If you’ve been around internet marketing for more than two days, you know that keyword research is one of the most important skills an internet marketer can have.
Because the holy grail of making money online is getting lots of free (aka organic) traffic to your websites. And the easiest way to get that free traffic is by targeting low-competition keywords that have large search volume.
There are two ways an internet marketer can find low-competition, high-volume keywords:
- Do smart keyword research
- Hire a monkey to choose some keywords out of a hat, and hope he gets it right!
Now, before you think I’m being smug, let me say that keyword research is a skill that many people find hard to master (and took me quite a while to get the hang of). I regularly receive emails from internet marketers (some new, some not-so-new) who are going about keyword research all wrong.
In this article I’m going to try to remedy that problem by showing you the steps to find keywords that get a decent amount of searches each month, but that won’t take you years to rank for.
But first, let me clarify what exactly a “low-competition” keyword is.
What is a Low-Competition Keyword?
When internet marketers say that a keyword is not competitive, they mean it would be easy to get their site to rank #1 for that keyword in Google. This often means that few website owners are vying for the #1 spot for that particular keyword.
A crucial mistake that IM newbies make when launching their first website is not checking the competition of the keywords they’re trying to rank for. I made this mistake when first starting out, too. I picked a niche (home improvements), thought it would be neat to make a website about it, and proceeded to launch a site with over 100 pages of content on it. The site took me months to create, and when I finally finished it…
No traffic! Just the sound of crickets chirping.
That site took months to get any visitors, and it was only by luck that I managed to get any traffic at all.
Eventually I learned that the VERY FIRST STEP in building a new website (once you’ve completed your niche research) is doing proper keyword research. That insight led me to learn the fine art of researching keywords, and has allowed me to launch sites that rank – and start earning revenue – quickly.
(Side note: in no way am I saying that every site I launch is a winner. No way! Search engine optimization, like internet marketing in general, is a numbers game. The more things you throw at the wall, the greater chance you’ll get something to stick.)
Once I learned how to do good keyword research (and find low-competition keywords), finding keywords to build sites around became much easier.
Here are the daily stats for a surgery site I built using the Socrates theme for WordPress:
You can see that this site went from no traffic to averaging 150 visits per day (with peaks up to 250 visits per day) in less than four months.
Here’s another site that I launched in August of 2011 (also using the Socrates theme for WordPress):
This one doesn’t get as many searches (it’s a relatively obscure health problem), but notice the similar pattern in take-off of traffic – within three months this site went from zero visits per day to an average of 80 – 100 visits.
My point in showing you these numbers is this: once you’ve learned how to do keyword research the right way, you’ll no longer struggle to get organic traffic. Because you’ll spend more time UP FRONT in choosing the best keywords – keywords that strike a balance between good search volume and not too much competition.
So how do you find these exalted keywords?
Let’s jump in and find out.
Three Steps to Find Low-Competition, High-Volume Keywords
Step #1: Develop a seed list of keywords
A “seed” list of keywords is simply a group of generic keywords that have high search volume. I won’t go into the detailed steps in this post, because I’ve already done so in my post on brainstorming a seed list of keywords, but here are the two broad steps:
- Pick a niche that you’re interested in, or have knowledge of
- Brainstorm a handful of keywords for that niche (try to think of keywords that solve problems or satisfy desires. So if your niche is surfing, you might start by brainstorming generic keywords like “surf”, “surfboard”, and “board trunks”, then dive a little deeper into more specialized keywords like “surf vacation”, “wave report”, and “surfari” (yes, such a word exists. I’m a surfer!).
- Get synonyms of those keywords from tools like Google Insights for Search, Deeper Web, Quintura, and Thesaurus.com.
Step #2: Find out search volume and CPC for your seed keyword list
Next you want to take that seed keyword list and run it through a keyword tool that tells you how much search volume each keyword gets each month, and how much the cost-per-click is.
There are lots of keyword research tools out there, and most of them only get their data from Google. In other words, they only tell you how much search volume a particular keyword gets on Google each month, along with how much Google advertisers are paying for that keyword. But given that Google has 85% of the global search market, I guess that makes sense!
