One of the best ways to conduct keyword research is to explore your website’s data files. By looking at the search queries your visitors used to find your website, you discover new, proven keywords to optimize for.
But what if you're a brand new website with no search data and you want to target a new query space? How do you find the right keywords to build your list around?
For new websites, conducting a Competitive Query Analysis is very effective for researching keywords. Running queries for keywords you're thinking of targeting gives you a very good idea how competitive a particular query space is among marketers. You also find out how high the interest level is for a particular query among searchers.
With the results of your query research, you can chart a more informed keyword strategy for your new website.
What to look for when conducting competitive query analysis
First, let's define a competitive query space. When two or more sites are competing for the same search query, that space is competitive. The degree of keyword competitiveness is determined by the number of sites (or pages) competing for the same query. Popular queries attract more competition because they're more lucrative. The more competitive a query space, the harder it is to crack, especially if you're new website without any authority or trust.
When evaluating the competitive degree of a query space, look for a high incidence of optimized SERP results: identical keywords bolded in the site title, the meta description and the URL. Check out the number of paid ads too. Pay-per-click campaign advertisers target the most profitable queries, which tend to be the most competitive.
A prime example or a super competitive query is this one for "Massachusetts Foreclosures."
Notice the number of paid ads and organic listings vying for position. The query has more than 22 million results, featuring listings from aged, well-optimized, link heavy established brands—like RealtyTrac and Foreclosures.com. For a new website, this vertical is the equivalent of an impenetrable fortress.
Highly competitive queries: Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em
If you're a new website in an aggressive query space, I feel your pain. You're competing with websites that have a big head start with aged content, a ton of back links and high domain trust on their side. Trying to outrank them right out of the gate is futile. Once your site ages, you publish good content and you earn quality back links, you can reconsider challenging the heavyweights.
But until then, it's smarter to avoid these query spaces entirely. Instead try the following query space tactics. You’ll need to go niche and figure out what separates you from the pack.
Query space tactic #1: Take the road less traveled
With a new site, one strategy is to target long tail keywords, what’s known as long tail marketing. The logic behind the long tail is that by going niche there's less competition for the top of the SERPs. The evidence for long tail keywords is strong as searchers get more sophisticated. Another advantage of long tail marketing is that these queries are highly specific and relevant to more intent-driven customers who are likely they're at a stage where they're closer to purchasing.
So take the above example of the “Massachusetts foreclosures” search. As we lengthen the query by adding more related keywords, the competition steadily drops:
Point being, the more specialized you get, the less competition you’ll face in the search engines. Then, once your domain has aged and gained trust and links, you can reevaluate your query space and determine if you now have the clout to shift your focus from the long tail to the more popular and competitive head keyword terms.
Query space tactic #2: Embrace your differences
The other way to tackle a highly competitive query space is to focus on what makes your company, service or product unique. If you’re not aware of it already, then you need to think long and hard about what distinguishes you from your competitors. Quite frankly, if you aren't unique among your competitors then your likelihood of survival is slim.
In this case, find that which makes you different and author content silo pages (very tightly themed pages) that speak to this unique aspect of your company.
For example, I worked with a client who had a new restaurant and a new website, and they wanted instant, boundless traffic (as most clients do) ASAP. Trouble is, the restaurant's fare was sandwiched in a very competitive query space. Given the newness of the site, they didn’t stand a chance outranking their competitors. Good news was, the client offered something unique: an extensive vegetarian menu. By conducting a Competitive Query Analysis, I determined the query space for vegetarian menus locally was virtually dead. So I created a new vegetarian menu section with copious amount of keyword-relevant content on vegetarian dishes. With only a handful of internal links, the page ranked first position for the target query and grabbed a ton of traffic in a query space that was far less competitive.
Conclusion: Go big in small query spaces
Being the new kid on the block in the SERPs can be huge disadvantage. No authority, no links and no PageRank can make life pretty lonely for young websites that are counting on traffic to generate sales. The barrier to entry in competitive query spaces is high, but the silver lining is that there are endless, less competitive opportunities to explore. To do this, emphasize the remarkable qualities of your service or product, author highly-focused content silo pages and make a real effort to pursue those less competitive query spaces to carve out your niche in the search results.