Rand Fishkin just had a great post over on the SEO Moz blog that listed off five creative solutions to tough SEO challenges . Number four in this post focused on the idea of competing against a site with a strong lead in the SERPs for a particular keyword. In the WordStream guide to keyword competition , Larry outlined a process for getting around an inability to rank for a particular term:
For organic search, it looks like this:
- Publish something - It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just something quick to get a read on how difficult it is for your site to rank on a particular term. Who knows? You might get lucky and your content might rank well immediately. Or it may only require minor optimization to rank better.
- If you got lucky, then mission accomplished. Move on to next keyword targets.
- If you can’t find your page in the SERPS, then try moving to an adjacent, longer-tail variation of the word. At WordStream, we invented the Keyword Niche Finder  for doing exactly this: finding related, yet less competitive keywords so that you could avoid hypercompetitive niches and uncover less competitive and potentially more profitable keyword niches.
Similarly, Rand outlines some great suggestions for out-manuevering more established competitors in the SERPs:
I see marketers banging their heads and their link building efforts against a wall, trying to outearn a competitor with a strong lead for a particular keyphrase (or a small handful).
Instead of trying to beat them at their own game, why not work around the system?
- Try alternative keywords that could get at the same audience before they're conducting that specific, high-converting search
- Consider video content on the major platforms and your own site (using the Video XML Sitemaps protocol) to earn video rankings on the same page (which often draw as many clicks/visits as the first few results)
- Create news, blog posts and tweets to help trigger the QDF algorithm and get alternate content types you own in front of searchers and ahead of the first "organic" result
- Win the social, branding and "mention" battle, which will often turn to links and recommendations over time, eventually earning you top rankings.
- Influence search queries and content on the web through branding, news, social media, content creation, etc. to make Google's Suggest/Instant feature recommend more targeted queries that you own in the rankings.
I think this first tactic mentioned by Rand and outlined by Larry is an under-utilized one, but when I've mentioned something similar to clients they often have trouble conceptualizing how the strategy would work for their site, so in this post we'll walk through a specific example of how you can leverage this strategy.
Targeting Informational Keywords for SEO
Let's imagine, for the sake of the example, that we've created some great pay-per-click software . We take a look at the SERP  and see some established sites with lots of domain authority and some older links, so we decide we'd be better off targeting some different types of queries, namely informational queries, so we can consider our options:
- Add a Modifier - In some cases it makes sense to use a tool like The Free Keyword Niche Finder  to add a modifier to the term to create an informational version of the term.
- Alter or Transform a Term - Here the simple addition of a modifier won't work because our core term is pay-per click software. We'll have to modify the term to leverage an informational modifier. While something like "pay-per-click management software" might also be a fit, we could also "transform" the term to target a query earlier in the buying cycle.
For the sake of this example, we'll transform the term. We can do this by targeting the core term, pay-per-click, and adding some informational modifiers. Aaron Wall at SEO Book has a great spreadsheet with a nice collection of potential modifers .
Here is Aaron's list of informational modifiers, which is a great starting point for us:
- How to
Many of these fit the core term "pay-per click" nicely. Next we'll want to pick a collection of the terms that fit the best with our offering and content we can create, and create a sort of mini-matrix where we map modifiers to content we can create to a logical offer. Here's an example of what this might look like:
You could also attack the problem by leveraging a Free Keyword Tool  or your own analytics to identify other informational keywords to target. Once you've settled on a list of modifiers you need to determine what type of content you can create, and what type of offer you'll leverage to continue your relationship with this searcher.
WordStream creates a number of very informative free white papers  and things like the Quality Score Toolkit , as well as a collection of free tools which they can then offer to searchers who land on pages via an informational query so that they can continue a relationship with the searcher, often eventually resulting in a free trial of the company's core product offering.
By moving "up the buying cycle" in this way, we can target terms that aren't as competitive and gain access to searchers we wouldn't otherwise be able to message to and introduce to our product.