And that’s why I prefer to go straight to the source when I’m doing keyword research, and use the Google keyword tool.
But there’s another tool that I came across recently that has revolutionized my keyword research, cutting down the time it takes MASSIVELY. This tool also has the best keyword competition features I’ve seen, and it’s extremely quick (if you’ve used tools like Market Samurai, you know the pain of waiting for a keyword tool to slowly crank through its analysis!)
The tool I’m talking about is Long Tail Pro, and I’ll give you a detailed description of what it does in a minute. Long Tail Pro is a paid tool, so let me first discuss the free option, which is the Google Keyword Tool.
Two Best Keyword Tools for Keyword Research
Google Keyword Tool (free option)
I’m not going to provide detailed instruction on how to use the Google keyword tool here (because I’ve covered that in my post Google Keyword Tool: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide), but I will briefly show you how to use the tool to get the information you need to start your competition research.
I’ve had a bad cold lately, so one of the keywords that’s been on my mind is “cold remedies” (as in “give me some remedies for this frigging cold, quick!)
When I type the term “cold remedies” in to the Google keyword tool, here are the results I get:
As you can see from the screenshot above, the term “cold remedies” is searched 9,900 times per month on Google.
Note a few things from the screenshot:
- I made sure to select “Exact” from “Match Types” on the left-side of the screen. This will show me the average number of times the exact term “cold remedies” is searched on Google each month.
If I had just kept the default match type on (“Broad” match), the search volume would be MUCH higher. But it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of how many people for “cold remedies” each month, because Google includes lots of related search terms with its broad match results.
ALWAYS select “Exact” as the match type when doing research on the Google keyword tool!
- Google says the “competition” for this keyword is “High”. That doesn’t mean the SEO competition is high – it means the pay-per-click competition is. In other words, lots of advertisers are paying to have their ad shown on the right side of the screen when someone searches on “cold remedies”.
High advertiser competition is a good thing if you’re setting up a website targeting this keyword and want to monetize the site with Adsense ads – because high advertiser competition means the cost-per-click will be higher, and you’ll get paid more every time someone clicks an ad on your site!
- Global monthly searches is 9,900. This means that 9,900 people search Google for the exact term “cold remedies” every month (on average). This is a great number of exact-match searches to target for a niche website.
- The average CPC (cost-per-click) for the term “cold remedies” is $6.21. This is a relatively high CPC, and would mean you would get paid $4.22 (based on Google’s Adsense revenue share).
So judging by the Google tool results, this keyword has some promise – it gets a good amount of exact-match searches each month, and has a high cost-per-click.
But that tells us nothing about the search engine competition. If the keyword “cold remedies” gets lots of searches and has a high CPC, lots of website owners must be trying to rank on the first page of Google for that term, right?
Not necessarily. I’ve seen a good amount of keywords that have little competition and a decent amount of searches each month (like the keywords that my surgery and niche health websites are built on). And as Google has reported, 25% of the keywords searched on Google every month have never been searched for before!
But the simple fact is you can’t tell how hard it will be to rank for a particular keyword by looking at data from the Google keyword tool. You need a tool that quickly and accurately gives you key indicators on the search engine competition for a keyword.
I’ve researched – and used – many keyword research tools, and the ones that give the best data and save the most time are paid tools. Fortunately, some of the best tools don’t cost very much, especially when you consider the huge amount of time you can save by using them. I actually don’t see these tools as an expense – I see them as an investment because they help me make money faster!
The main keyword research tool I’ve used in the past is Market Samurai (and I’ve dabbled a little in Micro Niche Finder). But recently I started using a new tool called Long Tail Pro, and it has quickly become my favourite tool.
