SEO Basics [Lesson 07]: Acceptable Levels of Competition

Are you trying to fight Goliath or David?

The Biblical story of David and Goliath is a classic tale of the small becoming victorious over the giant.  It rings true throughout time as we see the underdog take on the champion and come out the winner.  It is the stuff of Hollywood magic.

The internet is filled with Giants who are more than willing to defeat you in the online marketing game.  They will battle you with more money, more resources and more experts and will defeat you.

This is not a battle you want to enter.  Evaluating the competition for your keywords is critical, arguably the most important step in the evaluation process.

The Nature of Competition

There is a story told of two business owners in the woods who come upon a hungry bear.  The bear begins to circle the two owners, licking its lips as it prepares to attack.

Flickr Creative Commons - FHgiatarre

One of the business owners sits down and changes his hiking boots for running shoes.  The other owner, looking puzzled and anxious, asked, “What are you doing?  Don’t you see that bear?  You’ll never be able to out run it!”

The first owner looks up and says, “I don’t have to, I just need to be able to out run you!”

The reality is that you do not have be absolutely perfect with keyword research and SEO practices to be on the front page of Google, you just have to be a little better than your competition.

Understanding your competition better will allow you to gain the advantage, and that is the focus of this lesson.

Competition in Two Parts

There are two components of competition that will effect your ability to rank in search results.  You will need to be able to evaluate the Amount of Competition and the Strength of Competition.

The Amount of Competition is a measure of how many websites are in the search engine indexes for a particular keyword.

What you need to be able to evaluate is how many other businesses are trying to compete for the same term.  Are you dealing with thousands or millions or billions of websites?  It is more advantageous to you if you can find terms with fewer sites competing for the term.  There needs to be enough sites to indicate a viable market, but few enough to gain the first page position.

The second part is Strength of Competition.  This is a measure of how much authority a website has for a particular keyword.  The sites that have greater authority are going to rank higher than sites with less authority.

What is important for your SEO success is to find terms that have an appreciable amount of competition on sites that have low levels of authority.  This combination will provide you with the greatest possible outcome.

Failure Can Be Avoided

The most common reason people fail with SEO is because they do not take the time to evaluate the competition for the keyword they are targeting.  Assuming that you can get on the first page for search because you optimize a page correctly fails to consider the effect of heavy competition.

You can work very hard building your website around a highly competitive keyword and end up loosing the battle for rank.  Don’t get caught in this frustrating position.  Let the competition level help you determine whether you should move after a term.

SEO Competition is the total number of webpages that mention a keyword phrase in the same word order.

Acceptable Levels of Competition

To evaluate the Amount of Competition, go to Google and do a search using the following formula:

allintitle:”your keyword or keyword phrase”

The ‘allintitle:’ tells Google to only deliver results that have the phrase, in this exact order, in the title of the website.  This is a good indicator of the number of websites that are trying to compete for this keyword.  Note the number of results that Google identifies.  It is recommended that you limit your competition to terms with less than 30,000 sites.  This represents a reasonable amount of competition for the beginning stages of SEO.

Evaluate Strength of Competition

Now that we have a term with an appropriate amount of competition, we need to evaluate the strength of that competition.  Strength is an expression of both on-page and off-page optimization.

On-page factors include the following:

    • Keyword in the Title
    • Keyword in URL
    • Keyword in Description
    • Keyword in Heading Tags
Off-page factors include the following:
    • Domain Age
    • Page Rank
    • Page Backlinks
    • Domain Backlinks
Sites that have strong on-page and off-page optimization are strong and authoritative and will very difficult to out rank in search.

On-Page Evaluation

Perform a Google search for the term you want to test.  Does the term, exactly as you searched, appear in the Title, URL, and description?   When you click on the link, is the term, exactly as you searched, in the heading tags?

Off-Page Evaluation

Use the free tool from SEOmoz, Open Site Explorer, to compare the top 5 URL’s from your search results.  OSE will give you quantitative data to compare the competitiveness of the search term.  The higher the numbers the more authoritative the site or page and more difficult to outrank.


Just because you find a term that is relevant to your site and has an acceptable amount of searches, does not mean you should spend the time and effort trying to rank.  You need to make sure that the competition level is acceptable.  You never want to go into battle with a Giant, unless you have the tools to win.
Evaluate both the amount of competition and the strength of competition before jumping into optimization.

Next Step

Now that you have some potentially good keywords, we need to evaluate their business viability.  After all, we are in this to make money.  A search term that has no commercial value is one that should be left for post or blog entries.  When optimizing you site for best lead and sales generation, you need to use terms that have commercial intent.

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This lesson is one in an e-course on the Basics of SEO. It covers the cornerstones of basic SEO.