and the site - it's amazing what a little content every day and a lot of time can do.
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Old 12-07-2004   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Hawley
I'm curious how others judge the competitiveness of a search term?
I wish I could take credit for this method, but it really belongs to Dan Thies and his team:

1) Number of searches on all engines over past 60 days
2) % Relevance of search term to your site (i.e. 50% relevant, 90% relevant)
3) Estimated number of daily searches in GG, MSN and YH based on market share
4) Estimated number of click-thrus based on top 10 position in GG, MSN and YH
5) Number of competing sites for search term
6) Number of competing sites for search term with optimized titles
7) Number of competing sites with b/w links utilizing anchor text optimized for search term
8) Link popularity of competing sites
9) Current bids for search term on AdWords and Overture
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Old 12-07-2004   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kal
I wish I could take credit for this method, but it really belongs to Dan Thies and his team:

1) Number of searches on all engines over past 60 days
2) % Relevance of search term to your site (i.e. 50% relevant, 90% relevant)
3) Estimated number of daily searches in GG, MSN and YH based on market share
4) Estimated number of click-thrus based on top 10 position in GG, MSN and YH
5) Number of competing sites for search term
6) Number of competing sites for search term with optimized titles
7) Number of competing sites with b/w links utilizing anchor text optimized for search term
8) Link popularity of competing sites
9) Current bids for search term on AdWords and Overture
This is pretty close to covering all the bases. I would also factor in the number of ads that have pretty much the same copy - though it can reflect a large group too lazy to resaerch... in most cases it is a large number all testing and finding the same answer on what gets the best CTR.
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Old 12-07-2004   #19
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WOW! Thanks all, this is some great reading all-around.

Just one point. There is a lot of talk about to find out how popular a search term is with searchers. For the discussion, I was asuming that this had been decided already, that is, which term to use is already known.

I normally, as other have said, I look at page 1 of the Google results for the search term I'm going to target and start pulling apart the top 10. IMO, these are the only ones I have to beat.
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Old 12-07-2004   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Hawley
I normally, as other have said, I look at page 1 of the Google results for the search term I'm going to target and start pulling apart the top 10. IMO, these are the only ones I have to beat.
I'd be spreading the love if I were you. IMO, to rely on results from a single engine is short-sighted and too risky if you have clients paying you for ROI.
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