Long Tail Pro (paid option)
The beauty of Long Tail Pro is that it combines keyword research with competition research in one simple interface. And while other tools like Market Samurai and Micro Niche Finder have similar features, there are a couple of things that make Long Tail Pro stand out from the competition:
- Speed. Anyone who’s used Market Samurai knows how long it can take to get keyword and competition data for a single keyword. Long Tail Pro is lightning-fast, which means you don’t have to go and make a coffee (and do the laundry and walk the dog) while waiting for the tool to fetch your keyword data! Which brings me to the next point…
- Search multiple keywords at the same time. One of the biggest limitations of Market Samurai is that you can only research one keyword at a time. I guess that’s because MS fetches a lot of different data points. But in my mind, the amount of data that Market Samurai fetches is overkill. Being able to rank for a keyword depends on a few core factors, so I simply don’t need all of the different types of data that Market Samurai gets.
(Note: I’m not saying that data is useless. If I was running a search engine marketing agency, I’d want to have the power that MS provides. But for home-based niche marketers, I just don’t think it’s necessary.)
- Simple and intuitive interface. The interface of Long Tail Pro is clean, simple, and easy to navigate. I’ve used many keyword tools that try to be all things to all people, and the result is an interface that’s filled with tons of buttons and doodads. Again, ranking for keywords is a straightforward process, so all those doodads simply aren’t necessary.
Bottom line: of all the paid tools that can fetch basic keyword data (i.e. monthly search volume and cost-per-click on Google), Long Tail Pro is my favourite. But that’s not why I love it. Where LTP really shines is in gathering keyword competition data to filter out keywords that are too competitive.
In the next section of this post I’ll cover how to filter keywords for competition, and I’ll tell you how to do this for free, or using Long Tail Pro.
Step #3: Filter out the keywords that are too competitive
So now we’re at step #3 in finding low-competition, high-volume keywords. After (1) brainstorming your seed list of keywords and (2) finding the monthly search volume and cost-per-click for each keyword in your seed list, the final step is to filter out the keywords that are too competitive.
By “too competitive” I mean that when you type a keyword into Google and look at the first page of results, the page is filled with websites that would be hard to rank above.
How do you know if a website would be hard to rank above? Great question! If you want to build an empire of niche websites that get oodles of free traffic, you need to master competition research. Once you’ve done competition research enough times, knowing whether a keyword is too hard to rank for will become second nature.
When analyzing each web page on the first page of Google, Here are some of the things I look out for:
- How good is the on-page SEO of the page (e.g. does the keyword appear in the title tag or description tag)?
- What’s the PageRank of the site?
- How old is the site?
- How many backlinks does the page have going to it? How many good-quality backlinks?
How do you get all of the competition information mentioned above? Let’s jump into the free and paid options:
How to Research Keyword Competition for Free
As I mentioned in the section above, being good at keyword competition research is absolutely essential for identifying low-competition, high-volume keywords.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of tools out there that can help you with this.
Here are three of the major players in the free SEO toolbar market:
SEO For Firefox
SEO for Firefox is a plugin that inserts competitive research data right into the Google search results page. The plugin was launched by Aaron Wall, who is a well-know search engine optimization consultant.
When you do a Google search, SEO for Firefox shows this data for each web page on the results page:
- Age of site
- Number of .edu backlinks
- Number of .gov backlinks
- Alexa rank
And about 100,000 other bits of information!
Here’s a screenshot of the Google results page for the term “cold remedies”, with SEO for Firefox installed (note: for this screenshot I disabled a lot of the competitive data that tool can automatically display, because a lot of the data points are unnecessary and crowd out the good data).
I’ve put a red box around the competitive research data that the SEO for Firefox tool shows:
Check out SEO for Firefox by clicking here.
The SEOquake toolbar is also an add-on for Firefox, it also has a version for Google Chrome, and it also has a bewildering array of competitive data that can be chosen!
The SEOquake toolbar displays competitive research results similar to SEO for Firefox. Check out the screenshot for “cold remedies” below:
Check out the SEOquake toolbar by clicking here.
Note: if you’d like to see a decent review of the SEOBook and SEOmoz toolbars, check out this post.)
SEOMoz is a search engine marketing consulting firm, and is one of the most respected SEM firms in the business (from what I’ve read, and I’ve been following their blog for a long time). They also have some great free reports on search engine optimization for beginners, which I highly recommend.
