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How To Prioritize Keywords For Optimization Based On Organic Competition

Previously in Organic Keywords: The First Step In Search Engine Optimization, I covered how to use Google Analytics to choose the organic keyword phrases to focus on first in your optimization efforts: those keywords already contributing to the business goals. We then looked at how to use Google analytics to help “map” those keywords to existing pages on the site for optimization.

In this article, I’ll continue on to the next step and show you how I prioritize the keywords by evaluating the difficulty of reaching top results.

Check Keyword Rankings

The next step I take before beginning to optimize a page is to go through the “short list” of keywords I mapped to a page and prioritize them.

Take the keyword mapping you developed for a page you’re optimizing and check the organic rankings and clicksthroughs using a tool such as Google Webmaster Tools.

Note: To get a more accurate reading of the average position for a keyword in Webmaster Tools click the Filters tab and choose Search: Web and choose your most prominent location.

Check Keyword Rankings In Google Webmaster Tools

Check Keyword Rankings In Google Webmaster Tools

You should give a high priority to any keyword in your mapping that is already delivering traffic to the page from organic results. Check the rankings and if a keyword that is delivering traffic to the site isn’t reaching the highest average positions then it makes sense to try to improve the search results for this keyword (both rankings and clickthroughs).

You already know this keyword is contributing to the business goals so any improvements in organic results should increase leads, sales, sign-ups, or whatever the site goals may be. If the keyword is already reaching top results it should be given a high priority as you optimize so you don’t inadvertently hurt its rankings.

Plus, you’ll want to see if you can improve search listings which can improve click-throughs.

Check Organic Competition

On the other hand, if there are keywords in your mapping for this page that aren’t delivering clickthroughs to the site from organic results, then these keywords made it onto the mapping for this page because of your PPC results.

Before optimizing for any keyword that is not already bringing traffic from organic search results, it’s best to check the competition for the phrase to see if your website and this page are in a position to reach top results for this specific phrase (i.e. the important factors that influence organic search results such as the search friendliness of the site, site architecture & internal linking, incoming links and social engagement, etc).

Many of the available keyword tools have some method of rating the competition for a keyword phrase.

We use Wordtracker which provides IAAT data for each keyword. IAAT stands for ‘In Anchor And Title’, in other words it shows how many pages in a search engine’s index include both an HTML Page title that contains the keyword phrase and where the keyword phrase appears in the anchor text of an external link to that page. This is a decent indicator of the competition as is shows you the pages that have likely been optimized. However I would also look at the amount of competition since there are often pages that have never been optimized that rank well too.

Note: Don’t rely on the Google AdWords Keyword tool for organic keyword competition.

The High, Medium, and Low Competition data displayed in that tool are meant to give you an idea of how many advertisers are bidding for a particular keyword. That’s of little use for organic results.

If you don’t have a decent tool available to help determine organic competition, you can get a reasonable idea of the competition by performing a few special queries in Google. Here are three searches you can perform to estimate the competition of a keyword phrase.

Exact Phrase Search. In Google’s search field put quotes around the keyword phrase such as “frame sliders” to get the number of files in Google’s index that mention the exact phrase in the content on the page

Exact Phrase Search in Google

Exact Phrase Search in Google

AllinTitle Search. In Google’s search field add “allintitle:” before the keyword surrounded in quotes (e.g. allintitle: “frame sliders”). This will give you the number of pages in Google’s index that have the keyword phrase in the HTML Page Title.

inanchor Search. The above two searches are usually enough to compare keyword competition but you could go further and do an inanchor search. In Google’s search field add “inanchor:” before the keyword surrounded in quotes (e.g. inanchor: “frame sliders”). This search will list pages that have the keyword phrase in the anchor text of an external link to that page.

Now, compile the same data for a number of keyword phrases for which a tool like Google Webmaster Tools shows this page is ranking high. At the same time, compile the data on a number of keywords for which the site is ranking from other pages. Check a number of keywords for which the site is ranking in the top 20 or 30 search positions.

Compare the results for the keywords for which the site and this page are already ranking to the results for the organic keywords that you are considering optimizing. If the competition for those keywords is far greater than any keywords the page is already ranking for, or worse, far greater than any keywords the entire site is ranking for, your chances of reaching top results just by optimizing a page for the keyword may not be very good.

It may be better to focus on keywords that you have a better chance of improving results for now. You may need to work on other issues before you’ll be able to reach top results for more competitive keywords such as site issues, link building and social engagement etc.

Here’s an example of the keyword competition for a client’s website including keywords for which the site is reaching decent search positions. It also includes data for some keywords we would like to improve organic search results for as they are bringing people to the site from PPC who then fill out an inquiry form.

A keyword competition chart

A keyword competition chart

First, notice that regardless whether you sort the data using the Wordtracker IAAT competition data, the “Number of Pages” column, or the “allintitle” column you get about the same ordering of the competition for these keywords.

Compile the competition data using two or more data points and if you get about the same ordering of the keywords for each data set then you can be reasonably confident in your keyword competition ordering. You might want to assign a High, Medium, Low label for competition as I did in the above screenshot.

As you can see in the above screenshot, this new client’s website is only ranking for keywords that are not very competitive.

These folks, a national company, have had a small informational website for years. They have done very little online promotion and their search results reflect this. We need to fix some issues on the site and progress with link building, social engagement,etc. before we’ll be able to reach top results for the more competitive keywords. We’re optimizing pages on the site, focusing primarily on keywords with low to medium competition for now.

In future articles, I’ll cover more steps we take when optimizing existing pages on a site and adding new content to improve search results. If you want to submit some pages and a few keywords that I could use as examples, just submit them below in the comments.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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