Researching the top-performing websites for final selection of your keyword phrase is the most important step in keyword selection and it takes a little work. The good news is that Firefox and Google Chrome have a variety of plugins or add-ons you can use to make your final analysis a lot easier. Plugins like Moz and SEOquake provide much of the on-page analysis quickly, as opposed to doing all of your research manually—thank goodness!

After you’ve narrowed down your keyword list to just a handful of terms, the next step is researching the competition. I will now show you how to research the competition using a real-world example so you can do it for your own website. You should learn how to research your competition on your own to better understand this process of choosing keywords before using some of the automated tools previously mentioned. Doing so is analogous to learning division longhand before you start using a calculator!
Picking up on our earlier example, assume you’ve selected a primary keyword phrase and have decided to begin researching the competitors (ex: womens tennis shoes ).
  1. Visit Google and enter the first keyword phrase you are researching. Search the keyword phrase “womens tennis shoes” .
  1. Identify the natural search results versus the paid search results. The natural results will appear below any paid results.
Write down the URLs of the first set of organic search results . The URLs will appear in green beneath each description. In this example, let’s imagine the first few natural results are:
Before going any further, I like to do a quick look-see to determine the overall competitiveness in search results of the keyword I’m researching.  If you’re using one of the plugins noted above, all you have to do is look at the domain strength, page authority, or other stat relating to the overall site ranking to determine how your site compares – each tool provides a slightly different authority metric. If sites listed in the top few positions are highly authoritative, then your chances of top rankings for your particular keyword are slim. You’ll learn more about these metrics throughout this guide.
Here are a few things to look for as your review the top listings with or without a competitive plugin: Are the search result listings from competitive sites like “Amazon”, “Facebook”, “”, etc.?  Are the sites appearing in the top positions strong brand names? Are the results to root domains (ex: ) or are they from pages that reside lower on a domain? What I’m looking for is what I call “authority factors”. If sites ranking for the keywords are large, authoritative, well promoted websites, your chances of ranking for that particular keyword are less than ideal.
  1. Now you’re ready to begin your site-by-site analysis.
Begin by installing an SEO browser add-on. As mentioned previously, this could be the Moz plugin on Chrome, the SEOquake plugin on Firefox or a free resource like . If none of these options work for you, search for an SEO tool using Google and simply choose one. The goal is to use a free tool to evaluate not only your website (which we’ll do later), but your primary competitors. Without a goal, it’s hard to know what you should be focusing your SEO effort on when it comes time for optimizing your own website.
For this example, I’m going to use the SEOquake plugin. What we need to do is analyze the following for each site to determine if you can outrank them. I can show you how to do the first one—then simply repeat the same steps for sites two, three, four, and five. For each site, begin by recording the following:
  • Website URL
  • Website authority (Domain authority)
  • Number of sites linking in
  • Website age
  • On page factors
These are just a few of the items to consider but let’s do this for first result, tennis warehouse.  Keep in mind that your browsing results may differ slightly.
Begin by recording the URL of this site. I like to use an excel spreadsheet. Remember, I’m showing you how to do this manually so you fully understand the process. But you only have to do this once. Moving forward, we’ll let our automated tools do the work for us. The next step is to identify the authority of the website or webpage being listed in search results (using Moz, or SEOquake, or free SEO crawler, etc.). According to my tool, looks like Tennis Warehouse has a Domain Score of 34 and a Trust Score of 40. Not bad! Even though the metrics are slightly lower than the number 2 and number 3 results, they’re strong enough to justify a top ranking.
The second thing we need to do is evaluate other factors such as age and size of site (pages indexed).  This particular listing has been around since 1998. It partly explains why they maintain the top spot. The older and larger the website, the more authority it commands. As sites become authoritative, they have more meaning to Google and will rank for a broader set of keywords.  For example, if you are trying to rank your new blog for “women’s tennis shoes” and the number one ranking is Amazon, don’t bother.  You could never build enough site authority to outrank Rather, focus on other keywords that Amazon is not competing for.  Perhaps something like “classic Nike tennis shoes size 8”.  Not only will you do better organically, but you will receive more targeted traffic with purchase intent.
I also see 3.9k inbound links to this particular webpage. Wow, talk about a vote of confidence. Google doesn’t have to look far to determine just how the voting audience of the world wide web feels about Tennis Warehouse. Maybe I need to stop buying my shoes off of Amazon.
