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We’re well underway with our Triple X Niche case study (introduction post here) and we now have over 20 ongoing case studies on the forums. They’ve racked up close to 15,000 views so far and there are hundreds of posts to read. Suffice to say I’m really excited about what we have going on here and I hope that you’re going to be sticking with us for the journey.
One thing I promised to do when introducing Mr.V into the case study was to answer his questions and queries in public. Without Mr.V I could only guess the kind of things that people would struggle with on their own niche site journey, but his questions give me true insights into how I can help more people. My aim is to personally help him become one of the top marketers online, almost superhuman if you like, and give you the knowledge to do the same.
Every few weeks I’m going make a post like this which goes into massive detail answering his questions and sharing some of the advice that I have given him personally. Each time I’ll pick one main topic that I have been asked about to cover in-depth. Vladimir had a number of questions pertaining to keyword research and competition analysis, so that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
It’s always better to start this kind of thing with examples so let’s go ahead and pick a niche. I’m going to pick the learn guitar niche, as it has a large audience and I do actually want to improve my guitar-playing skills so it’s an industry that has been on my mind. Just to be clear, this is not the niche we’re using for the case study.
I think the best thing to do before trying to utilise any keyword tools at all is to simply use your own brain to come up with ideas. Thinking about the guitar niche, the most obvious things that quickly come to my mind that people might search for are:
These are totally random and just off the top of my head. Your list will probably be a bit longer, but you should get the idea of simply using your imagination. If I head over to the Google Keyword Planner tool I can see if I guessed any terms that actually get any sort of search volume. Here are their exact match numbers:
As you can see I picked a few keywords with a fairly impressive monthly search volume and two that probably aren’t worth targeting very intensely. With the Keyword Planner tool though I can instantly see variations on those terms that would give some of my ideas a more tempting search volume.
For instance, “How to Strum” gets 590 exact searches per month yet “How to strum a guitar” gets 6,600. Even “strumming patterns for guitar” which seems to be quite an obscure phrase seems to get more searches at 880 per month. At first glance – without doing any competition research yet – I am going to guess that the search results for these aren’t too competitive.
Similarly, “electric or acoustic guitar” was a non-starter at only 170 searches per month but if I take out the ‘or’ then the search volume goes up to 5,400 per month. I know this makes it an entirely different search query but the idea is to be doing this keyword research well before you’re putting together your content.
One thing to always keep in mind if you can from the start is how you’re going to monetize your website. For the case study, how we’re going to monetize the sites is very, very obvious and I assume all of us will be focusing on the same sources (to be revealed later). This means that we have a good idea about whether a certain search term could potentially result in a buyer.
If I’m selling a ‘learn to play guitar’ video course then I would obviously love traffic from search terms like ‘learn to play the guitar’ but you couldn’t count out lesser terms like how to strum. Sure, there’s less people searching, but it has the right angle to convert into a customer (they’re a beginner guitarist) and would likely result in faster rankings. Though the keyword tool and your own imagination are fairly obvious, there are a number of uncommon tools available at your disposal.
In a blog post in 2011 – which was incidentally one of the most popular posts I’ve written on this blog – I covered a large list of keyword research tools. While many of them are still relevant and useful (the list is here), it was written two years ago and things have changed slightly. I wanted to re-highlight three sources of research that everyone should be using to help you find keywords and phrases to be focusing on.
The first is a little-known search engine which shows you the analytics stats for any page on Wikipedia. It’s called Grok and appears to be Swedish. This tool is especially useful because the majority of visits to any Wikipedia page are sent by search engines. And, since Wikipedia usually ranks in the top 1-3 results (usually number 1, let’s be honest) for broad terms, you can get an idea of how many searches are being made each day.
Before I head over there and put in any little old page about guitars, I want to see which pages Google deem to the most important guitar related pages on Wikipedia. You can do a simple site: search to get a good idea about this:
After this search query – don’t forget to substitute ‘guitar’ for your niche – you should be presented with a long list of pages you can then run into the tool to see how popular they are. Of course, not every niche is going to be able to benefit from this (you’re not going to find Clickbank product reviews on Wikipedia) but it can be especially useful in large industries that you don’t know too much about.
For example, two of the pages that came up were Jazz Guitar and Bass Guitar. I’ve heard of both, and assume Bass Guitars are more popular, but this is not an industry I know a lot about so Wikipedia can really help me here. Here are the results for Wikipedia’s article on the Bass Guitar:
In just three months the page has been viewed over 150,000 times and gets almost 2,000 views per day. This is quite a bit higher than I would have assumed and while the traffic will be coming from internal Wikipedia pages at times, I’m sure a large percentage of that is from natural search.
