Ranking in the search engines can be hard. Especially if the competition in your niche is high. As you probably know, you should start with doing your keyword research: getting inside the heads of your audience, knowing exactly what words they use and what they are searching for. But then what? How do you choose which keywords to optimize for? Should you focus on long tail keywords, or go straight for the most competitive head terms? In this post, I’ll help you to determine your strategy for deciding which keywords you want to optimize your content for.
Whether you should go after long tail keywords, which are specific and consist of multiple words, or after head terms largely depends on your competition. If the competition in your niche is high, you’ll have a hard time ranking on competitive head terms. If you have little competition, you’ll even be able to rank for head terms. It sounds so very easy!
In our SEO copywriting course, our students do a bit of keyword research as an assignment. We ask them to estimate their chances to rank in the search engines. People aren’t very good in assessing their chances to rank. Most people largely overestimate their chances and focus on head terms that won’t attract much traffic to their site.
So how do you determine your competition? What should you be looking for? There are two strategies:
- Google and analyze your competition
- Try, evaluate and try again.
I will discuss both strategies in more detail below.
Google the keywords that came out of your keyword research. Start with your most ‘head’ term. The most general one. Check out the search engine result page (SERP). These are the websites you’ll be competing against once you optimize your content for such a keyword. To check whether or not you’ll be able to compete with the websites on that result page, analyze the following things:
- Are the websites professional websites? Are they company websites? Ask yourself whether or not you are an ‘equal’ to these companies. Does your website belong among these sites? Is your company of similar size and does it have as much influence in your niche?
- Does the SERP show well-known brands? It’s harder to rank when you’re competing against sites with strong brand-names. If brands are known from TV or radio commercials, your chances to rank will become even smaller.
- What about the content of these websites? Is the content well written and well optimized? How long are the articles on the sites? If your competition has poor content, you’ll have a larger chance to outrank them!
- Are there any ads in Google? And how much is the pay-per-click in Google adwords? Search terms that have a high pay-per-click are usually also harder to rank for in the organic results.
It all boils down to a single question: how does my website hold up, compared to the websites in the SERPs? Are you of equal size and marketing budget: go ahead and focus on those head terms. If not: try a more long tail keyword.
The next step is to do the same analysis with a keyword that’s slightly more long tail. Longer and more specific search terms will generate less traffic, but ranking on those terms will be much easier. Focusing on a whole bunch of long tail keywords combined could very well attract a lot of traffic. Once you’ve managed to rank for those long tail keywords, aiming for more head terms will become a bit easier.
Once you’ve done a thorough analysis of your chances to rank on a specific term, the next step is to write an amazing article and optimize it accordingly. And hit publish. Make sure you’ll attract some nice backlinks. And wait a little while. Check out your rankings. Does your article pop up? Did it hit the first page of Google’s SERPs? Or is it hidden away on page 2 or 3? Make sure to evaluate your articles in the SERPs. Google the terms you’ve optimized your articles for. Check whether or not your SEO is paying off!
If you’re not able to rank on the first page, try to write another article, focused on a (even) more long tail keyword. Make it a little bit more specific, more niche. And see how that goes. Evaluate again. Continue this process until you hit that first page of the SERPs!
Figuring out which keywords you should focus on to get the most traffic to your site can be rather daunting. For many people, it’s hard to assess their chances to rank in the search engines. And even with the tips in this article, it’ll remain hard. But if you get it right, it’ll definitely pay off! So, after thoroughly analyzing your competition, start testing. Write an article and see how it ranks. After evaluating your rankings, adapt your strategy. You’ll get there eventually. If you want some help with your keyword research strategy, check out our SEO copywriting course. And if you really want to take your keyword research to the next level, consider doing Roy Huiskes’ keyword research workshop at YoastCon!