SEOMoz has a free “Firefox Mozbar”, and it’s set up a little differently than the other two toolbars I’ve discussed. First of all, when you install the Mozbar it puts a toolbar below your browser’s address bar that gives you information for the web page you’re currently on (see screenshot below).
The toolbar also has a “SERP Control Panel” which controls what you do with a specific web page. One of the coolest features of the Control Panel is the “SERP overlay”, which gives you a couple of competitive research data points (including “Page Authority”, which is a number from 1 to 100 that SEOMoz assigns to a web page, and the number of backlinks).
The downside of the Firefox Mozbar is that they don’t give you a lot of competitive research data – unless you pay for a SEOMoz Pro membership.
Check out the Firefox Mozbar by clicking here.
So which of the three do I recommend?
If you’re willing to throw down some coin, I’d recommend you sign up for the SEOMoz Pro membership and download the Mozbar. But if you’re not willing to make that commitment at this point (and I wouldn’t blame you), I’d go with the SEO for Firefox toolbar. It’s not the slickest or prettiest of tools, but it gives you the data you need, and it’s FREE!
But it doesn’t have to be this hard.
So I know what you’re thinking at this point: “Man, using those toolbars looks like a lot of work. You mean I have to do a Google search for each keyword, then write down the information from the toolbar for each keyword?”
Short answer: yes.
Slightly longer answer: yes, that’s the way to do FREE keyword competition research.
Fortunately, there’s another option that’s only slightly more expensive than free. It will shave literally dozens (if not hundreds) of hours off the time it takes you to do competition research…and it’s so easy it actually becomes a little addictive!
That option, of course, is using Long Tail Pro.
Using Long Tail Pro for Keyword Competition Research
As I mentioned above, the thing that Long Tail Pro excels at is quickly retrieving keyword competition data and displaying it in an easy-to-understand format, so we can rapidly make decisions on which keywords to target for our niche websites.
In the video below, I take you step-by-step through the Long Tail Pro interface, and show you how easy it is to find low-competition keywords. In the video I actually stumble across a keyword in the “remedies” niche that’s ripe for picking now!
Please watch the video now:
And if you’re interested in buying Long Tail Pro, get these BONUSES for buying through my affiliate link:
- List of 424 proven niches, with hundreds of related keywords. One of the biggest obstacles that new internet marketers face is brainstorming a niche. In this PDF I share hundreds of niches (with related seed keywords) that you can use to kickstart your niche empire
- My Niche Site Development Checklist. Once you’ve found keywords with low competition and high search volume you’ll need to set up a website, right? Get the checklist that my virtual staff use to set up my niche websites.
- That’s on top of the bonus video that comes with Long Tail Pro, in which the software’s creator (Spencer Haws) describes the criteria he uses to find low competition keywords.
Here are the steps to buy Long Tail Pro and get my bonuses:
- Clear your browser’s cookies (in Firefox click on Tools > Clear Recent History > Cookies)
- Click on any of the Long Tail Pro links in this blog post and purchase the software
- After making the purchase, you’ll receive a receipt from Clickbank. Forward that receipt to me (moe at keywordsblogger dot com) and I’ll send you the download link for your bonuses!
One last thing about Long Tail Pro: Spencer is selling it through Clickbank, which means it comes with an automatic 60-day money-back guarantee. So even if you’re not happy with the software (which I doubt), you can get your money back.
We’ve all the heard the saying that 80% of new businesses fail within their first five years. Well, I can tell you from the emails I get that an equal number of newbie internet marketers are struggling to get traffic to their websites.
The reason? They focus on keywords that are just too competitive.
Targeting low-competition keywords doesn’t just make good business sense. It’s also crucial to one’s self-esteem. How many websites have you toiled over that ended up bringing in no visitors…and no revenue? I’ve been there, and it feels like a kick in the cajones.
In this post I’ve outlined the steps you can take to home in on keywords with little competition but good search volume. It’s an approach that I’m going to be using going forward to achieve my goal of $10,000 in monthly Adsense revenue (stay tuned for updates!)
What’s your experience in trying to rank for competitive keywords?