And here are the results for Jazz Guitar:
You can quickly see that the Bass Guitar page gets visited 10x more every single day and over a long period of time that accounts for a lot more traffic. If I was going to put together some in-depth resources on a type of guitar (besides electric and acoustic) then it’s pretty clear that the Bass guitar should be my focus.
Don’t forget that you’re not just restricted to Guitar’s here but you can literally compare the subset of almost any niche out there.
#2 “Visitors found this page searching for”
Another hit from the niche research tools I shared in the past was a plugin for vBulletin forums which publicly displays search terms and phrases which sent traffic to a certain niche. Simply perform a search query like – “visitors found this page searching for” niche – and you’ll see a number of various search threads pertaining to your industry.
Here’s a result from the fitness niche which shows all of the variations people look for when it comes to weight loss photos.
Here’s another showing a less than typical niche of people looking for information on the popular island destination, Tenerife:
I don’t want to give too many examples away so definitely do your own research into this. It can be especially useful when your niche is really not something that Wikipedia would have articles about but people would be talking about on forums.
#3 Solve those Questions
Yahoo Answers is still a great place to get keyword ideas so that you can solve the problems that your site visitors might be having. After all, if you can tap into someone’s problems then you can increase your conversion likelihood when pushing a sale.
In a recent upgrade to the service, they’ve also added drop-down suggestions of some questions which have been asked recently. I’m not quite sure how the terms in the drop-down are ranked since they don’t appear to be the most recent (or the results when you perform a search) but they’re insightful nonetheless.
Of course, not all results are going to be useful, but I’ve highlighted three above which could give me ideas for content to write about and problems that people may be having.
Google Sets the product brand name is sadly dead. However, its functionality lives on. Thanks to this tutorial on Google System we can see that you just need to use spreadsheets in Google Drive in order to get a list of terms and phrases that Google thinks match the ones you’ve inputted already. I’m sure this data is built from their knowledge of which industries are closely related – thanks to search queries – so this can be particularly insightful.
Simply start by entering a few terms which are related to each other, like so:
Then highlight the terms and hold Control (Windows) or Option (Mac) and drag the list down, like so:
I included a few niches in this screenshot to give you an idea of what kind of results you can get. The keyphases in bold are the ones I typed while the rest are those that Google Sets generated for me.
Whenever I’m doing keyword research for a new niche I try to pick up a huge amount of terms. We can narrow them down at a later time. That isn’t to say I’m going to have hundreds or thousands (this is not a PPC campaign) but I am going to usually have a few dozen. Keep in mind that when building your list of potential keyphrases we’re looking for things like:
I’m often asked how many searches something should have before I target it. That’s quite a hard question to answer because the web is ever-changing. Many of you know I often focus on news and latest events search queries which might show they only get searched 100 times a month in a keyword tool yet when they’re the current hot topic you can get hundreds of thousands of people landing on your site for those terms.
For steady niches that aren’t changing too much, I tend to focus on terms which get around 2,000 and 20,000 searches per month. This is definitely not set in stone, but it’s a pretty simply model I look at not only to give myself and idea of what to focus on but to help readers get an idea of a decent search volume.
That being said, for this case study, I think Vladimir should lower the bar a little for some search terms. For the long-term (I’m talking more than 6 months) then it’s a much better idea to focus on terms which can kick in later and have a great impact on his sites search traffic. Especially if it’s a fairly broad term with a lot of potential variations which would result in longtail traffic.
In order to get quicker results for the case study – quick wins as I like to call them – then anything over a few hundred searches per month is fine. This will give him some confidence that he’s on the right track and will help us have more information to report on in a shorter period of time. We’re not going to be taking down any servers with this type of traffic, but as long as it’s targeted, we should be able to convert at least a few visitors per month into customers of whatever we’re promoting.
A good rule of thumb before you even look at search results is to assume that the more searches something gets, the more competitive the search results are going to be. This of course is not a fact for search queries across the board, but it seems to be the case more often than not. The more people searching for something, the more webmasters there are that want to rank for that phrase and actively pursue SEO tactics to do so.
Here’s a list of the main things you can look at when it comes to analysing competition in search results. Keep in mind that you don’t need to do every single one of these, but it should give you a very clear idea of the metrics you should be watching out for.
The Authority of the Domain
There’s a reason you see Wikipedia, About.com and Wikihow ranking well for seemingly every search term out there: They have a lot of domain authority. Even if the sub-pages which are ranking don’t necessarily have a lot of links, the strength of the domain is often enough to help those pages to rank very well. Be cautious if you see a lot of these in search results.