Other on-page optimization factors, like the ones we discuss in the on-page optimization section such as meta tags, use of <h1> tags, keyword use, and so on, influence organic rankings. If your site is on par with others in search results from an age, authority, inbound link perspective, and overall website size, consider additional on page factors that can help to differentiate your site and help you rank better in Google.
For example, I recommend looking at on-page factors like keyword usage – is the keyword found in the meta data (meta title, description, and keywords), on the page in a header such as an <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> tag, does it appear in content, does the keyword phrase appear in towards the beginning, do alt image tags include your keyword?  By thoroughly evaluating all of these factors, and more we’ll cover, you can determine just how well optimized a particular competitor may be.  If sites are not well optimized, it may be an opportunity for you to compete effectively on the chose keyword.
So what have we learned about this site? Based on my analysis, it appears as though Tennis Warehouse is extremely authoritative but not the most authoritative site on the topic of women’s tennis shoes. Yet they command the top spot for this keyword search. How can that be? I use this particular website as an early example to illustrate that SEO is based on a variety of factors, but top rankings may come down to just a few. I know from deep research on this particular site that due to the site’s age, click-through rates (from search results to website), and referring websites, they have a distinct advantage over the big boys like Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Said another way, you don’t have to be a brand name to score big with SEO. Tennis Warehouse was one of the first sites to sell women’s tennis shoes online and has been benefiting from their early entry for the last couple of decades. In addition, their site is highly responsive and passes many of the technical SEO checks that others do not.
Now you might be thinking, “I’ve got a new website how can I compete?” Well, that’s the benefit of keyword and competitor research. The more you investigate those in the top positions, the more you learn about developing an effective SEO strategy. Choosing the right keywords can mean the difference between success and failure. Add the proper application of optimization techniques and you could very quickly find yourself showing up for a variety of competitive keyword phrases.
Now that you’ve seen the step-by-step process for keyword research, I’d like to share with you another example for determining keyword competitiveness that’s easy to do.  Just like any good search engine optimization expert, my methods for reviewing and optimizing websites is constantly changing and improving. However, the same basic fundamentals still apply. Here is another method to quickly determine the competitiveness of a particular keyword. I like to call it a ‘snap shot’ view of your competition.
This method simply asks you to do a Google Search for your keyword phrase and view the search result listings from the perspective of Universal Search and Authority . In the following example the keyword phrase being analyzed is “things to do in lima peru”. Our goal is to look at the results to determine the type of listings, such as websites, answer box, videos, images, press releases, etc., and the authority of each site. This gives us a much better understanding of all the ways we could show up in search results. So often we think in basic ways that we limit ourselves.
In this example, these listings look pretty solid – Google answer boxes, ads, and top websites like, TripSavvy, etc.  Now, let’s compare this to a popular destination in Peru like the “Pisac Market”.
In this example, we see a dynamic set of results for our target keyword. This list, which is a combination of websites, blogs, videos, rating sites, answer boxes, etc., would be slightly easier to rank for as it’s a true combination of different types of websites and digital assets which are less authoritative. The dynamic nature, and lack of as many authority sites in our example, means that you’ll have an easier time ranking for the second keyword phrase “Pisa market” than you would the first. 
Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on your understanding of the market, search volumes, intent, and competitiveness, do the final and easiest step, taking a snap-shot view of your competitors via the search result listings (SERPs) using SEOquake or the Moz plugin.  If results are dynamic in nature and you see few authoritative sites, then you’ve found the perfect keyword to optimize for.
One of the questions I frequently get is, “What if all of the results are authoritative?  What should I do then?”  The answer is to keep looking.  You can obviously try to optimize for a competitive keyword phrase that has strong competition but why? There are billions of keyword phrases, maybe even trillions available. And you won’t know unless you do the research. If you’ve hit a roadblock, go back to Google Adwords to find additional phrases or a combination of a branded term (including the name of your company or website) and non-branded terms. Doing the proper research up front, finding and optimizing for a phrase that is less competitive, will put you ahead of 99.9% of other websites and improve your organic results.
Now that you understand the fundamentals of keyword research, let’s focus on creating a well optimized site from an on-page optimization perspective using your target keywords. That’s why we start with keyword research and then on-page optimization. Optimizing your “on page” factors without knowing what keywords you’re targeting is never productive.
Bonus: After searching for your keyword phrase, scroll all the way to the bottom of search results and consider related search terms lists.


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