Finding Keywords Part 3: Competition Analysis

competition analysisIf you want to rank in Google search results for one of the keywords you’ve found, you’re going to have to see who you’re up against!  So how do you evaluate whether you can compete against the existing top 10?

Using free tools, competition analysis is actually pretty easy.  The paid tools such as Longtail Pro can speed the process up considerably (especially if you pay for Platinum), but the results will be the same.  It’s up to you to decide if your time is worth the investment.  I recommend doing some yourself first, though, so you understand what the paid tools are doing under the hood.

Competition is Good

If you are evaluating a niche to decide if it’s a good choice to start an online business in, then you might think that discovering that you will have very little competition is a good thing.  This is a common mistake.

It might be that nobody else thought to build a business in this niche.  It’s far more likely that others tried and found that there just wasn’t much money in it.  They moved on.  Maybe you should too.

It’s always possible that you’ll do a better job than they did, but at least some alarm bells should be ringing if you don’t find anybody else already making money in your niche.  It’s far better to follow others and carve out your own piece of the pie than to have to decide whether or not there’s a pie at all.

Google didn’t make the first search engine, Facebook didn’t make the first social media community, and Apple didn’t make the first iPhone.  They all moved into niches that were already proven to be profitable and then made a better product.

Competition Analysis Tools

There are some amazing tools for analyzing your competition in excruciating detail.  Ahrefs and SEMRush are paid tools which give deep analysis into a competitor’s search engine rankings, backlink profiles, and even social media presence.

In this case, however, all we’re really interested in is looking at the competition for a particular keyword and seeing if we think we can rank for that.

If we keep finding the same websites coming up as competitors for our most important keywords, then we can use the above tools to learn more about them, but first we want to be able to quickly scan the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to see how strong each of the ten results are.

The MozBar is a Chrome extension that does just that.  It’s free and amazing.  Just add it to your chrome browser and you can see the stats on each page you visit.  When you’re looking at a Google SERP you’ll see the stats for each result right there.

Don’t Use PageRank

Google used to publish a PageRank and there were many free widgets to see this data.  Unfortunately, they stopped publishing updates, so PageRank is now at least a year out of date and essentially useless.

The folks at Moz have their own algorithm that approximate’s Google’s.  It’s not as authoritative, but at least it gets updated regularly, so it’s the best that’s currently available.

Understanding the MozBar Data

There are three important numbers to understand in the MozBar Data.  They are:

  • Domain Authority (DA):  This is the strength of the Domain that the page is on.  Remember that Google ranks pages, not domains.  However, pages that live on a strong, trustworthy domain are more likely to rank higher.
  • Page Authority (PA):  This is the strength of this particular page and is the key number to consider.  You can probably beat a page authority under 30.
  • Links:  This is the number of other pages that have linked to this page.  Backlinks are a very powerful ranking factor and it can be difficult to compete with a page that has hundreds or thousands of links.  Look for less than 200.

Note that the PA and DA is on a logarithmic scale.  The difference between 80 and 90 is therefore greater than the difference between 10 and 20.

If a page hasn’t been ranked by MozBar yet, it will have a PA of 1.  You can approximate the PA by dividing the DA by two, but this is pretty crude.

competition analysis - screengrab

A sample Google SERP with MozBar data. Look for results with PA under 30.

The Competition Analysis Process

You are looking to see if there is some good healthy competition for this keyword, but not too much.

Here’s your step by step process:

  1. Are there paid ads on the top or right of the page?  If so, great!  This means that there’s some money in this keyword.
  2. Check the PA and links of each of the competitors.  You’re looking for some with:
    1. PA less than 30
    2. Links less than 200
  3. Look at the title and meta-description (the little description below the URL in each result).  Does the keyword show up in either or both of these?  If so, the person building the page may have SEO skills and be harder to beat.
  4. Choose a few pages you think you can beat and click through to them.  What is your first impression?  How professional is the site?  Can you create better content?

You can get fancy and compute an average PA for this keyword (that’s essentially what the paid keyword research tools do), or you can rely on a gut feel for whether this is a keyword you can compete for.

Liking Your Competitors

It’s easy to start feeling very cut-throat when you are analyzing your competitors and seeing if you think you can beat them.

However, if you are evaluating a niche to see if you want to compete in it, then take the time to get to know the key players in this niche.  These people are not only competitors but potential colleagues and partners.  Do you like them?

Some niches are incredibly dog-eat-dog and others are very collaborative.  Given the alternative, I’ll take the latter any time.  I’d rather like my competitors.  There’s plenty of pie to go around!

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