Links to the Page
While there are supposedly over 200 factors which come into play with Google’s ranking algorithm, there’s no question among SEO’s that links are of the utmost importance when it comes to the power that each factor has. If an individual page on a site has hundreds or thousands of links then that’s going to be hard for you to top as well. At least with a new website.
I always try to think about things from the perspective of someone working at Google and Domain age is something that makes sense to me as being important when ranking results. Though it defies the idea that ‘freshness’ taking over, sites that have been around for a long time are less likely to be doing things to game search results in their favour. Of course, there are exceptions, but it’s usually newer sites which are trying to fast track the process.
I’ve never seen anyone talking about this before but it is something I like to watch out for, especially if a search query gets a particularly high number of searches per month. What I’m looking for is cases where Google has brought up a result that really shouldn’t be there because they misunderstood the query. I’m also looking for pages on authority domains that are particularly thin and are only ranking because of the website they’re on (i.e. very deep Amazon product pages, About.com 300 word guides).
It may be the case that in the near future Google corrects these “mistakes” and totally changes the landscape of the search results, allowing you to swoop in with a better resource on the subject.
Freshness in Search Results
I’ve covered this topic a lot lately but what I’ve rarely mentioned is that when I see search results with a lot of freshness in them then I’m really happy. What I mean is that Google is prioritising blog posts and pages which appear to have been written recently, rather than those which may have other authority (backlinks, domain age, etc.). If there are a lot of fresh pages ranking then there’s a good chance you can get a fresh page ranking also.
I’m still not entirely convinced that social signals – such as how many social shares something has had – are playing a huge importance in rankings at the moment. I have noticed that Google+ authorship does seem to help niche websites, but not much more than that. That being said, there are quite a few people I respect in this space who seem to think this is going to matter much more, very quickly, so do keep an eye out on this.
Earlier I mentioned that I had assumed a term like ‘how to strum a guitar’ would be fairly uncompetitive because so few people are searching for this phrase each month. Here’s the search results I see for that term (yours may differ slightly based on locations / account personalisation):
I’m at the stage that I’ve been doing this so long that I wouldn’t even bother running those results through the various checks like how many links those pages have. Besides the Youtube video, it instantly looks like a very competitive phrase and it’s not something I would expect to rank for very quickly. There are simply too many authority domains ranking and for the search volume it’s not worth the effort to me.
I did run some checks on some other search terms though and have shared the results below. I’ve used Majestic SEO and Ahrefs to get my figures but don’t forget about Open Site Explorer from Moz as well. I recommend getting a free account on Majestic and Ahrefs so you can perform a number of queries.
Acoustic or electric guitar
|Google Result||Majestic Backlinks||Ahref Backlinks||Site Age||Content Grade|
|#1||70||168||Mar, 1999||Very Poor|
|#3||6||6||Nov, 2010||Very Good|
|#4||0||0||Aug, 1996||Very Poor|
|#5||62||99||Jun, 2006||Very Poor|
how to learn guitar fast
|Google Result||Majestic Backlinks||Ahref Backlinks||Site Age||Content Grade|
|#1||70||168||Mar, 1999||Very Poor|
|#3||6||6||Nov, 2010||Very Good|
|#4||0||0||Aug, 1996||Very Poor|
|#5||62||99||Jun, 2006||Very Poor|
I think it’s important that you know how to do these things manually and why they matter (at least why I think they matter) before you start using any automated tools. That being said, Market Samurai was one of the best purchases I’ve made to speed up this process. After you enter a search term you can get the results in less than a minute:
Though it is a paid product it’s completely free to try. I am using an affiliate link there, click here if you don’t want my aff link. This tool also gives you a good idea of other factors to track such as how many pages there are on a website so you know if you’re competing with an established resource or a thin minisite.
Vladimir specifically asked me what to do when he has a large number of terms that don’t have the greatest search volume. To him, and to you, I say that you shouldn’t worry about starting off small. It’s unlikely you’re going to get quick rankings for popular terms in a niche that is already established. This is excluding the idea of there being new product launches, news events and an over-abundance of freshness in search results which I’ve covered recently.
At least get started on something, and then over time once you’ve built more links and more of a resourceful site you can go for the more competitive phrases.
One of my favourite tactics for easily squeezing into a niche via search is to look at the products that the majority of the big sites are promoting. Often, it’s not something they’ve created themselves but instead they’re linking to another resource as an affiliate. After all, they may hold these top rankings already but they still have to make money.
One product I saw a few sites pushing was Gibson’s ‘Learn and Master Guitar’. A quick look at the Google suggestions already shows that people are trying to access this illegally or at least find people reviewing the product.
Why would they be pushing this? Well, I can’t tell you much about the quality of the product just yet but there’s an obvious financial incentive since they have an affiliate program.
Another product that I could see a lot of sites promoting – and actually ranked highly for one of my search term examples – was Jamplay. It seems to be a great site where they offer guitar lessons in video format, something I would actually be interested in if I do purchase another guitar.
Here are the search results for jamplay review:
As with before, I would say that from just a quick glance these search results don’t look very competitive at all. Especially because there’s a blogspot post ranking in the first position and the SERP is very much dominated by Youtube videos. You could of course then head over to something like the Google Keyword Planner to see if people are actually searching for this topic.
The numbers aren’t huge, but there’s clearly some interest there. At $40/sale, you really don’t have to convert too many people either to make a nice tidy return from your search traffic. Especially if you think about all of the variations you could potentially rank for that aren’t showing up in these keyword tools, purely from the text on your page.
I decided to run the first result in Google through Ahrefs to have a look at their backlinks:
You can see that a few of them which have been picked up recently are all coming from the same website. What you can’t see from my screenshot is that the page has around 500 backlinks from around the web. This is also very similar to the numbers in Majestic SEO (598). However, both tools are reporting that one site is counting for hundreds of those links. Here’s that link:
They managed to get a webmaster to link to them sitewide from the navigation bar of their website. More than likely it’s one person who owns both websites, since they’re both running on Blogger. Congratulations to him, I’m sure he’s doing well with the site. My point is though that in a large number of industries outside of marketing, focusing on product related terms is not a difficult thing to do as people are using these services rather than writing reviews on them.
I’m sure a few backlinks could get you on the first page of that query very easily.
Also, this does not mean you have to sell Jamplay either. If there’s something else you want to recommend you could simply use the content on your page to sway people to make a better decision and not purchase the product (if you do think that is the right option). In the niche case study I’m definitely aiming to get search traffic for product reviews that I will not be recommending and hopefully sending people to a different offering which I believe would be much better.
Vladimir did have a few more questions along the journey, so let’s look at those too…
“I have two options for domains, the classic exact match / partial match domain approach which is something like Lamps-for-Sale.com or a brandable domain like Mickeys-Lamps.com, Lamptastic.com, etc. Are EMD / PMD match domains easier to rank in Google?”
I want to start by saying that Mr.V, as he mentioned in the initial update, has decided to go with a brandable domain rather than trying to get something exactly targeted around the keyphrase that he’s trying to rank for. I simply told him that I don’t think EMD’s have the weight they once have but I do see them ranking very well still. I added that if he was going to go the EMD route then don’t stuff a load of hyphens in the domain like your example. It just looks too spammy.
“Will I get a penalty if I over-optimise internal anchor text?”
As long as you’re not pushing the boundary too much then you should be okay. Let’s give a poor example and say I’m trying to rank my hompeage for ‘Learn to Play Guitar’. I would possibly use that as the sitewide anchor text in the footer of my site for the homepage. However, I really wouldn’t go with that anchor text in the navigation bar or other times I mention it.
Similarly, if you have different pages trying to rank for different terms, such as learn to play guitar fast, learn to play guitar quickly, learn to play guitar chords then I wouldn’t use those as the exact anchor text for each link. Something like “Learn Chords” and “Learn Quickly” would be fine.
Don’t take my answer here as fact, just don’t try to abuse something that isn’t overly important in recent experience.
“How do I make an affiliate link look something like mydomain.com/productname?”
This is very simple if you have FTP access to your site. Since you’re running WordPress, you’ll have an .htaccess file in the root of your public_html folder (or whever you installed WordPress) by default. Simply add a line to this file like:
redirect 301 /productname http://myaffiliatelink.com/434
Save the file and test it out. There are other ways of doing this – such as plugins which track clicks for you – but this is the quickest way that I know about which wont cost you any money.
“How do you create a moving widget in sidebars?”
If you’re using WordPress then simply install the Sticky / Fixed widget plugin which you can get here. Then you can head on over to Appearance >> Widgets in your WP-Admin panel and choose which widget you would like to stick to the screen when a user scrolls.
I’m really judging the success of this series by how many people we can get involved leaving comments on the case study updates. We’re all working really hard (we’ve all been consistent in forum updates) and hope that you’re getting something out of what we’re sharing. If you are, please let do interact and help us to spread the word.
The motivation is nice